Friday, August 08, 2008

On Not Talking About Citrus...

Man, I really don’t want to do two health related posts in a row. It's pathetic and a little too much continuity in my posting style. I like to jump around a bit more in what I...uh, discuss? And I’m really not trying to drum up sympathy…but if your sympathy includes money, then consider me my own percussion section. Let's see those checks come flowing in a Mental Midget telethon. However, I do feel compelled to be a service announcement of sorts. Like a “the more you know”…or “knowing is half the battle” type of thing. It's about the knowing...

Because you see…Lymes Disease has really nothing to do with citrus…which was a real bummer when I found out. I thought it kind of funny when the doctor wanted to take blood to test for traces of lime. I mean, its been a while since I let any kind of fruit touch these insides…which might be a reason for something…I just can’t think of what right now. Moving away from my dietary genius, it was a little disturbing to be told that Lymes comes from ticks…that had recently dined…on me. That thought is crazy enough. I mean, tick, couldn't you do a little better than this? Are you homeless? Dining out of the trash today are we? Haven't you seen my neighbors. I think they might be a much better decision. Alas, ticks these days. You can lead them to sweet pasture, but they still go for the dregs...

Now, I do disgust myself from time to time, but I assure you that I wash thoroughly…and daily. While not known for much, I am known for my showering skills that are more marathonish than sprint…uh, ish. I can’t recall that last time I didn’t have a shower for the day… That thought actually skeeves me out a little. So this little guy must have been sneaky. Must have hid in my hair somewhere. Right now I know my wife would love to say "probably in your unibrow"... which is just mean. And partially true.

However, I do know whose fault this all is…Bailey…our dog. Or should I say my wife’s dog. I don’t want to imply that I dislike the dog…I just wish he was yours…so I could visit him and pet him and talk to him like a baby…but just at your house. See, I got this tick from him…or from walking him at some point. This is why I like to swear off both going outside and exercising. They are not natural, and worse, they often let nature do things...awful things to you. Take your lesson from me. You see that sun, you run...and don't look back. You see Arizona or something. Nothing in the desert can hurt you. So both failed me. They did this to me. Bailey did this to me. Be careful, I might blame you next…

Ah, antibiotics…alas, I know thee well…

Friday, August 01, 2008

On The Audacity of Health...

Audacity indeed. When I was about 10 years old…and even when I was a teenager in high school and I supposedly knew better, I believed that a person was near death when they reached their 30’s. To me, there was always the possibility that I might lose one or both parents to old age since…well, they were always old age. Today, I’m literally in wonder that they are just turning 60, which is now, to my thinking…still frickin’ old, but not so imminently detrimental to their lives.

What bothers me though is that apparently 33 is when the body starts to fall apart…and I mean completely. And worse is that apparently my contemporaries are not having the same issues. I find this to be no fair, and just a little rude on their part…on your part. Just because Tylenol is not one of your four major food groups does not make you a better person. Here is a little bit of my day today:

Nurse Practitioner: So, are you on any medication.
Me: Well, I just came off of three weeks of antibiotics. I’m also on Nexium, and 80mg of Lipitor.
NP: 80mg of Lipitor!? But you are so young…
Me: Yeah sister, tell me about it…

(Later in the exam)

NP: Well, I’m not sure what is up. So let’s get more labs for Lyme’s Disease, Mono, Chronic Fatigue…and your being ridiculously good looking (okay, I made that last part up…there is no cure for that).

Me: Sweet. (Meaning: not so sweet)

NP: Do you have any other questions for me?


(and even later)

Tech: Have you been to a Quest Lab before?
Me: You mean you don’t remember me. You frakkin’ took blood from me on Tuesday..of this week.
Tech: Really. Sorry to hear that.
Me: Yeah, me too.

Now, I know it may seem like I’m complaining right now…okay, maybe a little more than seem, but I’m really just frustrated. Like most men, I’m a total wheenie when it comes to not feeling well. I mean, bruises and cuts are not big deal, especially when obtained doing something manly…and hairy. But blood in the urine…that crap ain’t right, or appreciated. Now don’t get me wrong, I was pretty pleased that I got to utilize some cool technology with not one, but two CT scans. And playing with the wheelchair in an empty hallway, while wearing the cool “gown of butt showingness” was also pretty rad… But getting a prostate exam in front of my dad…um…yeah…was not…rad.

In reality, these tests really are proving that I’m not really that sick, or at least not with anything major…hopefully. Lyme’s disease would not be really high on the list of things to have. But ruling out worse stuff is good. Really, when thinking about expanding my family in December, and laying around for weeks while my daughter runs around me, is not my idea of where I wanted to be in my 30’s. I know in the end this will turn out to be nothing but an annoying case of sinusitis or something completely treatable, but seriously, right now I should be in a gym working out…or at least thinking about it…

And friends, thus endeth my rant….didn’t you miss them. I believe many of you asked for them in fact...maybe you're the one with the issues...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Number 2...But Not That Kind

From out of the ashes comes….well, more ashes. The ashes of my mind. Odes to Mental Midgetry is back baby…and hopefully not for a limited time offering. To what do we owe this honor? What can entice me back into the nether world of the net? No, it’s not World of Warcraft, although I have plenty of bad influences trying to get me back on that smack. No, we here at the Halls of Mental Midgetry are expanding….and painting…but mostly just expanding. And while I do mean in the waistline, I also mean in the area of family. Now, I’m not telling anyone here anything new. Chances are that if you read…or used to read to put a more direct point on it…this blog, you already know that a new child is nigh. Nigh in December that is…

Oh, but what is news is that we had the all important 20 week sonogram today. The one that seems a little like Christmas. Well, I guess only if you like to find out what the sex of the child is. If you are one of those that doesn’t, let’s just say you’d have no place in this family because we have to know…for planning purposes…and by planning purposes I really just mean so we can have the appropriate paint color on the walls. That is really what it boils down to…paint.

