Readiness Report

Though my young apprentice is not yet entirely ready to emerge from his growth chamber, the time draws nigh. As is appropriate, certain preparations have begun.

  • The room in which the young one will be housed has been made ready. A border — upon which is imprinted a pattern of stars, moons and suns to symbolize the entirety of the galaxy he will one day rule — has been applied to the walls, along with other, similarly-themed accoutrements. Likewise, the crib in which he will rest and dream of future glory has been assembled and appointed with such regalia as befits his station.
  • The bassinet in which he will sleep during his early infancy has also been assembled and adorned with appropriately elegant and majestic trappings. I can take no credit for this.
  • Tomorrow morning I will journey to the Willoughby Fire Department and consult with a “child safety seat expert” to ensure that the car seat is properly installed in the MVoD.
  • A yellow folder has been readied; within are hospital admission documents.
  • Also at the ready is a small overnight bag, prepared by Laura.
  • I am creating a playlist on KJToonz entitled “Push ’em out, shove ’em out, waaaaaay out!” comprised of music that Laura finds soothing and relaxing.
  • Dilation has begun.

He is coming. It is only a matter of time.

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to my sisters, Brenda (AKA Jamwoman; Older, Bigger Lil Sis) and Karen (AKA Karen), who are both much, much younger than me.

Brenda reminds me with disturbing frequency that I was quite vociferous in my desire for a younger sister while my mother was pregnant (with what the doctors at the time believed to be “a big boy”). Lemme tell you something, Brenda: you weren’t born! You have no idea what I said while you were percolating! It’s all hearsay, and it’ll never hold up in court! Ha!

Whatever I may or may not have wanted at the time, what Mom came home from the hospital with was twin girls, identical in every respect, except that they looked and acted nothing alike. Brenda is dark-haired and boisterous, while Karen is blonde and quiet. They probably should have been named “Yin” and “Yang,” yet some people insisted on having trouble telling them apart.

Happy birthday to both of you. And Karen, I’m really sorry about that whole “smashing your finger with the sledge hammer” thing.

DVD Review: Airplane! “Don’t Call Me Shirley” Edition

Airplane! (Don’t Call Me Shirley Edition)Airplane! (1980)
“Don’t Call Me Shirley” Edition DVD (2005)

Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and June Cleaver

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that this is not a full review of the new Airplane! DVD. I only had time to watch the movie twice last night, and I’ll need to watch it two more times before I see every feature on the disc.Maybe. I don’t know if it’s possible to watch the “Long Haul” version with the audio commentary turned on, but that might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

Speaking of features, here’s a list of what’s on the “Don’t Call Me Shirley” Edition DVD:

  • Original theatrical release (widescreen)
  • Trivia track
  • Extended “Long Haul” version (with deleted scenes, interviews and more)
  • Audio commentary by producer Jon Davison and writer/directors Jim Abrahams and David & Jerry Zucker
  • Theatrical trailer

Laura and I watched the original theatrical release last night, then Laura slept on the couch while I watched the trivia track, which is essentially the “Pop-up Video” version.As far as I can tell the “pop-up” effect is accomplished through the use of souped-up subtitles, which is pretty spiffy. I really wish they’d do this with more movies. The last time I saw something similar was on the MTV Spider-Man animated series DVD. The pop-ups point out where David and Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and pretty much everyone they’ve ever known appear in the film (in one form or another). They also point out little production and continuity goofs as well as providing mini-bios for many of the film’s stars.They mention, for example, that Ted Striker is wearing a Navy uniform when he meet’s Elaine in the bar, but later is in an Army hospital. What they don’t mention is that Ted says he was a pilot in the Air Force.

As transfers to DVD do, this one looks pretty clean, but I wasn’t really nit-picking audio or video quality because I was too busy laughing at jokes and sight gags that I’ve seen at least a dozen times before. No matter how many times I watch Airplane!, it never gets old to me. The same is true of the first in the Naked Gun series, but for my money Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan delivery just doesn’t get any better than Doctor Rumack in Airplane!Every time I see two people sitting in an office or conference room, I’m tempted to stick my head in the door and say, “I just wanted to tell you both good luck, we’re all counting on you.”

