Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sophie's Choice of Orthodontics

Well, we've been here before. I take what in my mind will be a "short break" from this thing and next thing I know I'm clearing out the mice and other vermin that have collected in it due to lack of use. This time, an attempt at the NaNoWriMo was my undoing. NaNoWriMo, other than being gibberish, is short for National Novel Writing Month, a campaign to get people to write a 175-page novel in one month with more emphasis on quantity than quality. Well, I gave it the old college try, but about 40 pages in I managed to burn myself out to the point of making me not want to write, I guess it's been just about two months now.

So now that I've let enough time elapse to actually want to use a keyboard again, I need to make mention of a commercial that I watched recently that disturbed me on a deeply emotional level. It's a seemingly innocent spot for Invisalign brand invisible braces. But there's something very cruel going on that I think needs to be addressed. Take a look and see what I mean.

Is anyone else wondering why the hell this mother decided to give one twin regular braces and the other twin Invisaligns? I've been beating my brains out trying to think of a rational explanation for why any parent would do that to their children, but I just can't think of one. The only thing that comes close to a legitimate excuse is that the family's dental insurance wouldn't cover Invisalign for both girls. But if that's the case, would any mother really screw one kid over for the sake of another? I can't help but think that the rational decision here would be to find an option that was a little more modest than the Invisiligns that both sisters could use.

But this mother obviously wasn't interested in treating both of her daughters with human decency. Not only did she sacrifice one daughter's dental and emotional health for the other's, but she obviously took steps to provide her favorite twin with ample opportunity to rub Braceface's nose in the situation. I can only assume that mommie dearest made the popcorn that only one of the girls could eat, and then put it in the lap of the very girl who couldn't eat any of it. And I don't think the Invisalign twin owned that camcorder that she was parading around the bathroom to get some great action shots of that torture device her sister had strapped to her head.

Finally, we have the final shot of the happy, metal-free twin flashing a sign that says "Thanks Mom" while Railroad Mouth forces a smile that I can only assumed shredded the inside of her cheeks and lips. Am I the only one who thinks that Mom was standing behind the camera threatening to kill a baby seal if she didn't smile?

I'd be very interested to talk to the person from Invisalign's advertising department behind this ad to find out what mental space they were in when they came up with this slice of hell. Call me sexist, but this had to have been made by a woman; one who grew up in a V.C. Andrews-type household where the matriarch regularly physically and emotionally abused her children. This 30-second scene may be the only outlet that this woman had to vent the grief and rage that she had pent up for years.

On the other hand, it could have just been a poorly-written premise made by some dude still hungover from yesterday's twenty-four martini lunch. Either way, it's kind of a shitty commercial.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Christmas...Er, Halloween

After a long, sweltering summer there is nothing more satisfying to me than a crisp autumn day. Not too cold, but deserving of a light jacket or a fleece. Maybe a morning where you can just see your breath, but perfectly pleasant while the sun shines with just enough warmth.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that we'd be going straight to winter. No passing go. No collecting $200. Just go directly to a goddamn Nor'easter! What the fuck, Mother Nature? I realize the human race is doing all we can to piss you off but this is just cruel. I even got screwed out of my annual haunted hayride trip since, shockingly, most of the people running those things didn't think they'd need to attach a fucking snowplow to the front of their tractors. Jesus.

Anyway, I figured it might be best to concentrate on the things about Halloween that make me happy to take my mind off of this douchebag weather cycle. So here's a few random things that I always look forward to about Halloween.

Halloween-Themed TV Episodes
These are always the first sign that Halloween is almost here. When I was a typical dateless wonder in the mid-to-late nineties, the apex of the season was, of course, The Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors. There are a lot of great moments so it's hard to pick one out of the rest, but just because I read about it online recently I have to point out the Tron joke from "Homer 3."

But nowadays I'm more interested in finding a show that takes Halloween into a scarier direction. This year's winner has to be the Halloween episode of Castle. Nathan Fillion is one of an surprisingly long list of man crushes that I have, and it's fun watching him geek out at the idea of that a ghost could be the perpetrator in the murder case he's helping investigate. Of course it wasn't a ghost, but the reality of the case was still nice and creepy. Good show, Castle.

