Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone from everyone here at Siftin' (which, I guess, is, uh, just me).

And, Happy Hanukkah!

And if I'm not here tomorrow, Happy Kwanzaa!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Entirely too much thought devoted to 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (the movie)

I was watching "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" the other day (an early Christmas gift), and I was struck by a few things. I always notice something new with each viewing.

1. One of the background dancers in the "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" number featuring Steve Martin is the tough guy from the Scorpions who Danny Zuko outdrove at the end of Grease.

2. The guy who plays Billy Shears' dad was also Sam's Grandpa Fred ("Helen, we've got an owl out here in the hall!") from Sixteen Candles.

3. Now this puzzled me. The movie begins with a flashback to World War I, where the first Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band managed to stop the fighting by playing music.

No, that's really how it starts.

Shortly after, there's a montage narrated by George Burns (Mr. Kite, the mayor of Heartland) that shows the band over the course of the years. The Roaring Twenties, The depression, economic recovery and "yet another great war."

Admittedly, I'm a poor student of history, but I guess I missed the economic recovery between the Great Depression and World War II. I could probably ask my brother or my dad about this (they're big history buffs), but I'm too lazy, and I don't want to have to explain why I want to know this.

After the movie, I got to thinking. They've made plenty of bad video games based on good movies (and lots of bad movies based on good video games). Why don't they make more good video games based on bad ones?

It's been done before (MegaForce, anyone?), but it might be cool to deliberately use bad movies as a video game source. Here are some ideas that I pulled out of my thought of.

Blood Freak

You are Herschell, a normal guy who is just looking for happiness. Alas, your neighborhood has been overrun by assorted riff-raff (druggies, prostitutes, politicians). You have a choice of teammate, which changes the path of the game. You can side with Angel and fight the riff-raff with healthy living, positive thinking and spiritual guidance, or you can team up with Ann, who has a more, uh, direct approach. When faced by large pockets of riff-raff, you can procure a "power pill" from Ann, which changes you into giant, hulking turkey monster that dispatches its foes by drinking their blood. The downside is that you're stuck in that form until the pill wears off. Then your choice is whether to keep up the onslaught and feeding on the blood (which replenishes your hit points) or risk dying and let the effects of the pill go away. Whether you turn to the dark side or go (wait for it...) cold turkey affects gameplay.

Batman and Robin

Uh, never mind.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

This, much to my surprise and joy, actually has been made into a video game. But instead of being set in the realm of the movie, it deals more with recovery of the film itself. I've never played it, but hey, bonus points for those cats just for doing it.

The Plan 9 game I had in mind casts the player as brave pilot Jeff Trent, who discovers that grave robbers from outer space are trying to take over Earth with newly reanimated dead people -- both zombies and vampires. Your job, of course, is to stop them from conquering the capitals of the world. You go from major city to major city avoiding or destroying the undead. Among all the carnage, you're also looking for pieces to the one contraption that could destroy the spaceborne menace once and for all: the Solaranite Bomb! But as you discover, the Solaranite Bomb is untested. It may work, or it may ignite all the solar particles in existence, thus creating a chain reaction that could destroy the universe. The choice is yours.

and of course...

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Movie: The Game

In this quest-style adventure, you can play as one of the four members of the band. Your goal is to recover all of the magical musical instruments and return them (as well as happiness) to Heartland, but you also have to keep Strawberry Fields, our damsel in distress, out of the hands of Mean Mr. Mustard and the Future Villain Band. On top of all that, you also have to avoid the Roving Vortex of Suck, which can appear at random through the game and suck away hit points.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The wind is in the buffalo...

Another day, another movie for Bad Movies A to Z. Today's film is not bad at all in my estimation. In fact, it's one of my favorites. But I also put orange Tang on my vanilla ice cream, which I've been told, is super-mega-gross, so what do I know?

A little bit of background: I loved watching "The Monkees" when I was a kid and was aggravated that kindergarten kept me at school until the show was over.

I imagine my parents picked this up at our local video store, Asparagus Video (I think I still have the shirt somewhere), probably because they knew I loved The Monkees. Its star: Michael Nesmith (who wisely avoided being dubbed "Wool Hat" on the show). Its name: Elephant Parts.

Today's movie in a nutshell: It's billed as a video record. It's a collection of comedy skits wrapped around a handful of videos for Nesmith's songs.

The story: Like I said, it doesn't really have a story. I hesitate to say that it's like an episode of Saturday Night Live, but I guess that's the best comparison.

It begins with what looks like a straight performance of "Joanne" from Nez, until you hear that "her name was Rodan, and she lived beneath the oceans of Japan." Then he stomps over a cityscape a la Godzilla.

After this brief gag, Nez explains the premise of "Elephant Parts" before jumping into another skit, this one a pre-"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" audition for a Marines recruiting commercial.

For the most part, if you don't like a skit, just wait a few seconds, because another one is coming up.

Among my favorites: Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority ("This tactical nuclear warhead just attached to my garden hose with ordinary hand tools..."), Clandestine Typing Service (from whence came the title for this entry) and the trailer for the slasher flick "Have a Nice Day."

Interspersed among the skits are five videos: "Magic," "Cruisin'" (better known as "Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam"), "Light," "Rio" and "Tonite."

"Cruisin'" and "Rio" are probably the best known, with the latter getting a lot of airplay back in the day.

It looks dated, but it is almost 25 years old. I like to think of it as MTV's older brother, and not in a VH-1 kind of way. If I recall correctly, "Rio" was part of the "Popclips" show Nesmith created for Nickelodeon in the channel's earliest days. That idea was sold and eventually became MTV.

Afterthoughts: This is a bit shorter than the previous entries in Bad Movies A to Z because if I explain the skits, I'll ruin the jokes.

My brother and I grew up watching this, and we could probably perform the entire thing from memory. And considering that I rented this roughly a bajillion times before procuring a tape of my own, the extra stuff on the DVD was a welcome treat.

What was particularly interesting for me is that there are a few scenes that I hadn't seen before, including a clip about the perils of the "tragically hip," which, according to Nez's commentary, is where the band got its name.

It's also fun to discover things about something you're so familiar with. For example, this was co-written by Bill Martin, who also appears in many of the skits. What I didn't know until a few years ago was that he'd written a couple of my favorite Monkees songs ("All of Your Toys" and "The Door Into Summer") as well as a few for Harry Nilsson.

And, according to the IMDB, his voice acting credits include numerous voices for video games and cartoons, including, apparently, "The Monchichis."


One of my favorite things here is the commentary track that Nesmith provides. He explains that the project was made on a shoestring budget, and helpfully points out how certain effects were achieved.

It's a pretty laid-back commentary and is easy to listen to. It also helps that I'm a fan of Nesmith's work, so this is a fun way to kill an hour.

There was also a TV show spin-off of sorts in the mid-80s called "Television Parts," which I barely remember. As I recall, it got shifted around the schedule, so I think I ended up missing it more than I saw it. But I remember a sketch that was called something like "Five-Second Theater," featuring a presentation of "Old Yeller."

We see an old guy.


The End.

You gotta love that.

You can get both "Elephant Parts" and "Television Parts Home Companion" online from Michael Nesmith's Videoranch.

I've also seen "Doctor Duck's Super Secret All-Purpose Sauce," but I'm not sure if that's another Television Parts compilation or what. I actually checked it out of the library a few years back.

So far -- and we're only up to E -- this is my favorite movie on my alphabetical list. I've got a tentative list already drawn up, but if you've got some ideas for the rest of the alphabet, let me know. Who knows -- I may use your suggestion instead of what I've got. How's that for interactive?

But be warned -- if you have a movie that starts with M, it had better be pretty good/bad to change my mind.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The highlight of my morning

You know that companies catering to my generation will have gone too far when Mitsubishi releases a companion model to the Galant called the Goofus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My prediction for this movie: Pain!

Here it is, the 100th post here at Siftin'! W00t! I think I had more posts than readers about a week into blogging, but that's no reason not to celebrate, right?

A few days ago, Dec. 10, was the 27th anniversary of the passing of writer-director-actor Edward D. Wood Jr. Ed Wood, of course, brought the world such films as "Glen or Glenda" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

So what better time to add another installment of Bad Movies A to Z? Well, we're up to D. None of the classic Ed Wood films start with D, unless you amend the title to "D'oh! It's Plan 9 Nine From Outer Space," which, I strongly believe, is cheating.

