Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Promotion - on DVD 9/2

It seems fitting that so close to Labor Day, The Promotion, an ode to everyman and the average American worker, releases on DVD on September 2nd.

This little indie flick with the big name cast (Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Lili Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows and Bobby Cannavale) slipped through the cracks playing in limited release some time ago. Coincidentally (or not), the film depicts characters that are often overlooked as well. We see plenty of druglords and hookers, cops and lawyers, vampires and superheroes--but how often do you see a movie about two grocery store assistant managers vying for the same promotion?

The story details the complications when nice, earnest assistant store manager Doug Stauber (Seann William Scott) find his shoo-in position as the manager of the new Donaldson's grocery store jeopardized by the arrival of Canadian nice guy Richard Welhner (John C. Reilly) who is applying for the very same opening. So, we have a hero that is too nice and an "antagonist"that is too nice and a movie that is, well...too nice.

Written and directed by Steve Conrad, The Promotion plays in a very realistic, almost docu-drama style. Picture a reality TV show about a grocery where the "actors" weren't coached with snappy lines ala The Hills and the scenes weren't staged ala The Bachelor and the cast wasn't selected for maximum drama and volatility ala The Real World and the footage wasn't heavily edited to create drama, tension and a chronology that didn't exist in real life like--oh, just about every single "reality" TV show. The dialogue is extremely simplistic and sort of flat as it's delivered in a very dead-pan manner by the cast. The absurdities and ironies of life as a grocery store worker could have used a bit more "oomph" in order to really mine the comic potential.

Hey, I wasn't wanting or expecting some over-the-top Farrelly Brothers movie! But look how The Office makes the mundane and eccentric of regular life and pushes the envelope a bit to drolly illuminate the inanities of the work world. The script lacks the heavily ironic subtext of The Weather Man as well as the evocative emotional stakes of The Pursuit of Happyness--both of which were written by Conrad. So obviously he has it in him--it just wasn't as evident as it could have been in The Promotion.

There are, however, some insightful and funny moments. My favorite bits were a small cameo by Masi Oka (aka "Hiro" from Heroes) playing a very dry loan officer and yet another scene-stealing performance by the fabulous (and uncredited) Jason Bateman as a motivational retreat leader. The corporate retreat was a hugely hysterical scene--too bad there wasn't more like it in the movie. Too bad there wasn't more Bateman in the movie! Rather than ramping up the conflict between the two nice guys who in ordinary circumstances would probably be good friends, Conrad keeps the antagonism fairly low-key.

Instead, he tries to milk comedic juice out of Reilly's character, who becomes more and more absurd as layers are peeled away. Especially the one layer that reveals a KISS tattoo on his chest. Yeah it's a sight gag and it's good for a laugh, but really? Also inexplicable was Lili Taylor's Scottish accent. Included in the DVD extras, there's a phone call between Seann William Scott and Steve Conrad where Scott is trying to convince Conrad to let his character have an accent since John C. Reilly's character has one. It's really funny--but I couldn't help but wonder what was the reasoning behind Taylor's accent. I can almost hear her saying, "Can Lori be from Scotland? I've been working on a Scottish accent...I'd love to get a chance to use it!"

Also included in the DVD extras is commentary director Steve Conrad along with producers Jessika Borisczky Goyera and Steven A. Jones, the standard "Making Of" featurette, six deleted scenes, some really funny promotional webisodes and outtakes of the infamous "monster face" scene.

Overall, The Promotion is a warm-hearted, bittersweet look at everyday people who are, in the words of Richard Welhner, "all just out here tryin' to get some food. Sometimes we bump into each other..."

George Washington thinks I'm the Bee's Knees!

And so does my blogging buddy Elisabeth! She honored me with this blog award featuring the father of our country as part of a Blog Love post.

I may not ever win an Oscar. Or a Webby. Or even a free scratch-off Lotto ticket. But I will always cherish my--my...

Hey Elisabeth--what's this award called anyway?

In related news, just want to let y'all know that I've officially registered wellaboveaverage as a domain. So the URL is now No more "blogspot" (although it will redirect so no worries...).

Thanks to my recurring dyslexia, I was always typing "blogpost" (which, when you think about it, makes more sense...) by mistake.

This makes it much easier.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reinventing Self

Nah--not more examples of facelifts gone horribly wrong, but an actual ad posted in the General Community section of Los Angeles Craigslist.

To wit:

"I'm looking for a couple preferable white,or jewish highly educated, sophisticated, cultured, renaissance power couple in their mid 40's or older to help 'train' me. I lack class and want it. I want to elevate myself and despite doing a lot [going to museums, plays, reading, continuing education - working on masters in psychology] i just can't seem to break that 'black woman' barrier. I'm 40 too old for Ms Porter. You can't buy class which is good because I don't have the money. I am overweight but had bariatric surgery and about 50 pounds from looking normal again. I am due for a breast reduction and tummy tuck. I want a new self and sense of worth to go with the new body. I can offer gratitude and maybe some kinkdom in exchange for taking me under your wings. Please don't write me about self esteem and therapy. I simple want someone to take me under their wings. So all you wealthy eccentrics or exiled countess here's your chance the perfect understudy awaits.. a willing and eager student.I live in los angeles county"
Gratitude and maybe some kinkdom?

Damn, you can't make this @#$% up!

The Sisterhood of the @#$%ed-Up Faces

After highlighting Michael Jackson's freakish facial evolution yesterday, I felt it only fair to point out he's not the only Hollywood star to completely @#$% up what was originally a perfectly fine face. Yes Michael, in the words of your own song, You're Not Alone.

Here are some "Princesses of Plastic Surgery" to join you:

1. Cher - Once upon a time, Cher was alternately a "Half-Breed" or "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves." Now she looks like really bad Japanese anime. You think maybe she took the title of her movie Mask a little too seriously? Or perhaps thought she really could "turn back time"?

(Singing) Do You Belieeeeve in Botox?


