Thursday, February 22, 2007

Correspondence course

If I were writing a letter from Iwo Jima, no one would ever be able to write me back. That's because the return address would say Iowa Jima, and everyone would think I was writing from a town in Iowa named Jima. That's because everytime I try to write the name "Iwo Jima" it comes out as "Iowa Jima". There actually is no town named Jima, Iowa.

You would have to think the same thing happens to any Japanese person who tries to write about Iowa. Say there's some guy in Japan who watches a movie every day and writes a blog about it. Maybe one day he picks "Field of Dreams" which is about some guy who cuts a baseball field into his cornfield in the middle of Iowa. I bet that Japanese guy would start telling everyone the guy cut his baseball field into a cornfield in the middle of Iwo Jima. Then everyone would think the Japanese guy was nuts, because there are no cornfields on Iwo Jima. And don't even get that guy started on "My Own Private Idaho" his head would explode. Thank goodness there's no "My Own Private Iowa Jima" -- I mean Iwo Jima.

What's perfect about watching "Letters From Iwo Jima" (which I just wrote as Iowa Jima, but thanks to the magic of editing I fixed it so no one will ever know) and "Notes on a Scandal" as a double feature is that their lengths match their titles perfectly. "Notes" is 92 minutes; "Letters" is 50% longer. That's how it should be. It takes a lot longer to write a letter than it does to write a note. If you ask me, a note should never take up more than one sheet of paper, and even then that sheet of paper shouldn't be a full one, nowhere near your regulation 8½-by-11 size. Notes should almost exclusively be written on small sheets of paper, preferably ripped from larger pieces of paper although paper manufactured specifically for notes (like Post-its) will do. Napkins, the back of business cards, the inside of a matchbook -- all these work splendidly for notes.

But a letter, that could take awhile. It could go on for several pages. Even when a letter is short, it usually takes up a whole page, thanks to the pomp and circumstance that goes with putting together the inside address, the salutation, the letterhead, the complimentary closing, and the signature. A business letter that only has a sentence or two can easily be spread out over an entire sheet of paper thanks to these rules.

So a movie about notes should be a lot shorter than a movie about letters. That my library friend Kathy and I agree upon.

Notes on a Scandal: Noteworthy performances
Letters From Iwo Jima: Oscar schmoscar

Kings over Aces
Nothing beats doing one thing when you're supposed to be doing something else.

It's what's made The Price is Right so popular all these years. It wasn't until Bob Barker came on at 11 a.m. on a snow day that you realized that you actually did get the day off from school. That you should be taking an algebra test right that moment, but instead you're trying to figure out how close to the price of a dining room hutch you've come without going over. (Hey, Bob Barker actually was teaching algebra!) It's why The Price is Right during the summertime isn't nearly as good as The Price is Right during a snow day.

It's why football on Sunday is that much sweeter when you're watching it instead of going to church. Sure, there's the pangs of guilt and the fear that you're going straight to hell as soon as the game is over, but you're supposed to be in church and instead you're watching football. What exhilaration!

And it's why The Last King of Scotland and Smokin' Aces are that much more enjoyable. I'm supposed to be at work; instead I'm at the movie theater. Not only am I at the movie theater, I'm sneaking into the second movie. That makes it TWICE as good. Or is it twice as bad? It doesn't even matter what these two movies are about, I'm supposed to be at work! I'm not supposed to be watching Forest Whitaker turn in an Oscar-nominated performance as former Ugandan leader Idi Amin. I'm doubly not supposed to be watching Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keyes, and about a dozen other people try to get Jeremy Piven's character in Smokin' Aces. And I sure wasn't supposed to be watching The Price is Right before heading to the theater!

No, I'm supposed to be at work. Oh, don't worry, I have an excused absence. I did take the day off because I need to be somewhere in the evening. So it might be hooky, but it's an excused hooky.

But still...

It just makes these movies that much sweeter.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Anything for the art

Art's never been my thing, but I always kinda wished it had been my thing. That way maybe I would have turned out to be a great comic book artist. I loved reading comic books growing up -- still do (maybe the "growing up" part is ongoing) -- and often tried to draw my own comics.

