Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas, Writers

From Black Books, the incomparable Dylan Moran on rejection.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hey, Republicans, Here's a New Year's Resolution You Should Try

Stop being psychopathic jackasses.

Hayley Babour think's white supremacists are just misunderstood. 

Did you know that Methodists hate America?

GOP Lawmakers Support Pedophilia, So Long as You're Married.

Really. None of these stories comes from the Onion.

Farewell - 2010

TCM Remembers montage for 2010. Song "Headlights" performed by Sophie Hunger.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Whos Were Snuggled Safe in Their Beds

Wilson, hiding under the covers for fear of being photographed in silly hats.

Or perhaps he's tuckered out from an evening spent guarding the laundry.

And even though we let Spike play cards, he still seems rather stabby.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Spikemas

Spike rues the day someone invented cell phones with cameras. I'm sure later on he'll be smothering someone in their sleep.

Actually, this is exactly why the internets exist, so people can post pictures of their cats wearing hats.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Annie Oakley, She Ain't

In standing with my long history of mocking Sarah Palin no matter how many times I claim it's too easy, another episode in the annals of the Grifta from Wasilla.  In the past we've learned that Sarah Palin is a lousy mother, knows next to nothing about hockey, and has barely a passing acquaintance with the English language. Now we find that for all her rootin' tootin' Western pioneer spirit, she's about as handy with a gun as she is with a complete sentence. Which is to say, NOT.

And it's not just us left-wing liberals who have noticed that the snowbilly is a serial tall-tale teller, but those real 'Mericans out on the windswept prairies of our great country are realizing that much like she thought she was an expert on foreign policy because she could see Russia from her porch, she's an expert on hunting because she once bought ground beef at the supermarket.

Exhibit A: Sportsman haz a sad, because Sarah's an idiot. A very decent little column about what's so egregiously wrong with her whole narrative.

Exhibit B: Field and Stream Calls Fail.

Hey, Sarah, you know how that crappy reality show was supposed to burnish your wilderness cred? How's that working out for you?

(Disclaimer: Although I'm a crazy, socialist liberal, I like guns. I find them aesthetically pleasing.  I've been around guns all my life, as I come from a long tradition of hunting, fishing, camping, ranching. I've probably forgotten more about outdoorsmanship than Failin' Palin has ever learned. I was a pretty decent markswoman and carried a loaded revolver in my truck the entire time I was in college, driving back and forth across the empty spaces out in the West. While I don't hunt personally, I always loved trap shooting and target shooting. I also don't have a quarrel with responsible hunters who eat what they kill and have an understanding of real conservation. I will, however, say that I think people who like to shoot things just to watch them die are fucked in the head somehow, and anybody who thinks shooting something from a helicopter is okay should first die in a fire, and then be consigned to a special circle of hell filled with hungry wolves and disgruntled grizzlies. Pack light, Sarah, I hear it's hot down there!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Delicious Strawberry-Flavored Death

I live in an alternate universe where Fringe will not be summarily canceled after moving to Fridays. I believe this because I love Walter Bishop with the white hot intensity of a thousand incandescent suns. The new Internet promo proves me right. Really.


I'm too busy, and I feel guilty about all the things I don't have the time to do. To assuage my guilt, here's some random shtuff.

Fascinating article in Mother Jones. The intersection of religion and things we don't like to talk about.

The five-year-old is enamored of this song, and sings it loudly in the car. What's it about? The Odyssey? Religion? The yoke of British Colonialism? I dunno, but catchy banjo.

Finally, just because you can never have too much zombie mayhem.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Random Thoughts - 12/9

It's a dessert topping and a floor wax! Had a dinner table argument as to whether Vampire Weekend's "Holiday" was used to advertise cars or Tommy Hilfiger. After a trip to the interwebs, we discovered that is was both. This is either genius marketing, terrible marketing, or an unholy alliance between Honda and Hilfiger for a world takeover by products starting with the letter H.

Thanks to Logo and Chiller, you can now watch roughly 17 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer per day. Which lead the S/O to ask upon entering a room, "You're watching Buffy again? Didn't you just see that episode yesterday?" At which point I remind him that he watches On the Town every time it's on TV -- which seems like an awful lot.  What, is the plot going to magically change? Although it would be cool if, just as a change of pace, Gorgo emerged from the Hudson River and ate Frank Sinatra.

When will Justin Beiber hair be outlawed? It's a crime against nature. That look isn't even good on a windswept sheepdog.

Had a communique from the kids' principal that somebody named "Fr. Ed" was giving a talk at the school and she wrote, "Since this talk is so dynamic, I've decided to make it mandatory for all parents. There will be a sign-in sheet and extra seating."  Take a step back there, princess. The first thoughts that come to my mind when I hear about a surprise "mandatory" meeting with extra seating? Poison gas, alien pods, and involuntary organ donation. Er, no thanks, I'll pass. I like my organs where they are. She followed up with a letter saying that the "mandatory meeting" had generated quite a "buzz." I bet it did.

Starting watching the whole season of Rubicon on the DVR. (Yeah, already canceled. I'm so behind.) I'm enjoying it, but the striking thing for me is how much James Badge Dale looks like Matthew Morrison's brother from another mother. So now all I can see is Rubicon/Glee mashups, where everyone breaks into song at inappropriate moments. Inside my head, this is somehow more entertaining than each show alone.

Catholics, help me out, what's with the magic beans? Kid #5 dumped his backpack in the car, and three magic beans rolled under the seat. The S/O keeps strewing them about. When did he turn into an 85-year-old Gypsy woman? Did we have to trade a cow for these? 

Found out the S/O plays Farmville. Farmville? The fuck? How do people over the age of 14 find the time to play Farmville? I'm so behind, I'm actually using time right now that hasn't even happened yet. I owe time. I'm going to have to die 10 years earlier just to break even. But it's just as well, because I'm sure that somehow Farmville is the opening volley in an alien plot to steal our organs. Not everybody's going to fall for the "mandatory meeting," so they've got to have a backup. Don't come running to me when you've traded your spleen for an extra flock of chickens.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tim Minear Curse

Been busy, busy. Love/hate relationship with the holidays. Children have too many activities: soccer team/drama club/choir/school pageant/boy scouts/college finals/dorm emptying. My shopping is not done.

To top it all off Terriers has been canceled.Oh, I knew it was coming. You know how I knew? For one thing, it was great TV. And I don't mean just good, enjoyable, kill-an-hour TV, I mean GREAT TV. You know how else I knew? Tim Minear was an executive producer.  

I love Tim Minear. For some unfathomable reason, TV karma does not. Why the way Tim Minear is treated is proof there is no god. (Unless it's Cthulhu, because Cthulhu and the elder gods do NOT want you to be happy.)

May I present my exhibits? Angel, and the non-existent Season 6.  Firefly. Wonderfalls. The Inside (wowsers, that was dark, even for me. I loved it.) Drive. Dollhouse. Did I mention Wonderfalls? And now Terriers. If Tim Minear is even peripherally related to a TV series, it is doomed to die before its time. Sigh.

At least Terriers had a chance to wrap everything up with a nice bow. (unlike Now and Again, damn you all to hell CBS. I shall go to my grave wondering about the Egg Man)

Terriers was perfect, or as close to perfect as you can get. Nothing wasted, no plot holes, no deus ex machina, no sudden and inexplicable collapses of character motivation. It was as good as anything I've seen on TV, and I'll admit I got sucked in and invested myself totally in it. Even though I knew it was doomed.

If you missed it, find it when it comes out on DVD.  It's worth it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Spectral Libary is Now Open

I've created a blog annex just for writing, since this blog tends to get cluttered up with whatever bubbles up from the basement in my brain when I leave the trap door unlatched.

I'm going to post work over there, short stories, novel excerpts, flash fiction, for anyone who cares to look. I'll restrict the blog posts to just writing, and rotate out the static pages on occasion. I'll be building it up over the next week or so as time permits.

The Spectral Library

Poem From the MIddle of the Night.

Woke up at 3 AM with this fully formed in my head.


Brittle as dried grass
Under a burning frost,

We wait for the rifle-crack
Of breaking ice
As we go under.

Across the field
The vault of trees
Pulls the last light into shadow

All is quiet,
All is cold,

We are breath
And huddled warmth,
And I need the weight of you
To keep me from flying away.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MMM, Bacon

The S/O says I'm a marketer's nightmare, because I react completely unpredictably to advertisements. But this is one ad that makes me want to GO BUY THIS PRODUCT RIGHT NOW.

*Ad gets double bonus points for quoting Tremors. I think I can actually act out that entire movie by heart.

