Monday, February 26, 2007

Movie Review: The Abandoned

There was a horror film fest last year that I missed because I went to my parents' for Thanksgiving. "The Abandoned" was one of the favorites from that festival so it's getting it's own release.

It takes place in Russia and feels Russian, but the characters speak non-dubbed English most of the time so I'm not sure who made it. It FEELS Russian though. The story and the cinematography aren't something you see Americans doing.

This is also the only movie I've seen that uses doppelgangers as the spectre of choice. Doppelgangers are spirits that look like you. Normally I read about doppelgangers as warnings. The story that springs to mind is about a soldier in WWII leading his men down a road. He saw himself up the road waving at him and told his men to get back and get off the road. Some vehicles then passed them and were caught in an ambush.

In this story, however, the doppelgangers tell of an unavoidable future. They're both the Corsican Brothers and Cassandra rolled into one.

The story starts 40 years ago when a woman shows up at some Soviet house in some POS truck. When someone opens the door she's dead and her twins are in the seat next to her. Jump forward to now. A woman finds out that she has inherited some land in Russia. She goes to Russia and is driven to the land in what observant movie goers will notice as the same truck from 40 years ago. Spooky stuff starts happening almost immediately. Spooky stuff in the woods chases her into the spooky house where she meets a drowned version of herself walking the halls. Back out into the woods she chases the truck as it leaves and falls into the river.
She wakes up back in the house with the twin brother she never knew about. She spends much of the rest of the movie freaking out over little things and over absolutely nothing.
Together she and her brother explore the island that they were born on, find they can't escape, find out what happened to their family, and on midnight of their birthday the house rolls back to how it was 40 years ago and they relive the night their father flipped out.

All in all a good horror movie.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Movie Review: The Astronaut Farmer

"The Astronaut Farmer" would be Robert Heinlein's favorite movie. It's a story that isn't told often enough... in fact I've never read this story exactly. Similar stories, but they all end differently. More on that in a bit.

Billy Bob Thorton (it's hard to take anyone named Billy Bob seriously) plays Charles Farmer, a rancher who used to be on the track to the space program. When his father died he had to take time off to help the family deal with that. NASA figured the fact that he chose family over the program meant that he wasn't serious about being an astronaut and retired him.
Here it is, an unknown number of years later and he's built a rocket in his barn. He plans to do one orbit around the Earth and land in the pond in his back yard. When he goes to order the rocket fuel the government finally takes him seriously and comes to stop him.
The movie covers how he got the material, the problems he has with the bank having spent every extra dime and then some on the rocket, the lesson about never giving up your dreams, the government trying to stop him, and the issues with the neighbors who laugh much the way Noah's neighbors did as he built the Ark.

One variation I read was from one of the many old comics of the "Tales From the Crypt" genre in the 50's. In that one the farmer took his whole family in the rocket and from the inside it simulated a rocket launch with video screens showing the stars and planets. But in truth they never left the ground.

The one that I'm most reminded of is from the second of a Robert Heinlein two parter. The first story was "The Man Who Sold The Moon" and tells of Delos David Harriman who wanted so much to go to The Moon that he used his whole fortune to build a private space program. But in the end his business partners think it's too risky to allow him to go on the first rocket launch and keep him on Earth. He watches the launch and then gets back to business. It's kind of heartbreaking. It also has some interesting parallels with Sir Richard Branson and his drive to make space tourism a reality from Virgin Galactic's spaceport in New Mexico.
The second story, "Requiem", takes place many years after "The Man Who Sold The Moon". Harriman is now an old man who despite making it so trips to The Moon are commonplace has yet to be able to go himself. So he gets a couple of astronauts and together they secretly build a rocket in a barn. The secret only lasts so long and then everyone is trying to stop him. Relatives, business partners, the government, and his doctors. He's just too old and frail to make the trip. Still, they finally take off and make it to The Moon some distance from a spaceport. But the stress kills Harriman and he dies happy resting on a boulder on the surface of The Moon.
Both stories are heart wrenching tales in much the same way "The Astronaut Farmer" is.

It's a great date movie. I will definitely get this on DVD.