I remember a seventh-grade art class in which I failed miserably at making a couple things, notably some kind of building out of popsicle sticks or toothpicks or something along those lines, and a piece of pottery that ended up being a lopsided ashtray. After those attempts, I pretty much gave up at art, even though I still liked getting the 64-piece Crayola crayon box. You were king of junior high when you had that thing. Every time I opened that up I felt like I was the president and the crayons were my loyal audience waiting to lap up whatever great speech I was about to give. You couldn't go wrong with all those crayons in front of you.

Anyway, sometimes I would try to draw comic books, with or without the 64 pack of crayons, but since I couldn't even make anything out of popsicle sticks my attempts at comic-book art were limited to stick figures with rays blasting out of their hands. The rays took the shape of squiggly lines. And sometimes my guys could fly, in which case I drew the stick figure sideways with his arms stretched out forward. The flying guys usually had capes, so I would draw a triangle that attached at my superhero's neck.

I figured someday I'd have my own line of comic books and my own universe of characters, just like Marvel Comics. Heck, yea, I want to make mine Marvel, Stan Lee! My most precious creation was some guy named Beerhead, who was a stick figure with a beer case for a mask. It was the 12-pack case that he wore, and he put it on sideways so he could see out of the little cardboard handle built right into the side. This was way before the fridge pack. Beerhead was kind of a comical superhero, where he would often bumble around but eventually beat up the bad guy.

One day I grew tired of Beerhead and traded his rights to my brother for a couple of Wonder Woman comic books. I suppose I was a bit ahead of my time in this, considering that just a couple years ago ABC traded sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC for the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. You can't tell me Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is any more valuable than Beerhead.

Actually I think my brother forgot all about Beerhead after a couple weeks, and I tried to make a couple more comic books with him in it. But then I got bored and started playing cards.

Many of these memories came back to me as I was watching this movie "Art School Confidential" that I had never heard of (just like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit) but that many people at my library were requesting. I don't think they ever heard of it either, but it is a pretty good title for a movie, so why not. And as it turns out I think I'm happy with my career path, which didn't include much dedication to or passion for art, despite my moderate success with Beerhead. If I had enjoyed art I might have ended up going to an art school, and even though I would probably have been able to draw pictures of some naked women in class a couple times, everything else would have driven me crazy. At least if it was anything like it's portrayed in this movie, which as you know is usually the case.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Thank goodness for cable

Boy, am I lucky. It's the return of cable internet access to my apartment, just in time for "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers"! Not only that, but it's a double feature as "Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers" follows.

Why it takes all the way until Halloween 5 for Michael Myers to get revenge, though, I don't know. In the original, he kills five people. In part two, he kills nine more. Then they don't even use him in "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch" -- how stupid! Then he gets 13 more people in part four before finally getting his "revenge" in part 5 by killing 22 more. Revenge for what? HE'S ALREADY KILLED 18 PEOPLE BEFORE PART 5!!! Maybe he wants revenge for being left out of Halloween 3.

Now, why exactly would I choose a Michael Myers double feature to be my re-entry into the world of cable television? Because I'm not really watching it! It's just background noise. Nope, tonight's actually the night for my online football league championship, KRFL Super Bowl VI. My upstart Cleveland Rocks (12-4) will be facing the league juggernaut Newark Bears, who went 15-1 in the regular season including a 35-15 victory over my Rocks in Week 1.

We've come a long way from then, baby. We even have cable again! Haven't needed it for the last few weeks since my building management conveniently forgot to disconnect the Internet network connection to my apartment for months after I requested it's disconnection. Free Internet for me for months! Can't watch Michael Myers double features late at night, but can read about Michael Myers on the web. Well, at least until the network crashed and they remembered that they forgot to disconnect me.

Now the Rocks are back in business. Since tonight I'll be paying attention to my Super Bowl and not the TV, Michael Myers will provide perfect background noise. Heck, who even wants to watch a censored horror flick on basic cable anyway. They cut out all the best killings and gratuitious nudity.

So while Michael Myers slashes his way through Haddonfield, Ill., (again), the Newark Bears slash their way through the Cleveland Rocks. I'm about ready to throw in the towel when, trailing 17-0 in the third quarter, a fourth-down run gets stuffed. I'm finished. But what the heck, it's just a computer game.

And then it's not just a computer game anymore, because I intercept a pass and convert it into a touchdown. We stuff Newark stud running back Tiki Barber inside the 20 and force a field goal. Down 20-7, another drive nets us a touchdown and suddenly the Rocks are down just 20-14 as the clock dwindles toward the final five minutes.