2. Meg Ryan - Remember how pert and perky Meg used to be? She's gone from America's Sweetheart to Bride of Chucky.


On a positive note, it looks like she has a great shot at replacing Heath Ledger as the Joker for the next Batman. Or maybe she could play a zombie Stepford wife living (I mean "undead") in the great northwest in Sleepwalking in Seattle.

3. Melanie Griffith - As Tess McGill in Working Girl, Griffith proclaimed, "I have a head for business and a bod for sin." Now it looks like she has a head full of Botox and a face that would make Satan cringe. The tagline for Cherry 2000 in which Griffith played the real yet imperfect alternative to the android model of the title was, "She's Blond, Beautiful and Forever Young." The moral of the movie was that real and flawed triumphs over perfect but fake. Guess Melanie didn't learn that lesson...

4. Jocelyn Wildenstein - This ain't no Princess of Plastic Surgery--this here is the Queen! Of the Jungle, that is... Wildenstein's ongoing quest to transform her feature into a feline's face. I'd say she's been pretty successful--if the feline in question is Garfield.

Oh, was that catty?


If you're fascinated by extreme makeovers gone horribly wrong, check out more train wrecks at Awful Plastic Surgery.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Stupid Filter

Mark Morford, columnist for SF Gate, wrote a great piece about the YouTube Comment Snob and the StupidFilter Project. Effortlessly eloquent, Morford echoes my own sentiments exactly:

"Are you fetishistically fond of posting puerile, unreadable, horribly punctuated, grammatically insane or otherwise indecipherable mental chyme all over the Web's now-ubiquitous comments boards, filling the public areas from here to Metafilter with OMG!! And !LOL!!! and ALL-CAPPED GIBBERISH that means absolutely nothing and is the conversational equivalent of dragging Ann Coulter across a chalkboard?

Well, the world has had just about enough of you."
Go read the rest of his smartly snide insights--plus check out the YouTube Comment Snob and the StupidFilter Project.

Happy Birthday, MJ!

Michael Jackson is 50 today. Whoa! Hard to believe...

Once upon a time he was a precociously talented cutie,

Then he became the self-proclaimed "King of Pop"...

Now it's more like he's the "Prince of Plastic Surgery."

I prefer to remember him at his peak.

Happy Birthday, Michael! Thanks for the music!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley

This novel by Pulitzer-prize winning author Jane Smiley says on the back cover that it's rated "R" for "Ravishing."

More like rated "S" for "snooze-fest."

I vaguely recall reading A Thousand Acres, Smiley's mid-western take on King Lear, but I couldn't remember if I had liked it or not. The jacket synopsis seemed to indicate that it was set in Hollywood, so I prepared myself for a bit of gossipy guilty pleasure. But from page one, it became very obvious to me that I didn't want to spend ten minutes in the Hills with these characters or this story, much less ten days.

One of the characters, a yoga-practicing, vegetarian guru by the name of Paul, sums it up pretty well in the book:

"A certain thing occurred to Paul. It was that he sympathized with Charlie. He thought, "I am wasting my time here." It was as if he had somehow embarked on a cruise, something he had avoided all his life, and suddenly here he was, far out in a sea of languor with a group of people who on land could be avoided, and were therefore fine enough, but here, on this cruise, were insufferable. He sighed. They made him sigh. It was not precisely that they were boring, but more that they caused the expansion of time, so that every second, every moment, swelled to infinity, he himself, in his body and his consciousness, swelled to infinity, and he realized that his long path of exploration, that grand peregrination he had been making for fifty-five years had led to this room, that pointless movie, his old and oblivious antagonist, Max, the view of the eternal Getty Museum dimly white across the hills, the sight of Cassie once again opening her mouth to tell another tale. He groaned and closed his eyes. It was as if he could remember every thought he had ever thought, and every one of them was futile."
Geez--talk about insufferable! Run-on sentences galore and one begins to wonder if Smiley received some kind of monetary bonus each time she used a comma. The book is set in the Pacific Palisades (not in "The Hills" as the title would suggest because "The Hills"--other than being a vapid and insipid MTv fauxility show--refers to the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles) where a group of ten of the most one dimensional characters hunker down in the luxurious home of Max, fading movie director, to escape the newly instigated Iraqi war. Other than debating the war, eating, watching movies and having strangely unerotic sex, these people do nothing.

The book is written in the third person, but switches focus in a way that makes it difficult to connect with any of the characters. Initially, I thought that with ten people and ten days, Smiley might devote a day to each character's point-of-view. But two of the characters never see the spotlight--and, in fact, are so peripheral it's difficult to figure out why Smiley bothered to include them in the story. After a week of stultifying boredom, Smiley inexplicably transplants her group to an even more lavish setting to spend the last three days. Although we get an influx of new characters, nothing new happens there, either--just long, tedious descriptions of the overly ornate decor and pools and gardens.

We get stories and more stories about people or events, but nothing happens during the ten days. The characters carry on stilted conversations that sound like speeches instead of natural dialogue. They even think in stiff, speech-like thoughts. The movie industry talk sounds like the work of someone who has READ about Hollywood, rather than actually experienced it. Smiley doesn't spend time on the inner lives of her characters either--instead we get painstaking descriptions of the mundane:
"Want a drink?" said Simon, "A beer, maybe? I saw some Negro Modelo in the refrigerator."
Charlie nodded. Simon went to the refrigerator and took out four beers. He kept one for himself, passed one to Max, another to Charlie, and the last to Stoney. They looked good, thought Paul, though he hadn't had a beer in five years. At the sight of them, Zoe got up and went to the refrigerator herself. She brought back two large bottles of Pellegrino and set them, with glasses, on the coffee table.
Aaaarrrggghhhh! Neal Stephenson can digress for pages on the proper consumption of Cap'n Crunch in Cryptonomicon and I'm riveted, but this paragraph by Smiley makes me want to scratch my eyes out. She set two large bottles of Pellegrino WITH glasses on the coffee table? Really?!!! How fascinating! Another example of Smiley's tortured prose:
"She isn't strange. She's ideal." Isabel said this without any self-consciousness, just saying at last what she always felt, but Stoney's head swiveled around and he grinned at her, as if she were joking. She saw that he saw immediately that she was not.
She saw that he saw? Oh my god--I cannot believe I made it through this book. Maybe it should have been rated "E" for "Excruciating" or "G" for "God-awful." Throughout the book, one of the characters refers to the movie, My Dinner with Andre. Fitting actually, since the book is very similar to that movie. Just a lot of blah, blah, blah and yada, yada, yada and not much else.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pencil Me In

