May 29, 2004

Tornados!

Tornados are everywhere in Kansas tonight. I just saw footage from south of Wichita, north central Kansas (near where my sister lives in Concordia), and just north of Kansas City. Homes have been destroyed, but very few injuries reported. The guys on the Weather Channel are freaking out, but I saw better Kansas footage on a Wichita station. The freaky weather is by no means limited to Kansas. Tonight swirling air masses are happening from the Canadian border south into Texas. Here in Yates Center, we are under a tornado watch until 4am.

And Lucy and I are STILL excited about moving here! We are undaunted by tornado watches, high humidity and an excess of 4x4 pickup trucks.

This blog should get back to movies in a couple of days. You can't watch movies very well when you are on the road, though I do have two saved to the laptop from Movielink. I doubt that I try to watch them before we return home however.

I wish I could download photos from my digicam, but since I forgot the cable I won't be able to until we get back to Albuquerque. I would post some from the Yates Center Days parade this afternoon. The rest of the country needs to experience my hometown. Out here, this is The True America.

Albuquerque is third world, baby. Maybe even fourth world.

Coming back to my roots feels more right than anything I've ever done before, other than marry my wife. Tornados are my temperamental buddies. Humidity is needed by my skin, my sinuses, and my soul. Wheatfields and pastures are the landscape of my heart. And my road less traveled is dirt, not asphalt. I'll take the Flint Hills over the Southern Rockies any day, and I want my house to be made of real bricks, not adobe bricks.

One great movie note though, click on this: fahrenheit911movie.com. I love it!

Posted by Wayne at 11:12 PM | Comments (2)

Kansas City

Watching my Royals win in person was really special tonight. And they won in such dramatic fashion. The bottom of the ninth, 2-1. If this team turns it around and has a good season, I'm taking all the credit.

Rookie pitcher Zach Greinke lived up to the hype, going 7 innings and only giving up one run and seven hits. He looked very very good. If he really does live up to the hype, maybe in 20 years I'll be telling people that I saw his second major league start. Too bad he didn't get the win. I haven't been following the team closely for the last two weeks, because of prepping the house for sale, so I was surprised to see Jeremy Affeldt come out to pitch the ninth. By my calculations he gets the win. I noticed two saves on his statistics, so is he the closer now? Blogs are not for asking such factual and easily answered questions, but he was a starter at the beginning of the year.

The last time I was at Kaufman Stadium, it was called Royals Stadium, and George Brett was in his prime. The old place looked so good it looked new. The place is over 30 years old now so that's pretty geriatric by modern stadium standards. Many of The K's contemporaries: Three Rivers in Pittsburg, Riverfront in Cincinatti, The Vet in Philly, The Kingdome in Seattle; have been cast aside and razed, whereas KC's masterpiece still hangs in there with the likes of the new SBC Park in San Francisco (that's the only one I've been to therefore the only one I'll refer to).

Our seats in the upper deck were great, the Boulevard Ale was really good, and the hot dogs were just as good as 20 years ago, if a bit more expensive. Next time I want to sit in the lower deck for easier access to the Gates Barbecue.

Baseball was involved in a mild synchronicity for us earlier this week. We saw a copy of the Lawrence newspaper -- the front page of the sports section. The lead article was about Kevin Hooper, a player who had been with our Albuquerque Isotopes. It turns out he is a Lawrence High grad, and the article was about him being picked up by the New York Yankees. It was a trip seeing his picture wearing his Isotopes baseball cap.

Lucy and I both wore our Isotopes caps to the Royals game this evening. Our home is still in Q-town. And I ain't paying $32 for a Royals cap at the stadium. I'll find one cheaper online. But we are definitely moving on, baseball-wise. I look forward to seeing the Kansas City T-bones minor league team. I have a feeling we'll have just as good a time at those games, and they'll be closer to where we live.

As Lucy and I came into Kansas City earlier today, we couldn't find a motel to save our ass. The absence of lodging places was positively surreal. We drove for miles through Olathe, and it was as though we were trapped in The Land Of No Motels. Finally, as we got in closer to KC itself, Super 8's and Comfort Inns started their standard popping out of the landscape at all freeway interchanges. We landed up at a Radisson that is nice but pricy. The in-room coffee comes with real coffee mugs.