Friday, February 23, 2007


NASCAR is one of the most idiotic "sports" there are. It's about sitting in a fast moving oven that drives in circles very fast. It is primarily enjoyed by people who think evolution is yuppie yankee thinking. Interestingly enough these same people, who watch mostly to see someone die horribly, would have at one point been thrown to the lions in large arenas so that others could watch THEM die horribly.

Last night it occured to me what would make NASCAR worth watching. For the 2010 DARPA Challenge I want to see the robotic vehicles compete in a NASCAR race.

Let me backup and explain the DARPA Challenge for those of you who aren't quite as geeky.
DARPA is the research arm of the US military. They conduct lots of research and develop technology that is either flaky or cutting edge depending on whether or not it works. DARPA created the ARPANET which eventually grew into the internet.
In 2001 Congress gave them the task of making 1/3 of ground combat vehicles automated by 2015. To accomplish this DARPA created the DARPA Grand Challenge. It's a race over various terrain, various slopes, and track conditions.

In the 2004 race nobody completed the 142 mile track. In the 2005 race there were several cars that completed the 132 mile race and a few great ideas that didn't qualify for the final race, but with a bit of tweeking should make it in the 2007
race. I'm speaking specifically of a motorcycle that can stand on it's own. Given a few more years they should have pretty well got navigation of a winding road mastered and be ready to focus more on dealing with traffic. In 2006 there were a few instances of one car passing another, but nothing too serious.

In 2007 DARPA has made it the DARPA Urban Challenge. It'll be a 60 mile course that includes navigating traffic, obeying traffic laws, and merging with traffic.

By 2010 I want to see a high speed race on an established racetrack. Hopefully something more than one of the NASCAR loops. Something more like those tracks they reproduce for video games. This should provide a good number of smashups as well as helping to advance the technology.

Then by 2020 I want to see the TV show Robot Wars redone on the highway.

a vehicle being developed for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book Review: Storm Front

So, a few weeks ago I went looking for the new Battlestar Galactica episode. I'm a bad person and have to download them. But I buy the DVDs when they come out. That redeems me, right? I wouldn't buy them if I hadn't downloaded them first.
My initial point was that on Saturday morning there wasn't a new episode. I had to investigate. Turned out Sci-Fi Channel had moved their good shows from Friday night to Sunday night. But on their main page they were showing the pilot of the show that was partnering with BSG now that the Doctor Who series 2 was over. This new show is "The Dresden Files". The pilot is available for free download at You'll need iTunes. You may remember me mentioning that Nicholas Cage is one of the Executive Producers.
The show is based on a series of books by the same name. I saw them on the shelf at Books-A-Million so I picked up the first one. Having seen a few episodes and read the book I'd have to say they're pretty close except for a few fine details that don't really matter. It's like the differences between Star Trek TV shows and Star Trek movies. It's just a few details in the sppearance. The book would be like a 2-3 part episode that tells a bigger story and drags you back next season.

Harry Dresden is a wizard. Not the only wizard, but he is the only one listed in the Yellow Pages. He doesn't do love potions, he doesn't do birthday parties, and he doesn't give lessons. What he does is some consultation with the cops, find lost objects, make wards, and banish some of the nastier supernatural beings. It's told like a private eye story. His point of view, constantly low on rent, beat on by the
occasional thug, and magic is discussed much like a PI might discuss his gun.
He has a being that lives in a skull covered in runes. In the books the skull talks, in the show it manifests but has no physical being. Then there's the White Council who has a one strike and your out philosophy on Harry. He'd killed his uncle, a dark wizard, in self-defense. Some members of the White Council want Harry put to death for that while others accept the self-defense story. As a whole they're ready to kill him if he slips up once. He also has a... not a truant officer... a ... wossit. You know, you're on parole so you have to ... parole officer of sorts. Alas, the parole officer is among those who want him dead for killing his uncle.

