Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Louis C.K. Brings His Jovial Disposition To FX

I stayed up until midnight last night to watch Louis C.K.'s new show on FX called, appropriately enough, Louie. For me, staying up past 10:30 is damn near sacrilegious, but I've been looking forward to Louie ever since I saw the first promo for it.

I'd seen a few episodes on HBO of his first sitcom, Lucky Louis, and it was pretty funny. Unfortunately it only lasted one season, so I was happy to see Louis get another go around. Plus, I wanted to see how someone who uses the word "fuck" as a conjunction would manage on basic cable. Just to clarify, I am NOT one of those people who think comedians who can be funny without swearing are inherently better than comedians who do swear. And to be honest, people who make that point make me want to punch their dick out the back of their fucking ass. Unless your audience is a group of 4 year olds, who gives a rat's ass if you can be clean or not? Funny is funny, no matter how you get there. But I would like to see how many takes Louis ruined by using one of his favorite words, which let's just say rhymes with "runt."

So last night's premier was a back to back event, giving us not one but two episodes on it's very first night. The premise is fairly straight forward, with clips of Louis' stand up paving the way for a segment associated with the stand-up bit. In the pilot, this made the show seem a bit slapped together, which I didn't really dig until this morning when I read that Louis did with The A.V. Club where he explains that was pretty much his intention. He's not going for a real story arc that you find in most sitcoms, but rather putting together strings of short set pieces. In the second episode, he sticks with the set piece mentality but begins to string things together just a bit more. Looking back on the show after reading the interview, I think I can appreciate Louis' premise a bit more and I'm interested to see how it pans out in the future.

If nothing else, I can recommend this show to people who are already familiar with his stand-up work. The only warning I'll give is that while Louis C.K. does a really good job at finding humor in bleak situations in his stand up, you may find the dark nature of his material a bit more pronounced when you see it acted out. But, on the bright side, last night he capped the premier with a stand up bit about putting his dog to sleep as a kid, and then having a dream where the dog came back to life and came home, only to have to be put back to sleep. Yay! Seriously, though, it's a hell of a lot funnier than it sounds when I explain it. For a great example of Louis at his best, watch the clip below as he talks about his kids, and if you like it then you'll probably like the show.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Take the Edge Off with Toy Story 3, or Grumpy Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Yet again I post a late version of Take the Edge Off, this time due to a big graduation party for Mrs. Grump-to-be's cousins, of which I believe she has about 30 or 40. After getting back we didn't really want to do anything in the 95 degree heat, so we went to catch Toy Story 3. This is a slight shift from my posts about Nightmare on Elm Street and Phantasm, and yes I usually tend towards the violent/gory/dark/adult/raunchy/more violent movie genres, but Mrs. Grump-to-be has been a good influence on me in terms of expanding my theatrical palette. Our first date was a drive-in that was playing Madagascar, and in the 5 years since I've seen pretty much every major animated release (except Wall-E for some reason), and I have to admit they are a lot of fun and make for a good balance to my usual fare.

I was a bit concerned about Toy Story 3, however, but only because it's rare that the third installment of any movie is ever good. Shrek 3 was pretty sub par, and while I haven't seen it I have yet to meet anyone who said Spider-Man 3 was anything more than a crime against the first two movies. So, I was a bit tentative about how entertaining it could be to watch Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy's toys deal with the conflicts that arise from being toys yet again. Plus, I'd only seen bits and pieces of Toy Story 2, and there is a large part of me that views watching movies out of sequence as sacrilegious. But Mrs. Grump-to-be had been itching to see it for a while and the reviews were all really good so I gave it a try, and was rewarded by a great movie.

While the overall production value of all animated movies has increased at an amazing rate, I think what I like the most about Pixar movies is that, no matter what the topic, I am in for a display of epic grandeur. In the case of Toy Story 3, the whole film takes place in a small portion of a small town, yet as Woody and Co. find themselves accidentally donated to the local daycare center as Andy prepares for college, the movie takes on the characteristics of great escape movies like... well, The Great Escape, I suppose. All you have to do is replace asshole fascist nazis with asshole fascist toys. Suddenly, a thrown-away toy is a casualty of war, and to be honest it actually made me feel bad for all of the toys that I've thrown away over the years. But then I remember it's a goddamn toy and it doesn't have feelings or Tom Hanks' voice. But still...what if they did?