But in the spirit of Ed Wood, I wanted to review a movie written and directed by someone who clearly has a love for movies but maybe hasn't been blessed with the mad writing skillz.

And since Ed's more popular work dealt with the horror themes, I also wanted a scary movie.

Much to my surprise, a movie fitting those criteria showed up in my mailbox, thanks to Netflix.

I speak of Joel Schumacher's immortal "D.C. Cab."

Okay, it's billed as a comedy, but parts of it are so not funny that it scares me. A lot of people give Joel Schumacher grief for the two Batman movies he did. I know. I was one of them. You even mention "Batman and Robin" to me and my wife heads for the hills so she doesn't have to hear me whine about it.

But Schumacher clearly likes movies. And his were more commercially successful than Ed Wood's.

Today's movie in a nutshell: A young man, Albert Hockenberry, heads to Washington, D.C., to visit his uncle, Harold, who runs a cab company. His goal is to eventually have his own cab company.

The story: You know, that's pretty much it. Not very much actually happens in this movie. There's a little bit of romantic comedy wedged in, and there's a kidnapping, but the main thrust of the story is to showcase a motley crew of misfits who work at a cab company.

You'd think it would come off a lot like "Taxi," but nothing in this movie made me think of that show, even when I saw a taxi.

This, along with the Schumacher-helmed Lily Tomlin comedy "THe Incredible Shrinking Woman," was in heavy rotation back in the early days of HBO and Showtime, and it was hard not to see it.

I love watching movies that I saw when I was younger and realizing that I missed about half of the jokes. There's a bunch of stuff, including nudity early on, that I really don't remember, and that's the kind of thing I'd remember.

Only a few minutes into the movie, we see Mr. T, who essays the role of cab driver Samson. This is kinda funny considering Samson's strength was diminished when his hair was cut off, and Mr. T has that cool Mandinkan haircut.

Anyway, he's driving some guy and his lady friend, who as we find out, isn't really his friend. T stops the cab.

Why? That's the kind of guy T is. He ain't got time for no jibba jabba. He boots the lady out, and we get this awesome exchange:

Samson: Why don't you get off the street and get a decent job?

Hooker: 'Cause I need the bread!

Samson: Then get a job at the bakery.

Oh, snap.

There are lots of familiar faces in this flick, including some stand-up comics in their early days. You've got Marsha Warfield, Paul Rodriguez and Bill Maher, who looks eerily like Breckin Meyer here. In a rare departure, Gary Busey shows up as a psycho nut-bar.

Plus, as I mentioned, you've got Mr. T.

But the guy who really sells this movie for me is Max Gail, who plays Harold. He is one of the few who actually comes off as an actual person, though, like almost everyone else, he has no last name.

While checking a few things at the IMDB, I discovered that Joel Schumacher also wrote "Car Wash," which is funny, because "D.C. Cab" seemed like kind of a rip-off of that.

Anyway, things aren't going too well at D.C. Cab. The cabs are in disrepair, and other cab companies are getting most of the business.

We get to meet most of the cabbies on an individual basis because Albert gets to ride with a different one each day, which is clever from a practical standpoint, I guess. It makes it seem a little more like an extended sitcom (still not 'Taxi'), but it serves its purpose.

When Albert is with Tyrone, we see two kids who egg the cab when they drop off their passengers. It doesn't seem important, but you know what they say, if you're going to show a gun in the first act, it better go off in the third.

Things start to actually happen when a concert violinist leaves his prized (and valuable) instrument in the back of a cab. When it's discovered to have been in a D.c. Cab vehicle, they get the $10,000 reward.

Harold decides to split the money with everyone, much to his wife's dismay. But he asks them to invest in D.C. Cab so they can make a boatload of improvements.

This was made in 1983, but even still, it seems like their $10,000 is expected to go really, really far.

Things are going great until Harold's wife, Myrna, keeps the money for herself. Everyone is ready to quit until Albert says that he has some money that his dad left him when he died. He's willing to put it into the company if everyone stays.

They're so happy that they perform a montage of vehicular improvement scenes to a snappy little ditty.

Albert's money is a bit less than the $10,000, but it appears to cover massive body repair (if not new cars outright), paint, a sound system, new sign and, most importantly, yellow satin jackets.

Things seem to be going pretty well. But when Albert, who has gotten his hack license, goes to the house where the kids threw eggs at him and Tyrone to drop off his passengers, he and the kids get kidnapped.

More familiar faces here. The kids are Scott Nemes, who was in "Meatballs Part II" and "It's Garry Shandling's Show," and Senta Moses, who was in "My So-Called Life" and a commercial for Big Lots a few months ago that my son Brody was fascinated by. He's got a thing for brunettes with glasses, remember?

Anyhow, the cabbies decide that they have to do something to rescue Albert, which makes sense since D.C. Cab is shut down pending investigation. The authorities think Albert is in on the kidnapping. After all, where did the money for all the improvements come from? Albert.

Now admittedly, I wasn't paying rapt attention by this point, but how does having large sums of money implicate Albert in a scheme to extort money from an ostensibly rich ambassador?

I'm sure I missed something. I'd like to say I'm a dedicated reviewer, but darn it, sometimes I get hungry. Plus, the remote is acting up, and ...

But I digress.

Needless to say, Albert and the kids are rescued, and the cabbies are hailed as heroes. All is well. Cue up the 80 jillionth Georgio Moroder song and roll those credits.

Afterthoughts: I don't know that I'd deliberately watch this again; it's more of one of those "Ah, it's already on and I'm too lazy to change the channel" kind of movies. I mean, it has Mr. T!

The forced "romance" portion involving Albert and the cute waitress at the diner seemed a bit extraneous, but not as shameless as Tyrone's obsession with Irene Cara.

Lo and behold, later in the movie, who does he get a chance to drive around? Irene Cara.

Who sings one of the Georgio Moroder songs on the soundtrack? Irene Cara.

Who broke my window?

Telling the truth isn't gonna be easy...

Glass everywhere you look!

Oops. Got a little carried away.

Two hints for the next movie on the list:

1. It's not a bad movie (to me, anyway)

2. The wind is in the buffalo.

Waiting is the hardest part

I'm impatient.

Like "microwave-popcorn-takes-too-long-too-cook" impatient.

So now I have to wait until January before I get to see another episode of "The Office." On the up side, January also marks the return of "Scrubs" to the NBC schedule.

They are the only two shows that I make a point to see every week. Not that I don't like other shows; I work odd hours and am not so good at remembering to set the Tivo.

I love seeing something that makes me laugh out loud, and "The Office" and "Scrubs" fall into that category.

Oh well. I can wait a few weeks, I guess.


This may take a while.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas perils

I love mondegreens -- those misheard lyrics to songs. When I was a lad, I thought the Doobie Brothers were singing about some guy called Mr. Music, as in "Whooooooaaa, Mr. Music." It wasn't until much later when I happened upon the song that I realized it was "Whooooooaaa, listen to the music."

I caught this link to Christmas-themed mondegreens via Pop Culture Junk Mail.

And wouldn't you know it, the very first one caught my eye. It's from "The Christmas Song." I'll let you look for yourself. It's right under "Chipmunks roasting on an open fire."

Ouchity ouch ouch ouch!

I'd have been much more offended had my friends and I not been singing it that way intentionally for 20 years or so.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I heard the news 25 years ago today

I imagine a bunch of people will be sharing their memories of where they were 25 years ago today when they found out John Lennon had been shot.

I was just barely 6 years old, and I was with my parents shopping in San Ramon. The store we were at was deadly boring to a kid, but luckily, they had a candy dish with that weird holiday mix of different shaped nubbins of candy-cane like candy.

I missed the whole point of why they were playing so many Beatles and John Lennon songs until my parents explained what had happened. I even watched the 6 o'clock news the next day, something I never did.

Being so young, I don't think I could really make the connection. I just knew that someone I'd been listening to my whole life was gone, and that made me sad enough.

Now I'm off to go play some of John's music for my son, Brody.

Parental prognostication

One of the goofy things I've noticed about being a parent is the tendency we have to gauge our kid's potential occupation by something he seems interested in.

Brody colors dutifully in his coloring book: Oh, he's going to be an artist.

Brody spends an hour plonking on my keyboard, which he calls a xylophone: Oh, he's going to be a musician.