In my never-ending quest to find skincare and beauty products that are safer and healthier, I stumbled across pencil me in cosmetics, a line of eye pencils infused with vitamins and anti-oxidants.

The line, developed by Linda Eisner, features 30 different shades. Colors range from soft warm Fall colors of browns/suedes and eye-catching metallic bronzes to smoky misty greys and playful shades of glitters along with cool blues and greens and purples.

The colors I checked out were: Pink Lady Sparks, a pale pink with silvery shimmer; Emerald City, a rich forest-green; Amethyst, a jewel-toned purple and Indigo, a muted blue-gray. My favorite, however, was One Cent, a bronze color that made my blue eyes POP!

Along with the cute name and natural ingredients, the eye pencils have a cleverly built-in sharpener right on the cap! How smart is that?!!! The formula is easy to apply and wears really well. Seriously well. I worked out at the gym and came home and took a shower and the liner was still there! They're affordable as well--with a suggested retail of $7.00. That's about HALF of what MAC will cost you...

If you're looking to replace your cosmetic products with more natural and healthier alternatives, you might want to add pencil me in to your list.

Stem Cell Alchemy

Some people's most fervent wish is everlasting happiness.

Good luck with that!

Others altruistically yearn for world peace.

Again, mazel tov...

My fondest desire? A functioning pancreas.

Well, I have as much chance of achieving everlasting happiness and world peace as I do with that, but according to an article in today's Washington Post, Harvard biologists have discovered the next best thing: functioning beta cells.

Through a series of painstaking experiments involving mice, the Harvard biologists pinpointed three crucial molecular switches that, when flipped, completely convert a common cell in the pancreas into the more precious insulin-producing ones that diabetics need to survive.

The feat, published online today by the journal Nature, raises the tantalizing prospect that patients suffering from not only diabetes but also heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies.


Maybe in five years or so, I'll be able to scratch "functioning pancreas" off my list and replace it with "world peace."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Son of Rambow on DVD August 26th

A charming ode to childhood imagination and friendship, Son of Rambow is the whimsical reminiscence of writer/director Garth Jennings. Jennings took his own childhood experiences--the old "Let's put on a show!" motto updated for the video age--and created the story of Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and Lee Carter (Will Poulter) and their attempts to make a movie inspired by Sylvester Stallone's Rambo.

Will and Lee are most definitely an odd couple. Will, a member of the Plymouth Brethen, is reserved and meek and not allowed to watch television. Lee, on the other hand, is rebellious and bossy and without parental guidance. When Will catches a glimpse of Lee's pirated copy of First Blood, his natural creativity is unleashed in a big (like Stallone on steroids) way. He imagines himself, all 70-some lbs., as an action hero. And Lee is only too happy to capture it all on tape.

Jennings does a nice job of illuminating Will's imagination and capturing the essence of the unbridled creativity of children--creativity which conjures up evil scarecrows and flying dogs and the sort of stunts that would make anyone's Mum cringe in horror. Milner and Poulter are newcomers, but that only adds to the freshness and genuineness of their performances. The film also features Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick as Lee Carter's older brother Lawrence. Westwick doesn't do much more than look pretty which, admittedly, he does very well. The story meanders along with subplots involving an overbearing Brethren elder and a "too cool for school" French exchange student but overall the movie belongs to Milner and Poulter--and it is at its best when it focuses on their Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn-esque (or perhaps more fitting would be "Oliver/Artful Dodger") relationship and the capers surrounding the filming of their "epic."

The DVD contains commentary by Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith and the two young leads, as well as Boys Will Be Boys, the "making of" featurette. The best extras, however, are two amateur short films which capture the essence of what Jennings was attempting to convey in his film. The first is Aron, Jennings own work circa 1986 (he was fourteen!). Complete with credit roll via a long sheet of computer paper (indicating it was "divised [sic] and directed by Garth Jennings") along with action sequences inspired by Stallone, Aron shows the genesis of Jennings film career as well as Will and Lee's story.

Also included is the winning entry from the Son of Rambow short film contest, which launched during the film's theatrical run on and challenged filmmakers to create their own short film. The competition was judged by Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, who selected the winner--in this case Mission Improbable, an Alias-type action-thriller created by the Dunn family.

Set in the 80s, during the advent of portable video cameras, the film features music from The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, NuShooz, Duran Duran, Gary Numan and Blondie as well as an original score by Jody Talbot. The DVD is available exclusively at Best Buy so if you're looking for a sweet and endearing movie about friendship, loyalty and the power of play, Son of Rambow offers all that and more.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Barker Block Sunset Series August 28th

The next edition of Barker Block Sunset Series presented by Filter Magazine will feature:

  • Music by DJ Pants Off and the K Bros
  • Let There Be Light - a photography exhibit of psychedelic colors and surrealistic images
  • Live visual performance by Quinine X
  • Hope wine tasting
  • Complimentary drinks courtesy of Colt 45, Honest Tea and Titos Vodka

The when, where and how:

Date: Thursday, August 28th
Time: 6-10 pm
Place: 512 S. Molino St., Los Angeles, CA 90013

Admission is free with RSVP--but you must RSVP for entrance!