It’s not just Nielsen, either. Airplane! is like a gathering of good ol’ boys who—while certainly very accomplished thespians—weren’t (at that time) generally thought of as comic actors. Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and Robert Stack are all ridiculously funny, each bringing their own style, each delivering lines that I could quote in my sleep. Relative newcomers (again, at that time) Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays are equally hilarious as the headstrong-yet-clueless Elaine and the deeply troubled Ted Striker.

The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team may not deal in sophisticated comedy, but there’s a lot to be said for their brand of outlandish, in-your-face humor. Airplane! holds the tenth spot in the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time, though I would probably kick it up a notch or nine.

Movie Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (DVD)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy and Fu Manchu.

Directed by Tim Burton.

When the first trailer for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released and we saw Johnny Depp as the enigmatic Willy Wonka, I believe the same four words bubbled to the milk chocolatey surface of every viewer’s mind: “creepy Michael Jackson vibe.”

I know some people who opted not to see Charlie and the Chocolate factory for just that reason; they weren’t particularly keen on watching the King of Candy prancing about with five children at his chocolate factory like the King of Pop with five children at his Neverland Ranch. Regardless of what did or did not go on at the latter, I would suggest that it should not be your reason for avoiding the former.

Whatever he looks and sounds like, there’s a big difference between Depp’s Wonka and Jackson’s…Jackson. Yes, Wonka has the pasty face and the high voice, but the resemblance ends there. See, Willy Wonka doesn’t appear to like kids all that much. While he has invited five of them into his factory, it’s pretty clear that he’d rather be doing just about anything but hanging around with the children. As a general rule, he is put off by their behavior (rightfully so, for the most part) and shrinks away should they even so much as grab his elbow.

It’s an interesting portrayal, but it runs into a huge roadblock: Willy Wonka doesn’t seem very human. Through a series of flashbacks, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory delves fairly deep into Wonka’s childhood in order to explain his motivations but ultimately fails to turn him into a sympathetic character. While I certainly felt for Wonka-the-child, Wonka-the-adult was so distant and aloof that there simply wasn’t any connection between the two. Thus, I found that I really didn’t care whether or not Willy Wonka resolved his childhood problems.

Is that a failing of Tim Burton or of Johnny Depp? Honestly, I think it’s a little bit of both. Depp failed to allow Willy Wonka’s humanity to show through when it was critical that he become a sympathetic character, but Burton’s story didn’t emphasize the healing/redeeming aspects of the aforementioned resolution of Wonka’s childhood problems. A little tweaking on both parts would have resulted in my heart happily simmering as the end credits rolled.

Willy Wonka aside, I’m afraid that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, except for some rather amusing Oompa Loompa tunes and an excellent turn by David Kelly as Grandpa Joe. The main problem is that it simply doesn’t stand out from the 1971 Mel Stuart version starring Gene Wilder. The two Willy Wonkas are as different as night and day, but almost everything else (apart from a slightly different ending) has been done before.

On the untrademarked, unpatented KJToo Arbitrary 27-point Rating System, I give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a 17.

Willy Wonka: 5
Despite bringing back the original title, Johnny Depp is clearly the big draw here. Unfortunately, his out-of-this world performance never makes it back to terra firma and I just didn’t care about him. Christopher Lee is woefully underused as Willy Wonka’s father.

Charlie: 6
Solid performances from Freddie Highmore (Charlie) and David Kelly (Grandpa Joe) are a high point in the non-Wonka cast. The other children and their respective guardians are all portrayed quite well, but Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor as Charlie’s parents are little more than set dressing.

The Chocolate Factory: 6
Deep Roy is all of the Oompa Loompas, and that’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately, nothing else about Wonka’s “amazing” chocolate factory really wowed me.