Returning to the topic of trilogies, I think the best thing that Toy Story 3 has going for it is that it was comfortable with ending the series on a satisfying note without forcing an overblown finale or deliberately leaving the door open for another movie. I'm guessing that since Pixar usually seems to have a handful of irons in the fire (I hear that Cars 2 is on the way) they don't need to milk a franchise until it becomes stale. Again, I need to mention about how Shrek 3 screwed the pooch. So the writers for Toy Story 3 had the luxury of making sure they did this thing right, which they very much did. When the end credits started to roll, none of the characters fates are left hanging, and no questions are left unanswered. And, better yet, they were all answered well.

Whether part of a trilogy or not, few animated films do well if they don't include a lot of great laughs, and Toy Story 3 did not disappoint. The main characters all hit of their notes, including a fantastic scene with a "Mr. Tortilla Head," but the stand-out for me was a metrosexual Ken doll voiced by Michael Keaton. This may just be a personal thing for me, however, as I just like the idea of Michael Keaton getting more good work. He's one of those underrated actors who has a lot of great roles under his belt like Johnny Dangerously (why, hello there, future Take the Edge Off post), Batman, and, of course:


Unfortunately, Keaton seems to have fallen off the radar a bit lately, but with his turn as Ken and an upcoming role in the Mark Wahlberg/Will Ferrell buddy comedy movie The Other Guys, maybe Keaton is building towards a comeback.

At this point it shouldn't be too much of a surprise when Pixar releases a good movie, but this was the first time they'd gone back to the same story for a second time, which is a task that has proven to be too much for many other good writers/directors. However, with Toy Story 3, Pixar avoided the pitfalls of a trilogy-ender and gave Andy's toys a great send off. Hopefully Cars 2 does well so that, finally, we can see the Incredibles sequels that Mrs. Grump-to-be and I have been waiting for since the last one ended.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grumpy's Tax Odyssey

In June of 2007, I had just finished one of the toughest years of my life. I'd spent ten months providing in-class support and after-school programs for an inner-city school, and while the experience was worth-while I'm fairly sure that it took 4-7 years off my life. But I'd made it, and in return the organization I worked for gave me almost $5000 to put towards my college loans. Pretty sweet, right? Surely there is no way that this could come back and bite me in the ass later? Right?

Cut to 2009 as I stroll into H&R Block to take care of my taxes, and this is where things start to take a turn. My tax preparer, who we shall hereto refer to as Dipshit McPeckerhead, decided that my education award was subject to a self-employment tax. Try as I might to inform him that I was a volunteer for the organization and that a self-employment tax made absolutely no sense in my case, he insisted that he was right and that I needed to file the way he said. I even told him that the previous year my preparer had designated the award that I'd used up to that point as an award given for volunteer service. You see, I had no problem with the fact that the award was subject to some tax. I was told before I received it that it was subject to tax, and that I should use the award over two years so that the taxes wouldn't be too overwhelming. So a tax is fine, but a self-employment tax is just stupid. Dipshit saw things otherwise, however, and I was forced to pay H & R Block something in the ballpark of $150 to be told that I owed the IRS even more money.

And if you'll just sign here, I'll remove my stapler from your ass.

Well, I'm no tax expert (hence being dumb enough to use H & R Block in the first place) but I knew something was fishy. So I followed up with the IRS, who informed me in so many words that Mr. McPeckerhead could not differentiate his ass from a hole in the ground. I made an appointment with my bestest buddy, who made an amended return that said I was actually owed a few hundred bucks. I could tell that he really felt bad about screwing up my taxes when I used the word refund and he looked at me like I just took a dump on his computer. I was just glad to have the amended return so I went on my way, having to wait an extra two months for the check since the amendment had to be sent via standard mail instead of electronically. But at least the whole fiasco was finally over. Right?

Cut to 2010, as Philadelphia embarked upon it's Tax Amnesty Program, which I'm paying no real attention to since all my taxes were surely in order. Hell, I even went back to H & R Block for this year's taxes, specifically avoiding Senor Cabesa de Pene and having a relatively painless experience. Then, a few weeks ago, I get some mail from the city that looks quite official. It even had those perforated edges that sometimes denotes that you'll be getting a check. But this, my friends, was much better than a check. This was a notice that I showed up in the city's records as needing to file a tax return for a profit on a business. Well, unless I'd somehow started turning a profit off of annoying the shit out of my fiance, I knew this was a mistake and I had a strong feeling that it could be traced back to a certain braindead tax preparer. I tried making calls for about a month to get the matter settled, but I could not get an answer that made me feel like I wasn't going to be arrested for tax evasion within a year.

