On Snitching

What if they were star-crossed lovers?
What if they were star-crossed lovers?

We live in an urban neighborhood, close enough to Chicago to ride the El (instead of the commuter trains).  It’s a great place to live but, like all dense spaces, crime is a bigger problem than in the country.  In the four years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve had one crime happen to us — someone broke into our garage.

But we’re wary, of course.  So the other night, as we’re getting ready to head for bed, we notice a car parked in front of our house with the headlights on.  That’s not so unusual — it could be someone waiting to give someone a ride or something.  But as we turn off lights and begin our bed-time routine, we notice the car still sitting there.  And sitting there.  And then we spot the glow of a cigarette (or something else smokable) through the window.

Now that’s a little creepy. I hate to think the worst of people, but I don’t really want somebody just sitting in a car in front of my house at 11pm.  Then we spot a second person in the car and divine that this isn’t a stakeout or a team casing our neighborhood.  It’s a date.  Because, let’s say, the moon rises.

Now I’m faced with mixed emotions — on the one hand, I’m relieved that the couple in the car is not planning to break into my house (probably: I guess they could be mixing business and pleasure).  On the other hand, I’m grossed out because they’re having sex in a car in front of my house.  Yuck.  We dithered a few minutes because:

  1. I really don’t have a problem, in the abstract, with people having sex in cars if they want to do that in a secluded place.  But if ever there’s a time to invoke NIMBY, er NIMFY….
  2. If what they were smoking turned out to be illegal, I don’t want them to do jail time, as I’m pretty strongly opposed to our current war on drugs and the punishment regime it perpetuates.  But if they’re going to smoke and then drive….
  3. I don’t know for sure that the sex in the car is consentual, though from the context we gleaned it probably was — we didn’t look too carefully, cuz you know, YUCK.

So I did call the non-emergency police number and reported a couple having sex in a car on our block.  I didn’t mention the smoking.  A police car pulled up behind them a couple minutes later and, as far as we could see without staring out the window (we were oscillating between prurient nosiness and prudish looking away), urged the couple, by his very presence, to move along.  And so they did.

I’m still not entirely sure about whether I wanted them to be menaced by the police, but ultimately it comes down to this: do I want our block to be a place people park their cars to have sex at night?  No, no I do not.

New Camera

So I got a Canon Rebel T1i a couple weeks ago and have been playing with it quite a bit.  Lots of fun, lots to do with it, lots of ways to feel incompetent.  A few quick thoughts:

  • Boy, having a camera like this makes you want to take a lot of pictures.  An obnoxious amount.
  • I can see this being an expensive hobby — especially as I read the “DSLR Handbook,” which recommends a different frackin’ kind of lens for every single thing you could do.
  • I like the ease of use of this camera, with its pre-set modes which let me start taking pictures without really knowing much about aperture and shutter speed yet.  It will let you set those things, certainly, but you can also just say “portrait mode” and get a good photo with a minimal depth of field but not have to know what you’re doing in terms of all the numbers.
  • I sure like the 14MP images, as you can crop the heck out of them and still have a nice image size.  It helps make a good picutre look better in retrospect.

Here are a few that I’ve taken that I like:
Kookaburra

2010-11-28 Tweets

  • Never expected to say to my kid: do not chew your toes! #
  • So rainy. #
  • Harry potter theme is going to be in my head all day today #
  • Rainy and dark walk home. Grim but pretty. #
  • New phrase to me, holus-bolus: "All together; entirely; without modification," example: to accept a story holus-bolus.Try it in a sentence! #
  • I love that Avery can sit quietly @ the bookstore and entertain herself. #
  • Weird! My video cam software uses the camera in the DVD burning process, even if the source files aren't on the camera. #
  • Lovin lazy friday. #

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Better Every Year

The Annual Miracle on 34th Street Post.

Kris Kringle and Suzie
Kris Kringle and Suzie

I tried counting a number of things this year:

  • Men, in multi-scene speaking roles, without mustaches: Gimbel, Judge Harper, his Political Advisor, and our hero lawyer, Fred Gailey.  Mr. Shellhammer sports a John Waters, and almost everyone else has at least a little cookie-duster.
  • Men wearing bow-ties: two — the shop clerk at the beginning and Mr. Shellhammer in two separate scenes.  Also, in the dinner scene, we see that Fred’s tie is hilariously short, only going down to his xyphoid process or so.  It looks fine with his suit on, but without the jacket it looks like he swiped it from a little person.
  • After Mr. Sawyer gets clocked on the head, the scene with the nurse involves her switching the wet towel on his bump at least four times in as many minutes.  What’s with that?
  • Other small details noticed this time around: Doris directs two Pagliaci-style clowns to the Pirate float; the raindeer in the shop window are creepy and emaciated; Fred keeps cups and saucers together in his cupboard, so he can just lift them out, ready to go; images of Bugs Bunny adorned the wall to the North Pole Annex at Macy’s, for some strange reason; the baliff in the court-room looks a lot like Abe Vigoda.
  • Finally, I only now wonder, what happened to all the letters after the trial?  Kris sure doesn’t have a car and the post office guys made it clear they were dropping them off to get rid of them.  Hmmm.