So, this time out we are pretty much veterans…since we’ve already done this once. That actually makes us experts. However, unlike last time…actually like last time, but a little different, K-Mad is joining us. Her only real request is that the baby be red. We assure her that it will likely be us colored. And if it is not, well, that will present mommy and daddy with some other major league issues. So, with that request shot down, she just wants to see the baby’s red thumb. Not sure what that means, but okay, we’ll try and accommodate that.

With mom firmly planted on the bed, the…uh, nurse? lady puts the blue goop all over my wife’s stomach. I can tell K-Mad wants to get in on that action. Truth be told, so do I…but I’m assured that this experience is like Secret. Strong enough for a man, but only made for a woman. Unless you are that dude in Oregon who…was actually still a woman for Pete’s sake (or Pete’s Steak as K-Mad says)! But I digress…

I find sonograms amazing. I mean, looking on the inside of someone, but without all the horror movie elements is kind of…sweet. K-Mad is fascinated too for like 20 seconds which is pretty good for a two year old. And there “it” is…floating around inside my wife with legs and arms all over the place. There’s the head. That’s cool…need that kinda. I ask about the six fingers or toes…but “it” only has five on all appendages. Pity, I really think six would be useful. Spine looks good. Brain actually gets a “great” from the nurse. Well, another child taking after mom…which I suppose is a good thing. I ask if "it" will have mind reading capabilities. I think i is a legitimate question...especially in the teenage years. The nurse does not, however. Moving on, the heart appears to have all its moving parts...another plus. I look for a second heart...or set of internal organs like Klingons do in Star Trek. Now that would be useful. No dice there either. I guess normal is good though.

Finally the moment of truth arrives. Do we want to know the sex? Lady, look at this woman, this is not a “wait and see” woman. Hello, paint color…remember? So, it turns out that we are going to have…a lot more pink in the house. Baby two is another chica, and I could not be more thrilled. See, when my wife and I were talking about children back in the day, we swore we were probably boy parents. However, with K-Mad, I don’t know what I’d do with a son. I mean, I’ve been feminized… I think that is obvious by this point. Where I used to be a soulless robot…now I’m just a robot. I’m making progress yo. But I’m also meeting with an architect and an interior design specialist tomorrow to start planning out the Man Room. Oh, it will be mine…it will be. And so will a second daughter!

Friday, January 19, 2007

On Scatter Shot...

So I blew most of my creative energy on one massive post about movies. I guess it is pretty sad that I can muster a thread of no less than 10,000 words about movies, but can’t somehow get online to write about life in general. I’m not saying it’s sad in a boo-hoo way, more like sad in an institutional way. I should be committed…but we already knew that.

This thread will serve as somewhat of a “blog dump” where I scattershot a bunch of stuff at you that probably deserve their own threads, but…take what you can get okay. I’m not made of…time. Hmmm, what a cool superpower that would be. I could finally get enough sleep, spend the required and highly monitored time with my wife, totally epic out my troll with fat lootz, and…write the next great American novel. Or any novel for that matter…

Speaking of writing, that children’s book idea never really panned out did it? Not that I would have posted it here, so how would you know? Just consider this a moment of honesty, and trust me, there is nothing I hate more than being honest with you. So if you are agreeable to it, I’ll return to sprinkling a number of random and well crafted lies throughout my post that you’ll be forced to identify…kind of like a weird “Where’s Waldo” scenario. Except in this case, words are my Waldo.

Unfortunately, one thing that is not a lie is that I’m starting a Masters program next Wednesday. But, in an effort to make the lies keep up with the truth…I’m really, superduper, totally excited about it. It is what I always wanted to do. I feel like this will offer me new and better opportunities in the future and will be worth the massive amounts of money spent to obtain the MS on my resume.

I am getting a Masters in Management with a focus on Homeland Security (by the way, we’ve returned to the truth in case you were wondering). In truth, there is a chance…however small…that I could actually benefit from it. In that case, I will endeavor to never give the Masters itself the props for it since I remain adamantly opposed to the whole Masters racket. That is a thread I really need to write…

On a different note, I am currently hooked on a new website called Talkshoe. I recently acquired, through smooth and debonair schmoozing of one of my workmates, a pair of earphones. If I was not able to acquire said earphones through the power of the spoken word (whining is a skill people), I’d be forced to pay hard currency for them because they are literally a life saver…and I don’t mean the candy. Talkshoe is an interactive podcast site. Since I am at work, I don’t participate in the interactive portion, but certainly gorge myself on many of the podcasts. Some of them are downright terrible, but a surprising number at least are interesting in content. I don’t know what I’d do if I actually had to go back to the days of listening to the dull roar that is office background “music”.