Michael Myers is forgotten now as the Rocks stuff Barber once more with just less than four minutes left in the game. Carson Palmer brings us to the line of scrimmage at our 33, but within two plays its 3rd-and-13. Then Palmer finds Rod Smith for 15 yards. The thrill is short lived -- soon it's 4th-and-inches on the Newark 45 with the two-minute warning approaching. Stephen Davis keeps us alive with a dive over the top for a first down. And then suddenly we're on the Newark 37, and then the 32, and then the 9 and there's still 40 seconds left.

On second down, Carson Palmer finds Rod Smith for a touchdown with 32 seconds remaining, and Cleveland takes a 21-20 lead. When Newark's Michael Koenen misses a 58-yard field goal, a Cleveland team has pulled off a miracle victory and delivered a sports championship, even if it is in a fantasy league.

Meanwhile, Michael Myers is still slashing. If he came after me right now, I might be able to take him down, the adrenaline rush from the KRFL Super Bowl victory has me so high. I'd shoot him and chop him in the head with an axe and ram a candlestick through his eye and light him on fire and push him down a well and then stick him in a freezer. No way he'd still be alive after all that.

Of course, if he comes tomorrow, after the adrenaline wears off, well ... let's just say it's a good thing that both Michael Myers and my Super Bowl title are both made of air.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Kill "The Messengers"

It's not "The Messengers" that's scaring me right now. It's The Usher down the hall at the Atlas Lakeshore Cinemas in Euclid, who looked at me as I walked down the 50-yard-long hallway from parking lot to theater lobby just like an actor walks down the red carpet to The Oscars ceremony.

He knows. He knows I'm here to steal one of his movies. He knows I'm not here just to watch "The Messengers", but that I'm going to sneak into one of his other movies right after. And maybe another one right after that. I felt his eyes on me from the moment I opened the theater door. He knows, because why else would someone be going to a movie theater at 5:30 in the afternoon right after work if they weren't planning on sneaking into another movie after the first movie ended?

Or it could be that he's watching me because I'm the only person in the freaking theater, and he's as bored for human contact as an astronaut stranded on Mars.

"Tickets that way," he points around the corner toward the lobby as I approach. "Go to your right, then turn left and go around the counter, and then to your left again."

Yep, good instructions for getting to the other side of the counter. Very detailed. This guy is VERY bored. But he knows. I know that he knows.

So now I'm watching "The Messengers" -- not a bad movie, it's keeping me entertained, but it's a PG-13 horror movie, so how scary can it be, plus I already figured out who the bad guy is because he's the one guy named in the credits that wasn't in ANY of the previews, and guess why that is??? -- but I'm more concerned with The Usher down the hallway than the ghosts on the screen. My second movie doesn't start exactly when my first one ends, and I'm not all that familiar with the layout of this theater. It's compact in the lobby, with three screening rooms within 15 feet of the concession stand. Then the rest of the theaters stretch along the hallway where I came in, with The Usher standing right in the middle with nothing to do.

Plus there's NO ONE HERE! I'm the only one watching "The Messengers", at least for the first 15 minutes of the movies, when two teenagers come in for their scare. I've only been thwarted at the theaters once before, 10 years ago, when a savvy teenage ticket-taker asked me what was under my coat when I was trying to smuggle a liter of Sprite into a movie.

"You should have told her it was your belly," laughed by girlfriend at the time. Even worse than choking under that teenage inquisition was that I was caught trying to smuggle a Sprite into "My Best Friend's Wedding."

And now here I am at "The Messengers," scared not of the movie but of The Usher, who I know knows. I have not prepared myself like Jack Bauer with blueprints of the building. Heck, I didn't even take a cursory glance of the theater when I came in, hoping to lay low despite being the only person in the building without a uniform.

When my movie ends, I exit the theater. There's no usher! And there's no one at the concession stand! If only I knew where the theater for the next movie was! I duck into the bathroom to hide out for a few minutes until the next movie time nears. Every so often I hear voices in the lobby, very few of them belonging to anyone coming in to see a movie.

Finally I compose myself and leave the bathroom. It looks like the theater I need is back down the long hallway I used to enter the building. But when I go back through the exit that leads down the hallway, I'm confused. A woman and her children are leaving one of the theaters right in front of me, and neither has the movie in it that I want! Did I take a wrong turn?