AMC's Fear Fest
I'm a child of 80s horror. I can't get enough poorly written slasher movies where 25-year-old "teenagers" get chased down by a maniac in a mask who somehow catches them while never speeding above a leisurely stroll. And apparently, neither can AMC. Friday the 13th and it's many sequels, Halloween and it's almost equally many sequels, and an array of my favorite horror movies. Plus, now I also get The Walking Dead thrown in for good measure. Just great stuff all around.

Haunted Hayride Websites
So, yes, this one is kind of sad. But every year, by early September, I find myself going to the sites of my favorite haunted hayrides to see if they've updated for the new season. I'll probably never wind up going to 99% of the actual attractions that I check out online (or 100% in the years that it fucking snows), but this is another instance of building my anticipation for the Halloween season. Plus, the ads on the websites usually turn out better than the actual hayride.

I guess the good thing about my favorite things to do around Halloween is that they aren't really weather dependent. Sure, I had to miss the annual haunted hayride trip, and I'm not allowed to go trick or treating since no one seems to buy that I'm just wearing my "27-year-old with a beard" costume. But at least during Halloween I can watching horror movies until 2 am and not feel the same sense of shame as when I do it during New Year's Eve.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Get To Know A Horror Classic: Masque Of The Red Death

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, no one else of consequence

Director: Roger Corman

Before last night I'd never watched a Vincent Price movie (I'm assuming Edward Scissorhands doesn't really count) nor had I ever seen a Roger Corman movie. So, I figured what better way to start off than with a movie from both men, an adaptation of Edgar Alan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death."

In Poe's version, the hedonistic Prince Prospero holes himself and one thousand of his courtesans in his palace to ride out the Red Plague, a disease that, over the course of about 30 minutes, kills its victim and leaves their face a deep, blood red (hence the name). Anyone familiar with Poe's work can probably guess that the plan doesn't go particularly as planned.

I was a little apprehensive about how Corman's take would stand up to the original story. I'd heard that Corman's modus operendi is to shoot a movie as quickly and as cheaply as possible, so my hopes weren't too high that I'd be in store for anything more than a campy laugh. And the trailer doesn't do much to quell those fears.

On one hand, I wasn't surprised to find that Corman takes quite a few liberties with the script. While Poe's version of the story is very single-minded in telling the story of Prospero's party and the lead up to the court's inevitable destruction at the hands of the Red Death, Corman's version pads the tale by creating an antihero out of Prince Prospero, a Satan worshipper, peasant-torturer, and all around prick. Corman also adds a hero in Gino, the young peasant trying to rescue Francesca, another peasant kidnapped by Prospero. Oh, and for some reason there is a dwarf named Hop Toad who has a completely separate subplot going on with Alfredo, a less-powerful but no less douchey member of Prospero's court who slaps Hop Toad's lady friend around just to prove how douchey he is.

On the other hand, I think Corman was very faithful and effective in producing the same sense of unease the Poe creates in the original story. Poe always preached the need to produce a singular effect in a lot of his work, but I always thought a lot of his work was too busy trying to sound smart to truly create its intended effect. "Masque," however, is perfect because it is succinct, with every word adding only to the effect of giving the reader a a sense of impending doom.

Even with all of it's added subplot, Corman's version accomplishes the same effect. For every atrocity that Prospero commits or every selfish excess played out by members of his court, you know their all getting closer and closer to much-needed retribution. The main difference in the movie is that the audience is likely cheering on said retribution a bit more than they would be in Poe's version. Especially in the case of that douche Alfredo.

One area that did disappoint me was how Corman handles the seven colored rooms in Prospero's palace. In the short story, Poe describes seven rooms, each one designated with a color: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and black. Unlike the other rooms that had windows colored in accordance with the rooms's tint, the window's in the black room were colored crimson red (I wonder what the symbology is there?). I always pictured these rooms as large, almost sublime works of architecture that overwhelm you at first glance But I think Corman's shoestring budget really hurts him in depicting these rooms.

For one thing, there are only four rooms. Green, orange, and violet get the shaft entirely. And the rooms that are depicted are small, half-assed versions of what Poe describes in his story. I'm guessing a few stage hands just took a morning to spray paint 4 stock rooms one color and called it a day. This may not have been as big a deal if not for the fact that the rooms are part of what creates that sense of impending doom.