**I have long lobbied for replacing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the Six Degrees of William Fichtner, but people stubbornly refuse to accept my role as a trendsetter ahead of my time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

British SF TV Flash - Primeval

Primeval is returning to BBC America New Year's Day. For those that missed it, the British SF series explores what happens when rips in the fabric of time starting popping open and spitting forth various critters from past and future.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Primeval in the past. It started out as pretty compelling and then jumped the megalodon in Series Three when main character Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) bit it unexpectedly. Not that I was all that attached to either the character or the actor, but is seems that when he left he took all the writers with him. After that it became a drinking-game show, saved only by the awesomeness of Jason Flemyng and Ben Miller. (Who are both pretty damned awesome).

Miller's back, along with regulars Hannah Spearritt and Andrew-Lee Potts, and a new cast. Jason Flemyng makes a return at some point, but I suppose he's too busy off being awesome to show up earlier.

Jury's out as to whether the show returns to earlier form, but one thing's for sure, I'm definitely looking more forward to it than the Americanized version of Being Human *shudder*.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random Thoughts - Crabby Holiday Edition

Why is walking two dogs like walking two dogs, but walking three dogs is like walking eight dogs?

Fox is going to cancel all of my favorite TV shows, even ones that are on other channels, because that's just how Fox rolls. I hate you, Fox.

The S/O is in the midst of his holiday decorating.  Kid #4 walked into the living room and quipped, "It looks like Christmas threw up." The fact that the LED lights are brighter than the regular lights, and the fact that somewhere in that string of eleventy-billion lights a fuse keeps blowing, is going to cause the S/O to have an aneurysm. This concerns me only so far as if he has an aneurysm, it will leave me solely in charge of all the other living things in the house, and we're running out of room to bury things under the tree in the backyard.

Chris Stewart broke his fucking hand. 

I believe I now have both bronchitis and an ovarian cyst. The bronchitis caused me to cough violently enough that I bonked my head on my desk, while the ovarian cyst causes me to scream rather piercingly when the spymobile hits a rough patch in the road. Since it's a five-speed diesel, this is often. (Handy reference guide for those of you without ovaries: imagine clamping a pair of vise grips to a testicle. Now close them. Hard.)

Also, I somehow managed to torque my ankle while sitting at my desk. And in dismantling the dryer to uncover what was making the horrifying grinding noise, I pulled a muscle in my back. It has come to my attention that sometime in the near future I will simply fall apart in the middle of the hallway like an old jalopy in a Keystone Kops reel.

Finally, being self-employed means that you don't get take vacations at the end of the year. Instead you work longer and longer hours in an attempt to squeeze those last few dollars out to pay for figgy pudding and chew toys.  I have also learned that I am either a terrible employer or a terrible employee, because I am always behind. I'm thinking of unionizing and going on strike, at which point I will cross my own picket line and start a fist-fight with myself.

It is only December 1st. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Send a Care Package

Trying to figure out what exactly to send in the Christmas package to Kid #2 in Afghanistan: so far the boys are making fudge and German chocolate sandwich cookies, and Kid #5 is designing a scene for an iron-on for a Christmas sweatshirt. Got to get it mailed out this week.

If you don't have anyone in a war zone, but would like to brighten some serviceperson's holiday, you can send a car package via the USO.  This way you know it's legit and will get to someone who needs it. Dog knows I wish my kid was going to be home for the holidays, and there's lots more kids who belong to somebody else who are going to be a long way from home this season.

Sponsor a USO Care Package

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The cooking marathon has begun. Two pies are in the oven, which already puts me ahead of last year, when Bismarck, the S/O's lab mix, ate an entire uncooked pumpkin pie. We knew it was him because Delphi, my cattle dog, is too arthritic now to hop up on the counter. Also, the vivid splash of uncooked pumpkin across his head kind of gave him away. The rolls are rising, the bread is ready to be torn up for stuffing, the sweet potatoes are ready to be peeled, and miraculously the comically large turkey has been shoved into the fridge with a little room to spare.

Again this year, I'll have made too much food. The blending of traditions necessitates two dressings -- my grandmother's traditional and the S/O's preferred cornbread/sausage/cranberry -- and two different green bean casseroles. I tried one year to get away with just one kind of green bean casserole, but the recriminations I suffered precluded that shortcut.

Having kids flying the coop has also thrown off my planning skills. This year it's just four of us. Kid #1 is going to his fiance's family's, Kid #2 is in Afghanistan, and Kid #3 is in Disneyworld with her boyfriend's family. It's even looking iffy for Kids #4 and #5, because I swear if I hear one more screaming hissy fit about who gets to play LEGO Star Wars, there's going to be bloodshed.

Still, I am thankful. I can look guiltily at the table and remember that we have food to spare. My children are healthy, bright, and relatively well-adjusted. Despite the bumps in the road, I ended up with the one person I love more than anything, and amazingly he puts up with me. (I wouldn't put up with me.)  We are comfortable enough, even thought the bathroom floor needs replacing, the dryer is wheezing suspiciously, and the air conditioning in the spymobile has given out. These are transitory problems, and though sometimes it seems like we're treading water, in the end we'll make do.

So on this Thanksgiving think good thoughts. Be kind, even to those who are not. If you have extra, share. In the end, our kindness and generosity are the best things about us.

Nothing Says Thanksgiving Like Hockey

Tonight Avs play the Canucks, over whom they hold a 2-point lead in the Northwest Division standings. Tomorrow night, they play poor, doomed Edmonton.  In this week's power rankings, TSN moved the Avalanche from 22 to 8. (Not that I care about power rankings. Really.) It is never too early to become overly invested.

Sadly, having to play back-to-back games on Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving somehow means that the Avs will not be playing on Boxing Day. No birthday hockey for me, so I guess I'll be consoling myself with more beer and horror movies than usual.

Give Thanks for the Small Victories

Apparently, we're not yet totally doomed as a nation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stuck In Second Gear

Watched the American version of Top Gear last night, and was underwhelmed. So far underwhelmed that I couldn't even see whelmed from where I was seated. I love Top Gear, even though I'm not a gear head, and I think that's part of the success of proper Top Gear, that it appeals to a wide variety of people. You don't have to care that much about cars to enjoy it. In fact, you don't really need to care at all. It's literate and delightfully loopy and often hilarious in an OMG kind of way.

The not-proper Top Gear looks a lot like the proper Top Gear -- the theme song, the dewy, artistic intros of cars displayed across gorgeous landscapes, the Stig -- but it's just not right. It's a facsimile that somehow misses the je ne se quois of the original. It was like frat boys broke into the Top Gear set and did a poor imitation of a show they'd had on in the background while they were busy playing beer pong. They have a glancing familiarity with it, but weren't really paying any attention.  "Put a star in our reasonably-priced car" has been changed to "Big Star, Small Car." Just, no.

It would probably be knee-jerk to say that not-proper Top Gear has been dumbed down for an American audience, but it feels right. I don't think I cracked a smile once. It's like fizzy drink that been left open and gone flat while you were off running errands.

The core of proper Top Gear is the trio of hosts: Clarkson, May, Hammond, and their goofy chemistry  make the show work. In not-proper Top Gear, they've been replace by Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood, and Tanner Foust. I will say upfront that I had no idea who any of these people were, and I pride myself on knowing stuff.

I've read on the Interwebs that Adam Ferrara is funny, so I'll take the Interwebs' word for it. Maybe he used up all his funny somewhere else? Rutledge Wood struck me as a perfect counterman for Radio Shack (Radio Shack: Smell the Desperation). He seems like the guy who hovers around the Wal-Mart toy section late at night in his flannel shirt and off-brand engineering boots waiting to be the first one there when they unpack the new stock of Star Wars figures. I then read today that he writes "comic" reports on NASCAR. Well, that explains it. It's my snooty, elitist classism on full display, but there is NO POINT to NASCAR, let alone a "comic" one. Tanner Foust seems to be some kind of stunt driver. I found him the least grating, maybe because he has the personality of a tea cozy.

Gentlemen, I have seen Clarkson, May, and Hammond, and you are no Clarkson, May, and Hammond.  According to the New York Times review of the show "When you hire three stooges, however, you don't always get Larry, Moe and Curly. Sometimes you get three Shemps. Or two Shemps and a Joe Besser." Ahem.

My point is, why does not-proper Top Gear exist at all? Why do people insist on taking something that works rather spectacularly and reimagining it as something that lays there like yesterday's fish?  There is nothing wrong with proper Top Gear, and even my non-anglophile, somewhat-gearhead S/O finds proper Top Gear perfectly delightful. Top Gear USA is not the worst thing I ever saw, but for dog's sake, if you want Top Gear, just watch the original.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Don't Cross-Check Matt Duchene in the Face

Or he will make your goalie eat the puck repeatedly. With malice.

Let me just say that I'm terribly relieved that Craig Anderson is back. Because when you're out and your agent says, "It's not as bad as people are saying," it usually is actually far, far worse than what people are saying. So I'm glad that Anderson wasn't part of some horrible Weekend at Bernie's scenario, and as a bonus still has possession of all of his limbs.

Have you voted for Chris Stewart today?

