Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Great Movies: "E.T."

At the Movies with Michael5000

Steven Spielburg, 1982

Previous Contact: I have seen E.T. once before, on the big screen on its original release. I found it treacly, sentimental, and unlikable. But then, I was, what, sixteen? Based on that viewing, I have always questioned its status as a critically acclaimed movie, and have more or less dreaded having to watch it again for this project.


Let me tell you the plot of E.T. the way you remember it: An alien creature is befriended and nurtured by some California children, but sinister authoritarian forces kidnap it and very nearly kill it for their own dark purposes. Fortunately, the plucky children are able to free the alien and arrange for it to rendezvous with its mothership.

Now, here's what actually happens in the movie: an alien creature is befriended and nurtured by some well-meaning California children. They are well intentioned, but in completely over their heads. Federal authorities are eventually, as you would earnestly hope, able to discover and intervene in this potentially civilization-destroying public health (not to say xenodiplomatic) scenario. They are alarming but unfailingly kind and courteous to the children and their mother, and perform admirably in trying to save the life of the alien after the children literally leave him abandoned in a ditch overnight. When the creature revives due to the presence of its mothership, it is able to utilize the children in order to make a rendezvous.

So, why do we misremember it the first way? Because that is the impression that Stephen Spielberg builds, very intentionally I would have to suppose, by the way the movie is crafted. When the Federal doctors, scientists, and marshals appear onscreen, they are in unnaturally arranged block phalanxes, in faceless hazmat suits, in dark lurking vehicles, and so on. Moreover, overwrought music (by John Williams) signifying danger and threat make sure that we know these are the bad guys. The impression that the alien must be kept out of their clutches at all costs is firmly conveyed, despite that there is nothing in the story, the script, or common sense to suggest that this would be anything but the best outcome for all concerned.

I object to this on two levels. On one hand, although it's not quite right to say I don't like to have my emotions manipulated -- after all, in a sense the whole reason we GO to the movies is to have our emotions manipulated -- I nevertheless don't like to have my emotions blatantly manipulated. I want to decide for myself how I feel about events in a narrative, not have my response scripted by crude visual effects or especially by swelling, bombastic music. And on the other hand, E.T. is a forerunner of the knee-jerk anti-guvment paranoia that blossomed so spectacularly in the 1990s, rendering so many of our fellow citizens vulnerable to the most slack-jawed of conspiracy theories and, on happily rare occasions, inciting them to extremes of pathological behavior.

Having said this, E.T. is better than I remembered it. Its middle third, in particular, manages a entertaining blend of highish drama, lowish comedy, and suspense. The single best thing about E.T. is E.T. itself, a wonderfully realized character who is not a great alien leader, but merely an alien working joe trying to get itself out of a jam. The movie creates for him a complete personality; not only do you not notice when watching the film that he is, of course, made out of latex, but it is almost impossible to disbelieve in him while he is on the screen.

There remain, however, an uncomfortably long list of annoyances for a film that is usually held in such high regard. These include the very unsubtle use of techniques that have since E.T. become thought of as Spielberg’s signatures. There is hardly a scene in the first reel that doesn't feature light shining through steam, fog, or inexplicable haze. People point their flashlights in unison at bright, glowing objects – strange behavior, to be sure, but it sure does create an arresting visual effect. The bad guys -- you know, NASA scientists -- move in a highly mannered fashion so that we can tell they are dangerous. In an early scene, the booted feet of a group of men running down a trail are all shown splashing one after another into the center of a small puddle, in exactly the way that people never run down paths. Even evil NASA scientists instinctively avoid mud puddles.

The product placement of a popular candy was much remarked on at the time, and for good reason: it is blatant and nonsensical enough to distract an adult viewer. And key moments, finally -- including the famous flying bicycle scenes -- are again marred by intrusive, manipulative syrup on the soundtrack. A flying bicycle ride should be able to seem wondrous enough without that big of a crutch.

Visuals: A mix. Spielberg does an amazing job with his title character, and captures the habitat of his human community pretty nicely. His portrayal of the science and public health authorities is foolish, but effective enough. Natural behavior is sometimes trumped by Spielberg’s drive for the Big Visual, which is distracting if you pay attention to such things. And, surprisingly, the movie takes a small but very palpable hit from featuring the Least Convincing Alien Spacecraft Ever in its opening and final scenes.