And speaking of Talkshoe, at some point I’d love to take Odes To Mental Midgetry onto the airwaves. I feel like I need to find one more commitment to my ever depleting resource of time. I batted around this idea with a friend of mine, one that knows some things about technology, so I can remain blissfully ignorant of that…realm. We’ll see if it ever happens, but I assure you, after I tell everyone I know in real life, you’ll be the next to know. For scoring purposes, that actually makes you about 63rd in line. Just think of all the inanity that will flow…from my voice rather than my fingers.

K-Mad is on the move. Shortly after her first birthday she had her own epic version of the moon landing. They were literally small steps, taken in trepidation and wonderment that a human body can move while not having one hand attached to some solid object. She has taken to standing un-helped by some prop pretty well, but the look on her face of “okay, now what?” is priceless. She is not walking yet though. She can, she has the strength and balance to do it, she just lacks the motivation and confidence to do it. In other words, she is her father’s daughter. I swear, if she has one finger on a piece of furniture she can actually run laps around it with no problem. Remove the finger and it all falls apart…

My wife got her up to five consecutive steps the other day. After that exertion we quickly pumped her full of vitamins and Gatorade, and wrapped her in one of those space blankets. Someday soon, we think she’ll be in her first marathon.

Though we are totally out of the woods now, we did have a recent “scare”. I put that in quotes because, with the benefit of hindsight (another cool superpower to have), there was never really anything to worry about. After K-Mad’s twelve month check-up it was discovered that she had a low iron and hemoglobin count. My wife got the call the next day, which was, by the way, the day before our families were coming into town for her first birthday party. My wife, already freaked out by the pronouncement of “we just want to rule out everything” was forced to take K-Mad to an offsite lab for blood work.

Blood work is traumatic enough. My wife is known for checking out of the waking world when it comes to her own blood being…removed. K-Mad has obviously had blood work down in the past, but not like this. I’ll get to the punch line. Two hours, 5 or 6 nurses, 5 sticks in the arm and finally enough blood to do work with. The phone call I received from my wife after the whole ordeal is one that I will never forget. Seriously, when I got the call after the visit it was in many ways worse than the two calls I’ve received from my parents about deaths in the family. There is just something about hearing your daughter scream down heaven and earth that gets me in a primal way. I immediately go into defense mode with the wild look of testosterone and adrenaline in my eyes looking for who I need to “remove” for her safety. It’s ridiculous honestly, something I hope I get over as my parenting life charges forward.

Oh, and the again, the end result was that the tests came back negative and we have to give her supplements. But honestly, we need to come up with something that can analyze the blood in the body without taking it. Smart people, get on that…

I think that does it for me today…

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On Movies in 2006...

If I have any sort of “dream” about what I’d really want to do in life, I’d love to be able to become a movie critic. Seriously, that kind of life seems to fit my personality like a glove…like an Isotoner glove. I could get used to sitting in a theater, or a couch…or a Lazyboy for a living and offering my comments on someone else’s hard work. Heck, I’m already an analyst, so it seems like a natural transition. Except that I know virtually nothing about movies…well, not in the real sense.

I am a child of the 80’s, but I would not classify my childhood years as dominated by watching movies. My parents were not big movie fans, so we were not always at the local video store renting movies, and we didn’t have the cable movie channels. Except for an epic binge I had with The Sword and the Stone one summer on the Disney Channel (which was like kid Nirvana at that point), most of my visual stimulation came from TV cartoons, Atari/Nintendo and epic scenes of destruction at the hands of Cross Bows and Catapults (the board game...but I'd have loved the real thing at that age!!).

However, I did consume the Star Wars trilogy with abandon, Indiana Jones could find any artifact known to man no matter how well hidden, and Ahnold Schwarzenegger convinced me that you could kill 50 people with one magazine from an M-60…in 5 seconds. As I got older I saw most of the major action, comic book and big pop culture movies. But I was never a student of cinema. Nothing really weighty interested me much, and I certainly couldn’t identify one director over another with the exception of Lucas or Speilberg. And it was a pretty good assumption that if a movie came out before 1980, I have never seen it (with the exception of Star Wars of course).

Today I’m a little better, but I don’t know nearly what I would need to in order to…well, make a living as a critic. I only know what I like and don’t like, and I’m much more open in what I will view…except horror… I’m still not there yet…not after sneaking a viewing of The Exorcist when I was 10. It’s a real shame too, because I’m pretty sure what this world needs is another film critic. I think there are maybe negative 500 job openings for that kind of thing. So I’ve decided to get smart and post my love of movies on the internet…which no one else is doing. That’s right, I’m always looking for ways to be a pioneer…or to shirk my actual paid work.

In the past few years, I did start a tradition of providing my top films of the viewing year. Now the catch is, and the real reason I could probably never be an actual critic…among a thousand of reasons…that I rank the movies I’ve seen in the year, not from the year. And I only rank the movies I had not seen until that year. I find that much more interesting anyway. How does a movie from the 1960’s compare to one from the 1980’s or from today in my mind. Is a classic really a classic to me? Is Casino Royale from 2006 really the best Bond in my mind? Aren’t you just dying to know?

Actually, I say that facetiously. I know just about no one cares about what my views on movies are, but one thing I do love about the end of the year is reading Top 10 lists, one after another. In reality, they mean absolutely nothing, but to me, they are a wealth of knowledge that, if nothing else, I can use to populate my Netflix list. Maybe, just maybe my opinion may sway you to do the same, or at least to heap more derision on me…which I’m probably due for anyway.