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us: Taking the Train to Zombietown

The Walking Dead has been quite a smash on AMC, which make me gleeful because I think horror is vastly underrated as an art form. But that's a topic for another time. The question is why so popular now? I think one of the reasons is the way that art reflects society, and how society embraces art.

When I was a kid one of the first movies I remember scaring the daylights out of me was 1953's Invaders from Mars, in a which a kid discovers that all the adults he's supposed to trust have in actuality been taken over by aliens. Of course no one believes him. In retrospect the movie is kind of cheesy in the special effects department, but it also has a stark truth about it. There is something utterly terrifying about us not being us.

Elementally, we don't like representations of ourselves that are too close. Ventriloquist dummies, the clockwork Stepford Wives, the mannequins in "The After Hours" from the original Twilight Zone, the inhabitants of the Uncanny Valley. Now take that one step further and hollow us out, fill us with something that is fundamentally not us, or even worse than that, just the absence of us.

In 1968, George Romero directed Night of the Living Dead.  It came at a time when the world was flipping upside down. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movements, the sexual revolution, women's lib. Conventions were being torn down, and all this coming on the heels of the McCarthyite era when there was a commie around every corner, well, people were a tad unsettled. Who do you trust? Your government, your neighbors, your kids, no one over 30?

Night of the Living Dead is an embodiment of the '60s. I take George Romero's word that he pays no attention to subtext when he's making a film. The great thing about subtext is that it sometimes just inserts itself, either by luck, by the quiet working of  the artist's subconscious, or by some unknown machination of the universe. Whatever the case, Night of the Living Dead works as well on a subconscious level as it does on a superficial scare level.  Little zombie girl hacking up her parents with a trowel? She would have just have become a hippie in the Haight, and isn't that really the same thing?  Good ol' boys with guns shooting the hero, who just happens to be black? At a certain point, it doesn't matter what was intended, the art takes on a life of its own.

Romero, the zombie godfather, followed up with Dawn of the Dead, where we  are just shells that consume for the sake of consuming, and Day of the Dead, where the military/industrial complex seems to be the last institution standing, or shambling, if you want to look at it that way.

Romero spawned an entire zombie culture. Without Romero, you have no Sense and Sensibility with Zombies, you have no World War Z, you have no The Walking Dead. Which takes us back to my original question. What about zombies gets under our skin?

Right now, the world is an uncertain place. I was a tiny kid in the '60s, so I don't remember it all that well, but it seems like a lot of the things we thought were settled are unsettled. I sure as hell feel nervous. We have come to divide, to another point in time where the populace has fallen into a "them versus us" trap.

The zombie is an all-purpose monster. It's a blank canvas you can spatter with the guts of whatever scares you the most. You're a right-winger? Why the zombie can stand in for every brown/gay/liberal/foreign invader who's come to wrench away everything you hold dear. There are hordes of them. And they keep coming. The only way to protect yourself is to hole up with your guns. You a left-winger? The zombie is the unthinking/unbending/unreasoning/unempathetic other, who can't be argued with, who can't be swayed with decency, who only acts out of the basest instincts. It only wants to destroy you. And the worst thing of all, the absolute worst thing, sometimes that unswayable alien other is right there with you, it's your mom or your husband or your kid.

Apocalyptic fiction has been popular since the Bible. It's a test run, just in case. It's a release valve.  It's a way to play out our fears and walk away at the end of the page, at the end of the episode. A zombie apocalypse is the worst we can image, because it means we are our own destruction, we will devour ourselves.

There is one single thing that every being on earth shares. We all die. We all are dust in the end. Whatever your religion, whatever your belief system, no one really knows what makes us us. And when we cease to be here, where we go. We're all supposed to be wonderful unique snowflakes, but what if in the end we're just meat puppets?  The horror of severing our "us" from our bodies has been around since we first walked out of the caves and told tales around the fire. It's there in "The Monkey's Paw," it's there when the father buries Gage in the Pet Semetary, even after he saw what happened to the cat. It's there when Boris Karloff's monster utters, "We belong dead."

The fitful dead are with us always, and they're not going away anytime soon.

(Next Installment: There's No Crying in Zombietown)

Pop culture recommendation: any iteration of Ray Bradbury's "Mars is Heaven." If you can find the original radio play, it might actually kill you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sarah Palin is a Lousy Mother. In Other News, Water is Still Wet

I tend not to waste time bashing Sarah Palin, because it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Or like clubbing baby seals. If the baby seals were amoral and totally evil and were trying to simultaneously pick my pocket and burn down my house.

But even though I studiously avoid useless crap on the interwebs, I was still not able to escape all the wailing over Willow Palin calling somebody else a "faggot" on Facebook. Followed by the wailing about leaving poor Willow alone because she's just a kid. Followed by the wailing about...well, you get the picture.

Let me tell you something, if one of my kids called another kid a faggot, I would slap the taste of that word out of their mouth right quick.  And if they had done it on the Internet, they would apologize publicly and it would be a good long time before they saw any kind of electronic device again. Unlike some people, I'm not raising wolverines. Calling someone a faggot is no different than calling someone a nigger or a spic or a kike or -- insert your own pejorative. And while kids do stupid, careless things, and more often say stupid, careless things, it's a parent's job to A) set a better example, and B) let a kid know what is and is not acceptable.

Of course, Sarah Palin cares about neither A nor B. She's content to raise obdurate little guttersnipes who are so full of their own entitlement and self-importance that they're practically choking on it. The Palins are Snopses writ large and they faster they take their little two-bit grifter roadshow back to whatever hellhole spawned them, the better.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2011 NHL All-Star Ballot Presented by XM

2011 NHL All-Star Ballot Presented by XM

Write in Chris Stewart. I mean it. 

Breaking News to Warm the Hearts of Fangirls and Fanboys Everywhere.

Just got an email alert that tonight, November 16, Craig Ferguson will have an all Doctor Who-themed episode. With Matt Smith. And other Whovian stuff. And according to Craig Ferguson's Twitter, a Dalek.

Add that to that fact that Human Target returns tomorrow night, and it's like Christmas in November. Or something.


Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Town

Had a lovely evening on Saturday. Went to a nice restaurant, the kind with only seven entrees on the menu, none of them that come with fries. Saw Forbidden Broadway at Le Petite Theatre, and found it quite amusing, especially since we're the kind of people who actually entertain the Rita versus Chita question, wonder if Mandy Patinkin is really as crazy as he would seem, and worship Joel Grey. We are not in any way...typical. Of anything.

I did end up with a nice blister, which is what comes of trekking 20 blocks through the French Quarter in shoes I wear only once a year. Was somewhat disconcerted to find that I am, against my will, beginning to turn into my grandmother. You see, we had reservations at 6:00, but boys had their final soccer games during the day, so I had to rush home and wash my hair and set it in curlers. But there was a turkey sale at the Winn-Dixie and no room in our freezer, so the turkey needed to be bought THAT afternoon to be transported to my in-laws' freezer in New Orleans when we dropped off the kids for date night. Long story short, I ended up in Winn-Dixie in curlers covered by a red polyester scarf (the only scarf I had) and flannel slippers, hauling a 20 pound turkey and a can of hairspray. Hopefully there are no pictures.

In the end, any nice evening has to end. Like Cinderella, I am returned to my hovel, where I still have a cold, the dog has thrown up, my desk is still a mess, and the furnace is on the fritz. Maybe this year we'll have a grand history experiment where we live without central heat, just like the pilgrims did. We will complete our living history unit by churning our own butter, pressing our own paper, and building stocks to put the neighbors in when they've been naughty. And then someday the children will write amusing memoirs to help them pay for their psychotherapy. Fun Times!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shoot Me, Shoot Me Now

I feel like microwaved cat vomit, I have sick kidlets, my house looks like Hessians have ransacked it looking for the liquor I already drank. I have lots of work do to that I don't at all feel like doing, but will do anyway, because, hey, the holidays are coming, and I can't as of yet barter bales of dog hair for turkey to feed my wan, sickly children. (I seem to have an excess of dog hair in my house, so I'm hoping when society falls there will be a market for it, maybe to spin into garments to keep us warm while we're trying to run from wandering mutants).

I'm sending my kids to an expensive school (at least when they're not vomiting copiously) that is apparently managing to escape the word "slavery" when teaching American history. No doubt, by the time the kindergartner gets to fifth grade, the phrase "captive Africans" will have been swapped out for the more-unwieldy-yet-less-offensive  "undercompensated-laborers-who-only-received-room-and-board." In light of this I realize in my musings about Piggly Wiggly's new "No Hood and Sunglasses" policy, I neglected to factor in the possibility they weren't actually talking about hoodies. Trying to figure out if Klansmen wear their sunglasses over or under their hoods is less amusing than it should be.

In other words, everything sucks. I feel like I would feel better if I can just say FUCK often enough, but it doesn't seem to be fucking working.