If you've stayed in middle-class hotel chains much you have seen the obligatory complimentary continental breakfast, which usually consists of weak coffee and Hostess Donuts. If it's classy you get cornflakes and orange juice, but usually not in the same bowl.

Anyway, the Quality Inn of Lawrence offered a new and very innovative twist on the complimentary continental breakfast: DIY waffles. Yes, the management puts out cups of premeasured waffle batter, which you pour into a waffle iron, which when turned over turns on a timer that tells you when the waffle is done. Brilliant. They do this and apparently no one has gotten hurt. Beats the shit out of stale bagels.

Tomorrow, back to the home town.

Posted by Wayne at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2004

Lawrence cont'd

This morning I'm at the Nova Cyber Cafe on 8th St. here in Lawrence. The owner here knew William Burroughs (or so he claims). He tells me that the creek that ran by his house has been renamed for him! They must have some freaks on that city planning board. The fellow here also tells me that Burroughs used to make paintings by setting the paint cans up on a fence and blasting them with a shotgun, splattering paint on the canvas. Says he would get $10,000 for one of these paintings. That's what I call parlaying fame.

We rented a post office box here this morning, and the number we got is way cool: P.O. Box 3. Yep, 3. That's a lot easier to remember than some 5 digit thing.

Posted by Wayne at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

Lawrence, KS

Where did William Burroughs live? I actually asked somebody this tonight when we were walking downtown.

Lawrence has 4 times the coffeehouses that Albuquerque has, and they are all within 3 blocks of each other. Lawrence is obviously a very happenin' little place. Very attractive. Very green with the spring rains. Many live music events and lots of groovy little delis and and art shops and bookstores.

I have ancestral educational conflicts with Lawrence. However I don't think Lucy is going to be too moved by those. Cost of living and housing situations still have to be factored in.

We visited Baldwin City earlier today and it is an idyllic little college town of its own. And I was thrilled to discover an espresso shop there: Espress Yourself.

Here, there, Ottawa, all these places are unbelievably green (Remember I just came from the brown old desert so my greenness standards are not high.) and the grass is thick and tall, indicating that the ground has been too wet from rain to cut the grass.

All this time I've been envisioning going to a small conservative Kansas town, and now I might end up in a place that has been called Berkeley East. We might have to continue looking at the area smaller towns.

Tomorrow night, a Royals game!

Posted by Wayne at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2004

Ottawa, KS

Flat tires suck. Especially when the tire gets hosed so bad that you have to replace it, and you drive a car that takes a weird sized tire, and you are in rural Oklahoma, and your spare is about half the width of the tire it replaced, and you are pulling a UHaul trailer.

That's okay. Things could have been much worse.

We managed to ride the spare all the way from near Oklahoma City to Wichita. The Firestone store in Wichita saved us this morning.

The nice guy in Oklahoma, who had access to the tires of three manufacturers, said none of them made tires the size that our Saturn Vue takes. The OEM is Bridgestone, and that's the brand of our new one.

So we spent the night in Wichita and as I type these words we are about 50 miles from Ottawa, KS. Our basic destination.

Last night at the Motel 6, I picked up one of those phantom unexpected wireless connections. It must have been from a distance because it went in and out and I finally had to give up on it. It wasn't there at all this morning.

There is activity regarding our house. Very good activity.

I wrote the preceeding yesterday in the car. Now I am at the Ottawa, KS public library utilizing a very nice wi-fi connection. Albuquerque libraries don't even offer that. However there are no Juno dialup numbers for Ottawa so I couldn't get online last night.

We like Ottawa. Especially A.B. Mulligan's. The do a good burger and serve Boulevard Wheat Ale, a Kansas City microbrew that is really smooth.

This morning we accepted an offer on our house. We hope it all goes through. We received three offers in three days. How amazing that we sold it that fast. All the work we put into prepping it paid off.