Cheap sets aside, I was actually pleasantly surprised by Corman's version of Masque. It had a little bit too much melodrama to really ever scare me out of my seat, it did effectively give me the creeps by going down some roads that were darker than I figured a Vincent Price vehicle would be willing to go. It's a good watch for the halloween season, and a great companion piece to Poe's original.

Oh, and because I can't think of Vincent Price without thinking of his "guest spot" on the Simpsons, here it is!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Defending Post-Black Album Metallica (but not Lou Reed)

Honestly, I'm kind of pissed off at Metallica that I even have to write this post. Their upcoming collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu, is shaping up to be quite a turd. Never have I seen such a universally panned album, and the son of a bitch hasn't even been released yet.

And make no mistake, the criticism is warranted. I heard 30 seconds of the first single, and I can't imagine how anyone thought it was a good idea to have Lou Reed ramble senselessly over what sounds like some B-material riffs that Metallica had lying around.

What I don't think is fair, however, is the claim that everything Metallica's made after "The Black Album" hasn't been any good. This seems to have been a general theme for the past fifteen years or so, with the most recent of such claims coming from Yahoo! blogger Rob O'Connor in his list of "Ten Worst Heavy Metal Albums." In it, he puts Load, Re-Load, and St. Anger in for a tie at the very worst of the list. Now, the fact that Mr. O'Connor has made the decision to wear a shag carpet top hat on his blog banner automatically makes me question his judgement.

Aside from our divergent taste in hatwear, however, I also disagree with O'Connor's assessment of those three albums. I want to take a look at each album and point out some examples of why these albums have some very well-done material to add to the Metallica catalog.

Load (1996)

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. The idea that Metallica sold out because they cut their hair for this album is really fucking stupid. Cutting your hair has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to make music. On top of that, having long hair past a certain age can be summed up with a recent picture of Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister.

Dee is the transvestite on the left

This picture alone is reason enough for me to make an allowance anytime a rocker cuts their hair. Beyond hair argument, however, I think a Load offers a lot of good music.

"Hero of the Day"

I'd say what got most Metallica fans' panties in a twist over Load is the fact that it's such a departure from the type of fast metal that Metallica had perfected in previous albums, with break-neck headbanging riffs and solos that add at least another 2 minutes to each song. Hero of the Day represents Metallica's experimentation with something different, however, with an attempt at something more subdued and melodic with a solo that lasts 20 seconds at most. I suppose liking this song is dependent on whether or not you can let go of the fact that this is not the same Metallica that did Ride the Lightening or Master of Puppets.

"Mama Said"

Yes, it's Metallica doing a country song. But's a good song. It actually reminds me of "Nothing Else Matters", a song that starts as a mellower, acoustic-leaning song that builds into something heavier by the end. I don't know, I may be alone here but screw you it's my blog.

ReLoad (1997)

I'm sure people who didn't like the direction the band had taken were using the sequel them that runs through this album as proof that the band had truly "jumped the shark," but doing so ignores the fact that this is another well-made album.


This brings backs some of the old-school feel of Metallica, bringing back the speed of their early days with a riff that I defy anyone not to involuntarily bob their head to at the very least. I will say, however, that this song landed in the "overplayed" category, so I do understand if it got a little old for some folks after a while.

"Low Man's Lyric"

This is a song that got absolutely no attention, which I think is a shame because it's some damn fine work. This is like nothing I've ever heard Metallica do before or since, and I love that they experimented with something that strays so far from what put them on the map. A great song that will never get the nod it deserves.

St. Anger (2003)

The general complaint about this album was that the production value sucked. Well, as a Neil Young fan, poor production value is kind of endearing.

"Some Kind of Monster"/"The Unnamed Feeling"

Usually I prefer songs with some melodic value, but these are just great songs for when you're pissed off. As a fat kid I'm usually pissed off when I work out, so they're perfect for me. Granted, neither of these songs are destined to be classics, but that doesn't mean they're worthless. And certainly not representative of one of the worst heavy metal songs of all time.