In Storm Front there's a dark wizard who has been dealing a drug that gives users the power of third sight. You see things you really don't want to. Wizards at least can control the sight. This new drug is cutting into the market for regular drugs and the local mob isn't happy. So the dark wizard is ripping out the hearts of people remotely to send a message to the mob and anyone he sees as a threat.
The police have asked Harry to help investigate the murders. The mob wants to handle this themselves so they're warning Harry off. The parole officer thinks Harry is responsible for the murders and is bringing in The White Council to charge him and execute him. Soon the police think Harry is responsible and are trying to arrest him. Some demon screws up a date by trying to kill him. And the dark wizard is gonna rip out Harry's heart in the next storm.
The stories have the feel of old detective stories. They're told from Harry's POV but without all that "The rain beat down on the dark city washing the filth from the gutters and keeping the garbage at home where it's dry." stuff.

I picked up the next several books in the series.

p.s. Besides myself I've seen 2 other people reading the series on the subway.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Movie Review: Bridge to Terabithia

This movie snuck up on me. I didn't see a single review or trailer for it until the week of it's release.

It's Alice in Wonderland but with a boy as Alice and a girl as the White Rabbit.
Jesse is a quiet boy. He has no friends, he lives on a farm on the brink of total financial collapse in a poor part of the country, and when his own shoes fall apart he has to wear the discards of his older sisters. The family is poor in the pocketbook and poor in imagination.
Then a new girl moves in up the street. Her parents are writers who neglect her when they're in the middle of a writing jag. She's a free spirit who dresses how she likes, behaves how she likes, and lets her imagination run wild.
Jesse/Alice spurns her early attempts to make friends, but slowly gets pulled into her world despite his father telling him to straighten up and be sensible. They make up the fantasy world of Terabithia which they retreat into every day after school.

You'll hear me and most reviewers focus on the fantasy world but it's really a smaller part of the movie than we make it out to be. It's also about these two friendless kids finding each other, struggling with other kids and their families, and just getting through life.

While this is certainly more kid appropriate than "Pan's Labyrinth" you run the very real risk of having to deal with sobbing children.

Good movie, but not DVD worthy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Movie Review: Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider is a superhero for the heavy metal crowd. Leather, flame, bones, chains, motorcycles - he's something you'd expect to see on a Guns & Roses album cover.

I have a few Ghost Rider comics that I collected way back when he was partnering with Blade and a few other heroes who hunted supernatural baddies. The stories didn't really deal with his origins much so I can't compare the comic to the movie. I can tell you that the movie seemed to be written to appeal to the NASCAR and tractor pull watching audience. This doesn't detract from the movie any more than having James Bond playing poker instead of baccarat detracted from "Casino Royale".

Probably the greatest power that Ghost Rider has is his Penance Stare. Hard to draw and hard to film, the Penance Stare is a great concept. Batman can get you locked up, Superman can kick your ass, but Ghost Rider makes you feel all the pain and suffering you've caused. It's the ultimate eye for an eye punishment.

I liked most of the movie and the special effects to generate Ghost Rider were pretty good. But Ghost Rider got some of the lamest lines you've ever heard. He was just painful to listen to. However, he does mercifully little talking.

Nicolas Cage is a fanboy. At one point, nearly a decade ago, he was up for the role of Superman for a version of Superman 5 that never happened. More on that at the end of this blog.
Anyway, the point I was getting to is that Nick Cage likes comic books. He named his son KalEl after the Kryptonian name for Superman. He's the executive producer for "The Dresden Files" and I heard about some similarly geeky project that he's pushing that I've forgotten.
I mention all of this because there's a lot of belief in the fanboy community that big name celebrities can't play superheroes. They can become big names later, but they have to start with nobodies. Christopher Reeve was a nobody before he became Superman. Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill before Star Wars and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine are also good examples. Then there was the disaster that was Ben Affleck as Daredevil, Halle Berry as Catwoman, Jessica Alba in The Fantastic Four, and Eric Bana as The Hulk. They forget that Michael Keaton and Christian Bale were both great Batmen, Tobey Maguire as Spiderman, Ron Perlman as Hellboy, and Patrick Stewart was born to be Professor X. Really, it's why is that actor in that part? If it's because that actor is hot at the moment then you're asking for a disaster. If it's because that actor is right then it's fine. There's really no doubt that Tom Cruise shouldn't be allowed on the set of the Iron Man movie, let alone be playing the title role. Oops, they've changed it to Robert Downey Jr. now. Hmmm. I can see him as Tony Stark, but I'm not sure about Iron Man.
Again, I'm getting off topic. Nicolas Cage does just fine as Johnny Blaze. I think it's the comic book geek in him that made it work. Often with comic book movies the secret of whether is succeeds or fails is based on how big a fanboy the director is. With X-Men 1 & 2, Superman 5, Spiderman 1-3, and Lord of the Rings 1-3 you have a fanboy director. With X-Men 3, Superman 3 & 4, Daredevil, Catwoman, and a host of others the movie failed because you had a studio trying to squeeze the popular comic book genre for some more money and getting directors who just didn't get the story or the characters.