Brody builds cars and skyscrapers with his Duplo blocks: Oh, he's going to be an architect.

But you never do that for the less than admirable things.

Brody repeats the same words over and over until you say it, too: Oh, he's going to be a politician.

Brody refuses to eat his lunch again: Oh, he's going to be a model.

Brody refuses to acknowledge anyone else because he's busy flirting with girls: Oh, he's going to be a politician.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cast thy pod upon the Internet

Because I'm on the cutting edge of everything cool, I'm just now starting to get into the whole podcast thing. I still only listen to a few, but it's kind of a neat idea.

My favorite thus far is Robert Berry's Retrocrush podcast, available here. I've been an avid Retrocrush reader for quite a while, and I love listening to the podcasts. It's like having a conversation with someone else who's interested in the same obscure pop culturey junk that I am.

Well, except I don't talk back.


I get a good couple of out-loud laughs (rare for me) with each episode, so you should check it out. And while you're there, look around. There's a veritable plethora of non-audio coolness, too.

Another one that I'm digging so far is Wil Wheaton's Radio Free Burrito, the latest of which is here.

Wil is one of my favorite writers these days. His work has an emotional quality that I really wish I could muster in my own writing. Plus, he's a hoot to read. If you haven't read his books or his blog, you really ought to. Like now. I'll wait.

Robert and Wil are on my list of "Cool cats who, should they ever find themselves stuck in Modesto, are eligible for a beer/Slurpee from me."

I don't know if I'll try a podcast of my own. The major obstacle (aside from sheer laziness) is that I really, really hate the sound of my own voice. And not so much in that "Does my voice really sound like that?" way like when you were 11 and screwing around with a tape recorder.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to go into animation voice work. Very early on, I wanted to do the voice for Donald Duck, but I figured I'd settle for just doing voices for a cartoon in general. Once my voice changed, I reckoned, I'd be well on my way. I practiced different voices, doing really crappy impressions of Rich Little's or Fred Travelena's impressions before moving to just whatever voices came into my head.

Puberty came and went, and while my voice got a little deeper, it still isn't what I hoped it would sound like. It's very flat, and to me, it doesn't have the range I thought it would.

Add to that the difficulty of even breaking into the field and my considerable distance from L.A., and that pretty much killed that idea.

But who knows? If there's enough demand from my large audience (sound of crickets), maybe I'll try a podcast.

But until then, make sure you check out the ones I mentioned above.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy birthday to the big cheese

Walt Disney was born on this day back in 1901. From what little information I've been able to cobble together, he was involved somehow in the animation industry.

When I was but a lad of 14 or 15, I put a joke in a story I was writing. It had nothing to do with the story itself but served to illustrate the kind of wiseacre the character was. In truth, I figured I'd never get to use it in real life, and like I did with most of the jokes that I never expected to use, I stuck them in stories.

A month or so later in my biology class, my teacher was talking about cryonics, and how when he was young, there was a rumor that Walt Disney was frozen after death and was chilling out under the Pirates of Caribbean ride.

It was a weird sense of deja vu; at first I thought it had happened before, but then I realized that it was the set-up I'd written in my story. So before I missed the opportunity, I piped up with the punchline from the back of the room:

"Disney on ice!"

I thought it was clever and original when I was 14 -- cut me a break, okay?

My brother and I preferred the Looney Tunes shorts from Warner Brothers, but we were still excited when word came there was going to be a whole channel of Disney stuff. No longer would it be only the Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney.

Sure enough, in April of 1983 (I was 8 and my brother almost 4), The Disney Channel premiered, and our TV schedules quickly expanded to include "Good Morning, Mickey," "Donald Duck Presents" and reruns of "The Mickey Mouse Club."

Like Batman, the channel has a tenuous relationship with the word "The," and is currently the-free.

It is also devoid of classic Disney cartoons, even though it has a spin-off channel called Toon Disney. It sounds like dumb programming to me, but I'm the moron who buys the DVDs, so you decide who's smarter.

For me, The Disney Channel = Disney cartoons, movies and of course, "Mousercise."

For my son, Disney Channel = "The Wiggles," "Jo-Jo's Circus" and (alas) "The Doodlebops." The 'Bops, by the way, have been challenged by the new mini-show "Johnny and the Sprites" for most annoying thing I have to endure on the Disney Channel.

Over at Jim Hill Media, there's a cool article that outlines some of the shows in the original lineup, including "Contraption," which some of my friends said I made up because I was the only one who watched it, I guess.

The Modesto Bee, where I work diligently every day, has a mascot named Scoopy. What does that have to do with anything? Well, good old Scoopy is here via today's birthday boy, Walt Disney.

Just goes to show you -- it's a small world after all.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pregnancy really changes you

I've read about the physical changes women go through after having a baby, but Britney just doesn't look the same in this story I saw online this morning.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Great Marketing Moment (11 in an unnumbered series)

Sweet Mother Hubbard!

I saw this at Strange New Products, which regularly spotlights things that make even people like me go "Whahuh?"

Remember how funny it was when they had that hair-removal goo called Nad's? I almost soiled myself laughing the first time I stumbled upon the infomercial, especially when the there was the random cut to the "hostess," who smiled broadly and said "Nad's!"

Well, it's like they always say, no matter how hard you try, you can't get rid of Nad's.

Oh, wait. That sounds kinda, uh, never mind.

Now the new product is called Naughty Nad's, which either proves that they really didn't get it the first time, or they really did.

Naughty Nad's is specially designed for the bikini area and provides the consumer with templates, and, boy, you know what? My mom might read this, so I'm just going to stop. I think you can figure it out yourselves. Just click the link for more information.

I just wonder if you can make your own templates, like a smiley face or, oh, sorry. Gotta stop again. Sorry, Mom.

Way to market, yo.

I caught a promo for "Fear Factor" on TV last night. I kinda blocked most of it out until I heard "Less gross! More stunts!"

Apparently, even the people who make the show are tired of making people eat cross-eyed mealworms and fermented horse rectums.

Who says there's no progress on TV?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Please, sir or madam, will you read my book?

Well, there's good news and bad news.

The bad news: I haven't quite reached the National Novel Writing Month goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in November.

The good news: If I write about 14,833 words for the next three days, I'll make it no problem.

I knew I was going to have trouble reaching the goal to start with, but once my son decided that November was the month he was going to stop napping on a regular basis, I didn't have much luck.

I'm still going to work on it, though. There are parts of it that I like quite a bit, which is saying something, since I usually am not fond of much that I write.

Maybe I'll make it a project to tackle in earnest in the new year. That way I won't have to make exercising and losing weight my new year resolution.

Pretty sneaky, eh?

The longest story I've done was just about 50,000 words, and I wrote it when I was in high school. Those were the days when I could go home and knock out 10 or 12 pages in an afternoon.

Not having a social life will do that for you.

But then, what's my excuse now? I'm still not a social butterfly.

I think there are two problems:

1. I edit way too much while I'm writing. I've read in book after book on writing that you should really just let the editing go. Wait until it's actually done before you start worrying about it. I have a hard time doing that. Spending 5 years as a copy editor didn't help that much, either.

2. I tend to get more interesting in the process of writing than the actual writing itself. I spend so much time preparing (because I don't want to have to stop to look something up) that I seldom actually do any of the writing I want so much to do.

3. I'm lazy; it's a lot easier to play a videogame or watch a crappy movie.

4. I can't count very well.

I'd give it up and save myself the aggravation if I could, but I can't not write. It's always in my head; it's just a matter of taking the time to get it out on the page. It got to the point where I'd get headaches if I didn't write for an extended period of time.

I love the feeling I get after I have one of those long writing sessions -- it's like I'm not even doing anything, just reading the story that's appearing on my screen.

And yes, I know that this entry could've been 400 or so words on my story instead.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Beezus and Ramona, cruisin' through the jungles of Klickitat Street...

Unpacking all the books we have could get to be a full-time job. I'm just about done, but I keep finding cool stuff. It's like being in a bookstore where all the books are about stuff I'm interested in.

Yes, it's been that long since I've had all the books out and accessible.

When I was about 8, I guess, I pestered my parents to take me to a bookstore about a half-hour away because Beverly Cleary was going to be there in person. I had all the Ramona books, as well as the Ralph S. Mouse books. I had "Otis Spofford," too, but I couldn't tell you much about it if you threatened me with bodily harm.