This has been a huge movie year for me on top of a huge personal year with the birth of K-Mad. I watched 215 movies that I had never seen before. Not only was the volume higher for me, but the quality was better than ever. This is already a long post and is about to get longer. But for you to understand the pool of movies I’m working from in making my Top 10…er 15 List, here are the movies I saw divided by year of release:

2006: Inside Man; Something New; The Sentinel; Casino Royale; TheBreak-Up; Little Miss Sunshine; The DaVinci Code; The Devil Wears Prada; A Scanner Darkly; Talladega Nights; Lucky Number Slevin; End of the Spear; Flags of Our Fathers; Monster House; Akeelah and the Bee; Firewall; 16 Blocks; Pirates of the Caribbean; V for Vendetta; Underworld: Evolution; Superman; Last Holiday; Tristan & Isolde; The Amazing Story of Superman; X-Men 3; Over the Hedge; Mission Impossible III
2005: Aeon Flux; The Constant Gardener; The Proposition; The World’s Fastest Indian; Cinderella Man; Shopgirl; Syriana; Munich; Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit; Sky High; Walk The Line; The Family Stone; Fun With Dick and Jane; The Gospel; Grizzly Man; A History of Violence; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; In Her Shoes; Just Friends; Kicking and Screaming; Lord of War; Memoirs of a Geisha; Pride and Prejudice; Rumor Has It; Wedding Crashers; The Brothers Grimm; Corpse Bride; Domino; Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; Elizabethtown; King Kong; The 40 Year Old Virgin; Casanova; Four Brothers; Unleashed; Prime; The Ice Harvest; Derailed; Broken Flowers; Just Like Heaven
2004: Ella Enchanted; Riding Giants; The Hobart Shakespeareans; March of the Penguins; The Manchurian Candidate; Anchorman; Polar Express
2003: The Lost Boys of Sudan; Freaky Friday; Once Upon A Time in Mexico; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
2002: Infernal Affairs; Resident Evil; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance; Undercover Brother; Cypher
2001: Musa the Warrior; Joe Somebody; Strictly Sinatra
2000: The Sixth Day; Pitch Black
1999: Bicentennial Man; The Winslow Boy; My Life So Far; End of Days
1998: Permanent Midnight
1997: Suicide Kings; The Assignment
1996: The Chamber
1995: Mallrats, Assassins
1993: The Remains of the Day; For Love or Money
1992: Porco Rosso
1991: The Last Boy Scout
1990: White Hunter, Black Heart; Bonfire of the Vanities
1989: UHF
1988: My Neighbor Totoro; The Dead Pool; The Great Outdoors; Red Heat; Grave of the Fireflies
1986: Lucas; The Color of Money; Every Time We Say Goodbye
1985: Out of Africa; Police Story; Commando
1984: Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind; 2010; The Ice Pirates
1983: Tender Mercies
1982: My Favorite Year; Tootsie
1981: Outland
1980: The Big Red One; Raging Bull; Breaker Morant; Private Benjamin
1977: The Gauntlet
1976: The Bad News Bears; Network; The Enforcer
1975: Jaws
1974: The Conversation; The Odessa File
1973: American Graffiti; The Sting; Westworld
1972: The Poseidon Adventure
1971: The French Connection; The Omega Man; Play Misty for Me
1970: Two Mules for Sister Sara; Kelly’s Heroes; Tora! Tora! Tora!
1969: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, True Grit, The Undefeated
1968: The Lion in Winter; 2001; The Odd Couple
1967: In the Heat of the Night; Hombre
1966: Our Man Flint; The Professionals; Grand Prix; The Quiller Memorandum
1965: For A Few Dollars More; In Harm’s Way; The Cincinnati Kid
1964: Doctor Zhivago; Father Goose
1963: Charade; From Russia With Love; The Great Escape; Cleopatra; Hud
1962: To Kill a Mockingbird; The Longest Day; Mutiny on the Bounty; Dr. No
1961: The Hustler; The Comancheros
1958: The Big Country; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The Long Hot Summer; Touch of Evil
1957: 12 Angry Men; The Enemy Below; The Bridge Over the River Kwai; Throne of Blood; The Seventh Seal
1956: Forbidden Planet
1955: The Bridges at Toko-ri
1954: On the Waterfront; Demetrius and the Gladiators
1953: From Here to Eternity; Roman Holiday; Hondo
1951: The African Queen
1950: Asphalt Jungle; Rashomon; Sunset Boulevard; Rio Grande
1949: Twelve O’clock High; Sands of Iwo Jima; The Third Man
1947: Out of the Past
1946: The Big Sleep
1944: Double Indemnity
1943: Sahara
1942: Casablanca; Sullivan’s Travels; Wake Island
1941: Citizen Kane; High Sierra; The Maltese Falcon; Suspicion
1940: The Philadelphia Story; His Girl Friday; The Sea Hawk
1939: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Gone With the Wind
1937: Topper; Captains Courageous
1935: Captain Blood

You see? You see why this last year was probably the most delicious movie view year I'm likely to ever have? Seriously, how does someone go through life not seeing Casablanca? The number of classics alone could make up an entire best of list. How many of those are on the AFI all time best? Not that I agree with the AFI’s rankings, but still, had I spread out these classics over the next few years, they’d probably all make the list. As it is, a ton of them didn’t make it just because of who they competed with this year. As you'll note, I tend to see a lot of movies from the prior year that have finally come out on DVD. So movies from 2006 and 2005 do dominate the list, but I won't see most of the movies from 2006 until this year, or even later.