Posted by Wayne at 10:41 AM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2004

I-40 W of OKC

10:30am

I love to type while my wife is driving. For some reason the words flow when there is a grain elevator in the near distance and telephone poles filing by on the left. We are nearing Groom, TX, the home of the largest cross in the western hemisphere. We've seen it before -- it's cool. Too bad you can't take an elevator ride up to the top of it. This could get you closer to God, you know. Hildegard von Bingen. Clouds. It's like we are driving in a great big gymnasium. The sky looks like a flat ceiling. Tractor with hay mower. Bass lines. Beautiful soprano.

I had to miss The Sopranos Sunday night. But I got that and Deadwod on tape, in case I can't catch it on a motel-room-free-HBO night this week. The Travelodge did NOT have HBO. Blasphemy.

This West Texas highway is scarred.

There are black tar lines all over it. They look like the lines on lie detector test paper -- paper that has been reused a bunch of times.

Starbuck's is in Amarillo, TX. They must be reaching saturation. I expect to see one in Yates Center soon.

Posted by Wayne at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Amarillo, TX

Ten years ago this Christmas I wrote a prose piece about this place and its bus station. My review was pretty harsh but a trained eye can certainly decode the non-apparent plot. I doubt that I would see Amarillo in the same way today. If I had time I would go visit the bus station though.

We're not moving -- yet. We have to sell the house first. We are taking a recon to the Kansas City area this week. I would post pictures but in my haste to leave today I neglected to pack the cable that goes between my camera and my laptop.

The Travelodge off Exit 68a in Amarillo has an interesting arrangement of faucet knobs in the shower/tub. You have the usual hot and cold on either side. Then you have a twist knob in the middle. When this center control's pointer is straight up, no water flows. Turn it to the left and water comes out the shower head. Turn in to the right and the H20 comes from the tub faucet.

This is cool because you can leave the temperature adjustment just like you like it, and it will be there when you come back.

Prepping a house for sale is a never-ending story. It took us a full 24 hours more than we anticipated. Our plan was to leave Sunday afternoon. We couldn't escape until Monday afternoon.

When planning, you look at all these little damned things you have to do, and you think, "that won't take long." And many times this is true, but when you add up all these little damned things you get many damned hours of work.

But, the house looks great. Anybody coming in should like what they see. All the detailing should pay off. I wanted to take some pictures, but we just didn't have time.

My wife and I have been packing and working on the house for about ten days. I couldn't believe it when we finally drug that UHaul out of the driveway this afternoon. We so enjoyed just sitting in the car for several hours.

If I understand the Weather Channel correctly, we will be driving through some rain tomorrow after we turn left at Oklahoma City and head up I-35. How bizarre if we were to see a tornado.

Posted by Wayne at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2004

Wanna buy a house?

Yesterday I trashed two computer monitors, two scanners, a printer, two keyboards, Borland Paradox v1.0 for Windows, Borland Quattro Pro version 1.0 for Windows, Wordperfect 5.2 for Windows, A VCR, a surge protector that had been with me for 12 years -- I feel like I should have a funeral for it -- and several random modems, sound cards, minor softwares etc.

Watching a 17" Micron SVGA computer monitor spin into the trash pile and then get swept away in a big tractor scoop reminds you of the impermanence of life and hardware iterations.

We are moving to Kansas so our house is for sale. It's a nice house in Albuquerque, New Mexico suburbia. [3-4 BR, 1.75 bath, 1300 sq ft, fireplace, new swamp cooler, front and back yards, 2 car garage]

If you're interested send me an email and I'll hook you up directly with my realtor. Pictures later today I hope.

Posted by Wayne at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)

May 19, 2004

To the Secret Poets of Kansas

coverLucy, my wife, likes to recreate things. She likes to refinish furniture for example. She recovered some kitchen chairs that I took from an old shared living place, called The Stanford House. The cushions were ripped, and besides that the covering was a hideous orange. I think they use that color to discourage people from stealing them. They are the kind of chairs they use at the Frontier restaurant. I took them from the Stanford when I left there. It's across the Alley from the Frontier and the guy who owns the Frontier was our landlord. So, we had Frontier chairs. And I scammed a couple of them when I left.

My wife lived in the San Francisco area for 12 years and went to 49er games. She had two San Francisco 49er seat cushions, and she took the foam out of them, to use on the chairs. She made a nice covering and repainted the metal stems, and they look cool now.