When we got to the store (I think it was called Toad Hall Books, but 8-year-old me didn't keep exact records, you know?), I noticed that there was a line of people that spanned roughly to Zimbabwe.

But so strong was my love for Beverly Cleary's books that I waited in that line. When I finally got to the front of the line, I didn't know what to say -- I'm horribly shy -- so I probably mumbled hello and said that I liked her books a lot.

She thanked me for coming and signed the well-worn copy of "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" I brought with me, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. She was the first famous person I'd ever met, and she was really nice.

If my wife and I ever end up having a daughter, the name Ramona is definitely at the top of my list.

And not just because Beezus already got vetoed.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone has a happy day today. I'm getting ready for my yearly intake of dinner rolls and olives.

I don't like turkey, which makes turkey-centric holidays, uh, interesting.

But we have lots to be thankful for, even with the hard year we've had. I'm thankful for my wife, my son, family and friends, and this year, I'm especially thankful for the time we had -- brief though it was -- with our son Harry.

While I would much rather have been able to bring him home with us, at least we all got to be together for a little while.

So if you are partaking of some holiday beverage today, raise a glass for Harry, won't you? I know I will.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why bits of my childhood seem like a drug-induced haze

I've been organizing all the millions of books in the old Sparkman household, and I came across some old superhero coloring books. I thought, "Hey, this would be cool to write about."

Alas, I've been beaten to the punch by Dave's Long Box, who not only has the same cool DC Super Heroes coloring book, but he got his for a quarter.

Some guys get all the luck.

I've also got a fairly hefty Marvel Super Heroes coloring book. It's no 500-page fun-for-all, but it's got a few adventures of the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four.

I took a look at this book for the first time in a long time, and I'm noticing just how weird it is. First, the cover.

Nothing too odd, but the Hulk's abs are so big that it looks like he has six breasts.

Oh, and he looks like he's in a giant spit bubble or something. What's going on inside?

The planet Big Zero (lots of self-esteem there, I bet) is attacked and destroyed by The Greenies. But there's a survivor who escapes in his 8-track craft, which looks like a giant 8, not an outdated music storage device.

The survivor, 00-6, goes to Earth for help and lands at Indianapolis Speedway.

Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is having a picnic by himself. 00-6 zaps his picnic basket into nothingness (presumably, since he has the 00 prefix, it means he has a license to kill...). Bruce Hulks out, and 00-6 thinks he's another Greenie and attacks him.

Uh, yeah. That's something that you don't hear very often.

They eventually join forces against The Greenies, who look just like Hulk. The Greenies are preparing to suck all the green from the Earth. Don't ask, man, I didn't write it. Oh, here's 00-6 in action:

They eventually win, but at the cost of 00-6's life. Hulk is so distraught that he takes a nap under a tree. The End.

The last two stories feature the Fantastic Four, but the first includes the Human Torch replacement from the 1978 cartoon, Herbie the Robot.

I named my parents' cat Herbie because he, too, is white and annoying.

While the Fantastic Four plans to go on vacation, a villain is planning to defeat them. Which FF villain, you ask? Doctor Doom? Galactus? No.

The Pink Fink.

Nope, not making it up. Check it out.

Even in black and white, that looks bad. Not to spoil the story or anything, but he's beaten in short order and everyone lives happily ever efter, blah, blah, blah...

The third story is the lamest of the bunch and doesn't even have any pictures I feel like scanning in and mocking, so we'll just pretend it didn't happen.

Of course, now every time I'm planning a vacation, I'm going to see this image in my head:

Curse you, Herbie...

Monday, November 21, 2005

I saw him standing there

Meant to post about this earlier, but I'm trying to get over a cold (with little success thus far).

I went with my friend Ken to a concert. I don't get out to concerts that much, especially now that I have a 2-year-old. As it is, I haven't been to that many. I've seen They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds by himself and, uh, Hall and Oates at the Big Fresno Fair a few years ago.

So, imagine my surprise when I ended up seeing Paul McCartney in Sacramento last week.

For those of you who are younger than me, Mr. McCartney was once in a popular band.


Sorry; old joke. I've been listening to the Beatles since I was in utero, and that music has been in my life constantly. My dad used to have me sing the harmonies when we'd sing along to Beatles songs, as well as McCartney's solo stuff.

I complained that doing so was what made my voice so high, but apparently, it was just because I was 6. My voice now, alas, isn't the deep James Earl Jones I wanted, but more of a Jiminy Cricket. It does wonders for your self-esteem when you answer the phone and the caller thinks it's my mom and not me. That's why my wife thinks it's funny that when I answer the phone at home, my voice drops noticeably.

For the first couple of songs, it was just striking me that "I'm seeing Paul McCartney. He's right down there, close enough for me to see without having to look at the big TV screens."

It was a very Beatles-centric setlist, which was kinda cool, as I never thought I'd hear those songs in concert. I loved that a metric buttload of people paid lots of money to fill Arco Arena and, via a giant sound system, listen to a song from "The Music Man."

Here's the setlist:

1. Magical Mystery Tour
2. Flaming Pie
3. Jet
4. I'll Get You
5. Drive My Car
6. Till There Was You
7. Let Me Roll It
8. Got to Get You Into My Life
9. Fine Line
10. Maybe I'm Amazed
11. Long and Winding Road
12. In Spite of All the Danger
13. I Will
14. Jenny Wren
15. For No One
16. Fixing a Hole
17. English Tea
18. I'll Follow the Sun
19. Follow Me
20. Blackbird
21. Eleanor Rigby
22. Too Many People
23. She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
24. Good Day Sunshine
25. Band on the Run
26. Penny Lane
27. I've Got a Feeling
28. Back in the USSR
29. Hey Jude
30. Live and Let Die (complete with fireworks and flames; every time the flames shot out, we could feel the heat)

1st Encore
31. Yesterday
32. Get Back
33. Helter Skelter

2nd Encore
34. Please Please Me
35. Let It Be
36. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
37. The End

That's a lot of songs. The concert ended at about 11:30 p.m. Now keep in mind, that in general, because when I work, I'm in bed by 8 p.m. and up by about 2 a.m.

After the concert, Ken and I waited in line to buy a T-shirt. Ordinarily, I wouldn't wait in line or pay too much money for a short, but since I doubt I'll have the opportunity to do this again, I figured, why not?

It took us a while to find where we'd parked, partly because we're just like that and partly because they put up barriers after we'd parked and it threw us off. So after midnight, we were on our way to grab some food.

By the time I got back home, it was almost 4 in the morning. Brody woke up crying at 6, but Jen told me to go back to bed. I ended up getting about 3 or 4 hours of sleep, which I think depressed my immune system enough that I got Brody's cold.

But I think it was worth it. Now I just need to catch up on some sleep...

Cat. I'm a kitty cat.

I don't know how I found it before, but I just saw a link to it at No Fancy Name, so I figured I'd share it with you.

It, of course, is the very cool dancing cat video. My son loves cats, so when he saw this, he went nuts.

He started laughing so hard he almost threw up. This is actually something he does fairly often. It's this weird hiccup-burp thing, the sound of which makes him laugh even harder.

I'm warning you -- this will get stuck in your head forever.

Friday, November 18, 2005

An outcast once again

Well, it appears that yet again, People has overlooked me for Sexiest Man Alive.


Daily tale of lament

Alas, the thrift store known in our household as "The Thrift Store Where Jen Got Crapped on By a Bird" (which is unfair, now that I think of it, as said event actually happened in the parking lot) is closing at the end of the month, so Brody and I headed over there the other day to check things out.

My only purchase was the perennial Wham-O favorite, Trac Ball. My set wasn't the brightly colored edition offered today, but the plain black plastic variety that I remember from my youth.

Even more testament to it being a relic from another time was the half-torn price tag from King Norman's, a toy store that disappeared from the area about 20 years ago.

But at $3.99, it was a good bargain. I might actually try it out once Brody gets a little older.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

One step closer to Jefftopia

Some interesting news from The Wall Street Journal for those of us who dig old TV shows.

Early next year, In2TV, a new broadband network from AOL and Warner Bros., will allow you to watch buttloads of old shows for free.

Yeah, you have to sit through some commercials, but still, it'll be interesting to see some shows that for one reason or another, aren't on TV right now. Plus, they're planning to offer bonus content like trivia along with the episodes.