Don't Get Me &(*$W%^(* Started, or The Power of Words

Was studying with kid #4 for his social studies test last night. (This was prior to the technicolor vomit sprinkler incident that negated the need to study).

He's studying the original American colonies, in particular the Triangle Trade. You remember the old Triangle Trade, don't you? The way we learned it was Sugar, Slaves, Rum. Yeah, there was more to it, but that's what stuck out. Well, according the Pearson Publishing Scott Foresman Louisiana edition of "Social Studies: the United States of America" there were no slaves. Really.

There was something called "captive Africans."  Now, you could argue that captive Africans = slaves. But you would then be an idiot. The words "slave" has ingrained connotations. It brings up very specific images, especially to someone of my generation who was a kid when Roots came out as a miniseries. What was practiced at the time was slavery. The people were slaves. They were yanked from their families and treated like livestock, well, worse than livestock. They were degraded, beaten, raped, tortured, killed, forced to live their lives at the whims of others. "Captive" implies being held against your will, whilst slave means so, so much more. Prisoners of war are captives. Criminals are captives. Slaves are slaves.

(They did use the phrase "enslaved," perhaps because "encaptivated" implied that they were particularly taken with a piece of classical music. But nowhere in the chapter do they use the word "slave.")

We all know about the textbook wars, where conservative Republicans are rewriting history, but this was my first personal experience. The S/O was not shocked by this, partly because he's a white Southerner and partly because he's a Republican. He reflexively chalked it up to "liberal PC," at which point had I been drinking something I would have done quite a magnificent spit-take.

Anyone paying attention the last two years realizes that we are not anywhere near the "post-racial" society decent people wish to exist in. If anything, the demeanor of the old white right has ripped the mask off and shown us what's really wriggling underneath. Republicans, especially that bastion that exists in the modern South, have tried valiantly to -- pardon the pun -- whitewash our history. In their world, "slavery" didn't exist. Or if it did, it really benefited the "captive Africans" in the long run. It was a matter of commerce, not cruelty. It was "state's rights" not torture and genocide. The Confederate Flag is a symbol of pride, not a tired, ragged emblem of people's bigotry and evil.  Well, I call bullshit. Further, I say fuck you. Fuck all y'all.

We know the power of words, and you can't take it from us. You can't prettify history, you can't make it go away. I told my kids last night that when he took his test he should use the word "slave" when it was called for. Scratch out "captive African" and put "slave." We understand the power of words, and in the dustbin of history, when our brief flame here has flickered out, what we leave behind is our words. They are enduring and you can't fucking have them.

Add This To The List of Things I Wish I Didn't Know

The remarkable distance that a child on the upper bunk of a set of bunk beds can projectile vomit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Up, I'm Up, or I Would Do Some Work if I Could Find My Desk

Being deathly ill ensures that it's your one morning during the week to get up at 6 AM and drive through the fog-shrouded moors to get the kids to school in time for pancakes.

Hamster Check, Day 3: Dead? No. Zombie? Undetermined.

My desk looks like London during the Blitz. I need a manservant. Or a flamethrower. A manservant armed with a flamethrower.

Being still ill, I have have supplied myself with a jar of pickled ginger, ginger/lemongrass tea, Luden's cough drops (I had a coupon) and a half-gallon of orange juice, which I will drink from a tiny glass and not straight out of the carton, because we're not barbarians. I have my flannel slippers and the space heater is on under the desk. Provided it does not set the paper-covered desk on fire, I should be good to go.

Whether is was the vodka or the off-brand nyquil, I dreamt last night that my house was filled with otters. I guess there are worse things. I also dreamed that we had two Christmas trees and Donal Logue was rifling through my kitchen cabinets. Then I dreamed that I adopted a child that had been raised by wild animals. Although how you could tell whether my real children have been raised by wild animals or not is a good question.

New sign on the Piggly Wiggly door this morning: "Please Remove Hoods and Sunglasses Before Entering Store. Thank You!" Really? Now all I can think about is finding a hoodie and sunglasses and going back to the Piggly Wiggly.

Watched Terriers last night before drifting into an otter-filled sleep, and I don't know which was more heartbreaking, watching Hank struggle to not fall off the wagon and not wreck his ex-wife's wedding, or Britt find out that the woman he adores has casually been unfaithful. Also, my life would be so much better if I had a Winnebago filled with techno-squids at my beck and call. And a traveling mariachi band.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blargh, or Not So Random Thoughts Hopped Up On Cold Medicine

One of my hideous children has infected me with the disease du la semaine. Filthy little germ factories. I'm prepared now to see if the old adage is right -- okay it's not an adage, but I'm pretending -- that vodka, limeade, off-brand nyquil and six hours sleep will kill a cold. I don't hold out hope.

Woke yesterday to a smear of blood on the kitchen floor, indicating that the remaining hamster, the evil one, had escaped the surly bonds of its cage and met up with Spike the Cat. Found said hamster, who was not dead, but tres disgruntled. Which proves that the evil, narcoleptic hamster is indestructible. Two days and still going strong. Either that or she has turned into Zombie Hamster and will soon be coming for our tender brains.

I would be much happier if I had my own horn section that could just follow me around, providing theme music, or emphasis when I speak. Barring that, a mariachi band. That would be cool.

The fact that my computer went kablooey and I had to hijack the kids' computer has put me horribly behind on work, the kind of work that pays the bills, not the kind of work that just makes me feel guilty and worthless and vaguely suicidal. I even have five blog posts mapped out -- full of zombies and Irish music -- that I'm itching to do and have no time for yet.

The kids' winter schedule of activities and obligations has taken shape, making all carefully-balanced previous calenders of said events and obligations obsolete and quaint in a sad, pathetic way. I now see that this weekend will necessitate the building of a time machine.

In what could be either happy or sad news, the S/O and I have the opportunity for a date this weekend. A real date, the kind that involves a restaurant that doesn't offer a plastic cup filled with broken crayons along with the menu. And a show, a real show, like an off-off-Broadway show, where patrons will wear clothes without unnoticed holes in them and they will laugh gaily with the sound of tinkling crystal.  What is the sad part, you ask? At this rate, I will be bedraggled and consumptive, like an extra from Les Miserables, and people will throw pennies at me as I slump in front of the venue. Here's hoping the vodka and cold medicine work.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Random Thoughts 11-8

On Halloween: you can go to the store and buy six bags of Butterfingers, but the truth is they will never taste as good as FREE CANDY given to you by STRANGERS.

I went to pick up the kids after school today. I was in the car for a few minutes before I realized to my horror that I was an hour late in picking them up. Never mind that I hadn't left the house late, I had suddenly lost an entire hour. It took a good 30 seconds of panic for me to realize that the clock in the spymobile doesn't automatically reset for the time change. Hopefully this just means that I need more sleep. Or a spymobile with an automatically resetting clock.

Had some time to kill, so I was reading the forums over at Television Without Pity. I used to visit the site a lot, but when it went all corporate I found that there was too much to keep up with. Anyway, I was reading the discussion forum on The Walking Dead and somebody posted that they were disappointed by all the zombies and stuff because they really hated zombies and stuff, and they wouldn't be tuning in again. Which is like saying "I watched Monday Night Football, but was disappointed in all the football. Why couldn't there be more gardening? I really like gardening. That's the last time I'll watch Monday Night Football."  Or "Gee, that chocolate cake would have been really delicious, expect for the fact that I enjoy neither cake nor chocolate. Boy, that's the last time I'll be eating chocolate cake."  Sigh.

Avs skunked Dallas 5-0. The Avs beating Dallas is second only to them beating Detroit. Mark my words, Chris Stewart is going to be captain someday. He's like you took the best of Sakic and Forsberg and smushed it together: he's fast and smart and he takes no bullshit from the opposing team. I would get a Stewart jersey if they weren't those hideous Edge jerseys. Reebok = evil.

I have managed to cut down the series on my DVR list from a total of 53 to 41. This is progress. It was helped by the fact that I finally realized Sanctuary sucks. I feel liberated.

I really don't care for the DARE program. It forces me to explain to my kid why I'm in favor of marijuana legalization and to explain that one of the reasons I drink so much is being forced to justify to my 10-year-old why I drink so much. I find that between religion and "social" issues, I spend a lot of time explaining to my kids why their teachers are unsophisticated, small-minded, and poorly educated.  Add in the idiocy of the whole Texas textbook bullshit and soon I'll just be able to shorthand it as: "Kids, everything your teachers say is a lie." At that point, does it not just become more effective to homeschool? With the $10,000 I would save in tuition, think of all the pot and vodka I could buy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Looking Over the Wreckage of the Fall TV Season

The jack-o-lanterns have gone mushy, uneaten smarties litter the floor, the American electorate has proven that it is both not very bright and pretty much a dick. Almost every fall show has premiered (I'm still waiting on Human Target, dammit) and I've watched a fair portion, mostly to distract myself from the prospect of the slow dissolution of everything good and decent in our society. Here's the good, the bad, and the meh, in order of awesomness.

