Monthly Archives: June 2008

Buried Treasure


I can’t figure out why Blogger is making indent in weird places. Oh well. Do your best to follow along.

I was digging though some boxes in my laundry room yesterday and – lo and behold! – I found the long lost Speculatory* Essay and Poetry Series.

These poems and essay sprung forth from two overly creative yet bored spirits while they were trying to stay awake in US 301, Comparative Civilization.

For our first selection, I offer an essay penned by yours truly. It is quite clear I was inspired by a riveting discussion on the events of turn-of-the-century India. I was doing an admirable job of taking notes when my classmates and collaborator, Brad, leaned over and asked, “What if your mom had named you Gandhi?”

If My Mother Named me Gandhi

A Speculatory Essay

If my mother named me Gandhi, I would probably resent her and count the days until I turned 18. Then I could legally change my name. I don’t really mind it, but the spelling trips people up. I might go with something like “Gawndee” or “Gondi.” I dunno, something phonetic. For the sake of simplicity, I’d change my middle initial to “R.” and my last name to “Jones.”

I would have a lisp and a turquoise ring on my finger.

I would wear peasant homespun wraps as I went on about my Gandhi-licious life. I would usually wear boxers underneath my peasant homespun wraps, and go commando on occasion. I’d wear sandals and occasionally I would get rocks stuck under my feet. I’d seriously consider adopting shoes that not only give me more ankle support, but kept the rocks out. Maybe some Sketchers.

And, just like my namesake, I’d espouse the concepts of ahimsa (non-violence), satyagraha (civil disobedience) and dharma (right conduct).

With a name like Gandhi, people would expect me to be different. This would be reflected in my computer usage. I would own an iMac, which is very computer-like. I’d also be really Internet savvy. You should check out my blog.

I’d be a born leader. At my high school in South Africa, I’d be elected homecoming King and would be a candidate for prom king. I wouldn’t win though because I would wear a homespun peasant wrap to the dance instead of a tux. People would laugh but it’s OK ‘cause I’d have a hot date. I’d also be co-captain of the cricket team.

I’d secretly love Monty Python movies but I’d be obliged to reject them in public as a holdover of British hegemony.

There’s a good chance I’d be Hindu. Because I’m Hindu, I probably wouldn’t like the Punjabs because they’re Muslim and they want to take Kashmir away from India (which, by the way, is a plumb). I would, however, really like to say the word “Punjab.” Punjab. Try it! Punjab. Punjab. Punjab!

I would really like frozen pizzas and taquitos. And rice. And gellato.

If I were named Ghandi, I would walk softly and carry a big stick. Actually, I’d walk softly and carry a cattle prod. I’d only use it in self defense though. Like, if this Buddhist was all up in my face was like “Hey Gandhi!” I’d be all like “Eat this, Buddhist!” And then I would shock him.

You’d think my best buddy would have a name like Jawaharlal Nehru but you’d be wrong. His name would be Bob. He be an Assyrian Christian and would work in a pickle factory. We would go to the Putt Putt course in Calcutta on double dates with our respective girlfriends. They would both look hot in their saris and I would want to kiss my girlfriend. I wouldn’t though because my dinner would give me bad breath and stupid-head Bob wouldn’t give me an Altoid. I’d want to kill him for that but that would contradict amhisa. Dag nabbit!

Another negative aspect of being named Gandhi is that I’d most likely be bald. I’d probably have really bad sunburn on my noggin. I’d look funny too; it’s really hard to pull off the bald look if you’re not black. Now, if I were a black guy named Gandhi… well, that’s another essay.

Just because I’m named Gandhi (or Gawndee or Gondi), people would assume I’m poor. But no, I’d be rich. Filthy rich. My homespun peasant wrap would be make of the finest silk from Bombay. That’s right baby, it’s all about the Benjamins. I make it rain. I’d have a private menagerie in my back yard. It’d have an elephant, a giraffe and monkeys. I’d be a lot like Michael Jackson only I wouldn’t be a pedophile or a pop star. Or insane.

My toenails would be exceptionally long and lo, the peoples would travel far and wide throughout the subcontinent to catch a glimpse.