Movie Review: King Kong (2005)

King Kong (DVD)King Kong (2005)

Starring Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell and Pope John Paul II

Directed by Peter Jackson

Fans of Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, take note: I am about to voice an opinion that may prompt you to take up your pitchforks and torches and run me out of town. Ready to get your hackles raised and perhaps your undies in a bundle? Here we go…

The end of Return of the King was way too long. Peter Jackson should have cut the scenes of Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom in half, at the very least. I understand that the One Ring was a heavy burden, but I watched the first two movies, so I there was no need for Jackson to keep pounding on the point like John Henry on a railroad spike. The last bit of Frodo and Sam’s journey was the single most tedious section of the entire trilogy. I was ready to build the hobbits a damned ski lift just to get them up the bloody mountain.

The first hour of King Kong is a lot like the last hour of Return of the King that way; it drags painfully along like a snail with a limp. Jackson jumps through unnecessary hoops to get Carl Denham (Jack Black), Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) aboard the Venture and steaming toward Skull Island, home of King Kong. It’s Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom all over again, but with shoes.

Then, something interesting happens: Kong makes his first appearance and Peter Jackson kicks this sleepy, tedious little movie into all-out, balls-to-the-wall hyperspeed. It’s as though he wandered into the editing room and noticed that the dial labeled “ACTION” was in the “OFF” position and decided to just crank that sucker to eleven.

Once on Skull Island, things start to happen pretty quickly. Ann Darrow is offered up as a sacrifice to Kong and Jack Driscoll is determined to save her. He doesn’t know what has taken Ann, but he knows that he wants her back, so he sets off into the unknown along with Carl Denham and a detail of crewmen from the Venture.

Skull Island makes Jurassic Park look like EuroDisney, and once the crew is beyond the giant wall that the natives have built to contain Kong, things get interesting. The story splits into two parts: Ann’s experiences with Kong and Jack’s relentless pursuit of whatever stole his girl. Both parts feature some astounding, pulse-pounding action, but it is when Ann tries to escape from the big ape that Peter Jackson kicks the movie up notches that would make Emeril Lagasse squeal like a stuck pig.

Ann Darrow has so many consecutive “out of the frying pan and into the fire” moments during her attempt at escaping from Kong that I nearly had to break out the defibrillator. Just when I thought her situation could not possibly get any worse, it did and did and did again. I don’t want to reveal too much about this sequence, but I will say two things:

  1. There are dinosaurs.
  2. Holy crap.

It is quite possibly the single most intense, edge-of-your-seat action sequence that I have ever seen, and is easily worth the price of admission all by itself. Do yourself a favor: see King Kong on the big screen, just for this sequence, because it may not achieve the same eye-popping effect on your television.

Action aside, King Kong is (surprise, surprise) a far more engaging movie when the title character is on screen. Once again, Jackson has managed to blend technical wizardry with the incredible talent of Andy Serkis to create a fascinating, beautiful and amazingly real character. Kong’s personality and the relationship he forges with Ann Darrow are so powerful that the inevitable conclusion of the movie is utterly heartbreaking.

On the unpatented, untrademarked KJToo Arbitrary 27-point Rating System, I give King Kong a 25. As always, there are three categories, each of which can score a maximum of nine points:

  • Action: 10
    That’s right, King Kong gets 10 out of a possible 9 points in the Action category. Once it gets going, the movie is chock full of thrills, spills and chills. The visual effects are top-notch and the sequence in which Kong faces off against the dinosaurs deserves an ovation. In fact, I’m going to award it the first-ever KJToo “Holy #$&%!” Award for Jaw-Dropping, Ass-Kicking Action.
  • Heart: 9
    Performances are solid all around, but it is King Kong himself that gives the movie life. There simply wasn’t a moment where I felt I wasn’t looking at a living, breathing creature when Kong was on the screen, and I was rooting for him the entire time.
  • Pacing: 6
    That first hour is agonizingly slow, but the remaining two-thirds of the movie picked up most of the slack. In addition to pacing problems, there are a couple of sub-plots that I found excessive, poorly-developed, and inconsequential to the larger story.

The Christmas Run-down

Laura and I usually spend one of the winter holidays with my parents and the other with hers. This generally means a 13-hour drive up to the U.P. in November or December, which thrills Laura to no end. She much prefers the U.P. in late July or early August, when the temperature soars high above freezing.