Anyway, Ghost Rider is a good but not great movie. Kinda like the Blade movies. Good, but I don't need to have it right on hand for repeated viewings. Most importantly it didn't suck. Glad I saw it but I probably won't get it on DVD unless they come out with sequels that are better.

And here's the promised script to Superman V. Written by Kevin Smith.

Here's the story of how it was ruined.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Al Franken

You may have heard that Al Franken formally announced he's running for United States Senate. You really want to watch the video he made to tell why he's running. It's the best description of why liberals are liberal and why it seems to us that 100% of neocons, 99.44% of Republicans, and most Democrats seem to be out to hurt people.

Also available for Quicktime, RealAudio, and Windows Media Player at

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another blow to superstition

I'm from Kansas. I didn't leave specifically because of the Kansas School Board's idiotic view on teaching evolution in schools, but the fact that there's enough people that agree to get them elected means they're too backward for me. Sure, they accept freedom of religion there. You can be any kind of Christian you want.

Even though the Pope himself believes in evolution the battle rages on in Topeka. And while the battle is far from over the forces for clear thinking have won another battle.

In short, the school board voted to remove the requirement that science teachers have to say that the core ideas of evolution are controversial in scientific circles.

Bumpersticker #4 - Science: It's about how, not who.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow day

How to work from home:

First you sleep until about quarter til 11.
Next answer a few emails so people know you're up and doing stuff.
Pop out to Starbucks for some breakfast.
Feed bird.
Flop on the couch with keyboard and mouse and do whatever it is you do until seven that night.
Finally get around to drinking that coffee from this morning.
Watch TV.
Sit up and read until you fall asleep.

That's a proper day's work.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Movie Review: Hannibal Rising

Happy Valenteen.

I haven't seen the TV show "Dexter" yet but someone is supposed to be putting them on DVD for me. "Dexter", so I'm told, is about a serial killer who only kills other killers. It's also very popular.
"Hannibal Rising" has a similar theme.

Hannibal Lecter is an interesting character. In his first appearance on screen he managed to completely freak people out without ever leaving his one little room. It wasn't until his 4th movie when we actually saw him kill anyone. We see him do some killing in this movie, but it's almost all killing we can approve of. He's a likable mass murderer.

A lot of people didn't like the Star Wars prequils. Episodes I and II just didn't have the oomph of the classic movies. Ok, so Anakin was a bit too Wesley Crusher and Jar Jar needed to have horrible things happen to him and, ok, someone else needed to take Lucas's story and write the screenplay and someone else needed to direct. Look, will you let me get to my point? Even with someone else working on Episodes I & II people still would have said they sucked. Episodes III, IV, V, and VI were the action movies. The back story is slow and short on lightsabres, but it helps to explain how a little boy got twisted into Darth Vader. You have to watch I & II with that in mind. Similarly, you have to watch "Hannibal Rising" with the understanding that you're watching how a little boy is twisted into someone who eats people.

I'm not going to tell you the story but I do recommend the movie whether you've seen the others or not.

Also, pick up a copy of the book "Silence of the Lambs". Preferably a big hardcover book. Wait for the sun to go down. Get a big comfy chair. Kill all the lights except for one right above you. Now read.

Monday, February 12, 2007

LOC sucks

One of the great things about DC is all the great talks and lectures going on for free.
One of the things that sucks about DC is all the great talks and lectures take place in the middle of the day when people have to work.

I mention this only because I just found out that one of my favorite authors, Robert J. Sawyer, is going to be speaking at the Library of Congress on 19 April...

at noon...

on a thursday.

Someone should explain the concept of a day job to these people.


I'm putting off that movie review another day because I need to discuss a new Dougintology holiday.