Sometimes I’d foolishly get involved in a “dissing match.” I’d hold my own until the other guy said “Oh yeah? Well your momma named you Gandhi!” I’d act like it didn’t bother me and I’d come back with “Well you’re a stinkin’ Punjab!” We’d call it a tie but we’d both really know that he won. Despondent, I would go home and cry into my pillow and make very personal, private entries into my Hello Kitty© Diary:

Dear Diary,
I feel so worthless. I hate my name. Why did Mom have to name me Gandhi? Dad wanted to name me Harvey. That would’ve been so much better. I hate my mother. Maybe I’ll get to go on Oprah and tell her I hate her to her face. Either way, I think I’m going to develop an eating disorder.

But, in the end, I’d still love my mom. She did, after all, carry me for nine months and give me life. I’d send her a Mother’s Day card:

Dear Mom,
You’re the best. Say Hi to Dad for me.

Your loving son,

Gandhi

*Yes, I am quite aware that “speculatory” is not a word.

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Wanted, 3.5/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

All through my screening of Wanted, I kept a running tally of “ingredient films” that the director and screenwriter used to piece together their final product. It’s starts off with a fairly hefty dose of The Matrix trilogy and the Star Wars saga, a hint of The Fast and the Furious, throws in some Kill Bill, Mission Impossible and Chain Reaction, sprinkles some Bourne trilogy on top for some added zest, garnishes it with a few hints of We Three Kings and Mr. and Mrs. Smith and ends it all with some Office Space to cleanse the palate. There’s also a little bit of Rocky and Saw. That’s just what I could identify and remember in between WHOA! reactions.

But that’s not to say Wanted is derivative or feels recycled. The resulting dish isn’t an instant classic, but it’s fresh, exciting and beats the hell out of the mediocre steak I had for dinner last night.

Fight Club. I forgot to mention Fight Club.

Wanted is meant to be an entertaining, mindless action packed popcorn flick and holy crap does it deliver. Think of as filling a teacup with a firehose; it’s excessive and everyone gets wet, but dad gummit it get’s the job done. The only action scene it is missing – and I do mean the only scene – is a scene where our hero is forced to jump out of an airplane sans parachute. Scratch that. I just remembered he jumps out a train while crossing a canyon.

At one (no several) points we not only see bullets flying in slow-motion ala The Matrix, but we see those bullets penetrate their victim’s heads and see the skin bulging and stretching before eventually giving way to form the exit wound. Yeah.

James McAvoy (Wesley) plays our hero and while he isn’t the heir to Arnold’s throne, he’s a decent action actor. Wesley is a fatherless nobody with a crappy job, crappy girlfriend, crappy best friend and the kind of boss you want to throttle with her own stapler (then again, is there any other kind?) Google his name and you come up empty.

Wesley’s life isn’t going to be boring for long, because Angelina Jolie’s Fox has recruited him as the newest member of the Fraternity. (This where I’m supposed to yammer on about how hot Ms. Jolie is, but she’s not even near my Top 100.)Pledging this Frat may not involve romancing a goat or binge drinking, but it certainly won’t be fun. Even though I praised him for his pluck and stick-to-it-iveness, I’m pretty sure Maxwell Smart wouldn’t have made the cut.

Morgan Freeman plays the wise head of The Fraternity and he along with the rest of the clan take Wesley under their wing so he can one day face the rogue assassin who threatens the very existence of The Fraternity. “Kill one to save a thousand,” Fox says. Something like that.

What is the Fraternity? Glad you asked.

The simplest answer is that they’re a gang of super assassins. The more complex answer is that they’re a pissed off textile union that can curve bullets by inducing panic attacks. They heal their own wounds in bathtubs of Neosporin, live in a castle in downtown Chicago that doubles (triples) as a hide-out, pork warehouse and linen factory. They divine their next targets by examining the thread count in their Egyptian cotton bed sheets and converting that into – OF COURSE! – binary.

Both answers above are correct, and I didn’t even mention the army of explosive mice. You might think the movie is skewing a wee bit silly but it’s a testament to… something… that Wanted still manages to be a serious, legit action movie.

