Saturday, July 25, 2009

Movie Marathon

I gave Blockbuster $15 on Friday, July 17, for the privilege of watching as many movies as I want for a week, checking out two at a time. So I've been having a bit of a movie marathon this week. I've certainly gotten my money's worth:

Knowing (Nicholas Cage): Freakin' intense! Do not watch this alone or before you go to bed; this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The story is compelling and intense, and punctuated by horrifically realistic and realistically horrific scenes of death and destruction: a jumbo jet crashes in the country, a subway at high speed derails and crashes through a subway station filled with people, and ultimately . . . well, I don't want to give away the ending, because it isn't what you expect to happen. It was a good story, but I won't be watching this again.

Zombie Strippers (Robert Englund and Jenna Jameson): Another in a long line of great, low-budget, campy zombie movies. If you liked Shaun of the Dead or Night of the Living Dorks or Evil Dead 2, you'll get a kick out of this one.

Religulous (Bill Maher): What Michael Moore does to conservativism, Bill Maher does to religion. If you don't like Bill Maher, you won't like this movie. I enjoyed it. I thought it interesting, though, that, out of all the purveyors of all the religions that Maher interviews, the Catholics come out seeming like the most down-to-earth and reasonable.

Burn After Reading (Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton): You've gotta love the Cohen Brothers. They're plots go together like Celtic Knots, and are even more interesting to look at. One of the things that I think sets them apart is that they aren't afraid to suddely kill off major characters, completely obliterating any idea you might have about the "happy ending" just before the credits role.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett):
After watching Burn After Reading, I realized how much I enjoy so much of Brad Pitt's work: Fight Club, Ocean's Eleven, The Mexican,
Twelve Monkeys, The Devil's Own, Thelma & Louse, even Mr. and Mrs. Smith. So I got this one with Brad and my favorite Cate, and was surprised to see Tilda Swinton pop up again. This is a wonderful movie for both the story and the acting. For my money, this movie should have gotten the hype and accolades given Titanic so many years ago.

Taken (Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen): I'm not sure Liam Neeson was the best casting choice for this movie. (A decade ago the role would have been filled by Harrison Ford.) I'm not sure who else I would have cast, though. Neeson certainly did a good job with the role as a retired "preventer" — a Bond-esque U.S. government agent who, according to the character, prevents bad things from happening — who has to save his 17-year-old daughter from the black market sex trade in Paris. It is a nice action-packed movie, and anything with Famke Janssen in it is worth watching. I give it OK.

The Savages (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney): I just love Laura Linney, so you'll never hear me say anything really bad about anything she's in. This was a touching, sad movie about love, hope, death, and family that follows these two siblings as they come together around their absentee father who is descending into old age and dementia. This is one of those movies that should be re-watched about every decade, because it will mean someething different to you as you change and grow older and more experienced. This time around, listening to Linney and Hoffman argue and laugh makes me miss my brother.

The Reader (Kate Winslet): This is a good, thought-provoking story. I don't understand why the movie was so long, though, or why they needed to jump around in time so much. It's just your average illiterate Nazi ethical conundrum winter-spring romance. And within the first half hour of the movie, you get to see every part of Kate Winslet's bare body, including the bottoms of her feet, her furry armpits, and the webbing between her thumb and forefinger. (Not that I'm complaining; I'm a big fan of naked women on film.) So, all in all, a good film, but it could have used a lot less brooding.

12 Rounds (John Cena — not to be confused with Michael Cera...huge difference): This could have been a great, exciting movie, along the lines of Speed, if only they could have gotten (a) Matt Damon to play the protagonist, instead of John Cena, who just looks like Matt Damon on steroids; and (b) Ed Norton to play the antagonist, instead of some unshaven guy who kind of looks like Ed Norton, but doesn't act as well — though he acted circles around John Cena. This is the kind of movie to watch on Fox on a Sunday afternoon, when the only other thing on TV is golf, infomercials, and political roundtables.

Role Models (Seann Michael Scott, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks): Maybe it's because I totally connect with his character, but I think Paul Rudd is just outstanding in this movie. With SM Scott in it, I was expecting something along the lines of American Pie, but instead I got something closer to Office Space, so I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. And this is one DVD that has some good deleted scenes that are worth watching, instead of a bunch of scenes that got cut just because they weren't very good. The movie poster might remind you of Adam Sandler's Big Daddy, but don't let it fool you; this is a much better movie.