Dialog: With the exception of an especially implausible schoolteacher (whose face is never seen), the characters are given expressive, interesting, and fairly natural lines. The lead character's little sister, in particular, is a smart and vivid character, played by a dynamite child actress. [Oh, hey! It was Drew Barrymore, who I believe continues to be a brand-name actress! It says here that "In the wake of... sudden stardom, Barrymore endured a notoriously troubled childhood," but now she's apparently an Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme, so maybe things ended up OK after all.]

Prognosis: I've been a bit hard on E.T. here, because I feel it to be a flawed and overrated picture. But I also confess that it is an entertaining picture, likely to enjoyed by anyone who can stand being jerked around by bombastic production. With a strong premise and a great script, it had all of the ingredients for a really Great Movie, but instead became an adequate movie and a really Great Consumer Product. I'm sure Spielberg’s investors did not complain.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Monday

Two years ago, I thought that it would be fun to make up an is-it-or-isn't-it quiz about Shakepeare plays. In order to have a reason to do this, I created the Thursday Quiz. That turned out to be so much fun that I came up with the Monday Quiz a few months later.

Having the Quizzes quickly changed the nature of keeping a blog. Not only did I have to make sure that I had material ready for every Monday and Thursday, but I had to have something ready for every Tuesday and Friday as well -- new content that would mark the end of the Quizzes. Throw in a little something on Wednesdays and most Saturdays, and I had committed myself to daily publication.

Which has been great! Obviously I don't mind shooting my mouth off, and a surprising number of y'all have been willing to read my material, or at least skim it, or at least click through to boost my number of hits and make me feel like the time spent has not been completely ridiculous.

The problem with blogging, though, is much like the problem of college. You meet all of these brilliant and engaging people, you develop a big crush on the sheer quality of their prose, you get all excited when you realize they are reading you too -- but then they move on, their life in the biospace gets more interesting or more stable or more demanding, and suddenly you realize that they haven't posted since April. You make new friends, but often lose the old.

And now I feel like I'm more or less running into the biospace problem myself. I've noticed myself neglecting some of the responsibilities of the middle-class, middle-aged dude -- the house, the yard, the bland conformity -- because I "have to" make sure there's something ready for the blog. Which would be fine, if the spring that runs the blog -- the Quizzes -- was something fresh, new, and innovative. But you and I know that I've long since used up the best topics; to a certain extent, I've been in reruns since about TQXL.

So here it is Monday, but without a Monday Quiz. I'm sure this bugs me more than it bugs you, but if there's any letdown, we apologize for the inconvenience. Perhaps I should also apologize, though, that tomorrow -- Tuesday -- will bring yet another of the unpopular Great Movies reviews. And a long one. E.T. Because I'm not going for the clean break and just shutting this puppy down. No, I'm just trying to shut down my feeling of obligation to it. In particular, the ongoing projects -- Great Movies, The Reading List -- will continue. The Bible blog and the Shakespeare blog will keep plodding along, too.

The only other change to business as usual is that you'll have to do a robot check when entering comments now. I'm sick to death of weeding out the cretinous Taiwanese spam. Have a great Monday!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Name That Baby!: The Results

The Life & Times of Michael5000 welcomes potential future reader Nora Claire Boone to the City of Roses.

Little Ms. Boone will forever bear the distinction of the first human to have been named by the collective L&TM5K readership!

Also, she's all healthy, etc.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Maddy Expresses Her Feelings

I recently looked out the front window of Castle5000 of a Saturday afternoon and noticed two attractive people in their early twenties having a heated discussion out on the sidewalk. That seemed a little unusual, but I didn't give it another thought until I went out on the porch five or ten minutes later to check the mail. There they were, still, now more or less in the driveway. They didn't seem notice me there, standing right over them, for the next 20 or so seconds of conversation.
Him (hurt, heated): "...and you're saying these things, and I just don't understand!"

long pause

Her (through tears): "Why can't you just come to me and say 'Maddy, I love you, but I need some time to be by myself.' But instead you come at me so oppressive and..."
And then I was back inside with the mail.