So, I finally broke down and just went to the municipal building in Center City, which, I can tell you, is one satisfying way to spend a vacation day. Since I'd rather ride a bicycle with a broken lightbulb for a seat than try to park in Center City Philadelphia, I drove to a subway stop and took the train in the rest of the way. First, I got to wait for about an hour and a half, which gave me ample opportunity to observe the creme de la creme of Philadelphia. After all, all of those losers were dirty tax scofflaws who piss all over our society's rules. I, on the other hand, was a victim of a mistake in the system. Only me. So I finally get to a representative, and within about two minutes she comes to the conclusion that I did not in fact owe any taxes. However, in order to prove that, I would need to provide additional paperwork that I didn't have for a different department. I couldn't take another day off for this mess, so I took the subway back to my car, drove home, found the paper work, and drove/rode the subway all the way back. But it was all worth it because I was finally about to be done with this whole thing. Right?

Cut to the new department where I've taken the proper paperwork, and guess what? It turns out I do in fact need to pay taxes on the "income" that I've earned. It's at this point that I'd really like to do the following:

Actually, if we're going to be honest, me lashing out would probably look more like this:

But anyway you look at it, I was getting very close to being very unpleasant. So the woman tells me that if I can provide proof that the award I received never went to me but directly to my loan institution, I would not have to pay any taxes. Well, all I needed to do was get on the website that kept track of my award transactions, but of course I wasn't allowed to use one of the city's computers because that would have been too fucking helpful. I had to walk 8 goddamn blocks in 90 degree weather to get to the nearest available computer and then walk all the way back. But it would all be worth it because everything would be over and done with. Right?

Guess actually was! After a measly 6 hours, everything was finally over! Thank you Jesus, there is a Santa Claus! I got a written verification, and the promise that I was no longer in the system as owing any taxes to the butthole city of Philadelphia. That's right, ladies and gentleman, I am free of the shackles of the tax scofflaw. I think I will celebrate by not editing this post for typos, and then going to sleep and dreaming of a certain H & R Block employee being slowly devoured by a large swarm of insects. Sweet dreams too all.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Take the Edge Off with Catching Big Freaking Fish

I think the best thing about writing your own blog is that you don't get any points taken off for turning your work in. That said, here is my post meant for last Saturday...

Sunday was the time of year for perhaps the only tradition my dad and I actually observe, our annual blue fishing trip. Every year since 2005, we go get up waaaaay too early, drive to Belmar, New Jersey, and hop on a party boat to spend the better part of the day following schools of blue fish around the Atlantic Coast. I've been able to think back to determine that this year was actually our 6th year making the trip. Join me for a trip down memory lane with a quick timeline:

2005-on a whim, Dad and I decide to celebrate Father's Day by going blue fishing, something I hadn't done in years because the gentle motion of waves on a breezy summer day used to make me puke until I wanted to die. This time, I take Dramamine and am talked into believing the bullshit story that wearing a blue bracelet that puts pressure on the veins in my wrist will prevent me from vomiting. Since I don't vomit, I choose to believe it. We catch so many fish and have such a great day that we decide to make it a yearly thing.

2006-We bring one of my best friends with us, and he chooses to wear gloves with the fingertips cut off. We make abundant amounts of fun of him. Once again catch a lot of fish. Oh, and I still believe the bullshit bracelet thing.

2007-This year I don't wear the blue bracelets and am quite surprised to find that solely with the use of Dramamine, I am the only one of our group of 4 that does not get seasick. One of the guys in said group impresses us all by being the only person I've ever met who could puke and laugh at the same time. Catch decent amount of fish.

2008-This is the only year that comes close to being a bad trip. The first mate of the Miss Belmar Princess is new, and turns out to be a world class fuckface. He's a big, fat, baldy-headed douche bag who does little more than badmouth the customers to other customers. He won't supply us with a bucket to keep the fish in, even though we tell him that we don't eat fish and plan on giving it to the mates to sell and only want to keep track of of the fish we catch just in case we catch a fish big enough to win the pool that we entered at the beginning of the trip. Dad decides to throw fish back after catching them, ignoring baldy-fatty's exclamations that he would keep the fish if we didn't want them. However, even though we had to deal with the cream of New Jersey's crap, we still manage to have a good time and catch some fish.

2009-When we get to the marina at Belmar, we see Baldy is still working on the Miss Belmar. Pops asks again if we can use a bucket, and again the prick says no. So, we take our first trip on our favorite new boat, the Golden Eagle! If you ever find yourself in Belmar looking for a blue fishing trip, use the Golden Eagle. The crew is a bunch of young guys, but they are great workers, friendly as hell, and are great with a gaff (gaff=big hook used to pull fish out of the water; they are too heavy to lift over with your rod). We again have a great day.