Dexter - Season Two

My name is Stella and I am an addict. I am addicted to a show about a sympathetic serial killer. How ironic that season two of Dexter should feature our anti-hero going through a twelve step program. Initially, the "Inconvenient Lie" is to appease Dexter's girlfriend Rita who thinks Dexter is a drug addict. Little does she know that murder, not heroin, is his drug of choice. The NA cover also throws Doakes off the scent, but brings a much worse complication in the form of Lila (Jaime Murray), Dexter's sponsor cum soul mate.

Personally, I could have done without the Lila diversion. I felt she only served to undermine the audience empathy with Dexter. While Dexter was with the sweet and meek Rita, it was easier to identify with his good side. When he took up with the manipulative and deceitful Lila (aka skank, trollop, slag and a host of other denigrations courtesy of Dexter's sister Debra), he became far less sympathetic. Still, I understand why the writers threw in that complication. It certainly made life a bit tricky for Dexter--added to the fact that the evidence of his crimes were discovered by treasure hunters exploring the ocean floor off the coast of Miami (hmm--that's pretty much how the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 was discovered on LOST...).

Juggling Lila, evading Doakes and trying to stay under the radar of Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine), who is conducting the FBI search for the Bay Harbor Butcher, makes for a lot of balls in the air for Dexter during season two. I was on the edge of my seat for every single episode! It was weird to see cool, calm and collected Dexter unraveling and @#$%ing up--but far more intriguing than the perfectionist serial killer of last season.

Carradine did a great job iconoclastic agent, but I would have preferred the writers kept his relationship with Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) to the hero-worship/father figure without having Debra indulge her Electra complex. That was just "Ew!" I was also not thrilled with the Esme Pasquale character being portrayed as a complete basketcase instead of a competent leader. Captain Matthews tells Laguerta that Pasquale set women back 20 years--and yeah, she sure did. Thanks writers! Like we really needed a female leader portrayed as a jealous, shrewish nutcase.

Perhaps it was just a mechanism to get Laguerta back as the head of homicide. But seriously, they could have come up with something better. And Laguerta as the string-pulling, backstabbing bitch behind Pasquale's downfall didn't sit well with me either. Lauren Velez is amazing at giving Laguerta dimensionality, and certainly her machinations were later redeemed by her loyalty to Doakes later on in the season, but did we really need this little subplot?

Speaking of James Doakes (Erik King), it was a rather ignoble end--but truthfully, his was not a likable character and I wasn't really sorry to see him go. It was rare we got to see a human side to him--he always seemed permanently pissed off. Perhaps, as Dexter pointed out to him, if he had a life he wouldn't have been obsessed with Dexter--and as such, would still be alive. My favorite character is Angel--who is also Dexter's favorite as well. The best moment of season two was this exchange between the two:

Dexter: Angel, if I got to choose a person, a real person, to be like, out of anyone, it'd be you.
Angel: Not really sure what that means, but thanks Dex.
So with Lila, Frank and Doakes now out of the way, will Dexter have an easier time of it in season three?


Yup. I am addicted. I am constantly amazed at how the writers of this series are able to get us to sympathize and root for the "bad guy." I don't plan on overcoming this addiction any time soon, so I must find someone with Showtime to TiVo season three (which starts September 28th!) for me...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hamlet 2

One reviewer call Hamlet 2 "This Year's Napoleon Dynamite."

It's not THAT bad!

It's not that great either. The comedic tale of a bad actor, terrible teacher, epically awful acting teacher, is fitfully amusing as it spoofs high school drama productions, ethnic stereotyping and the ACLU but often degenerates into a sort of Will Ferrell does Ferris Bueller zone. Steve Coogan has been called a "comic genius," but I generally relegate that term to the incisive wit of George Carlin or the slapstick antics of Lucille Ball. Mooning the audience or doing a flashing full-frontal is funny in a juvenile "I see London, I see France..." kinda way, but not the stuff "genius" is made of.

Although the humor is haphazard, the look of the film is consistently high quality thanks to the gorgeous cinematography by Alexander Gruszynski and Tony Fanning's production design. Co-written by Andrew Fleming (who also directed) and Pam Brady, the comedy also features performances by Catherine Keener as Marschz's long-suffering and insufferable wife, David Arquette as Gary the border, Amy Poehler as Cricket Feldstein, the ACLU lawyer and Elisabeth Shue as Elisabeth Shue. The film almost duplicated Sundance Film Festival record set by Little Miss Sunshine when the distribution rights were acquired for $10 million. It's doubtful that the film will duplicate any other of Little Miss Sunshine's successes in box office gross or award nominations.

There's little here in the way of the emotional depth and character development as was depicted in Little Miss Sunshine. Everything is played for laughs--and there are some laughs to be had as Coogan's desperate Dana Marschz struggles to create his own Mr. Holland's Opus in order to save the West Mesa High School drama program. The result is the" so bad it's brilliant" sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet--in which Hamlet, with the help of Jesus Christ, time travels to save everyone from their ignominous fates at the end of the original play. "You're taking the tragedy out of a tragedy?" points out one of the parents. Well, all that dying WAS a downer according to Marschz whose musical reimagination of the "tragedy" is inspired by Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Star Wars and those Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon Beach Blanket Bingo movies.

It's the inevitable staging of the musical--which has been banned by the school board and bolstered by the ACLU--that is the highlight of the film. At one point, an audience member exclaims, "I'm simultaneously horrified and fascinated..." and that pretty much sums up the spectacle that is the musical number titled "Rock Me Sexy Jesus." Too bad there's not more of Hamlet 2 in Hamlet 2. It would have made for a much funnier movie.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I was just about to settle down with Disc 3 of Season 2 of Dexter last night when I noticed something odd about the output of my DVD player. Usually the screen is a bright blue, but instead it was a mixture of red and green. When the DVD started, everyone was looking green. Must be something wrong with the tint function. I tried adjusting the controls, but everything stayed either neon green or fuschia.


