October 11, 2013

Lesus Wept

Did you ever have a day where things just didn't go right? Many mistakes were made, many feelings trampled upon? Just a real crapbag of a day?

Well cheer up! At least you aren't the guy at the Vatican who spelled "Jesus" incorrectly.

The Vatican has been forced to withdraw commemorative medals commissioned to celebrate Pope Francis’ first year after misspelling Jesus.

The coins, created by the Italian State Mint, had the Pope’s official motto printed around the side, but referred to Jesus as Lesus.

Around four were sold before the mistake on the 6000 bronze, silver and gold medallions was pointed out.

The Independent (UK)

So at least you aren't this guy, who couldn't even spell the name of the person the entire Roman Catholic faith is founded upon.

This Must End. Now.

I have noticed a slowly-growing trend of late. One that I thought was dead and buried. Consigned to a time long-past, when preppies ruled the earth and men tied sweaters around their necks. I am speaking, of course, of this:

Yes, it's back.

It's the up-turned collar, and it must be destroyed once and for all.

I lived through the fashion-debacle that was the 80s, friends, and I saw it all. Girls with hoop earings and jelly bracelets. Boys wearing acid-washed jeans and Izod shirts, or maybe throwing on the sweater-vest/boat shoes combo.

And who can forget the Miami Vice craze of pastels?

Even I fell prey to the horrid fashion sense of the time. White suit, black shirt and shoes, with a red square-bottomed knit tie? That was me kicking it at the 8th-grade dance. Need I add the suit sleeves were rolled up?

But everwhere you looked, the up-turned collar was there. On polo shirts or long-sleeve button-downs, those twin pieces of pointed fabric jutted upwards, mocking common sense.

Of course I (and most of America) survived and grew out of that. Nowadays, ties are wider and have points. Jeans have regained their bluish hue. Sweaters are worn as actual clothing and not as an accessory. And no white suit lurks in my closet. And the suits I do own have sleeves that have never been rolled.

But those damnable collars will not go away. They are slowly coming back, raising their points to the sky once more.

So please, PLEASE, if you see a friend or loved one inflicting this look upon the public, pull them aside and ask them to stop. Explain to them how wrong it is.

And if they do not listen? Well, far be it from me to sanction extreme measures, but should they meet with an "untimely demise" you could take solace in knowing the fashion disaster perished with them.

October 10, 2013

What's a Little Skin Loss Between Druggies?

This is some seriously fucked-up shit.
Krokodil, already a popular drug in Russia, has finally made its way to the United States. The Banner Poison Control Center in Arizona has reported two cases of the flesh-rotting drug’s use, believed to be the first in the US.

The drug is a mixture of codeine and hydrocarbons like gasoline, paint thinner, or oil that is injected directly into veins. It’s named krokodil because once injected, it rots your skin from the inside out, causing an alligator skin-like appearance.

First off, is anyone surprised this started in Russia? This is the same country that decided drinking anti-freeze made for a great apéritif. Thanks, guys. Thanks a whole lot.

Second of all...how completely fucked up do you have to be to look at this shit and decide "Yeah, my skin may fall off but at least I'll be high for a minute"? That's a level of addiction that makes regular addicts look at you like you're a fuck-up in life. Again, here are the ingredients:

Rather than shoot this shit into your veins, you could at least just huff the damn paint thinner, Yes, it's bad for you but at least you don't look like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Movie Review: Dark of the Sun (1968)

"The gun's Chinese, Ruffo ... paid for by Russian rubles. The steel probably came from a West German factory built by French francs. Then it was flown out here on a South African airline probably subsidized by The United States. I don't think he got very far." - Captain Curry (Rod Taylor)

Director:Jack Cardiff

Writers: Ranald MacDougall and Adrian Spies (screenplay), Wilbur Smith (novel)

Producer: George Englund

Studio: MGM

Major Stars: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Peter Carsten, Jim Brown

Note: In keeping with my policy about movies 25 years old or more, I feel no compunctions about revealing the ending of the film. With that in mind, there are SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

I will admit right up front that I have a soft spot for Dark of the Sun and that likely colors my perception of it. I remember watching it as a kid for the first time on TV when I was 10 or so (this would be the early 80s) and being stunned by the violence that (for the time and my age) was pretty intense for television. But I loved war films and mercenary films, so having both together was like getting a present. I was also a military history fanatic even at that age, so it gave me something else to look up at the local library.*