Valenteen is the working title. I don't like it. It sounds too much like a holiday for high school students.
Anyway, Valenteen is supposed to be to St. Valentine's Day what Halloween is to All Hallows Eve.
In both cases they take place the day before a holiday to honor saints. In both cases you're supposed to alter your normal appearance.

Here's how to celebrate. On February 13th (tomorrow) you skip all the morning preparation stuff. Guys don't shave, apply cologne, or use anything other than a hairbrush on their hair. Women don't apply makeup or perfume, hairbrush only, and wear comfortable clothes to work. By comfortable I mean you can skip the heels, the tight clothes, the revealing clothes, etc. Obviously if there's a dress code at work you have to obey that. But if you can wear slacks instead of skirts or blue jeans instead of slacks then do.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It's all about romance and candy and candles and dressing up for your significant other... and huge profits for the candy, card, and lingerie companies. We dress up a bit every day. If we fail to dress up for this one day, show our partners our real selves, it'll make all the work we do on Valentine's Day that much more impressive and hopefully make our partners appreciate the work we to every other day just a little bit more.
Plus guys are clueless dweebs who somehow miss all the signs and ads and candy sales that have been everywhere for the last month. This gives them one last 24 hour warning that they're supposed to have something planned for the 14th.

If you have suggestions for a better name for this holiday let me know.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

You look like you've seen a ghost

I was on the way back from seeing the new Hannibal Lecter movie (review on Monday) and saw ... well, I shouldn't say it was the last thing I expected to see. In fact, I half expected this to happen once the weather warmed up a bit more. My source was hardly what I'd call reliable and the people to confirm it with are all in hiding from the cold. But anyway, there was the previously reported dead boy out playing football on the sidewalk.
Is it cold to say that I'm a little disappointed? I mean, I got a good story out of it. Plus he's gonna continue causing problems for me and other kids in the neighborhood.

Oh, well, a few more years and I'll be able to tell the story again, I'm sure.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Impending book

Kim Stanley Robinson's latest book is due out this month. It'll be the last of the Capitol Science Series of books. I'll repost book reviews for the first two books in the series:

In the first book, "Forty Signs of Rain", you spend most of the book wondering when the world is gonna end. When is the sky going to open up and wash us all away. There's a periodic chapter where they spell out in language most anyone can understand how the melting ice caps will cause the North Atlantic currents to screech to a halt or the action will move to some scientists who are noticing a sudden drop in the salinity of the water in some of their buoys but for the most part the actual action is slow. The main characters are a husband and wife who live in Bethesda, MD. She works at the National Science Foundation and you can tell from the description that the author really came to DC to follow the route she takes to work and got her breakfast and describes the office and statues in the courtyard. He's a scientist
working mostly raising his kid, but is also a part time advisor for some senator and advising him on environmental issues.
Late in the book there's a massive storm in DC. The ocean currents are pushing up the Chesapeake Bay and it's high tide and the storm hits and the water level comes up to lap at Abe Lincoln's feet at the Lincoln Memorial. If you've sat at Lincoln's feet and looked out and watched a thunderstorm roll in you get a better idea of how impressive that is. It describes the flooding of Rock Creek Park which runs from
near Lincoln clear up here to Walter Reed. It describes how they have to let the animals out of their cages in the zoo so they won't drown.

The second book, "50 Degrees Below", picks up right after the first. The bulk of the story focuses on Frank. Frank works for the National Science Foundation. Most people there work for a year and move on. Frank was scheduled to leave but was talked into staying at the end of the first book. But the guy he was subletting the apartment from came back, many of the homes around DC were ruined in the flood, so housing is so tight, and all his stuff is in storage, so he builds a tree house out in Rock Creek Park and lives there and in his office.
That's all well and good, but this is the winter where everything goes to hell. He's using his gear from expeditions to the Antarctic and at the worst of the winter he's still getting cold.
The storms around the world are dumping 50+ inches of snow in places and 70+ inches of rain in less than a day. A small island nation is flooded and the whole country relocates to their DC embassy.
Plus, Frank meets up with the strange woman in the elevator that convinced him to stay in the first book. She's a CIA spook in a bad marriage. She's been spying on Frank as well as a number of other people. Her abusive husband is uber-black ops and she keeps stealing beyond top secret information and feeding it to Frank. All leading to a confrontation near the end of the book.