What cracks me up is this quote from Larry Jones, the president of TV Land and Nick at Nite:
"We pick the best of the best from multiple studios," he said. "I don't know if viewers are ready for so much choice. Ultimately what [In2TV] does is force viewers to be their own programmers."

God forbid we actually decide what to watch instead of getting the same prepackaged crapfests offered on Nick at Nite and TV Land.

Okay, that's perhaps a bit harsh. They have some classic TV on those channels. Alas, it's all the same stuff over and over.

I'm not saying that I'm going to be glued to my computer watching episode after episode of "Welcome Back, Kotter" or "Growing Pains" (the best show ever to have a secondary character named 'Boner').

"Wonder Woman," maybe.

But just to theoretically have the opportunity to pick what you want to watch from a large selection is kind of neat. Sometimes one or two episodes is all you need to fill you up, you know? I don't need "Hazel" to be in heavy rotation. I just want to see it once or twice. That's all.

If you think about it, TV Land and N@N could think of this service as test marketing. All they have to do is look at the most downloaded shows, and if it's something they have in their available libraries, add it to the lineup and promote the hell out of it. This eliminates some guesswork, doesn't it?

One step closer to programming my own network...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Can't get you out of my head

If I had a nickel for every dumb thing I remembered from an old TV show or movie, I could probably buy them all on DVD.

The space in my brain that could be used for remembering such things as where I put the keys or what my son's name is (just kidding; it's Poindexter) is instead taken up by sometimes frighteningly useless pieces of entertainment history.

I've been lucky in that with the advent of DVD, a lot of this pop culture detritus is effectively exorcised from my head. It's like once my mind knows that there's a backup copy, it stops running at inopertune moments.

But there's still a lot that needs exorcising.

For example, when I was but a wee lad, HBO or Showtime broadcast a Barry Manilow concert. From what I remember, it seemed to cover a lot of the ground that the Barry Manilow Live album (which we had on a light blue 8-track tape) did.

There's a part called the VSM: Very Strange Medley. In it, he'd do a medley of various commercial jingles he'd worked on. I loved that part, because, well, even then, I was obsessed with commercials and commercial jingles.

But on the TV concert, there was a portion of that VSM that wasn't included on the record. Barry talks about some failed jingles that he wrote, but for some reason weren't accepted. And here's the part that, to this day, I remember vividly:

When that jar of peanut butter goes crashing on the floor, and it gets smooshed into the carpet by the brat who lives next door, don't reach for the broom and dustpan, or the old Electrolux. For value and good service,

Hoover ...



Now I don't know if that's verbatim, but that's what plays in my mind on a too-constant basis. What would be swell is if this was on DVD so I could cast it away. But my two minutes of extensive research was fruitless, and I didn't see it on Netflix, either. I suppose I could look for a tape of it on eBay, but I don't know if I really want to go to that much trouble.

Besides, even if I managed to get it out of my head, It would probably be replaced with "Pop Goes the World" by Men Without Hats or something.

Now that really sucks.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy holidays from Jones Soda

At Target yesterday, I spied the Jones Soda Holiday Pack. Having read about last year's offerings, I was curious to see this year's flavors.

Turkey and Gravy, Wild Herb Stuffing, Brussels Sprout, Cranberry and Pumpkin Pie.

Ah, but that's only what's in the National Pack. Those crazy folks at Jones also have unleashed a Regional Pack, in which you'll find Broccoli Casserole, Smoked Salmon Paté, Turkey & Gravy, Corn on the Cob and Pecan Pie. The Regional Pack is available in select areas, so check the Jones Soda Web site to see where you can find it.

And if you think I'm going to buy them and tell you what they taste like, then you are out of luck. I have my limits.

Fortunately, Matt at has done all the hard work. Check it out.

And on a happier note, the holiday packs are fund-raisers for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center and Toys for Tots. Jones Soda might have concocted the soda fountain from hell, but their hearts are in the right place.

Things I never thought I'd say, let alone on a regular basis

"Your head is not a napkin."

Gift ideas for the sarcastic blogger in your life

I know everyone is bummed that they missed my birthday, but if you want to make up for it, has a few things that would be acceptable.

There's this:

And, if you really like me, you can get this:

They are available beginning Nov. 15, so that gives you all plenty of time to search the couch cushions for change or recycle those aluminum cans.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Eighty-eight miles per hour!"

Today is a special day; an anniversary worth celebrating.

It was 50 years ago today that Dr. Emmett L. Brown was inspired to create the flux capacitor, which, as we all know, is what makes time travel possible.

So to you, Doc Brown, we tip our hats.

Other fun Nov. 5 facts, courtesy of If she were still alive, Natalie "Lovey Howell" Schafer would be 105 today.

A lot of musicians have a birthday today: Ike Turner turns 74, Art Garfunkel is 64, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits is 58. Strangely, Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams both celebrate their birthdays today. Bryan Adams is 46, and Ryan ("I'm not Bryan Adams") Adams turns 31.

And because there's always a Star Trek connection, today is Armin (Quark from "Deep Space Nine) Shimerman's birthday.

Woo-hoo! Birthday candles all around.

I swear, you could waste hours playing around with the "On This Day" function at IMDB. Plug in your birthday and see who you share a special day with.

For example, I have the same birthday as Ryan ("I'm still not Bryan Adams, and I'm getting really tired of smart-ass people making jokes all the time, especially when it leads to an entirely too long parenthetical note") Adams. What are the odds?

Friday, November 04, 2005

National Novel Writing Month progress

Well, it's only a few days into it, and I'm already behind. Meh.

Of course, there were some other minor details that were throwing the old monkey-wrench into the works, but I think I'm back on track.

Here's the first line of the story:

"And he says, 'Lad, I don't know where you've been, but I see you won first prize.'"

And no, I'm not explaining the context in which it's used. Maybe later.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A knight out on the town

We took my son, Brody, trick-or-treating the other night. We took him last year, but he was only a year old, so he wasn't much of a participant. He just tried to walk into people's houses and even gave hugs to a few people.

But now, he's a year older, and a little more prepared for trick-or-treating. I'd been working with him on exactly how the process worked.

"Okay, you ring the doorbell, and when the person answers the door, you say 'trick or treat.'" Can you say 'trick or treat'?"


"Well, let's hear it."


"And after they give you the candy, what do you say?"

"Thank you."

"Good job. That's using your manners." I'm trying to teach him to use good manners, which is akin to Mike Tyson teaching ballroom dancing.

So when the time came, we got him into his knight costume and gave him my wife's old jack o'lantern bucket to carry his Halloween booty in.

"Go outside?"

"Yep, we're going outside to go trick-or-treating. Can you say 'trick or treat'?"


"Well, let's go. Remember to say thank you when you get some candy."

"Thank you."

So we got to the first house and rang the doorbell. (Brody's still a little too short to handle that on his own.) The door opened, and Brody stood there quietly.

"Brody, what do you say?" my wife asked, hoping to prod him into saying "trick or treat."

Without hesitation, he answered "Please!"

Close enough.

Candy dropped into his bucket.

"Brody, what do you say?" I figured at least he'd nail this part, and he'd look very well-mannered.


He says thank you every time I hand him one of his cars or give him some Goldfish crackers, but when he gets candy from strangers, all he says is "Bye."

He didn't get fussy during our brief trek; in fact, it was only near th end that he asked us to hold his bucket for him ("Heavy," he explained).

He still seemed a little eager to just walk right in to people's houses, especially the one answered by a young woman with glasses. He just stood there smiling after he got his candy.

He has a thing for brunettes with glasses.

And Rachael Ray, even though she doesn't wear glasses.

We ended up going to about a dozen or so houses and came home with a pretty good haul. Brody, being the generous soul he is, let old Mom and Dad have at the candy after he was done counting it.

The fact that he doesn't like candy didn't have anything to do with it, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

McRib, for your pleasure

From now until Nov. 20, you can catch the McRib on its farewell tour at local McDonald'ses (pesky plurals!). They've got a swell Web site to promote the sandwich, which for some ungodly reason, has a fan following.

No, not a big McRib fan. But if you are, you can download some cool designs for farewell tour T-shirts if you want.

Why so much effort goes into preserving the McRib and not bringing back Hostess Pudding Pies, I'll never know.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Jeff's Last-Minute Halloween Costume Ideas

Get two tall, white garbage bags. Cut armholes (and headhole) in one, legholes in the other. Fill excess space with newspapers.

Voila! You are white trash.