The film is set during the Simba Rebellion in the Congo around 1964. The Congo had just recently gone through a brutal period of gaining independence from Belgium that devolved into secession of provinces, UN troops fighting to restore the government and mercenaries fighting for the regional leaders. Almost immediately as that settled down, the Simba Rebellion kicked off. They claimed to be fighting against government corruption. But they were basically murdering any Congolese citizens who they felt were "Westernized" as well as terrorizing Europeans who had remained in the Congo. The government of the Congo used mercenaries to lead and train the Congolese military to put down the rebellion.

That is where Dark of the Sun begins. Captain Curry (Rod Taylor) and his right-hand man Sergeant Ruffo (Jim Brown) are brought in by the government to lead a mission to retrieve European settlers from a remote town. Supposedly. That is secondary to their primary mission: to recover $50M in uncut diamonds, diamonds the government needs to stay afloat and pay the mercenaries putting down the Simbas. They give him 72 hours to return with the diamonds. If he does, he gets $50K.

That is the spine of the tale and, like most successful films, it is a simple one. The complexity should come from the characters and their interactions. And they do...as much as a film like this can have complexity.

Curry and Ruffo take command of 40 men from Stryker Blue, a crack native Congolese outfit. They also bring along an alcoholic doctor and an ex-Nazi soldier named Heinlein (Peter Carsten)**. This is done out of necessity, as Curry makes it clear early on that he doesn't like him at all. They are given a steam train to move upcountry. The rest of the film is about their trip and what they run into.

Along the way it becomes clear that Heinlein knows about the diamonds.They find a burned out house along the way with the only survivor being Claire (Yvette Mimieux) whom they bring along. Now, this is the only note in the film that rung totally false for me. Claire really doesn't do anything in the film except look gorgeous. And while one can appreciate that, it wasn't really necessary for the film. She does serve as a flashpoint for Heinlein and Curry, but they were already headed that way.

They reach the town only to find out that the diamonds are in a time-locked vault which won't open for three hours. This allows the Simbas to reach the town just as the vault opens and makes for the most memorable scene in the film.

October 9, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1991

Honorable Mention – What About Bob?: I saw this the first time on the Quad at UConn my sophomore year. Funny funny funny stuff. And all of it was driven by Richard Dreyfuss’ over-the-top performance.

5. Delicatessen: A French post-apocalyptic dark comedy that involves cannibalism. Trust me, it’s funny and a joy to watch.

4. The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear: In my opinion, this was the last major release “spoof” film that was any good. Not as solid as the original, but still has a lot of laughs. And you cannot go wrong with Robert Goulet.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Action sci-fi with enough special effects to melt your brain. Loud and brash and a great way to kill a lazy afternoon. I still like the first one more.

2. The Silence of the Lambs: Creepy and cringe-inducing, but what a film! I wish that Manhunter got half the exposure this film received.

1. Defending Your Life: Remember, this is a list of my favorite films from a particular year. And this is my favorite. I love this movie. Albert Brooks is hilarious. It never gets old. I personally hope this is what Heaven is like.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Barton Fink, City Slickers, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, New Jack City, Cape Fear, Naked Lunch, Bugsy

Wow…what a weak year for movies.

Underappreciated – L.A. Story: Steve Martin’s romantic comedy about a weatherman in LA who finds love with the help of a traffic sign (it sounds weird but it works) is just wonderful to watch. It’s also a nice piece of satire on the L.A. lifestyle. But, much like Bowfinger, it fell off the radar. Do your part and get the DVD. It probably costs five bucks.

Guilty Pleasure – The Rocketeer: I know a lot of people don’t like this movie. But I love the whole 30s vibe of the film and it has some great dialogue. It’s almost an “unappreciated” film but the overall script is a little weak.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Shakes the Clown: With an alcoholic depressed birthday clown as the lead character, you know you’re entering some weird territory. But Bobcat Goldthwait’s movie isn’t bad at all…just nuts. His boss gets murdered and he is the main suspect, so he goes undercover as a mime to find the killer. And clowns apparently hate mimes (a rivalry reinforced by CSI, no less.) Oh, and Florence Henderson plays a lady who has the hots for clowns. Deeply disturbing, indeed. And if you remember when this came out, you’ll also remember we were all treated to the scene of clowns picketing this movie. Which was surreal all on its own.