1. I am probably a bad person, in that I found this exchange extremely funny. Really, I was lucky I could get the door closed before I burst out laughing.

2. It's funnier because her name is "Maddy." That, also, probably makes me a bad person.

3. To be sure, I am all for partners communicating their emotions and working through their difficult issues together. But it's just that they seemed really, really.... young.

4. So I'm probably jealous of them, in a way.

The Happy Ending

A while later, Mrs.5000 called down the hall, "Good news! They're hugging!"


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Thursday Quiz C

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz has been a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:

1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!

How Things End.

IS IT or ISN'T it The End, my beautiful friend, The End?

1. The Beatles' "White Album" ends with the short song "Her Majesty."

2. Beethoven's 6th Symphony ends with what was at the time a highly unusual 5th movement, titled "Shepherds' song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm."

3. Benjamin Harrison’s administration ended when he was voted out of office in a landslide due to public outrage over conduct of the Mexican War.

4. Britain's War of the Roses ended with the elimination of the Plantagenet dynasty and its replacement by the Tudors, who would rule for the following century.

5. Edward VIII's reign as King of England ended in 1936 when he abdicated so that he could marry an American divorcee.

6. Hamlet ends with Prince Fortinbras of Norway suddenly becoming the King of Denmark.

7. Interstate 70 ends at San Francisco, California on the west, and Miami, Florida on the east.

8. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit ends with the short sentence "'Well, I'm back,' he said."

9. The movie Citizen Kane ends with a shot of a dying man uttering the word "Rosebud," then dropping a snow globe on the floor.

10. The Nirvana song "All Apologies" ends with Kurt Cobain repeating the phrase "All in all is all we are."

11. The Oklahoma panhandle ends, to the west, at a short border with New Mexico.

12. The Rio Grande River ends where it meets the Gulf of Mexico in the harbor of Houston, Texas.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vacation5000: More Than Just Counties

I fly into Newark airport a little before six in the morning, claim my suitcase, and head toward the rental car claim area, several stops down the "SkyTrain." There I discover that my off-brand car rental company isn't located in the rental car area, but rather operates out of a hotel way the hell over yonder. So, it's all the way across the airport again on the SkyTrain, and then a wait for the airport shuttle, and then several minutes of careening through what seems like a completely random series of loopy roads, and then I arrive at the sketchy rental car company, which has a big sign in its entrance explaining that you can't take their cars any of the places that I plan on going. Sooo, it's back to the shuttle, back to the now very familiar SkyTrain, and back across the airport megaplex to where the real rental car companies are.

Finally blessed with wheels, I drove under the water to a city I had long heard of, a mystical, magical place called Manhattan. Then I drove around for a while, enjoying the general vibe and the density of landmarks. Without too much ado, though, I made my way north to

The Cloisters

In a park near the northern tip of Manhattan, The Cloisters is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annex medieval collection. It is housed in an absurd and wonderful faux monastery into which various chunks of actual real European monasteries have been lovingly reassembled and inset.

There, I saw stuff like this:

and this:

...and of course this:

A few days later, I met up with the Monday Quiz at


I was really impressed with the art inside of Fallingwater, but it turns out not to be especially well known, and there aren't good images available. The main deal, in any event, is the building itself:

So then, a few days go by, I visit some cherished friends and blow by others as if intentionally setting out to insult them, yadda yadda yadda, and I end up at:

Dia: Beacon

This museum of modern and contemporary art is the most striking exhibition space I've yet seen. It's a converted factory with lots of natural light and truly immense gallary space, the perfect place for larger-than-life exhibits. Regretably, much of the collection focuses on particularly arid strands of contemporary art, the schools that are forever questioning what exactly art is anyway. It was almost embarassing to enter a room filled with carefully prepared blank white canvases; that sort of gambit was fresh and interesting when Duchamps scrawled his signature on the toilet, but that was 92 years ago.

One of the highlights were some Sol Lewitt line drawings, which were not (in this case anyway) a big aesthetic thrill but always intellectually interesting.

For my money, though, nothing could compare to Zoe Leonard's You see I am here after all, a collage of about six zillion historical postcards of Nigara Falls sorted by perspective and arranged in a great horizontal series of rectangles. I was enchanted.