It also struck me that the plot of this movie has a bit of a conservative backlash along the lines of Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story.  Doris is a strong, rational woman in a position of power raising a daughter by herself.  Fred is a dreamer, a successful lawyer, sure, but not a rock star, who quits his job for a headline grabbing case.  When Doris yells at Fred for throwing away all his security, you aren’t supposed to see her point, but I sure can.  Ultimately, though, this is about believing in people, something I don’t think is a bad message.

Once again, a delight to watch!

See also: : 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

A Season for the Dead

A Season for the Dead
A Season for the Dead

A Season for the Deadby David Hewson

A Season for the Dead tells the story of a series of horrific murders staged around Rome and the woman who seems to be at the center of them.  We follow vigorous young Police Detective Nic Costa as he pursues the crimes and the criminal right to the corrupted hierarchies of the Vatican itself!  A few thoughts:

  • This book is a decent thriller, but we get too many points of view.  We see the killer, we see both detectives, the police chief, the architect, the degenerate, the victims.  It makes the narrative less intense, for me, to get such an omniscient view of the world.
  • The killings are delightfully grotesque, but I feel like they’re awfully similar to Angels and Demons. Of course, the killer has different motivations this time around, but the series of murders in churches around Rome made me think of that other thriller for quite a while before this book took hold on its own.
  • The book makes more effort than I expected to get us to sympathize with the killer late in the story.  That said, Yeesh!
  • The Vatican doesn’t get a very strong showing in this novel, with corruption and moral laxity being the order of the day.  I’m not sure why we see pretty much NO redeeming characters in the Vatican, but there it is.  We don’t see a lot of redeeming characters in the Italian police service either, actually.
  • The best character is the eccentric coroner, “Crazy Theresa,” who digs into her cases with a gusto to rival the eponymous hero of Crossing Jordan.  There’s a great scene where the older detective, a well-meaning slob, and the coroner are eating assorted (rejected) meats at a local diner during a meeting about the case.  Nic, a vegetarian, tries to order a salad and the waitress insists that it will have meat on it anyway.

A decent thriller, but nothing special, IMO.

Ten Little Zombies

Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story
by Andy Rash

This cute little picture book tells a love story involving zombies and nursery rhymes.  We first bought it without really reading it, thinking it would be a cute way to give Avery something with zombies in it.  But the art is a little gruesome for a four year old.  That said, even when zombies are gruesome, they can be cute.

Here’s one of the pages that seemed a bit much for our little one:

Now There Are Three
Now There Are Three

Thankful

"Scrooge's Turkey" by Kevin Dooley
"Scrooge's Turkey" by Kevin Dooley

Quick notes on Thanksgiving:

  • I’m thankful for the warmth and joy of spending time with my family.  The extended family celebration included eighteen people, including my two kids and one more (my cousin’s son).  The plentiful options for dessert and the yummy yams are always my favorite.  Or are they sweet potatoes?
  • The drive to Minnesota was about as good as could be expected.  With a two and a nearly-five year old in the car, we expected some chaos.  We minimized this by letting Avery sit all the way in the back, and keeping Finn in the middle row of the van.  It turns out not being able to poke/hit/smack one another makes a huge difference in behavior.  Also, love that built-in DVD player.  The weather was a bit sleety and rainy, but the roads were just crowded, not slippery.
  • We are skipping BF craziness this year, with Jenny getting a bit of shopping in late tomorrow morning.

Here’s hoping you and yours had a lovely Thanksgiving too.

Another Harry movie

HP and the Deathly Hallows
HP and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1

It’s no secret that I’m a Harry Potter geek.  I’m not a fanatic, but a geek for sure.  So of course, we had to see the movie on opening weekend.  If you haven’t read the book or seen the other movies, I’m waving you off now, as I’ll probably be doing all kinds of spoiling.  Fair warning.