Anyway, she was out in the garage and found the 9er seat cushion bags. She picked one up and felt something inside, finding the book Fear of Dreaming by Jim Carroll. How that book, which was new, landed up in that bag I have no idea. I honestly don't remember buying it, but I have several of Jim's books and a CD so it's very likely that I did. I could look up my half.com records.

There is a poem in that book:

To the Secret Poets of Kansas

Just because I can't understand you
it doesn't mean that I hate you . . . like
when you go on continuously how you
cannot tolerate skyscrapers or cabdrivers

maniac faces of Fifth, well

it means nothing to me I
just ignore as so often
or shift gears and read Pope or some
boring Russian lunatic . . . you can't deny future

or simply fade.

and if you don't feel like running across streets here
you simply get run over and that means pain and boredom . . .
now isn't it amazing how you bring out logic in my poems.

I see nothing in a tree except lazy shade and nature
and that's not special, that's science

and all this concrete and steel and noise,
well, they've divided the simplest air to poems
some mornings, and we can't always rely on "Beauty" or gods

you must learn

but so often on our losses . . . and our tears.

© Jim Carroll, 1993

Lucy and I have decided to move to Kansas. That's my home state and where much of my family lives. The move will put us closer to Lucy's family as well. This is why I haven't seen many movies over the last week. The house hits the market on Monday.

Posted by Wayne at 10:21 AM | Comments (2)

May 15, 2004

Free Enterprise

William Shatner playing himself. The Horrah.

He's actually pretty self-effacing in this straight-to-video pseudo-classic. Free Enterprise really is amusing -- a dialog-driven film consisting entirely of Star Trek references. Shatner's presence in the cast is of course chief among those references. They do have to fill in with Planet of the Apes and X-Men allusions here and there, but they mainly obsess on the original Star Trek series.

Two Star Trek geeks: 1) Mark, who is so geeky that he publishes a magazine called Geek Monthly and does fairly well for himself, is turning 30 and since he's already the quintessential cynic, is having a slightly rough time; 2) Robert, a chronically under-funded aspiring film editor who's always borrowing money so he can get the new special edition laser disc of Dawn of the Dead, has been dumped by his girlfriend but finds the rarest of birds, a geek chick.

(Neither of these guys has any use for Next Generation, only the original series, and the films with Shatner. I think Next Generation is too broad-based and humanistic for most geeks. They want photon torpedoes.)

I learned from this film that laser disc is the apparent preferred viewing medium of ubergeeks. Do they even make those anymore? I wonder if this film is on laser disc.

Any Trekkie should watch this, and just to prove their ubergeekiness, sit down and pause the film while watching to annotate all the references, without looking anything up.

Anyway, the geeks run into their ultimate hero, William Shatner, the real Captain Kirk, the man who inspired them to dream when they were kids. "Bill," as he is listed in the credits, turns out to not quite be the warrior god of their imaginations. Shatner really is pretty funny in his portrayal of himself. With the obvious low-budget nature of this video, you have to wonder seriously about his motivations. Did he really want to make fun of himself, or did he not want to miss another chance to further entrench Captain Kirk in pop culture history? It couldn't have been for the money.

Free Enterprise could be a stage play. It consists almost entirely of conversations involving two or three characters over a table or a phone. Once or twice they are in cars but that's the extent of the action until the house party scene at the end.

I read about this on some blog somewhere, and went looking on Amazon and Half.com. I found a copy for 75¢ and said what the hell? You always have to figure the two bucks or so they charge to ship it. I love finding movies like this. Really good for a Friday night zone-out.

Posted by Wayne at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2004

Isotopes Baseball

Off topic! I took some photos at the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball game last Saturday, and I have put up a little album. Click on any of the three pics below and it will take you to the page of 18. They are not all action shots.

Posted by Wayne at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2004

Van Helsing

Van Helsing is good -- if you take it for what it is. It is a special effects feast, but so much so that the film is basically a cartoon. In this Age of CGI any kind of fantasy film is a cartoon.

Stephen Sommers takes Bram Stoker's Dracula and pulls it down to a level just above Scooby-Doo, but so what? The creators devolve the story so much that they bring in all the other freak monsters: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein's Monster, The Werewolf. (According to VH1's Best Week Ever, The Mummy is going to sue...) But Steve brings them in effectively; in his version they each have a key role in Drac's biography. The back story here is decent. The film is action-packed and suspenseful, and held me well through to the end.