Luther - BBC America
Episode Watched: 3 out 6

Idris Elba is brilliant; the writing, acting and direction is lean and crisp. I can't think of adequate superlatives to describe how much I love this show. It avoids being derivative or cliched, and it's like nothing you're going to see on American TV.

Terriers - FX
Episodes watched: 9

Terriers is like reading a good book series. It's complex and rich, and the characters slowly evolve . Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James are excellent as private detective partners, one an ex-cop, one an ex-thief. The leisurely, indie-movie pace is part of its charm, but ironically may be the reason nobody's watching it. People have the attention span of spaghetti.

The Walking Dead - AMC
Episodes Watched: 1

I've been waiting forever for The Walking Dead, and I wasn't disappointed. Lennie James rocks, and if you don't know Lennie James, you fail to rock. It's beautifully shot and appropriately frightening, and I'm glad the zombies look like real dead people, not TV dead people. You can also count me a fan of slow zombies in the great debate of slow versus fast. Promises to be a great ride.

My one caveat is that I haven't really warmed to the living characters yet (except for Lennie James, and his character, as Stephen King might put it, has at least for now "passed from our story") but I suppose you can't ask for everything from one 90 minute episode. If they don't shape up, I look forward to rooting for them to be dispatched in suitably horrifying ways, because that's the kind of mood I'm in lately. I have hopes for Andrew Lincoln, as I've realized my standoffishness towards him may be residue of how much I came to dislike his character in Afterlife. Passive/aggressive much? And besides, Michael Rooker!

Hawaii Five-0 -CBS
Episodes Watched: 6

It's not great art, but it's great fun. I don't care if my opinion is colored by nostalgia, I'm enjoying it. And Scott Caan is the cat's pajamas. I want him to move in next door. And that's high praise indeed, because I really don't like people.

Raising Hope - FOX
Episodes Watched: 6

Low-brow? Maybe. But it's funny and surprisingly sweet. Garrett Dillahunt, Martha Plimpton, and Lucas Neff are all great, and it really is quite hilarious in an over-the-top kind of way.

Well that does it for the bright spots, now the dull spots.

Undercovers - NBC
Episodes Watched: 4

Dammit, I really wanted to like this show. All the principles were swell, but the concept and execution was not. At. All.  Here's hoping all the actors find better work elsewhere, because they deserve it. JJ Abrams, consider yourself on probation.

Blue Bloods - CBS
Episodes Watched: 2

I gave this a shot, mostly because I like Donnie Wahlberg and Len Cariou. But this was talky and dull and derivative. It seemed to consist mostly of Tom Selleck looking pensive. Dude, your face is going to freeze like that.

No Ordinary Family - ABC
Episodes Watched: 1

I like Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, but the one episode I watched was kind of all over the place. There were some cool moments (like when Michael Chiklis' buddy builds him a lair) but not enough cool to displace the decidedly lukewarm. Where they lost me? The teenage girl finds out she can hear people's thoughts, and throws a whiny little hissy fit. If I was a teenage girl who suddenly discovered I had the power to read minds, I would be immediately plotting my takeover of the world. Just saying.

The Defenders - CBS
Episodes Watched: 1

Let me begin by saying I have nothing against Jerry O'Connell. He seems like a nice guy. I don't really have anything against Jim Belushi, except for the fact that According to Jim has been beamed into space and someday aliens may see it and rush over to destroy the planet. That said, this is dreck. Not malicious dreck, but dreck nonetheless. It's like Funyuns. It's the vaguely onion-flavored Styrofoam of TV.

The Event - NBC
Episodes Watched: 1

It's the present. Now it's 18 months in the past. Now it's 6 months in the past. Now it's 30 minutes ago. It's the present - maybe. It's 30 minutes ago, but from a different angle. It's 3 minutes in the future. It's 8 months in the past, but in a different language. It's the present - wait, it's 1 week ago. No, it's the present.

Halfway in I actively wanted to hurt someone. Instead of 3-D glasses, they should have provided anyone watching this with a bottle of Vicodin and a gun.

Running Wilde - FOX
Episodes Watched? 1/2

This is a black hole that lets nothing funny out. NOTHING.  I would say more, but that would entail remembering watching it.

Bring on the midseason replacements! And where is my Human Target? I need some Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley and Mark Valley to wash the taste of the last few weeks out of my head. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Farewell, Halloween

Have not yet watched The Walking Dead on AMC. I'm saving it for after election day. I figure contemplating a zombie apocalypse is far more cheerful than contemplating a Republican apocalypse. Besides, I understand zombies have more cogent policy positions.

Costumes are put up, candy is bagged. (Except for the 26 miniature Milky Ways I ate today to forestall my ennui. Milky Ways taste like Halloween.)

Via, illustrations of the inside of my head.

More zombies than usual, indeed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween: 13 Scary Movies You Might Have Missed

A box of assorted treats, with something for everyone. There's quiet suspense and over-the-top splatter, old-fashioned ghosts, cowboy vampires, tiny demons, werewolves, giant slimy monsters, malevolent aliens, a sinister manservant, and zombies. Lots of zombies. Seven countries are represented, with a timeline stretching from the '40s to the present. (And, yes, there's actually 15 films represented, but I'm a rebel, you can't tame me. Conformity is evil. Fight the power.)

Put out the lights.

#14 - Dead of Winter (US 1987)

A gothic suspense gem directed by the late Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man), featuring Mary Steenburgen as an actress who auditions for a role that's not at all what it seems. Roddy McDowell is delightfully sinister, and the snowbound old house is appropriately atmospheric. Enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, plus some genuine scares.

#13 - Near Dark (US 1987)

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break), this cult classic is Romeo and Juliet meets the Wild Bunch, but with vampires. Mae (Jenny Wright) bites innocent cowboy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and drags him off to meet her makeshift badass bloodsucking "family" (Lance Henriksen, Jennette Goldstein, Bill "Game Over, Man" Paxton and Joshua John Miller). Great direction, compelling characters, poetic violence, it combines the sensibilities of a western with the subversiveness of a horror movie.

#12 - Black Sheep (New Zealand 2007)
         Undead (Australia 2003)

A double-feature from Down Under, two giddily gory romps in the vein of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. Black Sheep is falling-down funny in spots, as zombie sheep overrun a town in New Zealand, while human zombies invade a small town in Australia in Undead. Both films are tremendous fun and suitably blood-spattery.

#11 - Session 9 (US 2001)

Directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Fringe, Treme, The Wire), Session 9 takes place in the notorious Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, as an asbestos removal crew goes slowly crazy after finding tapes detailing the sessions of a former patient. Understated and oppressively claustrophobic, this is one of those films that gets under your skin and leaves you sleeping with the lights on.

#10 - Dead of Night (UK 1946)

Dead of Night is maybe most notable as the original British portmanteau film, combining a number of stand-alone stories tied together by a central device, spawning such classics as Tales from the Crypt, Torture Garden, and Dr. Terror's House of Horror.

Let me just advise that if you ever find yourself with a group of strangers, oh, say, on a train, or at a party you don't remember arriving at, and they start telling you about the disturbing dreams they've had, just leave. IT WON'T END WELL.

Here, guests at an architect's country home relate stories of the macabre to a mysterious stranger. Most people remember the chilling final story featureing Michael Redgrave as a man in thrall of a truly creepy ventriloquist's dummy, but my favorite is the tale of the children's Christmas party, which still gives me the shivers.

#9 - Dead Snow (Norway 2009)

When I was a kid, my brother and I were enamored of a 1977 film called Shock Waves, starring Peter Cushing, John Carradine, and Brooke Adams. You see, it had zombies. Nazi zombies. Underwater Nazi Zombies. I mean, that's like having a pie made of cake.

Dead Snow is like Shock Waves but with, well, snow. Seven Norwegian medical students are off to spend their break at a remote cabin. Of course, there's your problem right there. If there's one thing I've learned, never go to a remote cabin, EVER. It's just not worth it.

Never mind the plot. It doesn't really matter. Although you do have the creepy old guy passing by and stopping just long enough for helpful exposition before being summarily dispatched, so we're not completely lost. What you have is Nazi zombies, lots of them. LOTS. They never seem to stop coming.

The zombie snow fight set pieces are fantastic. It's pulse-poundingly fun. And let me just say that I now feel that I can handle any medical emergency with a sewing kit and some duct tape. And a snowmobile.

#8 - Dog Soldiers (UK 2002)

Fun and gory, Dog Soldiers pits a group of British commandos trapped in a lonely Scottish farmhouse against a clan of werewolves. Apparently lonely farmhouses are only slightly less dangerous than remote cabins.  Full of in jokes and sly homages (one character is named Harry G. Wells and another Bruce Campbell), it's a non-stop thrill-ride which manages to be both funny and edge-of-your-seat-don't-look suspenseful.