I turn back around to look into the lobby. Maybe I had just passed my theater. Nope, nothing there. Where the heck is that theater?

And then, "Can I help you, sir?" IT'S THE USHER! He knows, oh, how he knows. He's about halfway down the hallway, doing something (not taking tickets, of course, since no one's in the theater), and knows he has me.

"Oh, I'm just looking for someone," I say as I head toward him and the exit. "A friend of mine was supposed to meet me here."

"There's no one here," he says as I pass.

I know, I think, and now I'm not here either. Afraid of The Usher I head back down the red carpet, no Oscar in hand, and just as I'm leaving I see Theater 1, my Holy Grail. But it's too late now. There will be no free movie for me tonight. The Usher has thwarted me.

Monday, February 5, 2007

V for very, very cold

I should be leaving the Cedar-Lee Theater right now, after watching two movies for the price of one. I should be proud of myself for not only getting into two movies for the price of one, I should be proud of myself for also doing it on $5 night. You see, Monday is bargain night at the Cedar-Lee. The bargain isn't two movies for the price of one (that's my own special little bargain!), the bargain is $5 night. So what better night to sneak into a movie after the movie you paid for ended than on bargain night? Even the popcorn's cheap!

But somene wussed out. Apparently it's tooooooooo cold. You see, even though the movies are INSIDE, the fact that it's too cold OUTSIDE kept my movie date from coming anywhere near the movie theater. Something about her car might break down, like her daughter's did in Indiana over the weekend cause her timing belt couldn't take the cold and now it will cost $400 to fix. Or maybe a gigantic icicle will fall off a telephone pole and come crashing through her windshield on her way to the movie, impaling her. Or maybe the heater will conk out on the way to the show and she'll end up sitting at a red light, frozen like Jack Nicholson at the end of "The Shining."

Yea, so not only does every school from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin cancel its Monday classes during the Super Bowl and its Tuesday classes while all the teachers sleep in on Monday, but my movie date wusses out as well. Doesn't she realize what a dent this could put in A Movie Per Day??

Fortunately someone comes through. And that's the boys upstairs, who never met a bottle of wine and a DVD rental they didn't like. Joe and Bob, here I come!

It appears Bob has visited the local Blockbuster and rented a triple-feature's worth of movies. "V for Vendetta" -- somehow, a comic-book movie that I haven't seen -- is atop the list. I remember when it came out last year. That V guy's mask creeped me out, but made me want to wear it at the same time. There's something about a mask with a perpetual smile and lips that don't move that makes everything you say sound cool. Plus, the movie takes place in Britain, and there's just something about the way Brits talk that's downright hypnotic. I could imagine the following conversation sounding pleasant if the people having it spoke with British accents:

"Excuse me, lad, but I believe you just peed your knickers."

"Aha, good man, it may appear that way, but believe me, I merely spilled some water. So jolly."

"No, no, that can't be. I clearly saw you grab your groin and sigh while that wet spot grew. You undoubtedly soiled yourself right here on the street corner."

"I couldn't imagine why one would wet himself in public, barring a complete psychotic meltdown. I can assure you that event is not taking place here."

"But certainly you can't tell me that what I've witnessed hasn't happened? I quite clearly saw you wet yourself, right here in public, though for what reason I can't fathom a guess."

"I can fool you no longer, good sir, the jig is up! You did clearly see me wet myself right here on the street corner, and I congratulate you on your courage! Good day to you!"

"And good day to you. Cheerio!"

I think the Brits could have different versions of this conversation all day long, especially if they were wearing masks with perpetual grins and lips that didn't move. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of the mask-wearing Brits killed the other. It would be quite acceptable, since they would both be wearing the mask. Acceptable? Heck, it would be EXPECTED! And everyone would enjoy it.

So thanks to smiling, non-moving-lip masks, British accents, Labatt Blue, and the guys upstairs, the cold was defeated. And I would guess that thanks to global warming, sometime soon the temperature will inch back up over the 20-degree mark. Maybe then my movie date will join me in a two-for-the-price-of-one, or perhaps even a THREE-for-the-price-of-one deal. And Cedar-Lee, there's always next Monday. As long as it's not a holiday.