We rarely see a film the same weekend as its release, but my wife was in a hurry to go, and I'm glad she talked me into it. I saw all the bad reviews and reported accordingly, but Lucy was undaunted.

I wonder about these chains of bad reviews. Lately I've taken to using Rotten Tomatoes, which is great because you get a composite of reviews from newspapers and websites across the internet. Re Van Helsing, I would like to do a chronological study and discover that some early bad reviews might have started a trend. The film is no masterpiece but I would expect better than the 31% I saw on RT.

Seeing all the other monsters made me wonder why, with all these comic book movies like Spiderman and Road to Perdition, we haven't seen a major remake of Frankenstein, or The Curse of The Werewolf. This movie would seem to have headed those off, but maybe it's just test marketing.

Van Helsing is good, not great, but a nice bit of escapism for a Sunday afternoon.

Posted by Wayne at 04:02 PM | Comments (5)

May 08, 2004

Swept Away (1975)

I did see a few minutes of Madonna's recent take on this 1975 Italian import drama. What cheese. But I did not expect the original to be a politically charged drama. Westerners like moi do not expect this from the premise of a man and a woman getting shipwrecked on a Mediterranean island. She, the rich capitalist; he, the poor communist who hates rich people with a passion.

This is no comedy. The interactions between the characters are intense and insulting and the dialog on the screen is hard to keep up with. You have to read subtitles. Incredible acting and interplay though. It is as though the two of them are living it.

Once they are on the island, he is the one who can fish and bring in food, which means he has all the capital, and he punishes the rich and beautiful blonde from northern Italy. She ordered him and his crewmates around on the sailboat mercilessly and now the tables are turned. They get lost together when she decides that she wants to go swimming, and he gets the job of taking her out on the dinghy even though it's getting too late in the evening. The engine on the little boat breaks down and they wind up adrift.

She is a total pain-in-the-ass in her bikini, cursing the crewman for getting them lost, demeaning his race, and constantly whining -- even when they try to sleep.

Swept Away is very educational. I didn't not know that the northern Italianos were so prejudiced against the southerners that they call them niggers. The southerners are darker, more Meditteranean. They look more like Greeks.

Once they find the deserted island, he turns her into slave labor, making her wash his underpants to earn her food. He is very abusive towards her, slapping her around -- but she falls in love anyway. You knew they had to start fucking at some point. She even lets a yacht pass the island without getting its attention, she is so enthralled with being alone on the island with this commoner who controls her.

The scenes of the two of them are so emotionally and physically violent that the film must make an impression.

When I saw the few minutes of Madonna's flick, she looked like shit. This woman, Mariangela Melato, is beautiful however, and Giancarlo Giannini is powerful as the representative of the (mythical) underclass.

I think director Lina Wertmuller intended this as an indictment of capitalism, but the actions of the man, I think, illustrate that capitalism is the system that comes most naturally. Whoever can produce the goods, has the power, and that's just the way it is.

Thanks to Jeff for loaning us the DVD and certain library books, research of which aided greatly in enjoying this film.

Posted by Wayne at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)

May 05, 2004

The Hired Hand

Films like The Hired Hand are why I am a movie buff. This is a beautiful film -- a sparse and simple story -- the ideal western. A story of human beings and their paths in life, laid against an absolutely incredible backdrop of New Mexico sunsets and vistas. Seeing this is like finding a lost priceless treasure hidden away in the attic of an abandoned house.

The Hired Hand is Peter Fonda's directorial debut from 1971, two years after Easy Rider. He plays the central character in this film too. Apparently there were some problems with its release and promotion back in the early 70's, so it has languished in obscurity until recently. Fonda and editor Frank Mazzola have done a re-edit for DVD released under the Sundance logo.

The box first caught my eye at the vid store a couple of weeks ago. Then I happened to see some stuff on the web about it, and how it's supposed to be so good. This was enough synchronicity for me to bring it home. Harry (Fonda) and Arch Harris (Warren Oates) have been riding together for 7 years, but Harry is suddenly caught with the desire to return to the wife and daughter he left behind. The story is of him working his way back into his homelife, like a hired hand.