October 8, 2013

Let's Talk About Beer: Harpoon 100 Barrel Series - Saison Various (Session 47)

I will admit at the outset that I am favorably inclined towards Harpoon and their products. When I finished college I moved to Boston in the mid-90s. And one of the highlights of my first couple of years there was St. Patrick's Day. And while that day usually ended early the next day with me in some state of disrepair, it would begin at the Harpoon Brewery. It was always a great time. How great? I still own this.
That's 1996 if you can't read the date on it. This glass has followed me around for almost 20 years. Which is impressive or sad depending on your point of view. Let's go with impressive.

All of this is a long way of saying that Harpoon always holds a positive position in my mind and that may bias me a little. So keep that in mind.

Anyway, I was in the package store the other day and saw a new Harpoon beer. They are doing a 100 Barrel series and this was number 47, called "Saison Various". Essentially, it is a blend of four different Saisons from four Harpoon brewers. The four are defined as such:

  1. A traditional farmhouse Saison brewed without spices
  2. A Saison made with East Kent Goldings hops, coriander and white peppercorns
  3. A Saison made with American hops and a Trappist yeast
  4. A Saison with a citrusy hop profile
So now here is where people usually get all fancy and talk about the mouth of the beer or it's body and they try to sound like wine connoisseurs. And that just isn't me. I'll tell you if it's good or not.

And it is good...but not great. The problem I have with a blended beer is the same I have with a blended Scotch. What makes a great beer great, or a great Scotch great, is that it says something about itself when you drink it. You can taste what makes it special, the time it took to make it. And that doesn't happen with a blend. Everything gets a little...muddled.

So it is with this Saison Various. You do catch the coriander and the peppercorns at the start but they are overtaken by the Trappist yeast and citrusy hops cancelling each other out. The flavor profiles don't mesh as well as you'd like them to. So what you're left with is a beer that you can tell is of good quality but really doesn't make any kind of statement. It's a Saison that can't decide what kind of Saison it wants to be.

I'd much prefer to taste each of these separately and compare the concepts that each brewer brought to the table. Especially the Trappist one - that could be something special or a complete trainwreck.

So is it worth buying? If you want to give it a whirl it's not too expensive - I bought the 22oz bottle for 6.99. And it's not a bad beer by any means. It's just confused.


Beer: Harpoon 100 Barrel Series - Saison Various (Session 47)

ABV: 6.1%

IBU: 34

Price: $6.99

Recommendation: Weak Buy

October 7, 2013

Age Means Nothing in Oakland

Now...I am not, repeat, NOT condoning people brawling with police at baseball games. That is wrong. Shame on you for thinking that is a proper thing to do. Shame.

That said...I don't know what set this guy off. I don't know why he felt the need to single-handedly fight the entire Oakland Police Department. But at least he went all in on the idea.

That's how you commit to something - fight cops and security, get out of a choke hold and take a taser shot to the spine. A taser shot from about one foot away.

Almost as awesome as this Geriatric Jason Statham? The entire drunken crowd cheering and yelling all around the chaos. Oakland is hard core in the sports stands.

Movie Review: Children of Men (2006)

As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices. - Miriam (Pam Ferris)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

Producer: Marc Abraham

Studio: Universal

Major Stars: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Peter Mullan

What would the world be like with no children? What would happen to us as people if we lost the ability to reproduce and watched the slow, inevitable march towards our destruction? Would we soldier on or give up? Would chaos break out? Could we keep our hope, our faith? Or would we just tune out and cease to care?

These are some of the questions addressed in Children of Men, a remarkable film that I am pleased will kick off the "Top 100 Sci-Fi Films" list. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón and an adaptation of the novel by P.D. James, it brings us into the horrifying world of 2027. Humanity has gone sterile. The last baby, Baby Diego who was born in 2009, has been killed by an overzealous fan. Society has collapsed everywhere around the world except in Britain, where order is maintained by a totalitarian government and refugees are ruthlessly captured and shipped to Bexhill, a resort town turned gulag/deportation center/death camp. Against this dystopian backdrop we are introduced to Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a burnt-out shell of a man, going through the motions in a decaying society. He openly puts booze in his coffee and cynically uses the death of Baby Diego to get out of work. His only moments of happiness are spent with his aging hippie friend Jasper (played wonderfully by Michael Caine) at his country home. He has, for the most part, ceased to care.