Traitor (Don Cheadle): I think Don Cheadle is a great actor, but I don't think this was the best movie to show off his skills. It certainly had suspense, and tension, and excitement, but I think the moral of the story got in the way of the story. Don Cheadle plays a devout Muslim trying to stop Muslim terrorists from the inside. Throw in a devout Baptist FBI agent who doesn't know Samir (Cheadle) is undercover, and you've got a movie about how Christians and Muslims can work together for the greater good. Unfortunately, I was expecting a movie about espionage and terrorism. I also don't think that "Traitor" was the best title for this movie.

Network (Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall): This movie from the late '70s is a little weird, in the sense that you'll want to watch it again after it's over to see if you really saw what you think you saw. It's a story about a television network that will do anything to get ratings. On a larger scale, it's about the things that we'll do for love. This is the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" movie, and there's a lot of other great, though completely unrealistic, dialogue. This is one movie that everyone should see at least once.

So there you have it: Twelve movies totaling about 24 hours of Hollywood magic. Now I need to actually get some things done.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A New Web Site!

This morning, I moved my Web site off of Geocities and onto my new domain,

I registered the domain and bought some space on GoDaddy's servers. They advertised a nice monthly price for Web hosting and gave me a discount on the domain registration for getting it and the hosting at the same time. Unexpectedly, even though GoDaddy shows you a monthly rate, they don't take monthly payments — I had to pay it all up front. Not exactly a bait and switch, but, as I said, unexpected.

Still, I'm excited about the new site!

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Small Bonus for Man, One Giant Bill for Mankind

My annual bonus was deposited in my checking account early this morning. The bonus itself is based on last year's performance, from the performance of the company as a whole down to my own personal performance. These economic times being what they are, this year's bonus is relatively low, but still, it's nice to have this little budgetary boost in the middle of summer.

This year's bonus payment will be put to good use:

  • Some of it will go to repay the cost of my recent trip to Santa Claus, Indiana. I schedule my summer vacation based on when I expect my bonus to come in so that I know I can pay for it. This year's bonus came a week later than I thought it would.
  • I'm going to get a new mattress. I may just get it from Big Lots, but I certainly won't start there. Even if I crawl into bed at midnight, it can still take an hour or so for me to be comfortable enough to fall asleep. I blame the mattress and not the caffeine. [Update 7/13/19: I'd forgotten how expensive mattresses were. Or maybe I just assumed that sleep technology, like every other type of technology, would come down in price over time. Not the case. A nice mattresses is now easily more expensive than your standard home PC. It'll have to wait.]
  • I'll pay off my speeding ticket.
  • I'll get a new mouthpiece for my clarinet. My current mouthpiece was purchased in 1993 and is quite a ways along on the slow trip to greenness. I'll likely end up with a Vandoren M15 Profile 88, for the few of you (okay, one if I'm lucky) who are interested in such things.
  • I need to get a new cell phone. My other one disappeared about two months ago. I keep expecting it to pop up somewhere, but Murphy's Law dictates that I won't find it until I buy a new one.
  • I'll buy a domain name and some Web hosting space from GoDaddy. This is the least expensive (at least in initial cost) but most exciting thing on my list. I have to move my current site off of Yahoo!'s Geocities, which is closing down in October. I'm taking this opportunity to remake the site, learning a lot about CSS in the process, and I have the structure, all of the main pages, and most of the sub-pages already put together and ready to go. And I've already picked out the perfect (and available) domain name for it. (I don't want to publish that domain name here because someone could beat me to it and then try to sell it to me at 50 times the price I can get it for now, but certainly I'll post here when it goes live.)

I haven't done all the precise math, but what's left of my bonus combined with my federal tax refund ought to leave me with enough extra padding in my checking account to keep me from worrying at least until the school year starts up again.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Holiday World/Splashin’ Safari 2009

The boys and I journeyed to Santa Claus, Indiana, early Wednesday afternoon. We arrived at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort, where I had reserved a tenting site. I hadn't been to a campground since I was little, traveling with my parents to spend two weeks in Colorado with my maternal grandparents and great grandfather. That was a while ago. I didn't really expect that we'd be on our own, out in the woods, surviving by our wits and guile — after all, the Web site advertises water and electric hookups for the RVs. I forgot what "amenities" really meant in this situation, though: swimming pool, a couple of playgrounds, boat rental, a camp store full of crap, a game room. And in this case, golf cart rentals (which I didn't use) and free WiFi (which I did). If you're a camping purist, you wouldn't like it. If you like the outdoors and want to save some money, it's just the right thing.