The final book is "Sixty Days and Counting" and is expected to appear on shelves February 27.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Dad just retired a week or two back. He's gonna be a full time farmer and preacher's wife now. Besides hanging out at the Smallville barbershop and living vicariously through the customers there he's gonna try fixing up the farm. While he's done lots of work on the equipment over the years the buildings have been neglected. One of the many tasks we talked about was replacing one or both of the old hay barns. We don't keep cows or horses and one of the barns has been slowly sinking into the Earth due to the lack of a foundation. I've wanted to replace it for years so I'm probably a bit more enthused than he is.

Here's my preliminary sketch for one of the new barns. Since I didn't get to measure the exact dimensions are wrong. But it tells you how I'm thinking.

Instead of rebuilding the new barn the same way as the old barn we want to customize it for our needs. I'm using the old outline and just tweeking a few things.
The one story outcropping is a machine shop. It'll get the table saw and drill press and other related tools out of the garage. It also has plenty of space to pile up wood that we swear we're going to use someday.
I put a deck on top of the workshop because I thought it seemed appropriate. In another design I have the roof cover the deck and glass it in. This is so my uncle with the landscaping company can keep plants up there. A couple of discarded hot water tanks would store runoff from the roof to water the plants.
In this model the roof is sloped one way so it won't dump the water on the deck.
The main part of the building is a bit more than two stories tall. There's a huge sliding door so that tractors can drive in. If you're wondering what I mean by "tractor" so look here ( size of the door depends on if we want a combine to be able to fit in there.
There's a smaller door in the big door so we won't have to move the whole thing to get people in and out.
Off to the left of the big door you'll see a strange little square. With all the vehicles around we have to change our own oil and buy it by the barrel. Barrels of oil are heavy. I want to be able to back the pickup up to that chute, pull out the old barrel, slide in the new one, and be done with it.
Inside the main barn area there's a loft on either side. They're to be high enough that someone riding one of the old cabless tractors would be able to drive under them and park without hitting their head.
A walkway connects the two lofts. A door goes from the walkway to the deck.
Along the middle of the ceiling, not the highest point in this case, is a track and pulley system. This allows us to lift big thing up and slide them onto the loft. Mind out, it'll probably be used more often to swing from loft to loft. Truth be told that's the only reason I'm putting it in.
Look up near the peak of the roof. There's small squares drawn there. That indicates entrances for barn owls. Grandma's barn has a huge one. I want some on this farm, too. I'd also like to add bat nests.
My brother is an electrician, licensed instead of like the rest of the family who can do it without the paper, can do up the lighting good and proper. There's a faucet in the neighboring barn so it shouldn't be TOO hard to run one hose into this barn.
There will be at least a foundation around the walls if not under the whole thing.
The old wood will be sold to help pay for the new barn.

If you think of anything that should be added or want to make an offer on the wood let me know.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Game Review: Psychonauts

I just finished playing the PS2 game "Psychonauts" last night. It's a good game.

You play a boy named Rasputin who has snuck away from the circus his family works for to go to a camp for psychics. Once at camp he discovers a plot to steal the brains from all the children and put them in battletanks to be used as weapons to take over the world.
As the game procedes your powers increase and you learn new skills. You have a door that allows you to enter people's minds for training, therapy for the person you're in, or combat. You have to clear cobwebs from their minds and remove their emotional baggage (weeping suitcases). Each mind has a different theme so it feels like you're playing a bunch of little games. Each character has a story and personality that may or may not get fleshed out but makes the overall story more interesting.

There are points in the game where you might get stuck, but dying is only a minor inconvenience.

I highly recommend this game for any age.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Movie Review: The Messengers

This was one of the better horror movies I've seen. By horror movie I mean a movie that is meant to be scary and IS scary. Slasher flicks don't qualify. They're not usually scary at all and rely on blood and pain imagery to get a reaction.
I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but when I saw that Sam Raimi was a producer I had some hope. Sam Raimi is the maker of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness/Spiderman movies. While he wasn't writing or directing I knew he wouldn't let garbage out.