Then his life is thrown off-kilter. His ex-wife, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), now the leader of a pro-refugee terrorist group known as the Fishes, comes to him for help. She needs a very special girl, Kee, to get out of Britain and to a scientific group known as the Human Project. Julian knows Theo can get transit papers that will allow the girl to pass through security points and reach a boat sent by the Human Project. Will she help him? It is his decision and what flows from that point that make up the bulk of the film.

Art Imitates Life: When the refugee bus reaches Bexhill, a man being tortured outside is posed in the exact same way as the iconic "hooded man" torture image from Abu Ghraib.

Odds are that most people know the plot of the film and why Kee is so special. Hell, you probably know just from what I'm writing. But since Children of Men isn't that old, and is so good if you go into it cold, I'm doing by best to avoid spoilers. So bear with me if I am a little vague.

Cuarón does a wonderful job of examining the issues of hope and faith through what is, essentially, a road film. Theo has to get Kee to the boat; that's the spine of the story. What Cuarón builds around that spine both visually and thematically is amazing.

The Britain of 2027 is dystopian and gray. Garbage goes uncollected and grime stains the buildings. Heavily-armed soldiers man every corner, along with signs asking citizens to root out refugees and report them. Captured refugees are held in cages until they can be transported to the hell that is Bexhill. Roving bands of bandits infest the countryside. It's the slow death of humanity, and Cuarón does a wonderful job (along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) of capturing it.

October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

Photo: © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In the beginning of Alfonso Cuarón's masterful Gravity, we are greeted with the words "Life in space is impossible". For the rest of the film, Cuarón goes about disproving that statement. Not through the introduction of alien life or some fanciful terraforming of the moon. Instead, we watch someone regain the desire to live their life.

From the trailer, you know the basics of Gravity. A space mission is compromised when Russia takes down one of their satellites with a missile strike*. This causes a chain reaction and destroys hundreds of satellites, creating a debris field orbiting the Earth at mind-boggling speeds. This field impacts anything in it's path, including the only way home for Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Mission Specialist Ryan Mason (Sandra Bullock). The film focuses on their efforts to get back to Earth, on their own, and running low on oxygen.

This is a movie that plays many different ways. It is a thriller (can they make it home in time?), an action film (the scenes of the debris strikes and the chaos they cause are epic and dizzying), a simple visual treat (the views of Earth from space are remarkable. But at it's core, it is an intimate character piece. Kowalski and Ryan are, apart from the opening minutes, the only people we ever see in the movie. And for long periods of time, Ryan is the only actor on the screen. It is a bold decision by Cuarón to commit so much time to only one actor, in a film that cost $80 million to make. But it works. Cuarón is a remarkable director and Gravity shows him in full command of his craft. Some of the beats may be slightly formulaic, but it never feels cheap. It never feels like he cheats to get us somewhere.

The journey of the characters and the plotting of the film are so tightly intertwined that it is near impossible to say much about Gravity without giving too much away. And the best way to approach this movie is without knowing anything. But special note must be given to Sandra Bullock for her performance. She carries this movie and does it very, very well. Her emotional journey is heartfelt and you feel it along with her. If she isn't on the short list for the Best Actress Oscar this year then something has gone very, very wrong.

Credit must also be given to the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked with Cuarón on Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También. This film is mostly CGI but it is shot in a way that feels very, very real. The chaos of the debris strike sends Ryan spinning in space and you spin with her. You feel the disorientation. Other moments, when you see the Aurora Borealis over Earth, you simply gaze in wonder. Lubezki should also be up for an Oscar.

And so should Cuarón. Gravity is another wonderful film from one of the best directors working today. It is a mesmerizing, white-knuckle, emotional journey. It is the best film I have seen this year.


* This isn't a Hollywood creation to drive the plot. It actually happens. China did it in 2007 and the US did it in 2008.


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