And that brings us to this year's trip, which was another great adventure. The one pain in the ass that comes every year is having to be up by 4:00am for Dad to pick me up, otherwise we won't get that coveted spot at the stern of the boat (that's the back of the boat to ye, matey). But it's Father's Day so I take one for the team, mainly so that I don't have to listen to Dad bitch and moan all day. This year was a little bit weird as there was a heavy fog off the coast, so we couldn't see more than a couple hundred yards in either direction. It made me feel very isolated from the rest of the world, which was an odd sensation. It didn't last, however, as we were eventually joined by all of the other boats from the Belmar marina, including, guess who...the Miss Belmar. And, if I liked the crew of the Golden Eagle before, what happened next pushed me into a full-on mancrush. As it turns out, these guys share our disdain for Baldy, so they were tearing him a new asshole while we chimed in (lamely). Then they realized that not only had one of the idiots from the Miss Belmar let their line out too far so that it was getting tangled in our lines, but the jackass actually had a fish on. So, one of the mates grabbed the line and proceeded to gaff the fish and keep it for the Golden Eagle, and since the line had become tangled in my Dad's reel, Pop decided just to cut the thing. So hopefully one of the guests on the Miss Belmar took away from his experience that if you fish with them, you will lose your fishing lure and another boat will end up with your fucking fish. Maybe next year we'll find out that Baldy is unemployed.

So needless to say it was another great year. We didn't catch quite as many fish as we have in previous years, but the ones we did catch were pretty damn big. In fact, I'm pretty sure the first fish I caught is the biggest fish I've ever caught in my life. Dad says it was probably about 10 or 11 pounds, so I'll round it off to an even 40. And, lest anyone ever try and say that I'm a bad fiance, after twelve hours worth of fishing/travel/getting sunburnt, I came home, showered, helped Mrs. Grump-to-Be entertain some friends for our housewarming dinner, and THEN cleaned up afterwards. If anyone is familiar with the application for sainthood, be sure to let me know because I'm quite obviously a shoe-in.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Check Back In Tomorrow/Monday For Take The Edge Off

Just in case there is anyone who gives a crap that I usually do a Take the Edge Off today, I wanted to give you a head's up that I'm waiting to write until after tomorrow, when my dad and I go on our 5th Annual Father's Day Blue Fishing Trip. What's a blue fish, you ask? Take a gander.

We'll be going out on a party boat off the coast of Belmar, NJ, likely along with about 100 of our closest friends. So check back in the next couple of days and hear about whether we caught ourselves a nice bunch of bastards like this...

Or, if we caught a nice, big boat load of...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grossest/Coolest Thing You'll See This Week

I recently got basic cable for the first time in like 3 years, and not because I'm too good for TV but because I've been too poor. But my old friend really came through for me tonight as I was trying to think about my scientific topic for the week. I was watching Mythbusters and they were testing the myth that sneezes shoot out of your mouth at 100 m.p.h. and can fly over 30 feet. Well, as if it weren't bizarre enough to watch a man sneeze in slow motion, take a look at the 1:25 mark of the clip below and watch the same thing when said man has red food dye in his mouth. It's pretty delightful. Plus it makes me happy because I really don't feel like typing anything overly in depth for my science post this week so now I can just embed a video clip. Enjoy. Oh, and if I remember I think they busted the myth.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Knows What Evil Lurks In the Hearts Of Those Nooks And Crannies?

I'm going to mark my 30th post on this blog with some news of dire importance. Those of you who eat Thomas' English Muffins should know that while you sit down to enjoy a nice breakfast, innocently topping your toasted treat with butter, jam, etc., there is a legal battle of epic proportions being waged in order to protect the recipe of your beloved breakfast food. As it turns out, after working for Bimbo Bakeries USA, the American division of Mexican food company Grupo Bimbo SAB, executive Chris Botticella has now decided to run at top speed to one of Bimbo's main competitors, Hostess! That's right, those hacks behind Wonder Bread! The man should be ashamed of himself.

I love stories like this. I know that in reality, this is fairly serious business involving millions of dollars worth of business. But honestly, there are so many things that just make this so damn goofy. Apart from the obvious, which is that we're talking about a major lawsuit regarding a fucking breakfast muffin, I also get a kick out of the fact that reporter Maryclaire Dale had to keep at least a semi-serious tone while talking about a company named Bimbo Bakeries. Even with a spell-checker and an editor, I'd have a hard time publishing the phrase "Bimbo's lawyers" without including the typing equivalent of childish chuckling.