I, on the other hand, love visiting the U.P. in the wintertime. It’s in my blood, it’s in my boots, and sometimes it’s in my beard.

This year, Laura was at PregCon 7 when Thanksgiving rolled around, and we had decided not to travel for the holidays. We had a very nice Thanksgiving with Laura’s family, and then my mother-in-law canceled Christmas.

Well, actually, it turns out she had to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so we postponed our Christmas get-together until next weekend, when we’ll do a combined Christmas and New Year’s celebration. We’re gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny f- … well, you get the idea.

Today was not bereft of joyeux noel, however. Laura somehow managed to get us invited to the Schoonover residence for Christmas dinner. I guess you can get away with a lot when you’re eight months pregnant. We had a very good dinner and did a little gift exchange with Chris (AKA Schoon) and Lynette. Also, there were mudslides, which fill me with the Christmas spirit. Or spirits. Whatever.

Because I love lists, here are the Official Christmas 2005 Loot Lists.

First, from Mrs. Kris (Kringle), I received:

  • The Shroud of the Twacker by Chris Elliot (yes, that Chris Elliot).
  • To Drive the Cold Winter Away by Loreena McKennitt. This CD came with a bonus DVD that made me want to get more of Loreena McKennitt’s music in 5.1 surround sound. I’ve fallen prey to their clever marketing ploy!
  • Underthings.
  • More underthings. These ones are funny boxers that have “May the Farts be with you” printed on them. You didn’t need to know that.
  • Button-down shirt (color: seaweed).
  • Lounge pants (what “men” apparently call pajama bottoms, now).
  • A new wallet. My driver’s license was threatening to escape the old one.
  • The Emperor Palpatine (or is it Darth Sidious?) PEZ dispenser. When you pull back his head, a goiter of pure, unadulterated evil thrusts out of his neck. Lemony!

From various relatives, friends and co-workers:

  • Button-down shirt (color: rust).
  • Caramel corn and snacky-type flavored oyster crackers. Yum!
  • Filthy lucre and a Best Buy gift card. Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with cash and gift certificates. Truth be told, though, I agonize over how to spend gift money sometimes. I want to be certain that what I buy is worthy of other people’s money. Weird.
  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Work by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, with illustrations by Brenda Brown. Now I know the proper way to duck out of a meeting, get a job I’m not qualified for, and take over an unoccupied office.
  • Strong Bad Sings and Other Type Hits by Strong Bad and featuring Limozeen, Taranchula, The Kinda Long-Haired Band, What’s-Her-Face, Marzipan, Coach Z, Strong Sad, Strong Mad and Mrs. Partsmatter’s First Grade Class. If you don’t know who Strong Bad is, you need to head over to Homestar Runner and spend the next three days looking at every last cartoon on the site. I’ll wait for you here.
  • Strong Bad Emails 3-disc DVD set. The first 100 Strong Bad e-mails.
  • Strong Bad Emails Disc 4. Strong Bad e-mails 101-130.
  • Everything Else Vol. 1. A ton of other Homestar Runner stuff on DVD.

As you can see, I made out like a bandit this year. I seem to know a lot of extremely generous people who haven’t quite figured out that I deserve nothing but coal. I’m sure they’ll catch on next year, and I’ll be singing a different tune.

The tune I’m singing now? It goes a little something like this…

Fah who for-aze
Dah who dor-aze
Welcome, Christmas,
come this way!

Fah who for-aze
Dah who dor-aze
Welcome, Christmas,
Christmas day!

Once again, Merry Christmas to all.

Seasons Greetings

I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and also a Happy Chanukah, Pleasant Festivus, Joyous Kwanzaa and a Downright Spiffy Agnostica. Whatever you’re into, I hope the last few days of 2005 are good to you.

My gift to everyone who reads this is not subjecting you to my reviews of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and King Kong until at least tomorrow. It’s not so much a Christmas Miracle as a Christmas Reprieve.

Happy holidays.