It didn't take me long to figure out that the picture tube--which mixes red, blue and green--was missing the blue. I don't know much about TVs or picture tubes, but mine was almost 20 years old. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.

Still, it couldn't have picked a worst time to die on me. Although new TVs are pretty inexpensive these days--and I could use an upgrade to digital--I don't have the money to be shelling out for a new TV. So, I turned to Craigslist. I've found jobs and writing partners and even sold stuff on Craigslist--surely I could locate a cheap TV!

And I did. $40 for a 27" RCA TV. It's still analog, but it's 27", baby! That's seven more than my JVC. Of course, I didn't stop to consider that 27" might be a bit much to carry. Fortunately, my neighbor was home to help me lug it up a flight of stairs to my apartment. 27" is also a bit big for the little TV cart on which my 20" JVC nestled perfectly. But I shoved some stuff underneath the set to stop it from wobbling.

I first set up the antenna and digital converter. Could not get a picture for the life of me--but after I punched on some buttons randomly on the remote in frustration and desperation, suddenly a picture appeared. Note to self: see if you can locate user manual online...

The old TV had like a 4" wide ledge across the top that the digital converter box and/or antenna could sit on. The new one has only a 2" ledge so after the digital converter crashed to the floor TWICE, I wised up and taped it to the top of the TV.

I was able to hook up an antenna, digital converter, DVD and VCR to my old TV which only had one output port and required a mini-modulator in order for the old-fashioned technology to be compatible with the new-fangled DVD player. I haven't been able to figure out how to hook even just my DVD player up without losing the antenna capabilities, so for now it's swapping wires in and out whenever I want to watch a DVD. My friend Davey the AV tech will come by one of these days and help me figure it out.

The old JVC TV is sitting on the floor, screen facing the wall. *Sniffle* It was a good TV--I'll miss it! When I can afford a new one, I think I'm getting another JVC. In the meantime, I get to watch the rest of Season Two of Dexter in 27" of red, green AND blue.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mr. Romance

Mel is still talking on the phone, his office door ajar.
Jimmy pushes it open and cautiously sticks his head in. Mel
has his back to him--one hand holding the phone to his ear,
the other rubbing his temple as if on the verge of a migraine.

(into the phone)
--but I already told you I was sorry!
How can you expect me--
Yes, sweetheart. Yes, sweetheart.
I'm sorry. OK. I'll see you--
Mel stops talking and looks at the receiver which is emitting
a DIAL TONE. Beaten, he sighs. He hangs up the phone and
turns to Jimmy.
Bad day?

I forgot our anniversary.

That's not good.

Well, it's not exactly easy. We've
got the anniversary of when we first
met, our first date, our first kiss,
the day we moved in together. How
can anyone keep track of all this?

The year Jordan was drafted by the


What year was Michael Jordan drafted
by the Chicago Bulls?


First Bulls NBA championship?

1991 over the L.A. Lakers.

Last time the Sox won a World Series?

1917 over the Giants.

Your memory for dates doesn't seem
to be impaired.

Whose side are you on anyway?

Which anniversary did you forget?

Uh—-the first time we--you know.

Oh, man--

Yeah. I don't understand it. For
our first kiss anniversary, I bought
her a dozen roses. And I gave her
an engagement ring for her birthday.
Doesn't that count for anything?

Yeah. You get two points. One for
each. So--I wanted to discuss my

Only two? The engagement ring set
me back almost ten grand. Seems
like that would be worth, I dunno—-
fifteen-hundred points or something.

How long were you guys together before
you proposed?

Six years.

Yeah. It's worth two points. See
it's like a goal in basketball. It
doesn't matter if it's a gravity
defying slam-dunk, an over the
shoulder flip or an easy lay up-—
it's still worth only two points.
Doesn't matter how pretty it was or
how much effort went into it. Two
points. Now about my assignments--

But still--I must have racked up
thousands of points over six years.

Yeah but so has she. And you have
to keep racking up the points or
else she'll feel like she's beating
you. You have to keep the score

What does she get points for?

Making dinner, buying Christmas
presents for your family, picking up
your dry cleaning, having sex with

She gets points for having sex with

I've seen you without a shirt-—she
gets extra points for having sex
with you.

Do I get points for having sex with

Jimmy shifts gears.
So I was thinking I would be good at
covering the Northwestern games...

So I forgot an anniversary. I lost
one point. So what's the big deal?

Well, now by forgetting you not only
lose the point, you get a penalty.
It's like you're fourth and ten on the
other team's forty yard line
and you get called for holding.
Fifteen yards moves you out of field
goal range. What do you do?


No! There's only ten seconds on the
clock and you're down by two.
Strategy, man!

So what do I do?
Jimmy sighs and shakes his head. He sits down in a chair
next to Mel's desk and thinks. He straightens up and turns
to Mel.
You get one of her girlfriends to
get her out of the house all day.
Take her shopping or something.
Clean up the house while she's gone.
Hire a cleaning service. Make sure
it's spotless. Then, you make her a
romantic dinner. When she comes
home, the table is set for two with
candles and flowers -- the whole
nine yards. She asks you, "So what's
the occasion?" And you say to her—
Jimmy pauses and leans in.
This is the anniversary of the day I
fell in love with you all over again.

That's good!

You pour her a glass of wine, massage
her feet --

--and then a romantic dinner—-
followed by a little dessert?

If you do this right, you won't make
it to the entree.
Mel considers this. He likes it--it makes sense. Jimmy
sees his opportunity.
Now that we have that resolved, I
wanted to talk to you about my

Monday. I have a romantic weekend
to organize.
Mel gets up and puts on his coat. Turning to Jimmy as he
rushes out the door,
Thanks buddy, I owe you!
Jimmy is left in the empty office.
Yeah, well, I'm glad we had this
little chat!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Slippery When Wet

Is it just me, or is Michael Phelps way hotter when he's in the pool than on dry land?