Stuck with a headless gorilla costume? Don't fret -- just get an old-school diving helmet, and you can be Ro-Man, the titular villain from "Robot Monster."

I worked at a bookstore years ago and was stuck working on Halloween. I borrowed my brother's Darth Vader helmet and wore it with my regular shirt and tie (yes, and pants, too, sickos...). I even made myself a nametag that said "Darth."

You can never go wrong with a grass skirt, especially on Halloween. One year, my brother borrowed my grass skirt and one of my Hawaiian shirts and donned his George H.W. Bush mask. Tres popular.

I made a smiley-face mask (sewed it myself, even) and wore my brother's old Grim Reaper costume. If anyone asks what you are, tell them you're the Ghost of Wal-Mart Future.

"Watch out ... for falling prices..."

Put a paper grocery bag over your head (cut eyeholes in it first, of course). You can tell everyone you're the Unknown Comic. When they say "Who?", you can regale them with your extensive knowledge of the Unknown Comic's career.

If you're a fan of Katamari Damacy, wrap yourself up with double-stick tape and attach random items (even people, if you can manage). I bet someone has tried this, so let me see if I can find a picture on the Internet. Hang on a sec, okay?


Hmm. No luck so far. Well, you should look like the giant ball in the middle of this picture:

And if you hang around someone who has this costume, you'll have a ball.

Ball, get it?

Yok! Yok!

Okay, moving on...

Get a vampire cape and fangs, but make your hair look messy and wear the goofiest looking clothes you can find. Behold, Count Dorkula!

Close your eyes. You are now the Invisible Man. This works for my son, as far as he knows.

Remember, if you use these ideas, I expect a cut of your Halloween candy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gonna sit right down and write me a book

National Novel Writing Month approacheth.

This is a cool project in which the goal is to have finished a 50,000-word novel by midnight, Nov. 30.

This year, I am a participant. I like that the thrust of the project is completion. It doesn't have to be 50,000 of the best writing ever. You just have to finish. It can be 50,000 words of crap, really.

I've been writing on and off since I was about 8 or 9, but I didn't get serious about it until high school.

It wasn't uncommon for me to get home from school and knock out 15 pages. I didn't have anything like a car or a social life to slow me down.

In college, I took a few creative writing courses, just to make sure I kept up with the writing. While I was in one class, I got published in a small magazine with my very first submission. I only submitted it go get extra credit in the class. In another class, I met my wife.

So even if I never wrote after that, I think I got a good deal.

But when I worked at my first newspaper, I weaseled my way in to writing a weekly humor column, which was a lot of fun. And now I'm doing pretty much the same this with this blog for where I work now.

The thing that surprises me the most is that, despite what everyone says, humor writers are not the groupie magnets they're made out to be.

True story.

I'm hoping the NaNoWriMo project will help me motivate myself to not get bogged down with the pre-writing process. If I spent half as much time actually writing as I did getting ready to write, I'd be telling this to Oprah when she picks my book for her book club.

So wish me luck, and I'll let you know how it's going.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Camp Cucamonga ... oh yeah, oh yeah ...

You know, I should've been smart and just stuck to the plan. It's time for another installment of Bad Movies A to Z! Today's movie is sponsored by the letter C. Originally, I was going to review "Colossus: The Forbin Project." I put it in my Netflix queue and actually watched it.

Alas, it was a pretty good movie. Not a long of bang-pow-boot-to-the-head action, but a nice, thoughtful sci-fi flick. Kinda reminded me of "The Andromeda Strain" in tone.

Well, it's a lot harder to bust on a movie when it has more than one redeeming quality.

So I went to the Siftin' Movie Archive to find another suitable title. The Child? No. Challenge of the Superfriends? Too long.

And so today's movie is the 1990 TV-movie classic, "Camp Cucamonga."

God help us all.

Today's movie in a nutshell: Kids go to a summer camp and do things that kids do at summer camp when they are on TV.

The story: None.

Just kidding! "Col. Marv" Schecter (John Ratzenberger, who gets top billing in this movie) begins his first year as head of Camp Cucamonga. It's his dream to run a summer camp. In the off season, he's an accountant.

As the film begins, the campers are on their way to camp. I think I saw another bus, but it doesn't matter, because we're focusing on the one driven by a young Jennifer Aniston. While she's driving, we're introduced to our campers, who, in lieu of personalities, are given stereotypical personality traits.

It's like they took the characters from "Saved By the Bell," threw them in a blender and put the pieces back together. So while you have Max Plotkin ("The Wonder Years"' Josh Saviano), an Screech retread, the other semi-main character, Lindsey Scott (Danica McKellar, also of "The Wonder Years"), is a tough metalhead whose parents are getting divorced. No SBTB connection there, you're thinking.

Ah, but what about that weird half-season of their senior year when tough-chick Tori (she of the perpetual leather jacket) transferred to Bayside?

No, I didn't watch the show. I don't know what you're talking about.

Stop looking at me like that.

Anyhow, we're introduced to them in short order, and it really doesn't matter what they're like, because the whole novelty of the movie is that it is populated by your favorite TV stars.

They used to do this once a year or so -- just lump together a bunch of people from different shows on different networks and put them in an innocuous piece of fluff.

Sort of like "Love Boat."

They're actually more interesting to watch now, just for the "before they were famous" factor. When I saw "Friends" for the first time, I recognized Jennifer Aniston as "that cute chick from 'Camp Cucamonga' who wasn't Winnie Cooper."

Meanwhile, Camp Cucamonga's handyman (who also showed up as a teacher on "Saved By the Bell") and Col. Marv have a spat, and the handyman walks, even though there are plenty of repairs that need to be done.

You see, the camp is due to be inspected to earn its accreditation and stuff needs to be fixed before the inspector shows up.

I know you're not supposed to think with movies like this, but even when this was first on, I wondered why the repairs weren't already finished before camp started. And it gets worse later.

Col. Marv calls another handyman to make emergency repairs before the inspection, which will be very soon.

The campers get set up, and there's the "meet cute" between Roger (Brian Robbins, "Head of the Class"), a cocky counselor, and Ava (Jennifer Aniston, who was on NBC's "Ferris Bueller" show). I wasn't about to stop the tape and rewind it enough times to transcribe this perfectly, but you know how it goes:

Col. Marv greets the campers and looks like a doofus.

Roger: Who is this doofus?

Ava: My father.


In the cabins, Max is the outcast of his bunk, and Lindsey doesn't get along with her bunkmates, either. Perhaps it's the Motley Crue T-shirt she wears. The unspoken leader of the girls bunk, Amber (Candace Cameron, "Full House") is going out with Frankie (Chad Allen, "Our House"), the golden boy in Max's cabin. Jennifer (Tasha Scott, "Snoops") seems interested in Dennis (Jaleel White, Urkel himself).

Everybody else is there to take up space.

Max tries very hard to befriend Lindsey, but she wants to go back home ASAP. Her parents are getting a divorce, and she feels like she's being punished by being sent to camp.

Meanwhile in the B-plot, Col. Marv is awaiting both the inspector and the handyman. He's pissed that the handyman isn't there yet.

Up drives Herbert Himmel. He's wearing a suit because he just got back from a wedding. So when he finds Col. Marv, Col. Marv assumes that he's the inspector.

I don't know about you, but when I hire someone, I try to get their name. Failing that, I at least find out who they are. But not at Camp Cucamonga. Their dialogue is tailored so that neither will discover this case of mistaken identity.

Col. Marv proceeds with some butt-kissing, trying to delay the "inspector" from finding the stuff that needs repairs.

There are some dumb camp hi-jinks that at least get a few points for trying (sneaking a camera into the girls' shower, etc.), but they only take up as much time as the story demands.

Roger is trying to impress Ava, but she thinks he's a jerk.

To condense a little, the inspector shows up. But he looks a little scruffy because his car broke down. Col. Marv, thinking he's the tardy handyman, admonishes him and tells him to get to work without asking who he is. Col. Marv has to be this dumb; otherwise the plot wouldn't move forward and there'd be no false sense of drama.

My biggest problem with this movie at this point was that I was sitting with my leg folded underneath me, so when I got up to get something to drink, both my leg and half of my butt had fallen asleep.

But enough about me.

SOme of the guys sneak off with some girls to enjoy a private meal -- steaks stolen from Col. Marv's kitchen. Max insists on tagging along because he supposedly knows how to cook them. He gets Lindsey to go with him. He burns the steaks into oblivion and gets everyone lost to boot.

