I finally understand a joke

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy

I’ve finally seen an Abbott and Costello movie, and I loved it. In part, I loved it because it was featured on a Chicago-area program called Svengoolie, which is produced in the style of the old horror-feature flicks with silly hosts and cheesey interludes. Some comments:

  • At one point, Svengoolie does a music video about A&C and the Mummy, and he includes, at one point, a faux music magazine cover for Time Filler featuring the annoying lounge-singer from the middle of the film. Next to the image are the words “Bad Musical Number.” Jenny and I debated whether Svengooglie was self-aware enough to notice that he was in fact referring both to the number in the film AND to the number he’d produced.
  • Having now seen A&C meet the Mummy, I understand what was already my favorite joke from Robin Hood Men in Tights. Everytime the Abbot of the monastery walks by, an annoying man in the crowd shouts “Hey A-bbot!” It’s funny in itself. I’m ashamed to say that I now know it was ALSO a reference to Abbott and Costello, in which Lou Costello encounters something scary (a dead body, a murderer, a bat, a giant lizard, a mummy, a skeleton) and goes running away, yelling “HEY ABBOTT!” Heh.
  • Jenny and I spent a little time debating about where kind humor from in the A&C movies went–as it surely does not appear in modern Hollywood productions. We decided it landed in Scooby Doo episodes, which, if I recall, feature Abbott and Costello at some point.

Next week on Svengoolie, the 1972 Tales from the Crypt movie. Yes!


For those of you who watch Amazing Race, you know that few teams go out of their way to help other teams, and even fewer do when it could cost them the race. The Cho brothers, Erwen and Godwin, put their own team on the line tonight to help the Kentuckians, and they still survived to the next round (even moving up a few spots in the race). This show has always been good at illustrating karma, but today it did an excellent job. Go Chos!

Inspectors, or Serendipity

Two anecdotes:

  1. When my inlaws stayed with us for the first time in our new house, we discovered that the basement bathroom didn’t, in fact, work. The toilet drained really slowly and, alas, backed up and overflowed. Everyone was upset, annoyed, and embarassed. I managed, in my buffoonery, to break the ceramic top of the toilet by dropping it on the floor. Since then, the toilet and basement bathroom has been unused. We even began looking into high-pressure toilets because we thought the low angle on the toilet was the reason for the low drainage.
  2. A few weeks ago, we had a huge rainstorm and got a bit of water in the basement. Our neighbors, on the other hand, got a ton of water in the basement. Mike, the guy in the house to our North, said they had to turn the sewer-backup valve off to keep the city drainage from backing up into their house.

So my cousin’s boyfriend came over to assess our plumbing situation and he examined our sewer shutoff valve, which the inspector had told us was no longer hooked up. He discovered that the valve was closed — the inspector had closed it — and that the closed valve, not bad piping, was why our downstairs toilet didn’t work. Just as I was beginning to curse our inspector for closing the valve, I realized that it was probably the closed valve that saved us (and all our unpacked boxes) from the water on the night of the big rainstorm.

So now the downstairs bathroom works AND I know what to do during a big rainstorm. Ahhh, homeownership.

Jon Stewart and John Ashcroft

Would that all pundits were as accomodating to debate as Stewart is. Compare Stewart’s reasonable (yet not hesitant) critical questions with loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly’s abusive attacks on his guests. People who don’t watch the Daily Show and wonder why it carries the approval of so many? This is why.

Brand names

Dick Tracy and Azooltooth Foxtrot and WoW

Why do comic strip authors regularly forego brand names for transparent substitutes of brand names? I know that trademarked words and phrases are legally protected in some way, but I thought they were protected against competitive use — use that might result in consumers mistaking the product mentioned for the trademarked product. Like if I started selling a game called “Brendan Riley’s World of Warcraft.” I could be sued because reasonable consumers might mistake my product for the far more successful one. But why do comic strips avoid brand names?

These comics each remind me of something else, though. Jason’s distress reminds me of an interesting blog post I read about WoW and addiction. I’m also reminded that one of the minions of Gozer the Destructor was named Zuul (pronounced “zool”).

Mmmmmmm. Candy.

Ferrara Pan Candy Company
The best part about my walk home is that I pass within one hundred feet or so of the Ferrara Pan Candy company. Mmmm, my walk home smells like Red Hots.

Two thoughts on SAW2

Saw 2
Saw 2

I watched Saw II yesterday. It’s strange that this film came up on my netflix queue just before the third film in the series came out. Anyhow, I had a couple thoughts about it. The second is below the fold because it has, gasp, spoilers.

“Horror” movies:
My favorite horror movies have always been the ones that scared the living daylights out of me. The Shining, The Exorcist, even The Amityville Horror, each of these films built a palpable sense of dread and care for the characters. Movies in the vein of Saw, on the other hand, are in such a hurry to get us to the gore that we really develop no interest in the characters at all. The ingenuity of the traps, and the moderately exciting process of watching the hapless victims fail to elude them, becomes the focus of the film. As such, we really prefer the villain to the heroes anyhow. Why admire dirty cops and hapless doofuses, when we have an evil genius to enjoy? (Aside: it amuses me that the bumbling major from The Fifth Element becomes the jigsaw killer in Saw.)

I was talking about this movie with Jenny, and she asked why I enjoyed watching movies like this. While I can explain why I enjoy The Shining, with its heart-stopping terror, I can’t explain why I enjoyed Saw or its sequel. In particular, I can’t explain it because these movies aren’t scary. They have suspense, sure, but they aren’t scary in the way the horror films of the 70s were or even as many of the splatterfests we see today are–these films don’t resort to jumping cats or other audience-shock tactics.