The Kellogg's Corn Flakes he'll be flacking may get soggy when wet, but being submerged only improves Michael.

In my opinion...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Laying Down the Law Online

There was an interesting article "crimes" and punishment in the virtual realm in the Washington Post today. When it comes to virtual worlds, part of me can't help but think of this exchange between Dwight Shrute and Jim Halpert on The Office regarding Second Life:

Dwight: It's not a game. There are no losers.
Jim: Oh, there are losers...
On the other hand, I realize I spend an inordinate amount of my life online: job hunting and networking, reading and writing blogs, e-mailing and Superpoking friends, shopping, researching, catching up with the news. The internet isn't my second life. It IS my life.

According to the article:
"Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a "flame war," or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment -- permanent exile."
Hmm--seems like the community managers could come up with more original and fitting punishments than THAT!!! Here's a couple of ideas:

Crime: Content Scrapers
Punishment: They should be tarred and feathered. Not virtually--in real life!

Crime: Shameless self-promotion
Punishment: You will be required to relinquish your cool "Wizard" avatar and replace it with a picture of Donald Trump.

Crime: An overwhelming need to be the resident "expert"
Punishment: 30 days of only ASKING not answering questions

Crime: Spamming fellow community members
Punishment: Points can only be spent to buy virtual Viagra (whether you're male OR female), car insurance (whether or not you own a virtual vehicle) or Detox products (this seems quite fitting for a spammer!).

Crime: Posting in ALL CAPS
Punishment: One week where any all cap word will be auto-translated into Swahili and a permanent ban on the use of the exclamation mark key.

Crime: Rampant misspellings, bad grammar and the use of "txt msg" syntax.
Punishment: One week of communication limited to words that use only the letters P, G, B, I and U.

If you were "Sheriff of the Internet," what crimes would you punish and how?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On DVD 8/26 - Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?

Morgan Spurlock first gained attention with his Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me! Now he turns his attention from Big Macs to bin Laden his latest documentary which takes him through war-torn territories of the Middle East in search of the world's most wanted terrorist.

The set-up is this: With the impending birth of his first child, Spurlock wants to make sure the world is safe for the newborn. The hitch is, the terrorist mind behind 9/11 is still on the loose. So Spurlock sets off with his camera crew to find Osama. Seriously now--if you're about to bring a child into the world, do you risk your life by traveling to the most troubled spots on the planet? Is Spurlock out of his freaking MIND?!!!

It's an audacious idea, but the execution is fairly formulaic: travel to the Middle East and meet with the people and find out what they think. Not suprisingly, most of them claim to like the American PEOPLE, but hate our government. Hey, most American people hate our government, too! And that ends up being Spurlock's major thesis: despite the differences in language, culture and religion and the fact that many people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc. live in deplorable conditions due to the constant strife within their countries, we all--Americans and Muslims--just want the peace, prosperity and opportunity to raise our children safely. With the exception of a group of Orthodox Jews in Israel, Spurlock is treated with civility by just about everyone he encounters on his so-called "search" for Osama.

So in the immortal words of Rodney King, "Can we all get along?"

There are moments of brilliant irreverance (e.g.; an animated Osama dancing to M. C. Hammer's Can't Touch This) and introspective wisdom (Father Nabil Haddad, a priest living in Jordan says, "Religion is being used as a mask to hide the cruelty, the ugliness of violence..."), but overall there's very little in the way of ground that hasn't been covered before. Unless you, like Osama, have been living in a cave, Spurlock makes no new points or offers new solutions that haven't been seen or heard in prior commentaries. However, utilizing animation, Final Fantasy-esque video game stylings, traditional interviews, video confessionals and evocative visuals, Morgan Spurlock does manage to give his material a fresh twist--even if he doesn't manage to locate Osama.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nude Skincare: Offering the Best of Both Worlds

It's all well and good to be eco-conscious and into organics, but when it comes to skincare it's usually been a choice between natural products that are wholesome and healthy, or cutting-edge chemical concoctions that actually WORK. Peace, love and granola is an admirable sentiment, but when you're fighting the signs of the times (fine line, wrinkles, age spots) you need something with a bit more oomph than jojoba oil. At least that's what the clientele of Bryan Meehan, former owner of Fresh & Wild (the U.K. equivalent of WholeFoods), was telling him. His health-conscious customers were stocking up on organic produce, but going elsewhere to buy skincare laden with the types of chemicals they assiduously avoided in their diet.

Which inspired Meehan to come up with nude, a line of skincare that is effective, eco-friendly and comprised of supremely luxurious ingredients.

The first priority for nude was that the products be EFFECTIVE. Meehan's intent is to compete with the cosmeceutical doctor brands--but while many clinical skincare lines are loaded with retinols and acids, nude's anti-aging philosophy is about AVOIDING irritation. The line uses a combination of pro-biotic ingredients and a neutral pH to protect the skin's natural microflora balance (good bacteria!) and acid mantle, in addition to pre-biotics to keep skin hydrated naturally. nude works on the principle that the breakdown of the acid mantle and irritation is a primary cause of aging, so the ingredients work to feed and nourish the skin.

Philosophy is one thing--but nude has clinical studies to back up their claims. Try getting THAT from a bottle of jojoba oil!

Exquisite ingredients are also an important part of the line. The facial scrub contains fine beads of rose quartz, the replenishing night oil boasts a blend of omega 3, 6, 7 and 9 and antioxidants raspberry, cranberry, avellana and kukui and the age defense moisturizer blends bioactive milk peptides, antioxidant buriti oil and argan extract along with hyaluronic acid. The products are filled with bioactives, peptides, phytoactives, potent botanicals and organic ingredients. What you won't find in any of Nude's products: parabens, sulphates, PEGs, propylene glycol, TEA, DEA, phthalates, mineral oil, silicones, GM and potential carcinogens.