On the down side, the narration feels out of place and it has a few moments of humor that seem out of place. There’s a challenge to the viewer just before the closing credits that’s mildly unsettling. The editing style takes some getting used to, but the special effects are top notch and every member of the cast does a good if not great job, even if we don’t give a rip about them.

Go see it. It’ll will more than tide you over until July 18 and The Dark Knight.

NOTE: If there is any justice in the movie world, the minds that gave of Alien vs. Predator and Freddie vs. Jason would give us The Matrix vs. The Fraternity. Best. Fight. Ever.

Get Smart, 3.5/5


Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.

As a general rule, I’m opposed to the trend of making classic TV shows into full-length features. Happily, Get Smart, the new Steve Carrell vehicle, is a funny, action packed and entertaining exception to that rule. (Also, it’s significantly better than the trailer.)

Carrell is Maxwell Smart, a clumsy geek of an analyst for Control, a top secret, CIA-type government agency. Due mostly to his determination and the Subway Diet, he’s also a surprisingly competent and capable agent.

The plot thickens (first time I’ve ever used that phrase, I swear) as Control’s secret headquarters is attacked and Max is promoted to full field agent (Agent 86), on par with Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson’s Agent 23. His partner is the reluctant, ultra-capable and oh-so-leggy Anne Hathaway (Agent 99). Together they track down Kaos (Chaos) mastermind played by Terrance Stamp and work to keep him from detonating a nuclear weapon in Los Angeles. Along the way they’re held up by Russian goons and of course, Max’s signature bumbling. Alan Arkin, pitch perfect as always, heads up Control. As the Chief, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and show the young folks how it’s done. We’re also treated to a very funny
Bill Murray cameo.

Hathaway’s sexy yet elegant Agent 99 looks out for Max while slowly moving from despising him to falling in love. Stupid lucky Steve Carrell… getting to kiss Anne Hathaway. Grr. There’s an unnecessary love-triangle and plastic surgery back story, but it’s a small price to pay for a mostly fun movie.

It’s a simple plot for a simple movie. There’s nothing magic here, but it has a good natured feeling about it and that gives it a lot of capital to spend. Get Smart was a highlight of my nightly Nick-at-Nite regimen back in the day and if anyone was going to tackle this Don Adams bumbling spy classic, Steve Carrell is the man. I expected him to be in full goofball mode and play the role as a slapstick moron. He doesn’t. Carrell and the screenwriters have done a very commendable job of capturing the tone of the original series, even if they have significantly upped the action value. They’ve stuck with a winning formula, and I appreciated that.

I wouldn’t call it a great comedy or a great action flick but Get Smart only “missed by that much.”

By the way: Ms. Hathaway, if you’re reading, I love you.

Two New Movie Reviews


FYI, my reviews of Get Smart and Wanted are up at A Rough Cut.

Kung Fu Panda, 2.5/5

(Although I originally rated it a 2.5, I’ve upped it to a 3.5)

Rated PG. Click here to view the trailer.

In keeping with the time honored practice of twisting a movie’s title into a sarcastic statement on the film’s merit (Semi-Pro is semi-funny, Go ahead and Mess with Zohan, Walk Hard stumbles), I humbly offer the following: Kung Fu Panda is Kung Fu Bland-a.

I’m sorry. It was the best I could do.

Despite some top-notch computer animation and some A-list voice actors, Kung Fu Panda just didn’t bring anything new or fun to the table. Think of it as a cartoon version of Beverly Hills Ninja starring Jack Black instead of Chris Farley. And yet, Kung Fu Panda surprisingly plays out like a conventional Kung Fu movie. Yeah, it’s kid-friendly. Yeah, it got a decent message. I just wanted more humor out of a Jack Black Kung Fu cartoon. I’m mystified by it’s 87 percent Freshness Rating at RottenTomatoes.com. (OK, it did have a clever first two minutes.)

Po (the titular Kung Fu Panda) is a noodle cook (with duck for a father (?) destined to be the Dragon Warrior and save the Valley of Peace from the menace that is Tai Lung the Snow Leopard. Of course, this seems rather far fetched given his rotundity and inability to perform any basic ninja move, but, of course, he grows into quite the formidable opponent once he hits his groove.