A Blood Simple plan

I don't mind going into a movie with no clue as to what it's about. Sometimes it's better that way. Sure, everyone's got their favorite actors and actresses, favorite types of movies, favorite directors, and so on. But everyone's got their least favorites, too. So if you tell me Adam Sandler's in a new movie that comes out in March called "Reign Over Me", I say I plan on taking a nap that day. If you tell me Don Cheadle's in a new movie that comes out in March called "Reign Over Me", I say, "What day does it come out?"

Since they co-star in the same movie, maybe it is better off if I know nothing about it before hand. Kinda like this one, "Blood Simple". The only thing I knew about this movie is that it's a Coen Brothers film. And since I had just enjoyed another the Coen Brothers' "The Hudsucker Proxy", I figured I just might enjoy "Blood Simple" even though I had no idea what is about.

It's worked out for me before. When Reese Witherspoon made herself a star in "Legally Blonde" a few years ago, I had no intentions of seeing it. A chick flick? Reese Witherspoon? Gimme a break! That's all I knew about it. When I finally saw it, I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed it. I was practically ashamed for liking it. And I still won't watch "Legally Blonde 2", just because.

So why not take on "Blood Simple"? I knew just as much about it as I had known about "Legally Blonde", and the things I knew about it I actually liked. So I'd probably like it!

And I did. It makes me want to watch other Coen Brothers movies I haven't seen, of which there are plenty. They always get great actors, even if the great actors aren't actors you've heard of. They sure fit the flicks, though. This one starred Dan Hedaya, who I knew from playing Carla Tortelli's husband on "Cheers"; M. Emmet Walsh, who I knew from name recognition and voice; Frances McDormand, who I knew from her award-winning performance in the Coen Brothers' "Fargo"; and John Getz, who I knew from nothing.

If this blog were a sitcom, this episode's moral of the story would be don't judge a book by a cover. Or a movie by its actors. Well, unless Adam Sandler's in it; then judge it by the co-stars. Or if the Coen Brothers are directing it. Then it needs no other judging. OK, but besides all that, don't judge a book by its cover or a movie by its actors.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Talladega Saturday night

The bar on the corner is filled with chicks waiting for the Justin Timberlake concert at The Q, but I'll be damned if I'm going down there. It's 8 degrees outside and my face froze into a Joker-like grimace when I went to the drug store earlier. Even walking 75 yards to Flannery's invites frostbite. You know Lillian Gertrud Aspland, the longest-living American survivor of the Titanic, who died last year? I would never have been her. If walking nearly the length of a football field in 8 degree weather makes me want to curl up into a ball and die, imagine me in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic as a gigantic ship sank into the depths. Hell, I wouldn't even pull a Leonardo DiCaprio and die while hanging onto the edge of a hot chick's makeshift raft, even one as hot as Kate Winslet. Cuz no matter how hot Kate Winslet is, she wouldn't make my toes and nose and fingers and eyebrows not freeze. Give me three comforters and a glass of hot cocoa, please!

So there will be no Flannery's tonite, and sexy won't be coming back, and Super Bowl XLI isn't until tomorrow, and it's nice and warm inside. So how about a double-feature, boys?

And Will Farrell's NASCAR comedy "Talladega Nights" provides the perfect fire for this frigid February night. There's something to be said for the context in which you watch movies, and watching this movie with my upstairs friends Joe and Bob provides the perfect context. It's a perfect DVD movie, good for watching from the couch while throwing back a couple adult beverages and while joking along with the flick. Bob did not enjoy his previous Talladega Nights experience -- he had seen it in the theater -- but this time he liked it much better. And believe me, "Talladega Nights" is not Shakespeare. Repeated viewings, while they help you better memorize the lines ala "Caddyshack", "Fletch", "Animal House", "Napoleon Dynamite", "Old School", etc., don't really help your understanding of this movie. But repeated viewings could help you discover the right context in which to watch the movie. And for this, it's on the couch with your buds on a frigid Saturday night while repeating "shake and bake" over and over and bumping fists.

It was so much fun we couldn't stop with just one! Onto "The Hudsucker Proxy" a Coen Brothers classic which now has us repeating Paul Newman's phrase, "Sure, sure" over and over. So that's our new thing -- bumping fists while saying "Shake and bake" and "Sure, sure." One of these days we'll be communicating solely in movie lines. Then we'll be real men!

But we'll still never be at a Justin Timberlake concert.