#7-Five Million Years to Earth (UK 1967) aka Quatermass and the Pit

This is one of those films that scared the hell out of me as a kid, and also introduced me to Professor Bernard Quatermass. Here Quatermass is called on when a mysterious object is found buried under Hobb's End during an expansion of the London Underground system. Literate and complex, it starts slowly, but builds up brick by brick to a truly disturbing conclusion.

#6 - The Legend of Hell House (UK 1973)

Despite its lurid movie poster (and what movie poster from the '70s wasn't lurid? In fact, lurid is a perfect descriptor for most of the '70s) The Legend of Hell House is a dark, moody, deeply frightening ghost story. No gore, just unremitting dread.

With a screenplay by Richard Matheson from his book of the same name, the film centers around a researcher (Clive Revill) out to dispel the the rumors surrounding the Belasco House, the "Everest of haunted houses," by using a machine to disperse the electromagnetic energy he believes is responsible for the phenomena.  He's accompanied by his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt) and a pair of mediums (Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin).

The electronic score and odd camera angles serve to keep you unbalanced and slightly uneasy, like Lovecraft's non-Euclidean geometry. The acting is stellar, and while many of the most salacious elements of the book have been toned down, there's still an undercurrent of sadism and menace that permeates the unfolding action.  No matter how many times I've seen it, its still as brutally creepy as the first time I watched it.

#5 - Burn, Witch, Burn (UK 1962) aka Night of the Eagle

This is one of my favorite films, and I am constantly amazed by how few people are familiar with it. Of course I'm amazed by how few people are familiar with the works of Fritz Leiber. Anyway.

This is a brilliantly suspenseful little thriller written by Leiber, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson, based on Leiber's novel Conjure Wife. Artfully directed by Sidney Hayers, the film centers on a university psychology professor (Peter Wyngarde) who discovers his wife (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch, who credits her ministrations with their successful life.  He tells her to knock that off forthwith and -- well, let's just say, boys, you should listen to your wife.

#4 - The Host (South Korea 2006)

You're minding your own business, running your little dock-side snack bar, when suddenly something monstrous and slimy emerges from the water and starts devouring everyone in its path. Hey, it happens. But The Host is much more than a monster movie --although the monster is quite grotesquely wonderful. It's layers of political and social commentary, an environmental cautionary tale, and a touching treatise on family.

Song Kang-ho is especially endearing as the somewhat dim hero, the special effects are great, and the action and story are top-notch.

#3- Stir of Echoes (US 1999)

Based on the novel by Richard Matheson (again), this is another brilliant little film that too few people saw. Kevin Bacon stars as a working-class dad who, after a post-hypnotic suggestion, begins to see visions of a girl who disappeared from his neighborhood, and becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to her  Both a taut thriller and a resonant ghost story, this is suspenseful and unpredictable right through to the end. And the final scene sticks for a long, long time.

#2 - The Devil's Backbone (Spain 2001)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy), the film is set at a orphanage in the Spanish countryside during the Spanish Civil War, where a little boy, Carlos, is sent while his father is away fighting. Carlos soon finds himself haunted by the ghost of a murdered orphan, who cryptically indicates that soon "many will die."

Evocative and mesmerizing, the film's great impact comes from capturing the helplessness of childhood, the terror of feeling on your own against forces far greater than yourself. The story is intelligent and direction and acting elegant. One of the best ghost stories of the last 20 years.

#1 - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (US 1973)

I saw Don't Be Afraid of the Dark when it premiered on TV.  I was 9, and it scarred me for life. Really. Scarred. For. Life.  I don't think I slept for weeks. Hell, I still have to make sure the closet door is closed before I go to bed. I am always nervous in the shower. Good grief, I'm looking behind myself right now as I'm typing this.

Made for TV, the film stars Kim Darby and Jim Hutton as a distracted couple moving into the wife's grandmother's old house.  Note to self: along with avoiding lonely farmhouses and remote cabins, don't move into any creepy old house inherited from a creepy old relative. Sell it, sight unseen. And for dog's sake, if you find something bricked up, DON'T UNBRICK IT. Things get bricked up for a reason.

Sally Farnham (Darby) ignores my advice from the future and unbricks the old fireplace and finds a little door. Well, that can't be good. Things go rapidly downhill from there. Way, way downhill, the kind of downhill with creepy little whispery voices and creepy little hands under the table and dead interior decorators that you can't readily explain.

Veteran TV director John Newland maximizes the creep factor (and the lack of credible special effects in 1973) by judicious use of shadows and sound effects. It might have been only a 70-minute made-for-TV movie, but to this day, it remains the scariest thing I've ever seen.

P.S. You can't get Don't Be Afraid of the Dark on Netflix. It's too scary -- just kidding. Well, maybe not kidding.  But you can order it print-on-demand from Amazon.  I think that's the only place you can find it. However, in January Guillermo del Toro is bringing a remake to the big screen. You can see the trailer here. And now I'm going to get back to never sleeping again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tales from the DVR - The Problem with Undercovers

Finally got around to starting in on Undercovers. The S/O's pronouncement? "I keep waiting for it to get, I don't know, better."

And he's right, it's not very good. It's not horrible, but it's definitely a disappointment. In fact it's becoming one of those things that I'm now watching out of some absurd sense of duty. (Yes, I know there must be medication for that.)

 On the positive side, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is adorable. (Or as I think of her in my head, Martha Jones' sister, because if something can be related back to Doctor Who, my brain will do it.) Boris Kodjoe is pretty, pretty, pretty, although I prefer him with a hat, because sometimes I find the vast expanse of smooth cranium distracting. Carter McIntyre (who may have a future career as a Seann William Scott impersonator) gets most of the funny lines. And Gerald McRaney seems to be saying, "I'm a professional, I show up and do my job, why isn't this working?" 

It's not the actors that are the problem, they're doing a great job with the warmed-over hash they were handed,  and I wish them well after the coming inevitable cancellation. The problem is this show is neither fish nor fowl. It wants to be a lot of things to a lot of different people, and hence is just a ridiculous mishmash that connects on no level. It's like taking the premise of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, rounding off all the sharp edges, adding some heartwarming real drama, and putting it on ABC Family.

They're sexy spies! But they have small business troubles just like real Americans!The can speak 56 languages and are experts in free-climbing, parkour, interrogation, and making french toast! But they worry about staying grounded in their marriage and not taking each other for granted!

If you're going for over the top, you gotta go for it. And they are Not. Going. For. It. They are bogged down in all the sort of meandering, pointless, crap that everybody deals with. Who's going to feed the dog? You painted the bedroom without consulting me on the color! My sister ordered pork for the Levenson-Chang wedding! Waaaah!

What I want to know is, they say their business failing, yet they have a fancy-shmancy workplace, this ginormous house, and a fancy-shmancy car. Was their business at one time not failing? Did they inherit money from a wealthy relative? We're they also secret diamond smugglers? Does the CIA have a fabulous severance package that nobody knows about? It's like everything is an afterthought.  Recovering alcoholic sister? Afterthought. It's the old throw-the-dart-at-the-spinning-wheel-of-character-traits. Veiled reference in the first episode to the "real" reason the spies were reactivated? Who cares anymore?

Maybe with a defter hand one could blend what is basically a comic book with "thoughtful" drama, but that hand is nowhere in evidence here. The fun isn't fun enough, and the drama is saccharine. If you're going to make me invest in something totally implausible, you're going to have to sell it. Undercovers unfortunately isn't worth buying.

Tales from the DVR - Luther

I'm an unrepentant Anglophile, especially when it comes to TV, so I was predisposed to like the new detective drama that premiered this week on BBC America. The best TV series in the procedural/detective genre have come from the BBC -- Cracker and Touching Evil are probably my all-time favorites, but there are literally too many to mention. They just seem better-crafted, more compelling, more unpredictable than the flavor you get from American TV.

Luther, starring Idris Elba (The Wire), is no exception. The premier starts off in media res, with murder detective John Luther on the heels of a serial killer who buries little girls alive. Within a few minutes, a child is saved and the killer is in a coma, and you know as much as you need to know about Luther without any doddering backstory and wanky "character" development.  

Elba is brilliant. He's one of those rare actors who really inhabits a character, so much so that you can see his thoughts played out on his face, you can watch his mind like a clockwork animation stripped bare. The scene where his estranged wife admits that's she's found someone new is just beautifully acted, and Elba and Indira Varma seem like a genuine couple in the midst of a  messy, lost, heartbreaking relationship.