But none of this museum-goin' -- none of my life up to this point, really -- could prepare me for:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Don't try to see it all at once," Mrs.5000 quipped in an Email to my Yonkers base camp. Indeed. Let me put it this way: the Met could give a priceless, important work of art to every man, woman, and child of Hometown5000 -- indeed, probably of Homecounty5000 -- and still be able to put on a damn fine show. It is so vast and filled with wonders that I have been sad ever since, and I suspect will forever after be a little sad, that I am here and not there.

I mean, there's a medieval statue in there called "Virgin and Child with Bird," and it was just so beautiful that I thought I was going to start crying right there. It was sublime. And I took careful notes on it, took its accession number and everything, but it's not even significant enough to make the website. The fairly comprehensive website. See what I'm saying? The place is so ridiculously abundant that its afterthoughts would be the reason to build a museum in another town.

It was not unlike, but yet more sublime, than this one.

Anyway, I saw... everything. Like this:

And this:

And this:

And so on. I recommend it highly, the next time you want to look at art in New York City.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Great Movies: "Gates of Heaven"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Gates of Heaven
Errol Morris, 1978

It's the second anniversary of the Great Movies project! And we've finally reached the first one that I've seen in the past.

Previous Contact: Although I didn't remember the title, once I saw the DVD cover I realized that I had seen this movie once before in the late 1990s. I remembered it, vaguely, as being spartan, quirky, sharp, and funny.


When you train a camera on someone who hasn't been schooled in acting or public speaking and let them speak their minds, they tend to make fools of themselves. Appearing on film is like playing basketball or performing music; anyone can do it, technically, but we are so used to watching professional performers that when we are asked to watch a novice, they tend to come off as ridiculous.

This is the problem with Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven, which is an early forerunner of the modern school of spare documentaries, the kind that do away with narration and gloss over the role of the interviewer. It treats, in theory, on an interesting enough topic: the motives that inspire people to create cemeteries for pets. In encouraging all parties concerned to bare their souls in front of the cameras, however, it turns into a glaring expose of the inner lives of people who could not possibly have realized the extent to which they were opening themselves to psychological voyeurism.

Not everyone feels this way. Roger Ebert has put Gates of Heaven on lists of the ten greatest movies of all time, stating that although he has watched the film dozens of times he doesn't feel like he has exhausted its intellectual depths. So, maybe I'm missing something. In addition to its treatment of the relationship between humans and their pets, Ebert seems to be drawn to the very aspect of the movie that bothers me, the extent to which the "characters" strip themselves bare for our viewing pleasure.

It seems unlikely that such a movie could be made now; when the cameras came out, most media-savvy modern Americans would either shut their mouths or hire an agent. To watch people humiliate themselves now, we rely on the make-believe worlds of so-called "reality television." Keeping peoples' lives at that artificial remove is perhaps more respectful of their real privacy than what Morris did in Gates of Heaven.

Plot: One group of guys starts an unsuccessful pet cemetery; a family up the road starts a successful one.

Visuals: Static cameras are pointed at people, generally as they sit in unflattering surroundings, and they talk.

Dialog: It can't be denied that the characters of the film say some pretty incredible things. Ebert singles out a long, rambling speech by a mildly deranged woman who lives across from one of the parks. She had nothing to do with the cemeteries and nothing to say about them, really. Her speech is mostly about her own life and struggles and is remarkable in the way that she continually loops back and contradicts what she said a moment before. It is so perfect that one suspects it had to be scripted, but no, apparently it's the real deal. That makes it respectably authentic, but also kinda exploitative.

Which won't stop me from giving you the opportunity to watch it right now!

 Prognosis: For the hard-core documentary buff only.

The Monday Quiz XC

The Monday Quiz Goes to ____________!






Locate the places, and where the Quiz went on vacation, in the comments.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Road Trip 2009: The Stats

Probably the most exciting single statistic is -- are you ready to be excited? good! -- that the trip put me into four digits! I've now got 1008 counties under my belt, close to a third of the national total.

State Rankings

New Jersey, now 91% complete, jumped from the 15th most complete (the 10th of the 45 states I haven't finished) all the way up to sixth (first among the incompletes). Just two more counties will complete it. Pennsylvania, now 52% complete, jumped all the way from 32nd to 16th most complete.