Bimbo (tee hee) themselves had to have struggled to keep a straight face while writing a lawsuit brief that included the concern that "Botticella could produce an English muffin that might look a bit different, but that would nevertheless possess the distinctive taste, texture and flavor character that distinguish the Thomas' English Muffin and that have been the foundation of the product's success." As if the consumer didn't have enough stress in making their purchasing decisions, now they may have to decide whether they want to buy Thomas's English Muffins or the newest creation from the Hostess company, Jonathan's British Biscuits.

And like any good reporter, Dale had to get some quotes. But other than the people involved with the lawsuit itself, the only person who seemed to give enough of a shit about the story give a quote was Elise Bauer of, who gave her take on what makes a Thomas' English Muffin so special. "The butter melts and those craters catch the butter, or anything else, whether it's jam or honey. The honey can swim in the butter. It doesn't drip through." You, my dear, have put waaaaaay too much thought into your assessment of the English Muffin. It's a breakfast food, not the polio vaccine.

But enough about poor Ms. Bauer, it's this Botticella guy we have to be concerned about. After all, aside from the potentially earth-shifting knowledge of what makes for a nook and a cranny, he also knows other things. He even knows the recipe for Bimbo's (ha!) newest creation.....The Sandwich Thin! We can't just let him hand information like that over to those Twinkie-makers! What's that? You don't know what a Sandwich Thin is and you don't really give a shit about it? All high and mighty all of a sudden? Well just remember that you wasted the last five minutes of your life reading about my thoughts on an English Muffin lawsuit. Happy 30th post to me!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Take the Edge Off with Phantasm

Alright, so this week I was all excited because I thought I was going to be writing about the Zombie Beach party that I went to last night. I heard about the event almost a month ago, and I've been looking forward to it ever since. It was at the Trocadero, one of the cooler bars in Philadelphia, and they advertised zombie make up stations and a live band. I really thought I'd just be using this week's "Take the Edge Off" to gush about the awesome time I had last night. The only problem is that it wasn't quite as great as I'd hoped. First of all, they made you pay to get made up like a zombie, which I guess I should have expected but I was hoping they would have included that in the admission price. And since they were charging a minimum of 10 goddamn dollars to get zombified, I was the only one of my group who actually bothered, which deprived me the sight of Mrs. Grump-to-be in a sexy zombie get up. If you think it's weird that I would find that sexy, well I'm sure Mrs. Grump-to-be would agree with you. Even with me being the only one getting zombified we blew through our money so quickly that the people I was with didn't even really have the chance to get drunk, which is probably the state you'd need to be in to enjoy the band that was playing. So, while I wouldn't exactly call the night a bust (I would go again next year but I'd just do my own make up) it didn't exactly give me the inspiration for a whole post.

Therefore, I'm going to roll with the zombie theme and talk about one of my favorite horror movies, the super low-budget but still awesome Phantasm. I'd mention that it was directed by Don Coscarelli and starred Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Reggie Bannister but if you've never seen Phantasm those names probably mean absolutely nothing to you. In fact, if you've heard of Phantasm at all, it's probably because of...

the killer balls that fly through the air and drill into people's heads. I'm guessing this is probably the point where I lose most of you because the concept either seems disgusting, lame, or a combination of both. However, if you dig under that layer of B-Movie cheese, Phantasm really is an effective horror movie.

I think the big mistake that people who don't like horror movies make is to compare them with other genres in terms of what makes for a good movie. If you're not willing to completely suspend disbelief for two hours, then you'll be disappointed. Take Phantasm's basic premise: an evil being from another dimension is robbing graves to turn the dead into zombie dwarfs to be enslaved on his home world. Obviously, there is no way to approach that without it sounding pretty dumb. But here's the thing: conventionally well-written scripts and plot structure does not make a good horror movie. So why watch at all? Well, let's take a look at what makes Phantasm a worthy horror film.

Of course, one of the most important elements of any good horror movie is a memorable villain, and Phantasm boasts one of the scariest senior citizens in the history of film, The Tall Man. The Tall Man is the undertaker at the Morningside Funeral Home, which gives him ample opportunity for the aforementioned grave robbing. What makes The Tall Man such a great villain is his presence. Actor Angus Scrimm takes a very minimalist approach, having literally only about a dozen words worth of lines in the whole movie. But he really doesn't need to say anything. Take one look at that twisted scowl and you know that he's got some bad intentions. He freaks you out, gets your adrenaline pumping, and his is a face that stays with you long after the movie ends. That, my friends, is one of the things you look for in a good horror film.

Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the protagonists of a horror movie. In slasher films like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, it's OK if the characters are likable but really their only purpose is to serve as cannon fodder for the anti-heroes like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. Their characterizations rarely get beyond that of "jock" or "slut" because we know they won't be around long enough for anyone to really give a shit about them anyway. In a movie like Phantasm, however, we're not really expected to root for the villain, so you have to make the good guys important enough to the audience for them to actually care if they live or die. Considering there are no name actors in the movie, I think they really do a good job at making the audience care. Bill Thornbury and Michael Baldwin play brothers Jody and Mike, respectively, and I had no trouble buying them as a family with their own history that carries into the movie. As they get taken through the ringer while facing off with the Tall Man I really found myself hoping they would both make it through the movie. Then there's Reggie Bannister playing Reggie, the local "hot as love" ice cream man. I know that he sounds like a schmuck, but I guarantee he makes it work, and again by making you like him there is more suspense when he's put in harm's way.

And if you're going to have anyone harmed in a horror movie, you better do it well. Special effects can make or break any horror movie, and I'm not going to bother trying to explain it. I'm just going to show you the following clip from the movie Shark Attack 3.

Granted, I don't think special effects were the only thing holding back Shark Attack 3 from being a masterpiece, but if we're being asked to put what we know about reality on the shelf for a little while, there should be at least a little effort to fool us. In Phantasm's case, director Don Coscarelli does very nice work with minimal budget. He uses clever editing and camera angles to toy with the viewer's sense of reality, and there are some very good practical effects for some gnarly gore scenes. Granted, he misses the mark a few times, like with a killer bug that appears to be controlled by fishing line, or zombie dwarfs that come of as kind of silly, but for the most part he does what he needs to do to keep the audience involved rather than pointing out sub par effects.

A last thing that gives Phantasm a final push into being a quality horror film is the soundtrack. If the soundtrack sucks, especially in a horror movie, then it can bring the whole movie down with it. But if it's done right, a soundtrack can set the tone for the entire movie. It doesn't need to be an elaborate symphony, either. John Carpenter did his own music when he made Halloween, but even people who don't watch horror movies recognize that frantic piano melody that seems to follow Michael Myers around wherever he goes. And as much as I love the soundtrack to Halloween, I actually like Phantasm's even more. It's got a very spooky vibe, but at the same time there is a haunting soothing sensation that comes from it. It's just hard to forget, which in turn makes the movie hard to forget.

Now, I'm really not expecting to change anyone's mind when it comes to horror movies. In most cases either people like them or they don't. But hopefully people who look down their noses at horror movies will realize that us horror fans aren't demented idiots just because we like movies that critics crap all over on a regular basis. Horror movies do have something to add to the world of cinema, even if it is just as an entertaining way to kill some time. Phantasm in particular is really great for what it is: a creepy movie made by a group of people with almost no budget who wanted to give people some good scares. Take a gander at the trailer below, and if you ever come across the movie give it a chance. It may surprise you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Well-Respected Sites Are Ripping Off Stupid Ideas That I Stole From Other People

As proof that either I'm ahead of the curve or that I just write about piddling crap that everyone else has already talked about (I'll let you decide) the Onion's A.V. Club recently did an interview with William "Johnny Lawrence" Zabka, the very man whose work I recently did a very analytical, high-brow post on a few weeks ago. I just wanted to draw your attention to the interview because it's actually pretty interesting to get his take on the roles that he's worked on. The A.V. Club talks to guys like Zabka pretty regularly in their "Random Roles" segment, which I think is fascinating because they only talk to "those guys" whose faces everyone knows but whose name no one except geeks like me would ever even care to know. Plus, you'll usually get some insight on some of the higher profile actors in the business (aka are they assholes). Take a look, it's pretty cool.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bike Races Would Be Great If It Weren't For All Of The Fucking Bicyclists

I feel like it's been far too long since I just had a flat out bitch session, and boy do I ever have some bitching for you today. Today was the Philadelphia International Championship cycling race, and while I usually despise events that close major thoroughfares on principle alone, I actually had a good time at this one. The event turned Manayunk (Philadelphia's weak sauce answer to San Francisco) into one big party. Ms. Grump-to-be and I got together with a couple of friends and just wandered through the crowds, watching the cyclists speed by every hour or so and entertaining ourselves with food and drunk-watching in the interim. Everyone was having a good time including, to my surprise, me. But at any large event there's always at least one turd in the punch bowl.