I saw four movies in the theater out of all of those. I’d say it was an even split between Tivo and Netflix. In addition, I probably saw about six movies or so that I had already seen, which are not even part of the 215. I can feel, through the powers of the interweb, my wife’s eyes rolling now. Yet, in some ways, the birth of my first child gave me even more time to watch movies. The one thing that definitely changed was the way I viewed them. I saw very few in one sitting all the way through. In the early days of K-Mad, it would take her about 30 minutes to eat, the whole time of which I was probably watching a movie. That was particularly a good time to watch the classics, which rarely had anything loud or violent that I didn’t want to expose her to even at that age of eat, sleep, poop. And Mom was usually catching up on long needed sleep. So what else was a movie guy to do?

I could go on and on, but I already have. So without extending this even more, here are my personal favorite viewed movies of 2006:

15) On the Waterfront (1954) – I grew up with a very skewed view of Marlon Brando. Many consider Brando's last great move as The Godfather, and that is before my time. The Brando I came to know gave us such gems as The Island of Dr. Moreau, Don Juan DeMarco and The Score. Hardly iconic stuff and the first one is hugely derided. I've seen all three of those too, and was not interested...although The Score is not bad.

On the Waterfront was my true introduction into why Brando was such an icon, and was also my introduction to Elia Kazan as a director. This is a Mob story. I've seen what seems like hundreds of organized crime movies, so in that way, I didn't feel like I was seeing anything new. I'm sure when this movie came out it may have been fresh though. But Brando's performace is what makes this a huge success. His beauty and the beast romance with the sister (Eva Marie Saint as Edie) of a dead longshoremen that Terry Malloy (Brando) had a hand in killing is the center of the story. The rest of the supporting cast is also amazing, but it is Brando that makes the real case for seeing this.

14) Throne of Blood (1957) – I saw two movies from the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in 2006, this and Rashomon. Rashomon is the more critically acclaimed of the two, but I did prefer Throne of Blood over the other. This is a retelling of MacBeth set in feudal Japan, and is probably the best of the many variations that I’ve seen. I’ll admit for being a sucker for feudal Japan anyway, and especially for Toshiro Mifune, the longtime favorite actor of Kurosawa. Watching any Kurosawa film though will certainly give you an understanding of his influence over film worldwide. In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa creates almost a horror movie in tone. There is a sense of foreboding throughout the entire running length, which is personified in the kami (demon or spirit) that is seen in the beginning and the Lady Asaji Washizu ( Isuzu Yamada). I’d watch the movie again just for those two performances.

13) Doctor Zhivago (1965) – Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, Alec freaking Guinness…are you kidding me? I don’t know how much I even need to go into this one. I had put it off for a long time because, although I’ll do romance and goodness knows that I do romantic comedies just to keep my marriage in tact, I really didn’t want to devote that much time to a what might be considered the epic romance. I’m glad I did though, because I also love history. This is the first movie I’ve seen that portrays the beginning of the communist revolution in Russia and its affects on that society. At its heart is the love affair between the married Zhivago and the also married Lara Antipova (Christie) and how it survives and ends. Guinness is hardly in this movie comparatively, but man, he brings so much weight to even the small roles as Zhivago’s uncle and a major player in the Red Army and communist regime. The other huge reason to see the movie is for the cinematography, which is just amazing...although the views are really of Spain and not Russia. I saw a lot of epics in 2006, but this was the best.

12) Network (1976) – Is it wrong that I think Faye Dunaway is smocking hot? I mean, most of my life she’s really just been a mildly attractive old chick, but not in 1976. If you are “mad as hell” and you “aren’t going to take it anymore”, then this movie is your epic. This is one of the two Sidney Lumet films I saw last year, this I loved, the other left me cold (12 Angry Men). The most amazing thing to me was how you could probably remake this movie today, line for line, and it would be appropriate to the times…maybe even more so, in it’s parodying of network television and the news in particular. This was also one of the many William Holden movies I saw and he is particularly great in this. Robert Duvall…what can you say. He was, is, and will probably continue to be one of the masters of acting.

11) American Graffiti (1973) – Technically, almost all the movies behind this one I would say had better acting, but I just love the story here. Other than being the last night for former highschool seniors before they go to college (and apparently that used to happen right after HS graduation???), Graffiti doesn’t make some big social statement, nor is this a sweeping epic. Yet, it takes material that I’ve seen done a thousand times…the coming of age movie…and sets it in a particularly fun time period, the 1950s. Featuring a young Ron Howard, which is not really saying much since that is how most everyone remembers him anyway, it also features a very young Richard Dreyfuss and a small role for Harrison Ford. But that isn’t what it really features at all…it’s the cars stupid. The hot rods, the music (Wolfman Jack), the diners…and the cruising on a Saturday night (or was it Friday…?).