At the other end of the list, West Virginia (now 18% done) leapt from last to 37th. Ohio crawls from 48th to 47th, passing Texas and Kentucky while being vaulted by West Virginia; while Virginia drops from 45th to 46th despite adding on some new counties.

New York, now 37% complete, jumps to 25th from 29th; Maryland, with far fewer counties, leaps to 23rd from 38th almost effortlessly, now at 42% finished.

Where HAVEN'T I been, lately?

A nice thing about this trip is that in addition to losing my West Virginity, I was able to get to some states -- Maryland and Virginia -- that I haven't been to in a long time. That did some interesting things to the bottom ten list of "last visited" states.

Number one on that list is of course still Hawai'i, the last standing "never been to" state.

There are four states now that I haven't been to since 1994: Kentucky, Florida, and the Carolinas.

I haven't been to Texas (or D.C.) since 1997.

That brings up four states I haven't been to since 1999: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. KANSAS!!! In a way, I feel like I just moved back from Kansas! Apparently, I haven't been very good about getting back to visit.

Rounding out the list is Maine, last visited in September 2002, which is pretty recent when you consider I've visited 40 states more recently.

What Next?

No idea! Any suggestions?

Road Trip 2009!

So, those of you who are intimate personal friends, and those of you who are Facebook friends -- and really, what's the difference -- are probably aware that I've spent the last week or so in an exotic land called "the East Coast," doing what I do best: driving around and looking at stuff. It was a magnificent trip to the point of being a little overwhelming, packed with visits, museums, exploration, and incident.

And also, counties. Here's the breakdown:

New Jersey

Four hundred years of busy and continuous layered development with a minimum of anything like planning has left New Jersey a charmingly messy place. It is the landscape of a Libertarian's paradise. I flew into and out of Newark, and burned time before my flight out by doing some blatant county-grabbing -- what Mrs.5000 calls "plowing" -- by making a pointless trip south to nip inside the border of Ocean County. On this map, as the others, green represents counties I'd been to before and blue represents new counties collected on this trip. Different shades of blue just represent different days.

Incidents and Attractions: The rental car company I had made a reservation with didn't allow its cars to go most of the places I wanted to go. This caused some early-trip scrambling, but that's cool; it gave a little more time for the air-travel sedatives to wear off.

New Counties: 8

West Virginia

Our 49th State! Or MY 49th state, at least, and in that sense the #1 reason for the trip. (In answer to the obvious question: Hawai'i.)

Incidents and Attractions: The most surreal and appalling stretch of urban blight I've ever seen. An area of extreme cultural and economic deprivation that I really would not have thought possible. Pleasant wooded hills. A sweet running track in Veteran's Park, Clarksburg. Everyone I met who wasn't working was friendly; everyone I met who was working was surly.

New Counties: 10


My first visit in more than a decade.

Incidents and Attractions: Accidentally encountering 5000 High School, probably the most famous building in the United States that bears my family name. Everything looking incredibly prosperous immediately after crossing the border from West Virginia.

New Counties: 3 or 4, depending on how you handle Virginia counties.

A major base of operations for the trip, where I got to visit my various pals in the Pennsylvintelligencia, including but not limited to Serendipity and DrSchnell.
Incidents and Attractions: The Jim Thorpe Monument, the incredibly kitschy Flight 93 Monument, being rear-ended by a motorcyclist (man unhurt, bike pretty messed up), Fallingwater (waaaaay cool), getting "arrested" after a gas pump didn't register my credit card, getting lost twice (I don't get lost very often, and I kind of enjoy it when I do).

New Counties: 22

Not just a shameless attempt to pad the state count, ducking into Ohio also gave me a chance to check out the Ohio River for the first time.
Incidents and Attractions: Industrial traffic on the river like it was 1880; sudden mammoth powerplants and factories looming out of the countryside.

New Counties: 3

New York

Michael5000's conquest of Manhattan will get a future post of its own. On the last morning of the trip, I did some plowing to make sure I got the five borough-counties -- you know: Bronx, Queens, Kings, New York, and Richmond -- as well as the two other Long Island counties, Nassau and Suffolk.