I guess the only point I can really prove with this post is that music is inherently subjective. So many variables account for whether or not a person likes a song that it's impossible to definitively validate or dismiss a musician's body of work. I suppose Rob O'Connor is well within his rights to make the opinion that Metallica has sucked for the last decade and a half. But I just can't accept that they've put out the worst heavy metal albums in a world when Limp Bizkit has multiple albums on record.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cowboys Fan Stunned At Jets Fans' Reaction To 9/11 Disrespect; Jets Fans Stunned By Cowboys Fan's Stun Gun

I mentioned today's blog topic on Twitter earlier in the week, but feel like it's something I need to revisit in more depth. If you follow me on Twitter (if not, what's wrong with you I thought we were friends) then you may remember my mentioning a story about Larry McKelvey, a Dallas Cowboys fan who was arrested a week ago for using his stun gun on some Jets fans in the stands during the pre-game 9/11 remembrance ceremony.

Witnesses claimed that the altercation stemmed from McKelvey's refusal to stand for the national anthem and his decision to talk on his cell phone while "Taps" played to commemorate those killed in the 9/11 attacks. Not surprisingly, this aggravated several fans sitting around him, and when they confronted him by not clearing a path for him to get to the rest room, things naturally got physical and McKelvey claims to have been defending himself by using the stun gun he was carrying.

Now, I'll be honest and say my first impression of this story was that McKelvey was solely at fault if for no other reason than being a Dallas Cowboys fan. Those who know me for my hatred for Philadelphia Eagles fans may not be aware that my hatred for Cowboys fans is much older. Historically, "America's Team" has been comprised of every arrogant, preening, dirty-playing jerk off that could be found in the league. And their owner, Jerry Jones, would be my pick to replace Satan in the 9th circle of hell should I ever remake Dante's Inferno. So naturally, the kind of fan who would be attracted to such a team must be at least 45-55% jackass.

But judging a person at all without ever meeting them is already kind of a dick move (I'm still going to do it, mind you) but to do it solely on the basis of what football team he follows is a bit much, even for me. So I did a search on a few of the articles written about the incident, and as I've found more and more lately, my opinion lands in the gray area where everyone has some of the guilt.

By way of explanation for why he didn't stand up for the national anthem, McKelvey claims to be a Jehovah's Witness and that standing for the national anthem is against his religion, which seems to jive with the religion's views against "worshiping" anything other than their God, which includes allegiances to one's country.

However, I find it difficult to believe that talking one one's cell phone during the remembrance of the death of several thousand people is an argument of religious belief. And even if it was, hows about stepping out to the bathroom before the opening of 9/11 ceremonies. Did McKelvey really not think the powers that be would have something planned for the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history? I don't give a shit if you were living under a rock for the last 3 weeks. You'd still have to know that tensions would be running a little high that day, especially in New York.

That being said, I'm sure that there is some guilt to be passed around to the Jets fans who got into it with McKelvey. I have nothing against them voicing their displeasure at McKelvey, but physically intimidating McKelvey crosses a line that really shouldn't be crossed unless McKelvey himself was already seriously threatening physical harm. Even if McKelvey stood up and told everyone in his section that everyone who died in the 9/11 attacks deserved to die, he'd be a complete piece of shit but he wouldn't have given legal cause for physical provocation.

And then there's the stun gun. Since the charges against McKelvey include illegal possession of a stun gun, I can only imagine that he should have never been allowed through the gate with it. So how the hell did he get it through on a day when security was likely at least a teensy bit tighter than usual. If we have to stand in line and be felt up any time we want to go watch a football game, I'd at least like to know that the procedure actually serves the purpose of keeping dangerous shit out of the stadium. But I guess that's too much to ask. Now, if McKelvey just whipped the thing out and started zapping people just because he didn't like the looks on their faces, then I'd wonder where his standing as a Jehovah's Witness would hold up. But again, I have no idea if he used the thing in self-defense or because he's a douche bag.

At this point, if you're not sure where I stand on this whole thing, it's because I really don't, either. It seems as though the authorities and public opinion have sided against McKelvey, but even though I'm inclined to agree I can't be sure since I wasn't there. The only thing I do know is that it's yet another instance of a group of people getting together and showing the rest of the world just how fucking ridiculous we can be as a species.