After a big search, they're found by Col. Marv. When they get back to camp, the inspector reveals his true identity, and the camp's future is in danger, as is the health of real handyman, who has been enjoying the treatment he's been getting.

The kids feel a little responsible and, at Roger's suggestion, decide to contact the head of the inspection agency. The letters are getting nowhere until Lindsey comes up with what is probably the best idea ever: a rap video.

No sooner said than done. Dennis and Jennifer handle the main chores of the Camp Cucamonga rap, which sounds ripped off of inspired by "Bust a Move" by Young MC.

I hope that someday Jennifer Aniston develops a cure for cancer or something equally important, because I want a clip from this video to accompany all the news stories.

She doesn't have to sing, but she's in there, busting a move.

Well, the inspector loves the video and decides to give the camp one more chance. Yay! Lindsey is getting more popular with Frankie, and that bothers Amber, who reveals to the girls in the cabin that Lindsey has been sending letters to herself to make it appear that she'd been getting mail from home.

Except when she reads the letter, it's really from Lindsey's mom. Her parents are really getting a divorce.


She bolts for the bus stop the day the two bunks are supposed to compete together in the last event of the Battle of the Bunks. If they win the baseball game, they win the whole battle. Decisions, decisions...

Leaving only a few people to play baseball, the main group goes after Lindsey. When Ava and Roger find out they're all gone, their plans are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Lindsey's mom, who arrives unannounced. They find her right before she gets on the bus and convince her to stay.

Our heroes return just in time for the very end of the game. Their team is down by quite a bit, but through hard work, determination and predictable writing, they win.


Max, who hit the winning run, is now Mr. Popular. He tells Lindsey that they can't go steady anymore (even though they weren't anyway), and she humors him. Amber and Frankie also go their separate ways.

I go to the pantry for a snack, but nothing looks good. By the time I get back, the credits are rolling. I hope I didn't miss anything. I doubt it.

Afterthoughts: I don't know that I would invite people over especially to watch this, but it's better than some stuff I've watched (or bought deliberately).

In particular, Jennifer Aniston does fairly well. Aside from appearing in the Camp Cucamonga rap video, she doesn't embarrass herself. Everyone else does okay, too. As best they could with what they had, I guess.

This has been released on DVD, but I watched it on the old-school VHS copy we scored back in the day at Wal-Mart for like $4.88 or something.

I'm a little curious to see another one of these all-star TV-movies. I can remember three off the top of my head: "High School USA," with Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon; "Murder Can Hurt You," a detective spoof with Gavin McLeod and Tony Danza (who doesn't play a guy named Tony for a change -- this time, it's Pony. No kidding.); and "Crash Course," with Alyssa Milano and Tina Yothers. I'm sure they're out there somewhere. Heck, I think I taped "High School USA."

I'll have to look for it in the archives.

Well, that's it for C. Join me again next time (hopefully this year) for Bad Movies A to Z.

But, I'm funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you?

Old clowns never die, they just leave greasepaint on your bumper.

-- Jeff Sparkman

Like some people, I do not like clowns.

Not because they wear strange clothes, and not because they are staggeringly unfunny. In fact, there are quite talented clowns out there who have a strong dedication to their craft.

Why do clowns bug me? Because they think they have the power to force you to smile or appear happy. If you don't laugh at a clown, this somehow makes you a humorless ogre.

Maybe I don't want to smile. Did that occur to you, Mr. Clown? I bear you no ill will. Just let me maintain my non-smiling demeanor until such time that merriment is appropriate.

What if the police used armies of clowns as behavior-modification forces?

"They're rioting down at City Hall!"

"You know what to do, Clancy. Send in the clowns."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Must-See TV (no, for real)

All right, cats and kittens, mark this down on your calendar. This Wednesday, AMC's MonsterFest offerings include a showing of "The Devil's Rain." It's at 6:45 a.m., but you could always record it and watch it later.

How could you not like a movie that has this kind of a tagline: "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!"

No, I'm not mistyping that. Look for yourself.My head just about exploded when I tried to figure out what they thought they were saying. I suppose you could think of it as a play on words that works when you say it out loud, but even that's being generous.

I presume they mean "Heaven help us all when the devils reign," but there's a real easy way to do that.

Spell it right.

Aw, but then it doesn't match the title of the movie.

How about "Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's The Devil's Rain!" or "Don't let your soul get dampened by The Devil's Rain!"

Or they could change the name of the movie.

But The Devil's Rain refers to a container in which people's souls are kept.

Well, now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ernest Borgnine is devil worshipper Jonathan Corbis. He wants a book that has names of people who sold their souls to the devil. The Preston family has been keeping that book safe for a kajillion or so years, which is why Corbis has it in for them.

This movie is interesting in a weird kind of way. It's not train-wreck bad, but it's not a really good flick, either. I think the thing that is most unsettling about it (and is probably its best quality) is its off-kilter feel.

During the whole movie, things just seemed like they were a little off. I really don't know why. It's a lot quieter than you'd expect it to be, and people don't always react the way you'd think.

For example, at the beginning, Mark Preston (my boy William Shatner) and his mother (Ida Lupino) are worried that Mark's father is missing. Right on cue, the elder Preston shows up, and right off the bat, you can see that something's not right.

For starters, he's a little melty. His skin looks like someone dumped a couple of Yoplaits on his head on a summer day. How he managed to get home, I don't know, as he sports empty-looking eye sockets. He warns his family about who did this to him, a man named Corbis, and he melts away, saying "What a world, what a world."

Or something like that.

Now, I don't know about you, but if one of my family members shows up and melts if front of me, I'd be a little upset.

But not Mark Preston. With Shatner playing this guy, you'd think there would be some kind of emotional reaction. Okay, maybe not him shaking in anger before bellowing "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" (Sound on that link, btw.), but a little something. Nope.

Another unsettling thing about this movie, and I think this works against it a little, is that there isn't a main protagonist to focus on. At first, you think Mark Preston is the main guy, but then we meet his brother, who the story follows as well. It seems a little distracted. This is exacerbated by the casting.

Don't get me wrong; it's an impressive cast. Besides Shatner and Lupino, there's also Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt and Ernest Borgnine. Oh, and John Travolta, but you'd never know it's him if you weren't looking.

Often in horror movies, the "name" actor is your main character, with lesser-known supporting players. Ideally, it's because the name actor is the best suited for the role, but failing that, it helps the viewer keep track of the action because they know who he is.

How many times have you seen a horror movie with a bunch of unknowns and you weren't always sure what was going on? Even when you're paying attention, it's not always easy -- characterization isn't always a big component in horror flicks.

But here, almost all of the main characters are familiar faces.

Oh, well, I guess that means you just have to pay more attention. The running time goes by pretty quickly if quietly. The ghost town setting helps with the creepy feel.

This movie is known for its big ending. They even hype it on the DVD cover.

They still didn't fix the grammar, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

There are two things about the ending that are notable, but the primary one is a mass melting in which a bunch of people melt into puddles of goo. Why this happens or what happens after that, I won't tell you, but it's an interesting looking effect.

It makes me wonder if that effect is what the movie was built around. The Incredible Melting Man seems to have been made around similar but even more disgusting melting flesh effects.

To make a long story short (too late), this is a pretty decent watch. Check it out, preferably in a dark room with a few friends and a bowl of popcorn.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

If there's a gazebo with a giant cheeseburger on it, I want my money back

Oh, dear.

I discovered this potentially horrifying event from the good folks at WFMU's Beware the Blog.

There's a movie in production called Across the Universe.

From the plot summary on (which, for all I know, could be completely bogus):
A romantic musical told mainly through numerous Beatles songs performed by the characters.

I may be overreacting, as I know next to nothing about this. But what else is the Internet for if not bemoaning the poor quality of as-yet-unfinished movies? It could be quite clever and make good use of the Beatles songs.

On the other hand, it could be another "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

A quick description: Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees are the titular musicians in this dialogue-free (except for narration from George Burns) musical. An evil real estate developer steals the magical instruments that keep Heartland happy, and it's up to our heroes to get them back while dealing with skyrocketing to fame.

This, I'm sure, will surprise no one: I like this movie. Have since I was about 5. Not because it's any good. It's astounding, really.

It has something never seen before or since in a movie. I will try to explain this as best I can. Keep in mind that this really happens.