10) Infernal Affairs (2002) – Whoa, in the top 10 already. This is the first of the three “modern” era movies to even be on the list. It’s directed by one of my all time favorite directors, Wai Keung Lau…that’s a joke, I haven’t got a clue who that is...well, until this movie. You might know this movie by it’s other title, with American actors called The Departed, which just might win an Oscar for best picture. This is the movie that The Departed remade. In the past 5 or so years I’ve really started to view more Asian films due to the wealth of greatness coming out of Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and South Korea.

It started with the typical Hong Kong kung-fu movies. You know, the “if you can punch me, I’ll gladly give you this chicken” movies with the English voiceovers and randomly moving lips on the actors. Then came Kurosawa films that proved in many ways “they” did “it” first and American cinema cribbed it. From there came all sorts of greatness.

My one knock on a lot of the Asian movies I’ve seen is their extreme violence, that goes beyond excess. Some of it I think is in the realm of “violence/torture porn”, or, blood and mutilation just for its own sake. I caught Ichi the Killer on late, late night Showtime a couple of years back just in time to see a guy cut his own tongue out…and quickly turned the channel. That same thing happened in Oldboy, a Korean film and part of Chan Wook-Park’s vengeance trilogy, which I did like. I caught the other film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in 2006 and thought it was just too much.

One of the added reason I like Infernal Affairs so much is that it doesn’t go to excess. It has violence, but I’m almost willing to bet it has less than the American remake…which I have not seen. You may know the premise: there is a mob mole within the police, and a police mole within the mob. The movie starts with the perfect storm when both organizations and moles realize that the other must exist and a cat and mouse game starts to draw the other out. Pretty straight forward, but the ride is thrilling and gets more and more so through the film. If The Departed is half the film this was, then I cannot wait to see it!

9) Casino Royale (2006) – Am I less of a man if I confess that I am not a Bond aficionado? I mean, most of the Bond movies I've seen have been filmed in since the 1990's. I saw four Bond films this year. Dr. No, On Her Majesties Secret Service and From Russia With Love. From what I've read, critics and fans view those three as the best Bond films ever. I certainly enjoyed all three, but Casino Royale is my favorite by far. Not only was it my favorite Bond film that I've seen, but at my number 9, it was also one of my favorite movies of the year period. This was also one of the four I actually saw in theater, and the only one that I really enjoyed although Flags of Our Fathers was also good.

I'd be hard pressed to convince anyone that Casino Royale features better acting or even directing than other movies both on and off this list. I left off any of the Paul Newman movies I saw for crying out loud. However, Casino Royale did something no other movie did this year, or in recent memory (if ever). It revived a dying franchise that had become a joke in some circles and had left its rabid fans cowering. When Daniel Craig was announced as the new Bond, the outcry was impossible even for someone like me, who doesn't really care, to ignore. So when this movie came out I had low expectations. It floored me. It executed its story perfectly and it didn't try to be something more than it was.

8) Double Indemnity (1944) – Fun, fun, fun. Fred MacMurray, who I grew up watching in a bunch of Disney movies and shows plays insurance salesman Walter Neff, who is duped into murder by an infatuation with a married woman Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Add an elaborate insurance scam and a boss who is a bloodhound for sniffing out scams (played by an awesome Edward G. Robinson) and you’ve got one really great movie. I would think they could remake this movie in today’s society and it would be perfect, but they’ve tried that and it apparently sucked. Maybe you can’t make them like they used to?

7) Sunset Boulevard (1950) – The second William Holden movie to make the list, and deservedly so, in my opinion (then again, this entire list is my opinion…). Holden plays Joel Gillis who is down to his last penny as a writer in early Hollywood. Through misfortune, as he soon finds out, he is paired with an aging silent movie actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who hasn’t adjusted well to no longer being the biggest star in Hollywood. The best part was that Gloria Swanson was actually an aging silent movie star, although I don't think she was murderous as well. This is a Billy Wilder movie, but I can easily have seen this being directed by Alfred Hitchcock. At times hilarious, and other times really creepy this is one you definitely want to see.

6) A Scanner Darkly (2006) – I have a fondness for science fiction, especially if it is something that directly ties into our current age, or is at least viable. I also love when I film takes a book and adapts it perfectly. A Scanner Darkly is adapted from the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. You’ve already seen a bunch of movies adapted from his books like Minority Report, Blade Runner, Paycheck and even Total Recall. While some of those were fun (except Paycheck, which was Afflecked) Blade Runner and now A Scanner Darkly are the two that stand out. I have not read the source material for Blade Runner, but I did for A Scanner Darkly and I can tell you that the movie is an excellent adaptation.

If this movie doesn’t ring a bell to you in 2006, it is the one that was rotoscoped. Rotoscoping is currently making the rounds in one of the commercials for a financial institution, I can’t remember which. Basically, you film a live person, and then “animate” them. To me, it’s unsettling in the commercials, but works really well for the movie.

This movie is set in the very near future. It is sci-fi only in the sense that some of the technology is advanced. But it is more about the drug wars, and drug users. Philip K. Dick had a drug problem in his life, and this book is an ode to the many friends he had and lost as a result. In fact, one of the powerful moments in the book and adapted into the movie is the end “credits” where he lists his real life friends he met while strung out. Almost all of them are dead by overdose, or institutionalized with massive delusional handicaps, or have major health problems from drug use.