Since beginning this blog I've started to think that you really shouldn't write about a film after only one viewing. And, in the past I haven't been one to rewatch a disk with the director's commentary. More often than not the commentary is just self-indulgent crap. But I am glad that I've chosen to hear Fonda's remarks on The Hired Hand. His passion for this film, and movie-making/storytelling in general, shines. He lends genuine insight to both the story and telling of it, giving its mythological basis. If you rent this DVD, indulge yourself in Peter's commentary.

The sparseness of this film is like the work of a brilliant visual artist who can take 5 simple black lines and arrange them on the paper such that they bring a tear to your eye. Fonda's acting is very good, his direction better, but Warren Oates really makes this film, along with Verna Bloom who plays Harry's wife. If anybody was born to play a cowboy it was Warren Oates -- you can smell his sweat-soaked saddle and tobacco breath. Warren must've worked cattle drives in a previous life. Like Peter says, Oates died way to young (1982).

The visuals of this film make the dialog practically unnecessary. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is beyond excellent. He's since done all manner of films like Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, and The Two Jakes just to name a few. You will notice too the soundtrack. The music by Bruce Langhorne is just as simple and sparsely beautiful as the film itself. If I hear it right, all he does is arpeggiate a few chords on guitars and banjos, more like a sound texture than composition. But if you've ever heard a poet read his words with a musician playing behind him, and the richness and additional dimension that the music provides the experience, you will have an idea of what Langhorne's music does for this film.

Speaking of poets, I was surprised to see Michael McClure's name on the list of acting credits at IMDB. (I was also stunned to find out that he was born in Marysville, KS.) He's the old beat poet from the 60's. Peter refers to him as a playwrite in his commentary. I saw Michael at a Taos Poetry Circus a few years ago, performing with Ray Manzarek, ex of The Doors. He plays a saloon smartass and gets hit in the back by Warren Oates' character.

Each moment of The Hired Hand is like a work of art that you want to cherish and hold on to. I will regret returning this DVD to Hollywood Video today. The visuals and music are so captivating I could watch it many many times. I doubt that I see a film this year as affecting as this one.

Posted by Wayne at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

Blog's Blog

voteblog.jpgThis is off-topic, but it's too odd to let pass. There is a man named Tom Blog. He lives 60 miles north of here in Santa Fe, NM and he is running for Santa Fe County Commissioner. And yes, he has a blog: Blog's Blog. His website is voteblog.org.

Give his site a visit. He appears to be working very hard. Only in New Mexico could this happen. Found at Fresh Chaos.

Posted by Wayne at 09:56 AM | Comments (1)

May 04, 2004

Family Plots

Six Feet Under is one of my favorite shows on HBO. So when I heard about Family Plots, a documentary series on A&E about a funeral home, my ears perked up. (Sorry, I am sick of the phrase "reality show.") The most interesing aspect is the family dynamic in the funeral home. I haven't figured out, or actually it hasn't been explained, how this situation came to be, but this funeral home employs three sisters, the girls' father works there too but he doesn't own the place. He's just a flunky who picks up bodies. The middle sister handles the embalming and deals with the "remains." The youngest is the secretary, and the oldest helps with the funerals. The oldest is also engaged to the owner. This makes for another interesting dynamic.

Chuck, the father of the three sisters, is the clown in this circus. He's a piece o' work. He's not a bad guy; he's real good guy. He is also however, a 63-year-old former boxer, who acts like he may have taken a few too many haymakers during his career. He's always forgetting things. They send him to get a body and he gets lost or he can't figure out how to get into the nursing home. He leaves and they expect him back in 30 minutes but he's gone for two hours. During the episode I just watched, he was trying to buy a car but he lost his paycheck, therefore he was missing half his down payment.

More time though is spent with Shonna, the middle sister who handles the dirty work. She seems to be a type A, never standing still. During an episode this evening we saw why she works in the back. In an unusual situation, she had to meet with a family who needed services. She's obviously too empathetic for this aspect of the business because after they left she started crying. No funeral director can fall into the emotions of his or her clients. Rick, the owner, during an earlier show stated that he learned early on that if he gets down where his customers are, then he can't help them.