The last piece of the puzzle is the line's overwhelming commitment to being as eco-friendly as possible. From sourcing beautiful organic, fair trade and community traded ingredients whenever possible or when organic alternatives are not available choosing the safest, healthiest options possible to working to make all nude packaging from post consumer recycled or biodegradable materials. Currently nude uses Type 5 polypropylene packaging which is completely recyclable (and if you can't find a local PP5 recycler, nude provides contact information online) and 40% of the collection is made of 50% post industrial recycled plastic. In addition, the company itself is carbon neutral as it takes steps to reduce and offset its carbon emissions annually.

nude doesn't claim to be perfect, but they have put an amazing amount of effort into making responsible decisions to reduce materials, pollution and waste. Not content to rest on some already considerable laurels, Meehan is continuing to work towards perfection with plans to add a sunscreen to his thoroughbred stable of products (next May) as well as working towards 100% recycled materials (within a year) and 100% organic ingredients (within five years). And as of this month, nude launched its formidable line in 60 Sephoras across the U.S.

So watch out Dr. Brandt, Dr. Perricone and Dr. Wexler! You may think you've found the fountain of youth in your testtubes, but high-performance skincare has stripped off the labcoat and gotten nude.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Yet another comedy receiving critical raves. Would it be mildly amusing like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or would it squander its potential like Pineapple Express? Up to now, my favorite and funniest comedy of the summer has been Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan, so I wondered if Tropic Thunder would live up to the hype.

Damn right it does!

The audience at the Sunday morning showing I went to see was laughing from the beginning faux trailers (heck, one person was chortling at the Martin Scorcese/AT&T turn off your cell phone PSA!) through the closing credits (with Tom Cruise dancing to Ludacris' Get Back which then segued into The Crystal Method's The Name of the Game). The movie, co-written, directed and starring Ben Stiller, is unceasingly over-the-top silliness. It's gorey, profane, politically incorrect and unbelievably hilarious.

Much has been said about Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as a multiple Oscar winning Australian actor whose dedication to his craft has him dying his skin to play the role of a black character. Personally, I thought he was very funny (albeit difficult to understand at times), but showed his real acting chops when he was effortlessly doing his Aussie accent as Kirk Lazarus rather than his shtick as Lincoln Cyrus. Or was it Cyrus Lincoln? Downey Jr.'s wordless emoting during the trailer for "Satan's Alley"--which "features five time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus!" and "MTv Best Kiss Award winner Tobey Maguire!" had me in tears. The laughing kind...

But let's give credit where credit is due: first and foremost to Ben Stiller (along with co-writer/producer Justin Theroux and writer Etan Cohen) whose twisted brain came up with the idea to do a movie-within-a-movie (within a movie?) spoof on the Hollywood action movie genre--as well as movie trailers, entertainment "news," Oscar-bait, venal studio chiefs, obsequious agents, pyrotechnics, rappers, commercialism, product placement, etc. His portrayal of fading action star Tugg Speedman is right up there with Downey Jr. in setting the tone for tongue firmly planted in cheek. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson hold their own as well as supporting cast members in the Vietnam-set action flick. Jackson's "Alpa Chino" constantly butts heads with Downey Jr.'s Lazarus over his portrayal of a black man:

Alpa Chino: Maybe I just knew I had to represent...
Kirk Lazarus: Hot damn!
Alpa Chino: ...because they had one good part in there for a *black* man, and they gave it to "Crocodile Dundee"!
Kirk Lazarus: Pump your brakes kid, that man's a national treasure.
Alpa Chin: Why don't you throw some shrimp on the barbie?
Kirk Lazarus: You about to cross some fuckin' line!
Alpa Chino: I'm sorry a dingo ate your baby!
Kirk Lazarus: Don't joke about that, that's a true story. A woman's baby died!
There's Nick Nolte doing grizzled veteran Four Leaf Tayback and Danny McBride as a trigger-happy special effects guy. Matthew McConaughey oozes unctousness as Tugg's glad-handing agent and Tom Cruise is fearless as the spewing, gloating and dancing studio chief Les Grossman. I don't know why some reviewers said he was unrecognizable. Yeah, the bald head looked more like Jeffrey Katzenberg than Ethan Hunt but it wouldn't have surprised me even if I hadn't had already known going in. Still, I have to give the man props for going out all to deliver the goods.

Oh did I forget to mention Jack Black? Probably because his character of Jeff Portnoy was the weakest link in the movie. There were brief cameos that made more of an impression than Black's drug-addicted funnyman. Otherwise the film is filled to the brim with sight gags and zingers, frenetic comedy and frantic action plus a great soundtrack (Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil, Edwin Starr War, Spencer Davis Group Give Me Some Lovin', and my favorite, The Temptations Ball of Confusion to name a few...) in a story that manages to both send up Hollywood and honor the cheesy action flick. The explosive ending sequence alone looked like something out of a Michael Bay movie!

This is so far--and by far--the funniest movie of the summer. For me, it was also the best action flick with more bang for my six bucks than Iron Man (which I loved!) and The Dark Knight combined.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Favorite Words

Stealing from Inspired by Elisabeth, I came up with a list of twenty-six (one for each letter of the alphabet) words that I like. It was actually quite difficult as there as some letters where it was hard to come up with one word ("X" for example) and others where I could come up with several dozen ("P" for profligate, prodigious, promulgate, promiscuous, etc.). This is not an absolute list, but it is a collection of words that I either use a lot (U), like the way it sounds (S) or like the meaning or linguistic background (M).