Today's floater took the form of anyone on a bicycle who was not actually in the race. Anyone who knows me already knows that I hate pretty much all amateur cyclists. I've never seen a group of more self-important people in my entire life. They usually travel in packs of half a dozen, kind of like the Hell's Angel's if you took the motors off their bikes and the testicles off their bodies. And apparently none of them have heard the term "single-file" because they never travel in anything less than 3-4 people abreast. Even their outfits scream of pretentiousness. They're all decked out in skin-tight outfits that display the name of companies that I seriously doubt would sponsor a 47-year-old assistant manager of the regional Kinko's office. I guess they just want everyone to know how serious they take their riding of a fucking bicycle.

So, of course, while a group of professional, hard-working athletes tested their mettle on the steep hills of suburban Philadelphia, their fucktard amateur counterparts were cruising around getting in everyone's way. It seems like I couldn't walk more than a hundred yards without having to hear "ON YOUR LEFT!" As if I give a flying fuck that you're on my left. I'm on the sidewalk, so you really shouldn't be anywhere near me. Hence the word "walk" in the title of my location. It's really getting to the point where I need to use every ounce of my energy to avoid a Pavlovian response of shooting my fist out whenever I hear that phrase. And, to be honest, if it were just me they were pulling this crap on, I realize it wouldn't be that big of a deal. But today I actually saw some asshole pull right out into the course and get in the way of one of the goddamn racers. And there was a cop right there! Where is this excessive force when you really need it?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that amateur cyclists should stay the hell off the roads during this event, as the friends we were hanging out with mentioned that there were a lot less bikes on the road today because the people running the event required any cyclists who wanted to bike on the course had to pay a fee. That makes me happy. I hope it was really expensive. Honestly, in what activity other than cycling do you have the general public trying to emulate the professionals right there where the professionals are trying to work. I can't go to Lincoln Financial Field and start playing a pick up football game alongside the Eagles, can I?

Now, to anyone who would tell me that getting angry at having to deal with bicyclists during a race meant specifically for bicyclists is pretty stupid, I say, me. I think I've made it pretty clear that bicyclists in general aren't my real problem. My real problem is anyone who thinks they own whatever surface they're traveling on just because they're on a set of wheels. Fortunately, I do have a way of coping with the idea that these pricks will always be inserting themselves into my attempt to enjoy myself in the city. All I have to do is think that somewhere in the world, at this very moment, this could very well be happening.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Take the Edge Off with Bill Hicks

Although this was only a four day week, I have to say it pretty much sucked. I spent the whole time coming down from my move over Memorial Day Weekend, which wasn't helped by the fact that it takes me a while to get used to sleeping in a new place. Plus, my douche bag of a cat, Floyd, has decided that a closed bedroom door is no match for his power to meow and headbutt the fucking thing until I completely snap. So I've spent the last few days pissed at the world, and I've found that there are few better cures for being pissed off than watching someone else who is even more pissed off. Enter Mr. Bill Hicks.

I'm actually surprised at how few people of my generation are familiar with Bill Hicks, but I guess it's understandable considering he died of cancer when people my age were only 10 years old. I hadn't ever even heard of him until I was in college and I stumbled on to a clip of his act online. I consider myself lucky to have found him, though, because he presents a very rare combination of liberal, humanist ideology and Southern style. Usually, when you see a guy come out on stage wearing a cowboy hat and boots, you can probably look forward to a night of fag jokes and observations about how Barack Hussein Obama and Saddam Hussein are related. Not to say that everyone in real life who dresses like a cowboy is a homophobic racist, but I think we can all agree that the folks in the entertainment community like to stick with conventional wisdom (aka cliche stereotypes) when creating a persona. So when Bill Hicks comes on stage, with his Georgian twang and "fuck you" swagger, it's fascinating to see that attitude pointed at fundamentalist Christians.

Part of what makes Hicks so interesting to watch is the sincerity of his anger with the world. He actually used to be friends with another ranting comic, Denis Leary, until Hicks got pissed at Leary for stealing his material. Now I'm a fan of Denis Leary, but you do get a sense that his ranting and raving is amped up to promote his "angry guy" image. Most of the time it works, but you can tell he's doing it deliberately for effect. When Hicks get rolling, however, it seems to be coming from place that's much more genuine.