This movie narrates the first half of the final book from Rowling’s Harry Potter saga.  We find Harry, Hermione, and Ron on the run as the Death Eaters have taken over the ministry of magic and turned England’s wizarding world into 1930s Germany.  It’s grim, grim, grim.  Some thoughts:

  • The art direction stays consistent and frightening, particularly the look of the Ministry of Magic, the nasty spells, and the creepy smoke that appears when people fly in.  Well done!  There wasn’t as much magic in this movie as in some of the others (say, Order of the Phoenix), but it was satisfying, nonetheless.
  • There’s an argument to be made that the adaptations of books 4, 5, and 6 were all solid without being two movies, but we decided the last book is just too convoluted to leave anything out.  In each of the previous books, they cut the 600+ pages down by leaving out elements and sections.  In this book, I’d be hard-pressed to find a part they can leave out without damaging the storyline.  Even the excessively long camping sequence played well.  While the decision to do the last movie in two installments may have been cynical (who wouldn’t want to haul in another $500 million?), it also serves the story well.
  • This movie has already had the most substantial acting of any in the series, and the three leads are up to it.  The adults don’t get a lot of screen time in this movie, I’m afraid, but that’s okay.  The first half of the book is all about Harry, Hermione, and Ron looking for the horcruxes.
  • I’ve already forgotten many key plot points from the book, so it’s nice to encounter them again.  But I don’t remember how the sword came to be in the pond, and I can already see that the wand ownership business will be HARD to convey to the audience.  Hell, it was difficult to understand if you read the book.

As expected, the movie ends on a major down note.  Recall Dante from Clerks:

“Empire” had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings. All “Jedi” had was a bunch of Muppets.

George gets his ear blown off, Dobby gets killed while Harry and the crew barely escape, leaving three horcruxes to find.  Meanwhile Voldemort gets hold of the Elder wand and shoots the sky in glee.  It ends on such a down note.  Let’s hope Deathly Hallows part 2 has more than muppets.

See also:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (movie)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (book)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (movie)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book)

On weekends, writing ahead, and a likely coming blog brown-out

The Wizard Behind the Curtain
The Wizard Behind the Curtain

One of my tricks for blogging daily is to write ahead.  I’m usually four or five days ahead, so that if I have a busy day, I’m not stuck without content and you ravenous readers aren’t stuck wondering about my thoughts on this book, that movie, or miscellaneous whatnot that drifts across my transom.  It usually works out nicely, in that I can write about what I want when I want, and if I don’t feel inspired, I don’t need to crank something out to meet an arbitrary quota that I set for myself.  Alas, there are some weeks in which it transpires that I will use up my entire cushion.  To whit:

  • Thursday: responding to student rough drafts, way later than I should have, ate up much of my prep time for Friday, meaning I stayed up later than I wanted to finishing/rehearsing that.
  • Friday: busiest Friday on record for a while: practice presentation and do email from 9-11, lunch meeting at 11, other meeting at 12, conference presentation at 2:15 (went well, more on that later), and dinner at the college President’s house at 5:30 (to congratulate me and the 11 other people who got tenure last year).
  • Saturday: Home sick with a stomach bug, keeping an eye on 2-year-old Finn (who was the first to get it).
  • Sunday: Fruitless trip to IKEA, chaotic day with rambunctious kids, grown-up outing to The Deathly Hallows, home late.

As a result, I face a Monday morning with no post in the hopper.   So I thought I’d write about writing posts.  Here’s this week’s plan, as I see it and will write it this morning:

  • Monday: this post you’re reading
  • Tuesday: writing about Harry Potter
  • Wed: book cover (these are pre-built all the way through February)
  • Thurs: A note about Thanksgiving
  • Friday: writing about Seasons of the Dead (a book I will finish today or tomorrow)
  • Saturday: Probably the annual Miracle on 34th Street post
  • Sunday: This week’s tweets

If I can get it crafted on this schedule, we’ll not have a brown out.  If not, too bad for all of us. 🙁  Sorry if this peek behind the curtain ruined the magic for you.

2010-11-21 Tweets

  • Clancy has a great post on "knowledge transfer" http://is.gd/h8eGI #
  • Keen SW posters on boingboing @boingboing http://is.gd/hdFks #
  • Finally figured out how to use two calendars on my phone. #
  • Kinda afraid for this evening, as my Continuum character has drifted into "Lost Cause" territory and may end up splattered across time. #
  • Avery is thankful that she doesn't get dizzy even though the world spins round and round. #
  • Took the kids and my new canon rebel t1 to the zoo today. Wicked fun. #
  • Hilarious Finn: do something for him that he wanted to do, like flipping a light switch, and he undoes what you did to do it for himself. #
  • Just got off the train–the candy factory smells like watermelon tonight. #
  • Watching Toy Story with Finn. Just noticed that pig and potato head are playing Andy's new Battleship game. #

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The Crazies

The Crazies

The Crazies(1973)

One of the borderline sub-genres of the zombie sub-genre (does that make this a sub-sub-genre?) is what might be called the “crazy” zombie.  While many purists might argue that Romero’s 1973 bio-terrorism scare flick The Crazies isn’t a zombie movie, my more promiscuous definition certainly allows that it could be.  If I let in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 28 Days Later, The Crazies certainly fits the bill.  It’s not a very good movie, with lackluster pacing and poorly choreographed fights and gunfights that take most of the thrill out of the moment.