The plot is the first installment in what looks to be a large story arc that will cover the 6-episode first series. Luther knows whodunnit almost immediately, the problem is there's nothing he can do about it. We are left with a wonderfully cold adversary in Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), who promises to be both cat and mouse.  I don't know where it's going, which is a good thing, and for someone who reads as watches as much detective fiction as I do, relatively rare.  Definitely one of the best things on TV right now.  Watch it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TGFCR - Benjy Davis Project Edition

Benjy Davis Project is a local band -- Baton Rouge. They often play around here, but I haven't had a chance yet to see them live. Maybe someday when I have time....yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, they make me want to go back to college and start a band. I had piano lessons when I was a kid, I'm sure I could pick it right back up. Or the flute. I even played the piccolo for a year. Although I doubt many college bar bands are on the lookout for piccolo players.

Useless People

First as preface, I am not a religious person. That doesn't mean I don't have personal beliefs, and my own idea of a soul, the afterlife, etcetera, etcetera. But you know what, by definition all religious beliefs are fairy tales, whether they are mine, yours, the pope's. They can't be proven by empirical fact, and therefore they are not true. That's why we call it FAITH. We believe what we believe because it makes us feel better, safer, vindicated, superior, or any other number of emotions. I think of spiritual beliefs as nighlights, because they are the things that make us feel not quite so alone in that huge dark that surrounds us all.

Everyone deserves their own nightlight, and I don't begrudge them that. But I do begrudge them the right to try to make their nightlight into someone else's, or worse, to fashion their nightlight into a blunt object to bludgeon other people with. For goodness sake, have the common sense to keep your fairy tale in your head, as I keep mine in my own head. The world will be a better place. And if you absolutely feel the need to share your beliefs, get a pet. They're good listeners.

My younger children go to Catholic school. I would prefer they did not, but living where we do, this is not just the best option, but the only viable option. As they say, if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, even though you would rather take those lemons and peg them hard at someone's head.

The S/O is a devout Catholic, but we mostly get along fine. We respect each other's feelings and while occasionally one of us makes a thoughtless comment that wounds the other, it's not done maliciously. We have arguments, because if we didn't, we'd be freaks. But we also both believe that the most important things in life are kindness and generosity of spirit and responsibility for our fellow travelers, and this is true whether you follow the FSM, Jesus, a ceramic pig, or nothing at all. Which brings me to today's morality lesson.

Monday night, my son's hamster died. He was quite disconsolate. He's 10, but this is first big-time brush with the reality of death. We flew to visit my father shortly before he died, but my son was only two at the time, and it's more like an episode of a TV show he once watched.

We comforted him as best we could and assured him that Gazpacho had lived a full and happy life, and whatever was eternal in him had moved on to wherever those bits of us go. (He knows that mom and dad have varied ideas of what an afterlife entails, and is well-versed in various beliefs from reincarnation to the Summerland to Heaven to living on in the memories of those who loved us.) We reassured him, because that is what grown-ups do when a child is crushed and worried about the unknowable workings of the universe.

He's doing okay as we send him off to school. I pick the kids up at the end of the afternoon, and he's distraught again. It seems in his religion class, he asked his religion teacher if they could say a prayer for his departed hamster. She replied, "We're not going to say a prayer for your hamster. Animals don't have souls and they don't go to heaven."

To say that I was appalled would be quite an understatement. To say I wanted to slam on the brakes, stomp into that class and clock that horrible woman would have been a tad more accurate, but still lacking the real essence of the fury I felt.  Of all the....  At the very least, I wanted to find that petty little martinet and give her a dressing down that would have left her cowering under a too-small desk for days to come. I am trying, however, to control my....impulses. I used to be not a very nice person, and the desire for vengeance sometimes rears it's ugly head.

The S/O was likewise appalled. He's very mild-mannered (opposites attract and all that rot), so if something gets him sputtering, you know it's serious. It's not resolved yet, as he hasn't had a meeting with the principal who was away at a meeting, but he's talked to every teacher he can get his hands on, and I've supplied him with notecards full of talking points. At the very least, we expect a sincere apology to our child and a written apology stating why what she did was wrong in both intent and content. And none of this "I'm sorry if you were offended" bullshit. That will not stand. If the apologies are not forthcoming, well, let's say I hope it doesn't come to that. I'll be picketing outside that damn school every day with a placard that reads, "Why do you hate children and little animals?"

I don't care for people teaching morality to my children, because often I find their morality is not so much morality, per se, but some warped flow chart to either cow children into behaving for fear of  hellfire or to ever slightly nudge children to believe that they are superior by the sheer fact that their God is "righter" than anyone else's. For people like my son's teacher, religion is an excuse to be a bully. I hate bullies. I hate all people who are cruel to children and animals and anyone they perceive to be weaker or less able to fight back.

If a child comes to you asking for comfort, keep your crazy thoughts to yourself. Regardless of what constitutes your bitter outlook on life, you smile and say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll keep your friend in my thoughts."  You do not break that child's heart, however briefly. Trust me, there's enough broken hearts coming that they don't need an extra one.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Carpool

So once a week, I get to drive the kiddies to school. Well, not so much "get to" as "have to." The S/O plays "volleyball" one night a week and stays in town at the apartment that night. I know, suspicious, huh? Well, I guess he's really playing volleyball, because the next day he's basically a sack of jello, whining about his "rotator cuff." Besides, if a girl ever got a gander at the "Star Wars Suite" the apartment has become, she would run screaming the other way.

Anyway, my one day of morning driving duty, the alarm goes off and I get up at 6 AM, walk the dogs, get the kidlets dressed, and leave the house by 6:50. I have it timed perfectly so that I arrive at school exactly at 7:04, which is the minute before you can drop your munchkins off for breakfast. This gives them plenty of time before the bell rings at 7:35.

For some unknown reason, this week the alarm was set for talk radio. Talk radio will not wake me up. I hear talking and I just incorporate it into whatever nonsensical dream I happen to be having. This particular morning, I did happen to hear the phrase "seven o'clock" and one of the more alert people who live inside my head said, "Put down that octopus, I think you're late."

I sprang up, knocking the dog into the cat (they try to occupy the same space on my feet). They crashed into the other dog, who is old and cranky and yelled at them to get off her lawn. I yanked my two sleeping offspring out of their beds -- well, out of one of their beds and out of my bed: the five-year-old still always ends up sleeping with me. He is a ninja of middle-of-the-night bed roulette.

Within 9 minutes I had them dressed, with hot little toaster waffles in their hands. I, of course, was not dressed. Now came the calculation. If I left at that second, I reasoned I had 25 minutes to make what is normally a 15 minute drive. I could stop and get dressed, wasting valuable time trying to disentangle something out of either the laundry basket of unfolded clothes or the bottom of my closet (not recommended for amateurs), or I could trust that I'd make it to the carpool line before they locked the gates. Piece of cake, I thought. Lesson one, don't make important decisions if you've been awake for less than 10 minutes and are stimulant-free.

You see, between my house and the school, there are four school zones and 5 stoplights. If it's before 7:00, speed zones are not yet enforced, and there's very little traffic. Once you hit 7:00, it's a bit like stepping on an anthill. My brain was not thinking that far ahead.

So I pulled my little darlings down the steps and shoved them into the spymobile, clad only in a nightgown. And it's not the kind of nightgown that can pass as a summer dress or something. It's clearly a nightgown. I am also not wearing a bra, because who wears a bra to sleep? I haven't been able to get away with going braless since I was 12. Yes, I was that girl in your sixth-grade class. The only other thing I'm wearing, by the sheer fact that they'd been in the kitchen doorway, is a pair of lavender moccasins. If I'd left the shoes elsewhere I would have been barefoot too.

4 minutes in when I'm stuck at the first light behind a school bus, kid #4 tells me he forgot his belt. That'll be a demerit if it gets noticed, but I tell him to blouse out his shirt like a pirate and hope for the best. I'm not going back.

6 minutes in, I am stuck behind another school bus, and kid #5 throws the remains of his waffle at my head. I asked him why, and with perfect sincerity, he explains, "I was finished with it."

9 minutes in, I've come to the high school zone. Regardless of the trust his superiors have in him, the cop "directing" traffic is not particularly competent at that particular task. He seems to tell two cars in opposing lanes to go at the same time, which confuses them, which seems to confuse him, so he gestures at them more vehemently to go. Neither is willing. It's a standstill game of chicken. I'm unsure  how this is resolved, as I'm looking in the rearview mirror attempting to extract the waffle bits from my hair.

15 minutes in, I'm finally leaving the high school zone, and into my buffer time.

17 minutes in, and I'm stuck at the light, because the chicken in front of me did not understand that yellow means to SPEED UP OR I'M GOING TO BE LATE.

20 minutes in, and I'm at the university, which houses the lab school. The rent-a-cops that man the crosswalk at the lab school are not nearly as competent as the cop at the high school intersection. Which is to say that they randomly wander into traffic and their idea of helping the girl trying to push her bicycle through the crosswalk  is to approach gingerly and somehow become entangled with the bike itself, falling to the ground in a mass of ill-fitting polyester pants and bent spokes, then laying there looking helpless.