1. Acquiescence (S)
2. Brilliant (U, S)
3. Coherent (U, M)
4. Dazzle (S)
5. Extravagant (M - This word comes from the Latin "extra" meaning beyond plus "vagari" which is the same root for the word vagrant meaning "to wander." Cool, huh? I also dig the words "extraordinary," "eloquent" and "evocative.")
6. Facetious (S, M)
7. Giggle (S)
8. Hyperbole (S)
9. Impeccable (S, M)
10. Jubilant (S)
11. Kinetic (S, M)
12. Lascivious (S)
13. Mellifluous (S, M)
14. Nuance (S, M, U)
15. Obsequious (S, M)
16. Prognostication (S)
17. Quixotic (S)
18. Rhythm (S, M)
19. Superfluous (S)
20. Tenacious (S, M)
21. Ubiquitous (S)
22. Vindication (M, U)
23. Wherewithal (M)
24. I'd be lying if I said "Xylophone" was a favorite word. Elisabeth skipped "K," so I guess I can skip "X."
25. Y'all (M, U - It seems to me that Southerners have a pretty good solution to the fact that English, unlike many other languages, lacks a way to refer to "you" plural. Pittsburgh's "y'ins" or New York/New Jersey "Youse" doesn't have quite the same mellifluous warmth to it.)
26. Zaftig (S)

What are some of your favorite words?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fly Me to the Moon

It's pretty rare that an animated feature is released that isn't made by one of two animation behemoths--Pixar or Dreamworks. But that's about to change. Summit Entertainment bills Fly Me to the Moon as the "first ever animated feature created for 3D." What this means is that the movie is the first computer generated feature conceived and produced in 3D for a 3D only release. All other 3D movies were filmed in 2D and converted into 3D later. It's actually the "first ever" 3D movie I have seen, so although I have nothing to compare it to, I must admit the 3D was pretty impressive.

Fly Me to the Moon is also unique in its use of "parallel cameras" where the frame is exploded around the picture to create space rather than the traditional convergence technique which results in a flat, window effect. Technical effects aside, the movie tells the story of the Apollo 11 space flight and lunar landing--as seen through the twelve eyes of three young houseflies: Nat, IQ and Scooter. There are some great moments of visual whimsy as the filmmakers give us a "fly's eye view", but the movie lacks the all ages wit and charm of a Shrek or a Toy Story.

No matter--it's perfect for the young ones. The screening I attended was filled with kids who were completely transfixed throughout. It's a cute and clever way to give youngsters--whose parents probably aren't even old enough to remember the 1969 Apollo mission--a bit of a painless science and history lesson. Featuring the vocal talents of Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Ripa, Ed Begley Jr. and Buzz Aldrin as himself, Fly Me to the Moon offers a "fly on the wall" perspective to a major historic event. And with its use of ground-breaking 3D technology, makes a bit of history itself!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Food, Glorious Food!

If you're in the SoCal area this weekend, forget Disneyland or Universal Studios or even the beach and head to Anaheim for America's Best Food Events The Celebrity Food Show. Running August 15th through the 17th at the Hilton Anaheim, the show features celebrity chefs, a cake competition, wine and gourmet food tasting and probably enough to feed a small third world nation.

One of the exhibitors at the show will be Fresno-based Bouquet of Fruits which will be sampling their gourmet Swiss style truffles (flavors include appletini, creme brulee, pina colada and raspberry cheesecake to name a few) and their LIQUID wine filled chocolates, chocolate caramel apples and unusual fresh fruit varieties
(like black apricots). Damn, this is making me hungry just typing it!

Entrance to the food show costs only $10 per adult ($5 for Seniors) with children under 16 getting in FREE! (These people obviously have not seen how much food a fifteen year-old boy can eat!) Ten bucks, people! For all you can nosh--so skip breakfast and head to Anaheim hungry. And if you go, check out Bouquet of Fruits' table and tell Cory that Stella says "Hi!"

Gnome Sweet Gnome

I was checking out in my ongoing quest to find an affordable digital camera and what should pop up on the home page? Joining the ranks of foam fingers, bobble-heads and terrible towels is the officially licensed NFL (and MLB and NCAA...) Garden Gnome.

I kid you not.

I once saw a Steelers Nutcracker that I was sorely tempted to purchase for my Black and Gold emblazoned brother. This is so much better!

I think I know what a certain someone might be getting for Christmas...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The French Chef was an American Spy

Julia Child worked for the OSS during World War II.


I thought she made an awesome Duck L'Orange--who knew?!!!

Hmm--maybe Chuck Barris really WAS a hitman for the CIA...

Not Left Behind

"How do you do anything with your left hand? I don't understand!," my Dad would tease me growing up. Other than writing with ball-point pens (which would invariably get smeared as my crab-like hand moved across the page...), it wasn't all that difficult. One problem I did have, however, was instinctively being able to tell my left from my right. If my Mom told me to fetch something for her from say the upper right dresser drawer, I'd have to stop and think which hand I wrote with and then make a mental note. Sometimes, after figuring out which hand was the right one I'd put it on my head so I wouldn't forget when I got to my destination. Turns out, that not being able to quickly discern right from left is a fairly common quirk. And even more common with lefties.

Something else that is proportionally more common with lefties is how often they run for President. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are southpaws--so which ever man wins, we'll have a lefty in the White House! According to the article in the Washington Post:

No matter who wins in November, six of the 12 chief executives since the end of World War II will have been left-handed: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush, Clinton and either Obama or McCain. That's a disproportionate number, considering that only one in 10 people in the general population is left-handed.
Other famous left-handers include:

Ben Franklin (with whom I share a birthday in addition to hand preference!)
Joan of Arc
Julius Caesar
Alexander the Great
Helen Keller
Buzz Aldrin
Dave Barry
Edward R. Murrow
JFK Jr. AND his sister Caroline!
Jay Leno and David Letterman
Lenny Bruce
Clarence Darrow
Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler
Lewis Carroll
Mark Twain
David Byrne
Kurt Cobain
Jimi Hendrix
Paul McCartney
Robert DeNiro
Whoopi Goldberg
Oprah Winfrey
Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner and Dorothy Hamill
Kermit the Frog and Bart Simpson
as well as Me and my blogging buddy, Elisabeth!

Happy Left-Handers Day! If you're not a southpaw, don't feel "left" out--some of my best friends write with the wrong hand!