The movie is about Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) who is a small time drug dealer…only he is also Fred, an undercover narcotics cop. In the future, the cops use a body suit that makes you appear like someone else. Because the police force has been infiltrated by moles, the police wear the suits around each other so they don’t know what the other person looks like and can’t reverse narc to the drug dealers. The U.S. is about ¼ addicts and many on a drug called Substance D. The short of it is, Fred is supposed to bring down Bob Arctor…but Bob Arctor is Fred. I’ll leave it at that, because the story twists and turns and in the end becomes a story about the futility of living a life of drugs…and the great lengths…even amoral lengths gone to fight them. Great performances all around, although since Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson play the roommates of Reeves, a good case could be made that these guys are not really acting.

5) Charade (1963) – If I saw a great amount of any actor’s movies this year, Carey Grant had to be on my screen every other night. The first film I saw on Tivo was Topper (1937) also starring Grant. He must have had a movie almost every year in between. This is my favorite though. Charade also stars Audrey Hepburn, a certifiable babe. This is a movie about twisted identity, part comedy, part thriller, part action. It includes Walter Matthau as a CIA agent and a younger James Colburn. One of Grant’s last movies, it is the best of his that I’ve seen to date.

4) Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957) – These top 4 films where all my favorite at one time or another. In fact, if I were to write this list again next week, any of them might be number 1. So I’ll write quick before I change my mind. William Holden once again appears in this film. Of course, the real star of the show is Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa, the former playing the colonel (Col. Nicholson) of the captured British soldiers and the latter is the sadistic Japanese concentration camp commander Col. Saito. If you haven’t seen this film, run, don’t walk, run to rent it. Especially if you love WWII flicks.

I saw a lot of WWII flicks in the year, mostly from the 1940’s-1960’s. One thing I definitely noticed is that those films went from the more patriotic movies filmed during the war, to the “this is how we won it” of the late 1940’s. Yet, the later movies tend to use the war as a backdrop for a smaller story and are equally if not more fun. The Great Escape and Hogan’s Heroes are also two favorites that use this technique. It is Kwai that I’d encourage you to see first if you haven’t.

3) The Big Sleep (1946) – I do not shy away, as perhaps I should, from movies that are dark or overtly sexual or violent. I’m not talking to the extent of pornography, or what I’ve already noted as violence/torture porn that so many of today’s horror movies have become. Yet, I don’t freak at some of the things in today’s movies. That being said, The Big Sleep takes a subject matter that if put in today’s movies would be portrayed much differently…and I think would suffer for it. Basically, Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by an old General, who has lived a life of debauchery and is now paying for it in his failing health, to investigate and retrieve some risqué pictures of one of his two out of control daughters. In essence, one of his girls is getting pictures taken in the buff and the father wants to make sure this never gets out. Oh the scandal! If filmed today, the audience would yawn. Big deal, so she’s naked. But back in 1946, that would have resonated. I love this movie for the film noir aspect and for the great dialogue. Bogart as Marlowe is one of my favorite screen characters of all time, and this was my number one for most of the year…

2) Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - …until I saw this…and was devastated. I saw three animated films by Hayao Miyazaki – My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Porco Rosso (1992) and Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Nausicca was on this list until I saw A Scanner Darkly. I love Miyazaki’s animated work. So it is a little strange that the a non-Miyazaki Japanese animated film would make the list, and at my number 2. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahatak, is unbelievably good, and totally tragic. In the U.S., we have just gotten around to animating movies and even TV that is not just for children. For a long time, cartoons were not seen as a viable story telling devices for adults. It was child’s play. It hasn’t been that way for a long time in Japan, and I’m glad to see it changing here too. Fireflies is a story of two children in 1945 Japan, just before the end of the war. The U.S. is bombing Japan at will now that most of the outer island are taken, and whole villages, towns and city are being fire bombed into non-existence. To open the film, the mother of two children dies from burns suffered in a recent firebombing. The father is a Navy captain who we never find out for sure, but are pretty certain is dead. I expected this to be an anti-U.S. film, but I don’t believe it is. The U.S. is faceless, and not even really the enemy. War is the enemy, and the toll it takes on children. Through bad circumstances, and some poor decisions on the older brother’s part, nothing good can…or does come from it.

1) 2001 (1968) – It's strange. I do not consider myself a fan of Stanley Kubrick, and yet, with the exception of Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange, I've liked pretty much all the movies I've seen of his. In fact, Dr. Strangelove is a true favorite of mine, and now that I've seen 2001, he has produced another. Maybe it's just the contrarian coming out that I feel when I hear Kubrick's name...but you cannot argue with success.

If anything, I'm more of an avid reader than I am someone who likes watching movies. As a kid I had more time and read pretty much non-stop. Now, through the wonders of an hour and a half commute each way, I have about an hour a day I can devote to just reading. I read four books this year the tied directly into the movies I watched. A Scanner Darkly I finished a week before I got the movie. I read a compelation of Isaac Asimov's robot short stories, one of which was "The Positronic Man" which was made into Bicentennial Man, a movie that was also pretty good. I received Flags of Our Fathers a week after I had seen the movie. Finally, I was reading the Arthur C. Clarke book 2001 at the same time I saw the movie. I'm glad I did too, because 2001 the movie was made even better when compared to its faithfulness to the book.