Santa Claus, Indiana, is a small country town, but without the town and without the country. It's the exact opposite of the suburbs that I have gotten (perhaps too) used to: A gas station, a hardware store, a pizza shop, a sandwich shop, and a grocery store. Note the use of the indefinite article a, signifying singularity. There were no superfluous retail shops: not the familiar drug stores on opposite corners; no gas wars between Shell and Speedway; no used car dealership; no five "Starbuckses" (not even one!). Maybe there was more to Santa Claus than just what I saw, but we came in from the north and didn't see anything. When we left the campground to find some dinner, I went west and didn't see anything. The next morning, looking for a nice breakfast, I went south, toward the border with Kentucky, and passed through two small towns before I turned around empty-handed. Our breakfast came from the gas station's convenience store.

Just about the only reason anyone would ever go to Santa Claus, Indiana, is for Holiday World/Splashin' Safari. And I guess that suits the locals fine enough. That's the only reason we went there.

We were waiting at the gates when Holiday World opened the next morning at 10:00 our time (because this is one area of Indiana that, for some reason, chose to follow central time). A note to parents and grandparents: If you make this an early-morning trip so you can be there when they open, Kringle's Cafe, near the front entrance, is the only place that offers coffee, which is included in HW's free unlimited beverages.

We spent nearly the entire overcast day in the Splashin' Safari section of the park, which amounts to a large water park within a park. I won't get into the specifics of the rides, except to say that Bakuli was my favorite, if only for the ingenious design of it. Here are a few of my observations overall, though:

  • The water: Was damn cold!
  • The hair: We weren't there long before I noticed the remarkable (and, in my opinion, alarming) number of mohawk haircuts. Most of them were on young men between the ages of, say, eight and twelve. But I did notice at least one mohawked man in his late teens or early twenties.
  • The illustrations: Never before have I seen such a collection of tattoos! (Not to mention various facial and nipple piercings.) Apparently, the management of the park noticed, too, because they included "offensive body art" on their list of park no-nos. One man had his entire back done up in what looked like a symmetrical skull, though I suspect that, on closer inspection, the image was actually made up of a number of smaller items arranged to look like a skull from a distance.
  • The attire: The water park was filled with hard bodies, soft bodies, thin bodies, thick bodies, bony bodies, and blubber bodies, all in various swimwear. There were a lot of bikinis there; I can see why a teenage boy would want to get a summer job there. Not all of the bikini'ed guests were, shall we say, enriching the aesthetics of the locale, but many a young, tanned lady showed her soft flesh. It made me glad I don't have daughters.
  • The staff: I know my boys probably didn't really appreciate this, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the park staff. The rides weren't manned by the indifferent, dull-faced teenagers that you might find at some other theme parks (and here I'm recalling our trip to Indiana Beach two years ago) or worse — the shirtless, chain-smoking, carny wannabes that show up at the state fair midway each year. The staff at HW smiled and interacted with the guests. At the bottom of each water attraction, a staff member was there to help us out of whatever inflated flotation device had transported us through watery twists and turns, and more often than not, we were met with a smile and either a question about how the ride was or encouragement to enjoy the rest of our day at the park. Maybe this was because my two boys were just so cute, but I'll assume that this was standard practice. As both a parent and a guest, I really appreciated the friendliness of the staff.
  • The lines: Weren't horrible, especially in the morning. They got longer as the day went on and the temperature rose. I had forgotten that I don't really do great with heights until we were stuck in line for the Zoombabwe.
  • The worst thing about the park: Since we went on the second day of July, I assumed that the weather would be, well, July weather. Turns out that temperatures were uncommonly low, and the sky was overcast until after 4:00. I hadn't bothered packing any towels, figuring we would dry off in the sun and breeze between rides, which generally we did. But with the cold water combined with the cold air, it wasn't enough. So, I bought a towel. A nice, embroidered towel the color of canteloupe meat that we could use to dry off a bit, but mostly to keep warm, and that would serve as a souvenir to remind us of our splendid vacation. I didn't have it for long; someone stole it while we were waiting in line for a ride.

Holiday World has some great things going for it. The free unlimited beverages were great, and we were never far from either a restroom or a drink station. The drinks were all Pepsi products, but I was glad to see that dieters weren't as limited in their drink choice as they would be at a standard fast food restaurant. The free sunblock was a nice touch, too — I just wish I would have used more of it. The prices for food were high, as expected, but not movie-theater high, not totally exorbitant. The price to get into the park wasn't so bad, either. I know we certainly got our money's worth. We might even go back next year.