Oh, and should you care about what meager plot development is in this flick, don't read ahead if you want the end spoiled.

Okay, we've got only a few minutes left in the movie, and things are looking pretty grim. The band reclaimed the instruments, but after a (ahem) spectacular battle between SPLHCB (man, if you think I'm typing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band again, you're crazy) and the Future Villain Band (essayed quite menacingly by Aerosmith; yes, Aerosmith was defeated by Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees), Strawberry Fields, girlfriend of lead singer Billy Shears (Frampton), pays the ultimate price.

But no expense is spared, and Strawberry is laid out in a glass coffin, to which Billy's bandmates sing "Carry That Weight," because, hey, they already used "She's So Heavy" earlier.

And yes, I know the real title is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," but that would've ruined the joke, and we wouldn't want that, would we?

After the funeral, the bandmates are hanging out and mourning. Poor Billy is quite distraught. In fact, he can't bear to live without his love, so he decides to commit suicide --

-- by jumping from a second story window in his house.

Sure, if he does it right, he can easily die. People have died from lesser falls. But he leaps so that he would land on his back, so I don't know how badly he'd be hurt. But we're not supposed to be thinking about this, because it's very sad and dramatic.

Now as Billy is taking a flying leap, something strange is afoot at City Hall. Atop the building is a magic weather vane shaped like the town's beloved original Sgt. Pepper. It is said that it "would always point the way to happiness."

But there is no happiness in Heartland, so it spins and spins, looking for a direction in which happiness might be found. It spins around so fast that the weather vane is transformed into

Billy Preston in a gold lamé Sgt. Pepper uniform!


He begins to sing "Get Back" and uses his magical powers to first reverse Billy's trajectory.

After that, with a flick of a finger, he changes the major and minor villains' clothes to choirboy, nun, pope and saint (beats me...).

Then, faster than you can say deus ex weather vane, Strawberry is returned to the land of the living and they all live happily ever after.

How do you top that?

Well ...

The magical Pepper's last feat is to transport a gazillion musicians and celebrities to the steps of City Hall for a reprise of the title song.

All of this, I guess, is a really long way of saying that this new movie would have to try reeeeeeeeally hard to be the weirdest Beatle-related/based movie.

Don't forget, there's also the earlier "All This and World War II," in which covers of Beatles songs are paired with World War II news footage.


Sadly, this movie was released shortly after my second birthday, and I've never seen it on video, so I can't say authoritatively that it sucks like a Hoover with a hemi.

But I could probably hazard a guess...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Gettin' higgly wit' it

If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will correct me, but Higglytown Heroes has been on for quite a while, and I have yet to see HH nesting dolls.

How were these not on the shelves the minute the show premiered?

And while we're at it with the whole predicting the future thing ...

Not specifically a comic book (although there were a number of them), Star Trek IV required the use of transparent aluminum for the crew's voyage home and had to settle for thick Plexiglas. Now it turns out that if they'd gone back to 2005 instead of 1986, they'd have had a chance to get transparent aluminum.

Go figure.

(via Monitor Duty)

Comics predict the future again?

I saw this last night when I was checking my e-mail, but it's also a front-page story in today's paper.

Apparently, they've found a lost airman from World War II encased in a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park.

Over 40 years ago, in the pages of The Avengers #4, the legendary Captain America was discovered preserved in a block of ice.

Now, if I discover a baby in a rocket that crashes in my backyard, I'm going to be worried.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Comics predict the future

Here we see that the folks at DC Comics predicted the crappy screennames we'd be forced to take about two decades before the advent of America Online.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Smile, America

One of the things I like about being a dad is sharing things from my childhood with my son.

My brother and I took Brody to Chuck E. Cheese's last week.

I hadn't been to one in a long time. Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre was, at one point in my youth, the place to go for birthday celebrations. If you were lucky, you might go there and the roller rink.

It was one of the first places I'd been to that was so geared for kids. Yeah, there were playgrounds at McDonald's and stuff like that, but this was a restaurant, arcade and show all rolled up in one place.

The first time I went to Las Vegas, it was Chuck E. Cheese that it reminded me of: lots of attention-getting machines, food and beverage as a secondary draw, often cheesy entertainment and artificial lighting that made it seem like night no matter what the real time was.

I remember walking in through the kid-sized door out front and being almost assaulted by the sights and sounds: the clinking of tokens in receptacles, children shouting in excitement and the k-thunk-thunk-thunk of the wooden balls dropping at the skee ball lanes.

And if you timed it right, you might've caught part of the show. In fact, the show often sounded better from a distance; up close, the movement of the giant Teddy Ruxpin-like players was louder than the songs they were ostensibly performing.

All the CECs I visited were dimly lit almost to the point of being murky and dank, especially the arcade area.

Instead of blaming MTV or video games for my sometimes short attention span, I blame the Pizza Time Theatre. Birthday parties were particularly chaotic. First, you have a pack of children in close proximity to presents, which is enough of a distraction. Then, while the birthday kid is opening his presents, he's interrupted by the sporadic performances of the Pizza Time Players.

One minute, you're watching the unveiling of a G.I. Joe Dragonfly Assault Helicopter (with pilot Wild Bill), and then it's a giant rat singing a bad parody of a Beach Boys song. And, oh, the pizza's ready. This pitcher is Coke, and this one's root beer, and...

And if you ever wanted to see a land speed record, you should've seen us bolt from the table once the game tokens were distributed. You didn't want to have to wait to play Star Wars or Crystal Castles. Or maybe you wanted the skee ball lane with the sweet spot that made it easier to land the ball in the 50-point hole.

My visits to Chuck E. Cheese were mostly birthday-related (although we once went to competitor Showbiz Pizza for my birthday, which was like getting Loc Blocs instead of Legos), but we ended up living very close to one when I was in fifth grade.

That was the CEC that hosted my eighth-grade graduation dinner (relatively eventless except for a kid who had to go to the hospital for some reason near the end of the night). By this time, though, the luster was just about gone.

All the hard kids would hang out in the little mouseholes in the arcade to cop a smoke or make out. Pretty soon, the mouseholes were blocked by new (well, new to the arcade) video games.

A few years after that, we avoided going there, as there wasn't much to you could do. The skee ball games were dominated by unattended youngsters who, apparently lacking sufficient skee ball skills, decided to just walk up the ramp and deposit the balls in the 50-point spots. The games that we'd enjoyed playing years before were still there; some of the monitors were etched permanently from years of play.

A couple of friends of mine worked there in high school. They told me what horrors they faced having to dress up in the "rat suit" for parties. Kids yanked the tail off regularly or punched Chuck in the, uh, cheese wheels.

Once, after they'd closed, they sewed the tail back on the costume -- in the front -- and did a dance routine that would've been a hit at someone's birthday party.

So when we went to the local CEC, I really didn't know what to expect.

We walked in, and instead of having to adjust to the darkness, I had to adjust to the light. It was bright and friendly, and the layout wasn't as segmented as it used to be. There was seating surrounding the game area.

And by game area, I'm referring mostly to the redemption games, which outnumber the video games by a hefty margin.

We all got our hands stamped as we were let in. I was almost half expecting to be issued a Red Party Cup™, but I didn't see any.

There was another seating area that was the main showroom, and that's where we sat. When the show started and Chuck and friends started jerking around to the music, Brody smiled.

We weren't sitting right up front, so we heard more of the music that the whirring and clicking of the musicbots.

It wasn't the same kind of show I watched so many times as a kid -- there were no waving flags on the walls, and the lights didn't dim -- but Brody seemed to enjoy it.

The one part that killed me was when the band decided to perform "a song from the 80s," making it sound as though it was an ancient era. The song was "Forever Your Girl," by Paula Abdul. I think I was in high school when that one came out.

After the pizza, we hit the floor for entertainment. Brody is not a big fan of rides so far. Even the one that looked like a dump truck or a grader was not something he wanted to be near.

He liked skee ball and a few of the other redemption games; he would hand me the balls and I'd roll them up the ramp. He would smile if I made a good shot.

There was no visit from the big rat, which I guess was good; I don't know how that would go over.

Above everything else, he liked the toy truck that we cashed in our tickets for. He's been playing with it nonstop since he got it.

I asked him when we left, "Brody, did you have fun?"

He held out his truck.

"Truck! Vrooom!" he beamed.

That was good enough for me.