Generally when people compare a movie to the book that is its source material, the book is held up as the better of the two. I can't honestly say which is better with regards to 2001. I don't usually subscribe to the belief that sometimes a visual representation of something is better than the word description of a book. Frankly, people's imaginations are better for creating images that what Hollywood can afford to put on screen. Yet 2001 does a perfect job of translating book imagery to the screen, and it did it in the late 60's. This was before the big science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek brought images that astounded us.

I did end up catching 2010 right after this one. I believe Turner Classic Movies ran them back to back, so my trusty Tivo was at the ready. 2010 was a great follow-up, but it really showed how advanced 2001 was, and how great it was executed.

Well, that’s it for 2006. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a year that was as fun as this one, but I can only hope. I’ve seen four films so far this year, none of which even come close to this year. In the end, there were probably 10-20 movies that could have been on the final list had I allowed myself more time to debate. As it is, picking two movies from 2006 above some of the more tried and true classics is pretty debatable, but hey, this is what I liked the most last year. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and can't wait to do it again next year!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On A New Year...

My wife made me wake up at 4:20a.m. this morning. A.M. is the acronym for “butt-#@$*!-early”, and as you may expect the word early and I are not fast friends. I avoided early pretty much in college by either not signing up for the 8:00a.m classes, or, if that was not possible, judiciously skipping those classes except on test day. Yet this unfortunate life of “upwardly mobile” demands my rising at a proper hour if I want to remain upward (I’m fighting a decent war against mobile however).

Still, 4:20a.m. is obscene even by early rising standards. There I was though, awake from my wife’s cell phone, whose vibrating was amplified due to its placement on the plastic dog kennel in our room…

…and we both said “Happy Birthday Kaleigh” and quickly passed out once again.

What a year this has been. Needless to say that my life has completely changed in so many ways in 365 short days, but it is also strange how much is essentially the same. Having a child did not fundamentally change who I was…which is both a good thing and a very, very bad thing. One thing that certainly has changed is that sleeping in is a thing of the past.

I couldn’t be happier about my family life at this point. My wife and I had a great life before K-Mad arrived, but our child has only made things much brighter for us. And in the past two or three months K-Mad has become less about maintenance and more of a little person. In fact, although the days have seemed short, I almost cannot remember the first 6 months primarily because the interaction was so different at that time. It seems like we had a kid last Jan 3, and she suddenly showed up a few weeks ago. It’s awesome.

Currently K-Mad is talking. She has a lot to say. I have no idea what she is trying to say, but I figure that will be the case throughout her life, so it might as well start now. And she has started to mimic what we say. She can’t always form the words, but it is fun to hear her try. We’ve got her to mimic “Wow” a couple of times. I think there was a “Hi” the other day. And the best was “Ball”. Can she say any of those consistently? No. She will soon though.

I also like the fact that my wife can ask K-Mad “Where’s Daddy?” and she will actually look for me. Of course, she still calls everything DaDa (including a clown in one of her books). Whatever.

I’m sure the changes in her second year will probably be as drastic and I look forward to them.

As for me, I hope once thing that changes this next year is my writing on this blog increases. I’ve been working on a post for a bit now, so if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I don’t feel like I’ve gone anywhere…it’s just that my writing hasn’t made it on line yet. To foreshadow, let’s just say that I saw 215 movies this past year, my best movie year ever!! My wife thinks that is a pathetic thing to be proud of, but I really am. So much fun, and I’ll be posting my top picks hopefully soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On Progress...

Well, this blog would not exactly be the pure definition of the word progress, but I’ve made some strides over the past year of vomiting my inner thoughts onto your computer screen. This will surely come as no news to you, but I’ve been rather inconsistent with my devotion to writing lately, something I’ve actually started to miss terribly. If for no other reason, it gives me something to do during my otherwise boring professional existence and also has the added benefit of making me look busy. I tried to somehow make the internet look “work related”, but had to give up and just succumb to the realization that everyone knows I have nothing to do…and are still willing to pay me for it. Your government dollars at work…

However, though progress in my professional life has been elusive (and here progress is defined as “doing something interesting”), progress at home is currently booming for K-Mad. Yes, our little townhouse is currently Boomtown. Why, progress is simply poring out of our child daily. Each time I return home I’m usually greeted by some sort of new ability. I’m reminded of The Matrix (as I often am it would seem) when things were learned by plugging your brain directly in to a computer. K-Mad is not unlike that. I expect that she will know kung-fu before the end of the day…

It seems like the 10th Month is her personal renaissance. Before, thanks in large part to those oh so helpful books like “What to Expect in the First Year”, which chart what your child may or should be able to do at point X, my wife and I held subdued conversations wondering if she was slow in learning some things. Now we know. She was just storing it up for a grand coming out party. Let’s review the accomplishments over the past 4 weeks, shall we:

Sitting up from a lying position (something I can barely do)
Pulling up on her crib to a stand position (and freaking mom out the first time)
Pulling up to a standing position using a ledge over her head
Feeding herself her own bottle
Eating solids
Putting solid food into her own mouth
Walking around furniture
Signing “More” for food
Saying “Mama” to Mom. Saying “Dada” to every farm animal known to man.

She turns 11 months on Sunday. I’m anticipating by the end of that 11th month she’ll be writing poetry. Actually, I find poetry horrific, so maybe something like consol gaming. I hear that Playstation 3’s are reasonably priced and in plentiful supply…