Incidents and Attractions: Dia: Beacon, the Hudson River towns of Westchester County, base camp in Yonkers, paying people money in order to cross bridges, being disabused of the (in retrospect) strange notion that Staten Island is only accessible by ferry, seeing lots of incredibly famous places, and Manhattan, which was packed with incident and attraction.

New Counties: 7


It was my first visit to Maryland since 1994, and I mostly just passed through, but naturally I found time for some manly deeds and womanly words. (fatti maschii parole femine, baby!)
Incidents and Attractions: Everything looking incredibly prosperous immediately after crossing over the border from West Virginia, hanging out at a Starbucks off of I-70 coasting off of the unsecured internet from a nearby carpet store, rush hour traffic on the belt road in Baltimore.

New Counties: 5

For a total of:
59 counties! Making 2009 immediately the best county-harvesting year since 2005, and a huge improvement over last year's, well, zero.

Also, I had a terrific time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Thursday Quiz IC

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:

1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!

Famous Movies and Their Directors!

All of the following movies show up pretty regularly on lists of the best movies of all times. Except, some I've listed with their actual directors, and some I haven't. For each movie, IS IT the actual director? Or ISN'T IT?

1. Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein

2. The Bicycle Thief, Federico Fellini

3. Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith

4. Casablanca, John Huston

5. The Godfather, Martin Scorsese

6. Lawrence of Arabia, Sam Peckinpah

7. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane

8. Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock

9. The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa

10. Singin' in the Rain, Fred Astaire

11. Star Wars, Steven Spielberg

12. The Wizard of Oz, Frank Capra

Submit your answers in the comments.

Song of the American Road, pt. II


Hi. Mae and I are at the Center. I finished eating before her. It won't be too long til you leave for Calif. Went to Carthage yesterday. Ate at Golden Corral. Ate too much! Sure enjoyed talking to you. Love to you both, Esther.


Hi. So far 2300 miles and no troubles. Am in the middle of Glacier Park now and the scenery is beyond words, so I won't try to describe it now anyway. Love, Ron


Hi, am having good time out here. Apt. is real nice. Am writing this Mon. morn. Everybody is okay. How are you? Went to Gettysburg and Philly over the weekend. Have to go. Bye! Love, Steve

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Great Movies: "Dracula"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Tod Browning, 1931

This Dracula is the Bela Lugosi version, probably the most famous of all the various vampire movies, and it was the first one with sound. This is very early sound, though, with no music and with a constant fuzzy static that makes it sound like everything is happening about a block back from the beach. The acting is, by modern standards, a bit stiff, but when you consider that filmmakers were still discovering that acting for the talkies was going to be somewhat different than acting on the stage, it ain't half bad.

Apparently Dracula was considered just about the most terrifying movie ever, back when it was new. That can't really be taken seriously now, but it retains an entertaining mood of gothic gloom and madness. There are plenty of nice moments, as when the mysterious count leads the young victim dude up the stairs, and the victim dude has to clear thick cobwebs that Dracula has somehow just walked through without disturbing. The movie dwells more on its sets, which are great, than on its special effects, which are sometimes a bit weak. In real life, for instance, bats don't hover there flapping their wings twice a second. Just sayin'.

It's pretty obligatory to opine, as Ebert does in his review, that the vampire legend is so compelling because of the way it combines sexuality and violence. Well, OK, maybe in some settings, but not really here. Even reading between the lines, there just isn't much steamy eroticism in this Dracula, and for that matter the violence is pretty tame too. Indeed, the exact nature of what happens to you if you get bitten is pretty vague, beyond that it's not good.

Also, there's no ending.

Plot: Young victim dude, a realtor, unwittingly risks his neck by ignoring the local knowledge of Transylvanian peasant folk. Next thing you know, he has helped his client move back to England and is calling him "master," and also flinching at wolfsbane and the cross. Count Dracula, now revealed as a vampire(!), preys on the neighborhood girls until a scientist named Van Helsing, an expert in the fairly random lore of vampires (who, incidentally, seem to have an awful lot of secret weaknesses. They're like if Superman was vulnerable not only to Kryptonite but also to oak furniture, Formula 409, the folk music of Portugal, and pistachio ice cream) comes along and figures out what's what.