Jack Black succeeds in bringing charm and life to Po because, well, he’s pretty much a panda in real life (check out his eyebrow thingy that’s been translated on the panda in the poster above). It wasn’t much a stretch for him. As for The Five, they didn’t fare so well and really are unnecessary to the story. Angelina Jolie is a total waste as Tigress as is Lucy Liu as Viper. Seth Rogen is way out of place as the tiny, fragile Mantis. Had I realized that was Jackie Chan as Monkey, I might have found it amusing but I didn’t and I didn’t. David Cross as Crane was the only major success besides Jack Black, followed closely by Randall Duk Kim as the very elderly turtle Kung Fu master, Oogway.

The best scene of the movie involves Po’s training, a method Shi-fu (a bored-sounding Dustin Hoffman) devised to capitalize on Po’s love of dumplings. As for the climatic battle royale between the Dragon Warrior (zero points for guessing who that is) and Tai Lung, it’s pretty much Po being fat and shouting out catch phrases. “Skiddoosh!”

One of my problems is with the character of Po. Sure, he’s fat but he doesn’t mind it and neither does anyone else, so what’s the point? His kung fu trainer doesn’t even try to slim him down, but instead motivates him with more food. He’s not dumb, and he’s funny. He’s not a quitter, doesn’t get his feeligs hurt and is loyal to a fault. He’s just too darn likeable to ever be an interesting hero.

The bottom line is this is a kid’s movie and kids will probably like it. I left wanting more from a DreamWorks animated effort. Several reviews I’ve read praised Kung Fu Panda for “keeping all it’s jokes within itself” and not relying on pop culture reference and jokes like, say, the Shrek series. The problem with this is that sometimes pop culture references and jokes are funny! I saw zero in-jokes or even satire and Kung Fu Panda is just too bland without them, relying solely on Jack Black’s dialog to liven things up (Skid-doosh!). Sure, Shrek and the like may be too clever by half, but that’s a heck of a lot better than being not clever enough by half. Skid-doosh!

Ridin’ Dirty


I should have seen it coming. Heck, even Chamillionaire tried to warn me. But did I listen? Nooooooooooo.

“Brian,” he said,
“Police think they can see you lean;
You tint so it ain’t easy to be seen…
They see you rollin’
They hatin’
Patrollin’
They tryin’ to catch you ridin’ dirty.”

After 6 and-half-hours driving and with nearly 400 miles under my belt, the red and blue strobes of a Missouri Highway Patrol cruiser appeared in my rear view mirror.

The Trooper was very polite and I was too since

a) I knew it couldn’t be anything major and my cruise control was set at 70 and
b) I’d be that way regardless.

Turns out my windows are illegally tinted. He tested it (I wonder how much of my taxes went toward providing each state trooper a window tint tester) and apparently my tint allows only 15 percent of the light in and the legal limit is 35 percent. I explained that I bought the car with the tint already on and it hadn’t been a problem in the three years I’d been in the state, but he gave me a ticket any way. $83. Plus, I have to pay to have the tint removed.

While I am certainly annoyed that I have to drop $83, I even more annoyed that a piece of dark glass ruined my perfect driving record. If I were going to blemish it, it should at least be for going 125 while running from the cops and stashing the dope or something.

I’m still going to claim it’s perfect, because it doesn’t count against my license and it doesn’t affect my insurance.

In the end, I guess I should thankful he didn’t write me a ticket for being white and nerdy.

That and he didn’t find the kilo of coke in the trunk.

Off the Wagon

Last night I fell off the wagon in a big way.

After nearly six months of sugar-free sobriety, I fell prey to the siren song of regular, non-diet, Dr Pepper and bought a 12-pack. And it was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo worth it! That first sip sent literal shivers down my spine as those 23 distinct flavors threw the party to end all parties in my mouth.

Actually dealing with Diet DP hasn’t been that bad, but wow what a difference you notice when you get just the smallest taste of the REAL stuff. This is what imagine good crack to be like, only much less expensive and not so crack-like. Sure, crack gives you buzz (or so I hear), but I can’t imagine anything topping the kick I get from pure, bubbly goodness that is Waco Gold (sugar included).

It’s so good, in fact, that I would do anything for non-Diet DP (or love for that matter)… including that.

Bottoms up!