23 minutes in and I have made the turn to the approach, there's one car in the carpool line, and I think I'm going make it. But as I draw closer and the seconds tick off, I realize that the car isn't moving. And the car isn't moving because it's 7:34 and they have already locked the gate.

At this point I actually consider telling the kids school has been cancelled for today and going home. But that would be irresponsible. And it would also mean the kids would have to come home with me. I pull to the front of the school and make the mistake of trying to run my fingers through the tangle of my hair. I have a lot of hair. A lot of hair filled with waffle bits.

I exit the car with as much dignity as I can muster and march the kids up to the steps. Seems that lots of parents are late, an extraordinary amount of parents. Most of them moms dressed for work in business sets and high heels or dads in Polos and dockers. Well, at least the lavender moccasins don't clash with the nightie, which is black with purple flowers. Thinking about it, a lot of my wardrobe is purple and black, and I must go around all day looking like a big bruise.

There's a passel of parents in front of me, so I take a seat on the bench and wait my turn, hoping that I look like someone who's making a bold fashion statement and not an escaped mental patient. I'm slouching slightly to hide that fact that I'm not wearing a bra, and glad that at least the nightie is mid-thigh length. I cross my legs in an attempt to look classy, and nonchalantly run my hand over the owls nest on my head. A piece of soggy waffle falls in my lap. No one sits down next me. Eventually it's my turn.

By way of defense, I explain to the secretary -- loudly -- that my husband didn't set the alarm correctly. The kids don't care, and the fact that they have long since lost the ability to be embarrassed by me should probably worry me more than it does. I chalk it all up as a valuable life lesson to them: do what you need to do withouth worrying too much about what other people think about you, and always set your own damn alarm.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Political Screed

I've been ignoring politics to the extent that I can, because I have too much to do to become completely unhinged.  Still, you don't have to be paying that much attention to realize that we've passed through batshit fucking insane and into whatever territory lies beyond that. Here there be tygers.

In a rational world, where there was hope of a thoughtful god and not some Lovecraftian monstrosity waiting for a seal to open, people like Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Jim DeMint, Haley Barbour, Carl Paladino, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul and countless others still spilling from the bottomless clown car would be paraded in streets with dunce caps on, so that children could point and laugh and throw rotten fruit. They would not be discussed in polite company. They would be summarily dismissed for the lunatics they are, and left only to mutter their senseless diatribes on street corners, where sane people would give them a wide berth. If we were merciful, they would be left in peace to sit on the benches outside the public library and eat jello with their hands as they converse intently with their nightlight jesus.

But this is apparently not a rational world. Even if I had the worst case of Tourrettes the world had ever seen, I could not adequately express the total fucked-up fuckedupedness that is swirling around right now. There's a little voice in my head that wants to whisper, "Go ahead, motherfuckers. As Don Henley sang, we get the government we deserve. You get what you fucking vote for, cocksuckers, so I hope you fucking choke on it.  And in 200 years those of use who can still read will look back and realize Mike Judge was fucking Nostradamus."

But then I realize that we're fucking strapped in next them on their rocket-sled to Fuckedupistan. If you pull the lever for anything but a Dem, or if you don't pull the lever at all, you're a fucking idiot. All you whiny concern trolls and teabaggers and fucking little pity victims can sit around jacking off to your 9/11 torture porn or your little black book of slights,  with your high fructose corn syrup slushies in your grubby paws, and wait for fucking Armageddon, I've got no sympathy for you. You don't have to even like the Dems -- hey, Mary Landrieu is my fucking senator -- but if you side with the Republicans after what they've become, may your petty little imaginary god have mercy on your blackened, shriveled little souls.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Random Thoughts 10-14

Sean Patrick Flanery makes everything he's in a little bit better. Did you see Mongolian Death Worm? It was almost an actual movie, thanks to him  and "Mongolian Walker, Texas Ranger," played by marvelous Asian character actor George Cheung, who has been in literally every TV show ever made. (Don't believe me? Check his IMDB page. It's fucking amazing.) Still, I am not going see Saw 27, not even if it had BOTH Sean Patrick Flanery and George Cheung in it.

Katy Perry really doesn't sing all that well, but looking at her, I suppose that's not really the point.

When Far East Movement sings that they're "Fly like a G6" I don't know what that means, because I'm NO LONGER HIP.

When, oh, when will there be a law against Katherine Heigl making any more "movies." Bonus thought: since Gerard Butler has starred in "comedies" with both Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston, does that mean his career is officially over? And it's not because Gerard Butler can't be funny. Rocknrolla was one of the most fucking hi-larious movies I ever saw. I replayed the scene where they were trying to escape from the Russians like 7 times and it never got any less funny.

Maybe I was exposed to too much Yakov Smirnoff as a child, but Russians in commercials crack me up every time. The DirecTV commercial where Russian Viggo Mortenson kisses the tiny giraffe? And the NFL Direct commercial where the Russian New York cabbie drops off the obnoxious out-of-town couple at the abandoned lot they think is Central Park and resignedly says, "We are here." As Yakov would say "With Soviet Russian DVR, commercials skip you." And, no, I'm not making fun of Russians. I love Russians. And if I did make fun of Russians, Alexander Ovechkin's Floating Head of Doom would probably come kick my ass.

The ending scene on Terriers last night between Katie (Laura Allen) and Hank (Donal Logue) broke my heart. You ever do anything just achingly stupid to fuck up your life, just because you thought somewhere back in your lizard brain you didn't deserve happiness? Sure, me neither.


Avs beat Red Wings in a shootout, which forced the ESPN and FOX power rankings to re-rank the Avs in the top 10 this week. Not that I care about the power rankings. Really. Which reminds me, why has not come out with their power rankings? Curse them for making me look at ESPN and FOX. (Americans do a piss-poor job of looking like they care about hockey, let alone understand hockey.)

Had a discussion with the S/O, who can't understand the concept of boarding. ("Why isn't that boarding? He knocked him into the boards.") Which led me to explain to him that boarding is like art or pornography: you know it when you see it. Being a Republican, he just likes to be a contrarian and argue from whichever position lacks actual facts. His idea of a debate is to throw out a non-sequiter and then -- while you're trying to figure out why what the hell he just said has anything to do with anything -- walk out of the room like he won. Good thing he's cute.

Huzzah to Brandon Yip for being the only shooter to successfully go up, dammit. Besides, how cool is the name Yip?

And may I reiterate, seeing the Red Wings lose makes me happier than seeing anything else, short of a front row ticket to Sarah Palin being fed into a woodchipper.

On Characters

Working on the new book, I've been thinking a lot about characters lately: what makes a good character, why you need a good a character, how you get that character to breathe without it dissolving into a mess of ticks and eccentricities that are a lazy or incompetent writer's shorthand.

Now there's good shorthand and bad shorthand. I hate reading a book that turns out to be the skeleton of a screenplay. A lot of very popular writers write lousy characters. They have clever, even ingenious plots, lots of great ideas that make a compelling jacket blurb or a query hook, but their characters lay there like poppets or manikins, waiting for someone to slip inside their lifeless skins and do the heavy lifting.

Then there are writers who use brevity to their advantage, who can introduce a character that you immediately see, and with a few words, a few deft phrases, make that character into a compelling, believable, real person.

The toughest thing, of course, is motivation. If you have a real person, the writer has to make you believe that everything that person does makes internal sense. The quickest way to get me to close a book or turn off a television is to present a character that does something I know they would never do. Often it's in service of the plot. I hate the deus ex machina, and I hate making a character do something they would never do just because you couldn't figure out a way around forcing them to do it. For me, that's the one unforgivable sin. Go back and rewrite the whole fucking thing, but for dog's sake, don't just throw up your hands and think to yourself, "I've drawn myself into a corner. Maybe nobody will notice."

Right now I'm reading Find Me, the latest of the Mallory series by Carol O'Connell. Besides being a brilliant plotter, O'Connell is an absolute master of character. Her triumvirate of main characters -- Riker, Charles Butler, and Mallory herself -- are always constant, but always surprising. Even when what those characters do makes no sense, it makes perfect sense. The other great thing about her writing is she can, in a paragraph, tell you everything you need to know about a character for it to spring into your mind, fully-formed. She has such an exquisite economy of words.

In addition to rereading some of my favorite authors, I've been taking a look at my favorite television characters and why they're good characters, why I find myself wanting to spend time with them, why I want to believe them. I'm interested in how you avoid making a character a caricature. Of course a great deal of that is predicated on the skill of the actor, but at least half of it is the skill of the writer. The poor, unsung TV writer. I've found it very helpful in helping me flesh out the bios and the sketches of the people I hope will populate the new novel. I write things in my head very visually, so the TV exercise has been quite illuminating in thinking about character development.

Since I lost my improv writing group when I left the bohemian West for the desultory South, I'm amusing myself with my own improv exercises, and in a post or two, I'm going to pick apart my favorite TV characters and see why I care about them.