There were so many points in the day where this whole thing could have been avoided. McKelvey could have left the stun gun at home, or stepped out before the start of the ceremonies rather than make a show of his beliefs, which he knew would rile people up even ona normal day. Security could have actually been competent enough to find the illegal weapon that McKelvey must have had bulging out of the side of his pocket. Hell, the crowd around McKelvey could have just grumbled a few words to themselves about how he was being an asshole and let it drop at that. Instead, we wind up with the news clip above that once again makes me a little more embarrassed to be a human being.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Get To Know A Horror Classic: Dressed To Kill

Dressed To Kill (1980)

Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickenson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon

Director: Brian De Palma

I'm not positive that this technically counts as a horror movie, and the fact that I'd never even heard of it until recently makes me question whether or not it could be considered a classic. But it was another movie mentioned in Jason Zinoman's Shock Value, and more importantly, it was free on Netflix, so here we are.

Before I go any farther, let me go ahead and roll out a blanket spoiler alert for this segment, because most of what I have to say revolves around the movie's big plot twist. So if you haven't seen it (you've had 31 years to do so) and you don't want the ending to be ruined, proceed not. Thou have been warned.

Now, when I read about this movie in Shock Value, author Jason Zinoman focused on the feelings of loneliness and insecurity that lead Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) to the bed of a stranger who would apparently go on to murder her. He compares her relationship with her son, Peter (Keith Gordon) with that of Brian De Palma's relationship with his own mother. Peter is forced to become a psuedo-private eye in order to find Kate's killer, and De Palma was forced into a somewhat similar situation, not to find his mother's killer but rather working on her request to catch his father in the act of infidelity.

So when I started the movie, I expected the film to focus on that relationship. Little did I know that most people who have seen the movie probably paid most attention to the fact that not only is Michael Caine the killer, but he's also a a transsexual. Yeah, I didn't see that one coming either. In fact I didn't even know Michael Caine was in the damn movie before I watched it.

But apparently, his character, a therapist named Dr. Richard Elliot, takes the phrase "physician, heal thyself" to a whole new level. His inner conflict over his desire to become a woman drove him to multiple personalities, and the female personality, Bobbi, becomes so angry over his inability to give in to that desire that she kills anyone who engages his male sexual urges.

Caine's character drew a bit of backlash from the gay and transgender community, who chastised the movie for propagating negative stereotypes of gay and I'm going to go ahead and call shenanigans here, however. We don't blame Hannibal Lecter's European descent for his being a cannibal, do we? Just because the Jaws was a shark isn't necessarily why he eats people. Ok, bad example. The point is that true equality means that homosexuals and transsexuals have just as much chance to be fucked up as the rest of us.

Odd tangent on social relations aside, Dressed to Kill works as an entertaining murder mystery mainly because it takes such a ridiculous concept so seriously. This is a movie where a bored, lonely housewife is slashed to death by a pre-op transsexual, only to have her death investigated by her vengeful son working with the hooker who has been falsely accused of the murder. Oh, and it also has Dennis Franz before his transformation into a troll was complete.

Aw, that hair is just hanging on for dear life.

Even with all of this crazy shit going on, the movie never winks at the camera or slips into camp. It treats this bizarre sequence of events seriously enough that I found myself taking it seriously (most of the time). De Palma pulls this off by making his characters either likeable enough (Kate and Peter) or at least interesting enough (Dr. Richards) to become invested in them. That's usually the element that will make or break a horror movie, and Dressed to Kill passed that test. Plus, if nothing else, it adds an extra twist to the Batman movies when you picture Alfred wearing four-inch pumps and a black cocktail dress while Bruce Wayne goes out to fight crime.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Brief Stupid Interlude

OK, let me just say that although I haven't posted in about a week, this isn't the start of another 3 month stretch of silence. I've just been pretty busy the last couple of days, as my job is one that gets a lot busier when really big hurricanes are pointed at my fair city. So in all likelihood I won't have the time or energy to post anything through the weekend.

Therefore, I want to post what may be my favorite in a series of commercials from All State starring Dean Winters (you might know him as Dennis from 30 Rock, dummy). I'm well aware that these are really stupid commercials. But much like the Geico cavemen, I can't help but laugh every damn time I see them. This one in particular is my favorite, so I'll probably watch it for a chuckle while my house blows away in a couple of days.