The film focuses on a town where the citizens are going mad.  Some have become dangerous and rebellious, others delirious.  The Army quarantines the town with soldiers in gas masks and body suits that are as horrifying as the out of control citizenry.  As our heroes elude the increasingly-violent patrols, we see the whole chain of command fumbling around, making mistakes, and endangering the whole country.  A few thoughts:

  • Boy, Romero doesn’t think a lot of the average Joe in power.  The soldiers have been in the town only a few minutes before they start looting corpses and swiping stuff out of peoples’ cars.  You almost don’t mind when they get shot.
  • The terrible bureaucracy that emerges to “manage” the event seems the most apt and the most scary part of the film.  At one point a doctor who is the leading scientist dealing with the virus gets flown into the town by accident because the soldiers won’t take a minute to confirm their orders (Side note: it’s fun to see Richard France as the arrogant scientist — he shows up again in Dawn of the Dead as the rational scientist arguing in the television studio at the beginning of the film).  The chain of command we see in various conference rooms looks just as incompetent as the guys on the ground.  You can see the same emotions that drove Altman’s M*A*S*H* at the heart of this film, particularly in the beleaguered Colonel charged with containing the virus.
  • Of course, the film also revels in various forms of violence and horror.  Particularly disturbing is the moment when a father, going crazy, has sex with his late-teen or early twenties daughter.  I think she was supposed to be in her teens, narratively, but she looked older than that to me.
  • The effects in the film show a clear ancestry to the crayon-read blood-spurting squibs that mark Dawn of the Dead.  It looks pretty hokey by today’s standards, though.

Overall, it’s not terrible, but not especially good either.

Just Dance 2

Just Dance 2
Just Dance 2

A student loaned me Just Dance 2 for a couple weeks and boy was it a hit around my house.  A few thoughts:

  • The game is pretty fun, but the controllers are either not sensitive enough or too sensitive to work properly, IMO.  On some movements, I find myself very capable of matching the speed and rhythm so that I score a “perfect” like Bob in the image above.  But other movements, even though I feel as if I’m being just as accurate and timely, I can get at best a “good” like poor Paula.
  • Avery’s favorite songs on JD2 were: “I don’t like your girlfriend,” the Avril Lavigne song demanding love from a man who’s already attached.  The animation features two girls, presumably the challenger and the one already dating the boy.  The first player is a punk rocker with a pink/purple theme and skulls behind her; the second is dressed in a very preppy way (Selma Blair from Legally Blonde) and has a blue heart theme background.  One sequence in the song actually involves taking swings at one another.  Brutal.
  • The other song I got to know quite well was Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” whose animation featured a Caribbean couple.  Picture the Chiquita Banana lady and Cap’n Jack Sparrow.  That’s a fun one.
  • My favorites were “Viva Las Vegas,” which features a bandito sporting bandaleros and a majestic mustache that Rock Band calls “The Chopper,” and “Monster Mash,” in which all the dance moves play at being Frankenstein’s monster.
  • The weirdest one is, of course, the video above which prods you to act as though you’re an extra from Tron battling lasers and doing a shoddy version of the Robot.

Overall, it’s a fun game.  Definitely worth renting to try it out.  I imagine Avery will get it for her birthday or else a mystical elf will break into our house and leave it later in the month.

Dead Set

DEAD SET

Dead Set follows a fast-zombie, 28 Days Later-style zombie outbreak in the UK that happens to coincide with elimination day on Big Brother, a show that seems to be much more popular there than it is here (perhaps because of the surveillance state the British government has been instituting over the course of the last twenty years).   As the outbreak occurs, a few lucky people escape the trouble and hole up in the big brother house.

It’s a pretty satisfying story that hits all the right notes, including:

  • being squeamish about doing away with the undead will be your undoing (Night of the Living Dead pioneered this one with zombie Johnny pulling Barbara through the door)
  • a journey from one safe-haven to another will always cost you some of your people (in the new Dawn of the Dead, they lost a couple people trying to rescue the girl from the gun shop).
  • being a nerdy coward never pays off (the nerdy friend in Shawn of the Dead gets pulled through the window).
  • power-mad cops always get what’s coming to them (28 Days Later showed us what happens to authoritarian types).
  • assholes usually get theirs (viz, the commander in Day of the Dead).
  • making a run for it rarely goes well (c.f. the new Dawn of the Dead).

Most striking, of course, is the problem with the world-wide apocalypse scenario.  In such stories, there’s really not much hope for the protagonists, as their inevitable attempt at escape is doomed to failure, as there’s nowhere to go.  Just once, I would like to see a zombie movie where the heroes, holed up in relative safety, spend a portion of each day killing the zombies hanging around their stronghold.  Both Dawn of the Dead movies featured a little sniper-shooting, but never all out extermination.  It seems like the way to make the stronghold safest would be to kill all the zombies around it, no?

Oh well.