Hicks actually gets to a place where he doesn't even seem to know the audience is there. He's not trying to impress people by crafting a witty rant. Hell, eventually he just starts screaming. In my opinion he even starts to risk losing the audience, getting to that point where, if he was just your friend or someone you were listening to at a party, you'd tell him to calm the fuck down and go take a time out for a few minutes. But at the same time, you have to admire that kind of earnest feeling from an entertainer.

That earnest sense of righteousness and his mission to cut through the world's bullshit is what makes Bill Hicks' legacy. It's even the topic of a new documentary coming out on him, which judging by the trailer is pushing a little heavy on the angle of Hicks as the revolutionary voice of his generation. That may be, but first and foremost Hicks was a comedian. He was there to make people laugh, and when he wasn't working himself into a frothing lunatic he was just a goofy, funny dude.

So, if you find yourself in a funk where you've just had enough of dealing with the stupidity life throws your way, remember that there was a guy who had to deal with it on a whole different level. Just do what I do. Hop on to YouTube, type Bill Hicks into the search box, and just pick a video at random and let Bill get pissed off so that you don't have to anymore. I leave you with Bill Hicks' bit from the Late Show, the only bit that David Letterman ever chose to completely cut from the on-air broadcast due to content.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen! Step Right Up and Buy Your Own Bottle of Stupid Pills!

OK, folks, I have a hot finanical tip for you this week. Go out and buy stock in any company that produces phosphatidlyserine. Do it right now, and then start putting down payments on a new house, boat, and rocket ship that will take you to your own plot of land on Mars, because you are going to be Oprah rich once word gets out that phosphatidlyserine actually reverses the effects of Alzheimer's disease. If you weren't aware of this miracle of modern medicine, it's probably because it comes at the word of an unnamed supplement saleswoman who was secretly being recorded by an undercover representative from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This is just one of several instances of world-class shenanigans perpetrated by sellers of herbal supplements, as reported by Kathleen Harmon in Scientific American.

Now, the "snake oil salesman" is nothing new. Since the beginning of civilization there has always been the miracle cure to pretty much everything, so I can't say that I'm overly surprised that some chicanery is afoot. What surprises me, however, is that it's not just coming from the guy who says he has a cream to make my dick grow three to four feet within a week. It's coming from people selling supplements that I see everyday at the store. While I'm not the kind of guy to take something like ginko, garlic, or echinacea, I always figured they had actual benefits for people who do use them. Apparently, however, whatever effects they do have aren't the ones being pitched by the people selling them.

According to snippets of conversations recorded by people planted by the GAO, phosphatidlyserine's ability to kick Alzheimer's ass is just the tip of the iceberg. Ginko biloba is harmless since it's an herb, so the FDA is obviously full of shit when they say "taking aspirin and ginko biloba together can cause a bleeding risk." Ginseng totally won't hurt you if you are diabetic, because it is a "sugar metabolism" (what the fuck does that mean?). And apparently, you can just go ahead and replace that prescription medication you've been wasting money on with.....get ready for it.....garlic! Who knew? I guess the bad odor that garlic gives your breath is from the trail of dead ailments that it leaves in its wake.

This man will never die. Ever.

Now, as if it's not bad enough that the imbeciles selling these things are either knowingly or unknowingly passing out obviously bad information, Harmon also points out in her report that 80% of these pills have been found to contain trace amounts of lead, along with mercury, cadmium, or arsenic. Granted, none of the levels of these metals have been at what the FDA considers hazardous, but I think the obvious question here is WHY IN GOD'S NAME ARE THERE ANY METALS IN THESE PILLS AT ALL?!? I mean, honestly...arsenic? That just seems like a deliberate act of mean-spiritedness of Grinch-like proportions.

So, how is it that relatively intelligent people (let's just assume) are being duped into believing the local junior college drop out who tells them that garlic that has been laced with lead is a reasonable replacement for actual medicine? Oddly enough, I think I understand the mentality that would render a person susceptible to being fooled in such a way. I am a person who is fairly confident in the merits of medical science. But to be honest, whenever I take an aspirin or a shot of NyQuil, a tiny voice in the back of my head is telling me that the only power, if any, that the medicine has comes from someone telling me that it's good for me. So when people read a label that says something like "good for mental health" and then have a salesperson add, either by stupidity or by malfeasance, that it will cure Alzheimer's disease, then at the time it might seem reasonable. I guess the only cure for being duped in such a way is to remember that whenever someone is trying to sell you something, be it dietary supplements or anything else, they might not have your best interests in mind, so take a minute to really think about if you really need or even want what's being sold. Or, just say screw it and enjoy your lead pills.