Spoilers After the jump

Continue reading Two thoughts on SAW2

The oddity of Facebook “Wall” conversations

Facebook creates the situation in which you can easily see one half of someone’s conversation, much like a written cellphone chat. I’m fairly new to Facebook (and only use it when my students contact me that way), but it seems like a common way to communicate is to write on someone’s wall. The wall is like a reverse blog–other people write stuff for you to read, rather than the opposite. The weird thing is that you don’t reply on your own wall, but on your correspondent’s wall. Thus, if a conversation ensues, anyone looking at your wall will see the other person’s half of it, and anyone looking at the other person’s wall will see your half of it. With links, they should be able to hop back and forth, but I don’t know how often people would.

I wonder what my student’s friends will think of this entry I left on his wall:

The key is to anticipate the zombie attack. Big cities are the worst place to be, so my fam will be packing up our camping gear and heading for the most desolate place we can think of, probably north dakota.

Many will head for the wilderness, though, so you have to go somewhere people WOULDN’T want to camp.

Of course, I have no gun training so I’ll probably get eaten

Horse Theater

Jenny and I went to the Noble Horse Theater last night to partake in the vanishing “Equestrian Art”.  We saw the legend of sleepy hollow, as told on horseback.  Varyingly amusing and astounding (the “trick riding competition” stood tall above the other parts of the play), we spent a fair amount of time wondering a couple things:

  1. The theater narrator and announcer told us that the NHT dedicates itself to preserving the 19th century “Equestrian Art”, but they aren’t clear what they mean by that phrase.  Are they preserving trick riding and choreographed groups, or are they preserving horse theater?
  2. I wondered what people who work at the horse theater put on their IRS forms as occupation.  I suggested Equestrian Thespian but decided that phrase would refer to the horse, as in: “Is that a racehorse there?” “No, it’s an equestrian thespian.”  An actor who rides horses in such dramatic production is probably a trainer or a wrangler or sommat.

On City Heat

Jenny and I watched the 1980’s “comedy” noir film City Heat last night — I’d rather not explain the circumstances that led us to that low end — and afterward watched the theatrical trailer. I’ve long thought trailers leave too little to the imagination, but this b movie entry reminds me just how far we’ve come. The trailer compiles all the most fisticuff-filled moments from the film, resulting in 2 minutes of manly 1980s-era punching.

City Heat

In revisiting these films, I can’t help but ponder the shift of fighting styles that has occurred in action films during the last 25 years or so. It seems like the straightforward shoot and punch methods of Clint, Charles Bronson, Sly Stallone and their ilk have been largely erased in favor of lithe tumblers who bounce around the room as they fight and shoot. One could suggest that the change comes from shifting tastes or the rise in the global action film market (and the influence of Eastern fighting and filmmaking) or the adoption of new technologies for filmmaking. These are all reasonable answers, but I wonder how the political and technological landscape influences the shift in fighting styles.

Paul Virilio suggested, in War and Cinema, that the cinematic eye co-evolved with the technological apparatus of modern warfare, and that the two feed off one another. It seems that the technological advances spurred by the home computer boom appear simultaneously in cinematic action scenes. The stand-up-and-fight approach of City Heat morphs into the leap-and-tumble combat of The Matrix at the same time that the American military complex becomes more and more technologically snazzy and its enemies more decentralized.

The straightforwardness of the action scenes in City Heat was both quaint and a drag. The film had little interest in creating suspense in its fights–but there was little attempt to make these fights snazzy either. I see no difference in the shootouts of City Heat or Magnum, P.I. The trailer summed the goals of the film nicely: “Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in City Heat. On the tough streets of 1933 New York, Clint is a tough flatfoot and Burt is a wise-cracking PI. [Two minutes of brawling.] Need we say more?”

On the last few minutes of Munich

Please note, this post reflects on the last couple minutes of the recent Spielberg movie Munich, so if you haven’t seen it, be warned. Please note, however, that the movie doesn’t operate with a high enough level of suspense or surprise that my commentary will ‘ruin’ your movie.

So the film ends with the main character finally spending time with his wife after years apart. He lies in bed with his eyes open, remembering the Munich incident that started the whole film. As he and his wife make love, Spielberg mixes in the memories of the terrorists at the airport with the Israeli hostages and the botched rescue that killed them all. The moment when all the hostages are killed coincides with the climax of the love scene in one of the more bizarre juxtapositions I’ve seen in a while. While our protagonist seems more in pain than ecstasy, I’m still not sure what to make of the mix of sex and the violence we see at the end of the film.

Perhaps the scene means to show that at no moment will our character’s acts leave him. But if the lines he had to cross to accomplish his mission were what haunted hiim, why was it the Israeli hostage situation that haunted him? And why choose to mix this together with his lovemaking?

In his introduction to the film, Spielberg asserts that his film isn’t meant to criticise Israel, but I’m not sure he needed to say that. If anything, finishing the depiction of the Munich incident at the end of the film implies that not enough was done, that the characters are haunted more by the futility of their actions than by the ethical grey area they entered to commit them.

I’m just not sure what to make of the love/memory mix.

New blog, new engine

Columbia’s faculty server, my generous host here at Digital Sextant, has gone to WordPress for its blogging platform. I’ve long enjoyed and admired WP in other contexts, so now I get to try it myself. Stay tuned in coming days for exciting developments here at your favorite rhet/ comp/ media/ culture/ effluvia blog with a naval-themed name.