Family Plots keeps it morbidly interesting by showing dead bodies here and there, usually on the embalming table. We did follow Chuck on one of his pick up runs and see him take the body of a woman out of a nursing home. We see his emotions in dealing with the situation, and hear his observation that "this was once a beautiful woman." Chuck, we've heard, is also a recovering alcoholic, so one supposes that perhaps he was down and out and his daughters got him a job to keep him off the street. If so, God bless them.

This show has lots of laughter. The people, even the embalmer-woman, honestly seem to enjoy their work. They are always chuckling about how stressed they are and how anything that can go wrong will. Each day is a new adventure.

Posted by Wayne at 12:48 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2004

About Schmidt

Kathy Bates naked. I really didn't need that. Jack Nicholson's butt wasn't on my list of desired movie visuals either. At least they were both brief.

About Schmidt is slow and ponderous, and could be depressing if you let it. There are some sardonically humorous moments, but overall you get the despair of the bland American midwestern landscape. Flat Nebraska farmland and Omaha residential neighborhoods. Jack does a nice job of acting out a wasted and empty life.

Warren R. Schmidt is 66 years old and has just retired. His daughter who has moved to Denver is getting married to a waterbed salesman and Schmidt wants to stop it. He loves his daughter and doesn't want her life to turn out like his.

A scene that stuck with me was when Schmidt went back to the office after his retirement to see the young guy that the company hired to replace him. He wants to see if he's got any questions or having any problems. Each and every statement the new guy makes in response to Warren is a cliché.

"What do say partner?"
[How are you?] "Not too shabby."
"What brings you by this neck of the woods?"
"Keepin' busy, keepin' busy"
"I think I've got a pretty good handle on things"
"Smooth sailing all the way."

The new man could not give less of a shit about Warren, and his fake respect and admiration for Warren is unnerving -- for Warren and the viewer. I always feel sorry for older retired men, who for some reason continue to wear neckties every day. Warren does this. There is something tragic about that practice.

The movie picks up in the second half when he goes to Denver for his daughter's wedding. The prospective in-laws are mostly whack jobs. Bates is the groom's mother and tells Warren that she breast-fed him until he was 5 years old, creating the perfect momma's boy. The groom has his mullett all washed and un-ponytailed for the wedding, which drags out in schmaltzy new age glory.

The movie is loaded with voice-overs by Schmidt, which take the form of letters he writes to his newly adopted Tanzanian orphan. Undugu is one of those "Save the Children" $22/mo. adoptees. The voice overs allow us to experience Warren's inner angst which we wouldn't get otherwise.

This is definitely the Jack Nicholson Show. Any fan of his should see it. Just don't expect an uplifting experience.

Posted by Wayne at 01:53 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2004

Big Fish

If you ever wanted to see a real live elephant take a dump while Ewan McGregor is delivering a line, this may be your only chance.

Big Fish looked like a good Friday night movie. Friday nights are best left to good comedies, or fantasies, because my wife works in an abominable office all week and we need something to relax her going into the weekend. Friday is not for intense emotional dramas, horror movies, or challenging arthouse obscurities.

Tim Burton obviously had fun making this film, but he probably had more fun making it than I had watching it. It tries, but doesn't get there. I found the film ultimately boring, and the ending anti-climactic rather than uplifting. There are some nice special effects, which Burton is known for, but the story is disorganized and the whimsy is forced.

In another post I warned against movies where the central character is a writer. Here Albert Finney's old man is a storyteller, in a family oral tradition, and his semi-estranged son has grown weary of the grandiose embellishments his Dad is known for. The younger man wants to know what really happened. (He's a writer, we're told, but it's not much of the story.)

From there we somehow get all back into the fantasies that Dad likes. As he related in his oral autobiography, he finds a hidden village, after convincing a 12 foot tall giant who is terrorizing his hometown to go with him to the city. I found intriguing the part during the war where he encounters a set of twins who have but one pair of legs between them, and I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter's three different characters. But by and large it all runs together after a while.

Lucy liked it well enough so Big Fish served our end-of-the-week purposes, even if I did catch her dozing off a couple of times.

Posted by Wayne at 02:11 AM | Comments (0)