Visuals: A handsome nighttime atmosphere pervades the whole, so much so that it's often hard to tell whether a given scene takes place during the night or the day, which is important. The photography is capable but not astonishing.

Dialog: Much of the dialog feels a bit contrived, possibly because the script is adapted from a stage play. A scene where one character makes fun of another by repeating his words back in an exaggerated way stands out as an especially genuine moment.

Prognosis: It's not going to be life-changing, but you can make a cultural literacy case for watching it and it's really still pretty entertaining. Plus, vampires are big right now. Enjoyable as long as you don't take it too seriously.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Monday Quiz LXXXIX


1. One of the machines that kicked off the modern world...


3. Not a machine you'd want to be without.


5. It's amazing so much hardware fits into a common ___________.

Submit your answers in the comments.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You Know What They Say About Hard Molded Corn Solids...

Fifteen months ago, I returned to CollegeTown5000 to watch the Olympic Trials. Such events are all about the ecofriendliness in our enlightened age, and when I bought my diet cola -- for those were the days, friends, when I still drank the diet cola -- it came in a special cup. A cup which, the vendors were clearly compelled to announce to every single customer, was "made from corn, environmentally sustainable, and 100% compostable."

"If it's made of corn, could I just roast it and eat it?" I asked the bustling, older cashier. "No, it's for COMPOST," she replied, speaking slowly as if to a child. "Like with food scraps and yard scraps. Not for eating!"

Well, do I not live in the City of Roses? Of course, I compost, and indeed I would be willing to bet that my compost pile could kick your compost pile's ass. So I made sure to hang on to my 100% compostable cup (not 90% compostable! not 98% compostable!) all through the rest of my journey. And when I returned home, I ceremonially placed the vessel in my compost pile, stirred it into the center of the heap, and forgot about it.

Come April, I dug into the rich, dark earth that had magically appeared where the yard and kitchen scraps had once stood. But the groovy feeling of oneness with the planet was suddenly interupted by a crackling sound, as what should I find but this:

Well, I'm no sceptic. Perhaps the magic was happening at a deep cellular level, and the cup just needed a little more time to commence its dissolution into a couple grams of prime topsoil. So I buried it back inside the pile, where it sat through the long, hot summer, doubtless undergoing a total organic transformation.

It surfaced the other day. It looks like this:

Call me crazy, but I'm not sure the compostable corn cup is quite ready for prime time. I'm going to try roasting it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Thursday Quiz IIC

The Thursday Quiz!

The Thursday Quiz is a twelve item is-it-or-isn't-it test of your knowledge, reasoning, stamina, and moxie!

Remember always the Fundamental Rules of the Thursday Quiz:

1. The Thursday Quiz is a POP quiz. No research, Googling, Wikiing, or use of reference books. Violators will never be able to look at themselves in the mirror again.

2. Don't get all stressed out about it! It's supposed to be fun!

Unimaginably Vast Asian Cities!

My goodness, some of these places are just so incredibly huge that it seems like they should sound kind of familiar. Except, some of them I just confabulated. IS THEY or ISN'T THEY real big Asian cities?

1. Antananarivo, Mongolia: 2.2 million

2. Busan, South Korea: 3.3 million

3. Chengdu, China: 2.3 million

4. Chittagong, Bangladesh: 2.6 million

5. Harbin, China: 2.7 million

6. Lauxhin, China: 4.3 million

7. Manaus, Cambodia: 2.8 million

8. Myanming, Burma: 3.4 million

9. Riga, Bangladesh: 3.1 million

10. Surabaya, Indonesia: 3 million

11. Wuhan, China: 4.5 million

12. Xi’an, China: 2.6 million

Submit your incredibly vast answers in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Song of the American Road, pt. I


Dear Ula and All, Haven't been to tower this year. Guess weather the reason. So glad your better & keep it up. Will be home next month & see you. We'll all be glad to have spring come. Love to all, Mabel & Nellie.


We finally arrived. I know you would love it here; its beautiful. I'm very glad I came. Have a Happy New Year. Love, Myra


Dear Grandma, We're spending our 2nd nite in Ontario, Oregon. Linda and I are a little tired from just sitting on our bottoms. Give my love to Helen and Mary. Will try and write all of you later. Love, Melissa