This movie drew from some of the best horror movies. You saw some camera angles and themes from The Shining, creatures from The Ring/The Grudge, scenes based off of The Birds and Poltergeist, and some other movies that I can't recall two days after the viewing. They manage to make a fairly scary movie without the use of much blood.

I've seen scarier, but this is definately in my top 20.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ice skating

I don't know if I've mentioned "No Kidding" here before. It's a social group for people who don't have/want children.
Yesterday we went to the new ice skating place on the 8th floor of the Ballston Commons mall. The DC hockey team, The Capitals, practice there. It's new enough that the place is still pretty crowded.
I've never been ice skating before. Rollerskating, rollerblading, or just sliding on the ice, sure. But never balancing on strips of metal. One is much like the others. The blade was curved a bit so it liked to pivot under me more than I was comfortable with. Still, I got the hang of it fairly quick. While the floor was less crowded than a roller skating rink the crowd tended to move more uncontrollably back and forth than in roller skating so it seemed more crowded than it really was.
Plus, it was warmer than being outside, so all in all a good time was had.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Book Review: Fletch, Too

I've got three of the Fletch books. You remember the old Fletch movies starring Chevy Chase, right? "Fletch" and "Fletch Lives"? He was the basis for the wolf in the cartoon "Hoodwinked". Ok, fine.

Fletch is an investigative reporter. The books are humorous mysteries. Most are anyway. "Fletch" and "Fletch and the Widow Bradley" were both great books that I highly recommend. I really wish I could find my original reviews for you.

"Fletch, Too" is a bit different than the others. He gets married but after the ceremony he's handed a note from his father who his mother always said died in childbirth. Instead of a Colorado ski trip Fletch and his wife and his ski clothes go to Kenya where his Dad has been living all these years. It's not so much a mystery as it is a travelogue for Kenya.

"Fletch, Too" is not the book to start someone reading the series. But I recommend any book in the series.

Stay tuned for "Fletch Won" expected in 2007. Zach Braff from "Scrubs" is rumored to be playing the title role.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Take a moment to belittle the dead

I'm going to preface these next comments with a short description of how I relate to the dead. People who are dead can't hear you. They're beyond caring what you think about them. I'm not about to start saying some slimeball is great because s/he has snuffed it.
When Nixon died everyone suddenly started talking about what a great guy he was. If Watergate was mentioned it was in terms of how much Nixon did for their business. It wasn't dying that makes me think of Nixon fondly. It was looking at George Bush II in comparison that makes Nixon seem like such a great guy.
There was a bully at my school who died when he and his buddies got completely smashed and the pickup truck he was riding in the back of flipped over. Suddenly this guy was Jesus returned. Nobody remembered that he was violent and a bit deranged, had drunk himself into a stupor despite being in high school, and was all around a nasty person.

I mention all this because I found out yesterday that one of the neighbor kids died last weekend. Shot twice in the head.

I knew this kid. He was one of a group who comes by my house after school. They roam the streets like feral animals since their parents either don't care what they're up to or are still at work until late. I play UNO with them and bought Battleship just to keep them busy and maybe learn something in the process. We trade video games and movies and I loan them some of my graphic novels (reprints of comic books in a single bound collection) to work on their reading.

Last summer I was playing Battleship with a couple of the older kids (just entering high school) when the deceased snuck into my house and tried to make off with a Fantastic Four collection he wanted to read but I'd been denying him since I wasn't done reading it. I caught him, took it away, smacked him upside the head with it, and tossed him down the sidewalk. 10 minutes later his mom, cousin, and uncle were over trying to threaten me. That's a whole extra story. The point was that his parent had taught him that "No" means "wait until my back is turned" and rewarded his misbehavior by challenging the person who called him on it instead of punishing him.

He had his good qualities. The kid had leadership skills. He was personable. There was some curiosity in him that other area kids his age don't have. With some different parents and a better school system he could have made something of himself.

On the other hand, he used those leadership skills to get others into trouble. He was often an instigator for trouble. Otherwise well behaved kids would become hyper and loud and need a good smack when he came around. I know of one kid in particular who has a much brighter future without the deceased in the picture.

I expected this to happen to this kid, I just didn't expect it for another 4-5 years.