Mini Movie Reviews: The Fly II (1989) and Scrooge (1951)

The Fly Collector Set (DVD)The Fly II (1989)

Starring Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson, John Getz, Frank C. Turner, Ann Marie Lee and Optimus Prime. ((Peter Cullen was the voice of Prime in the Transformers cartoons and movie in the 1980’s (as well as the voice of Eeyore in Disney’s recent Winnie the Pooh TV series and movies), but Gary Chalk took up the role when the Transformers were revived in the late 1990’s.))

Directed by Chris Walas.

The Fly II certainly has its share of gore, but is nowhere near as graphic as my teenaged recollections. Then again, high school boys are more concerned with flashes of blood (and breasts) than they are with character development and the depth of the story. There’s actually a good bit of build-up before the violent and graphic climax, and it was interesting to see the fresh-faced Eric Stoltz (who was twenty-eight when The Fly II was released, but looks at least a half-dozen years younger) as Martin Brundle ((“Brundle” is on my Top Ten List of of Movie Surnames.)). I don’t think The Fly II quite measures up to its predecessor, but as sci-fi/horror flicks go, it was very entertaining.

A Christmas Carol (DVD)
Scrooge (1951)

Starring Alastair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Michael Hordern, Francis de Wolff, Michael Dolan and John Steed.

Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst.

Scrooge is one of the three versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I consider to be classics ((The other two are Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, and the audio version of A Christmas Carol read by Patrick Stewart. Alas, the made-for-TV movie starring Stewart was less than inspiring.)). Interestingly enough, until it aired on American Movie Classics this week, I hadn’t ever watched Scrooge from beginning to end. Alastair Sim is the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge, and the difference between the humbug and the convert is both remarkable and convincing. I actually experienced a little eye leakage when the reformed Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning, the true spirit of the holiday firmly ensconced in his once-miserly heart. ((What can I say? I’m a sap.))

Weekend Wrap-up for 17-18 December 2005.

Saturday morning was a buzz of house-cleaning activity as Laura and I prepared for the arrival of Adam, youngest of my brothers and rightful heir to the Throne of the Dreaming Serpent. I was responsible for the cleaning of floors, which included vacuuming carpeted floors and first swiffing ((swiff [v.] – to use a Swiffer® sweeper.)) then mopping wood and lineoleum floors. Laura should not be cleaning bathrooms in her condition, ((I love the word “condition” when applied in this manner; it has such gravity. Probably because of the whole “defcon” business. Right now, Laura is at Pregcon 8. If she hits Pregcon 10, we’ve got problems.)) yet that’s just what she did.

After the house was deemed acceptable, we did a little grocery shopping. We grabbed a six-pack of Bud Light for Adam and—much to Laura’s disgust—a six-pack of watermelon-flavored Smirnoff’s Twisted V for me. ((Adam is a Bud Light man, through and through, whereas I do not drink beer. Were she not pregnant, Laura would probably be okay drinking Bud Light or Smirnoff Twisted V. Unless it’s watermelon-flavored. Artificial watermelon flavoring may not be Laura’s kryptonite, but it’s probably pretty close. I thought it was pretty good.)) We also bought three gallons of milk and various snack-type foods (including a yummy cheese ball).

Due to a little directional mix-up (my fault), Adam wound up arriving about an hour late. We immediately headed out to Mariachi’s for dinner, then watched Kingdom of Heaven on pay-per-view. Pretty good movie. I was pleasantly surprised. Adam drank the hell out of the six-pack of Bud Light ((Not the six-pack I bought, mind you. That one was moved to the garage when Adam arrived with his own six-pack. The one I bought went to Toledo with Adam and was, hopefully, enjoyed by both he and our eldest brother, David (AKA Thagg).)) and we watched Saturday Night Live for the first time in what seemed like ages.

Sunday morning, Adam and I played Darkwatch for an hour or so after breakfast. Laura played hooky from church with the intention of visiting her father in the hospital, ((Laura’s father was admitted Saturday evening after it was discovered that he has a blood clot in his arm. I won’t go into the particulars, but he was scheduled to have surgery to remove it today.)) but after consulting with her mother she decided to go see him this morning, instead.

Adam left a little after 1:00, and I did a whole lot of nothing for the remainder of the day. Jericho Cross killed a slew of undead gunslingers and just-as-undead Native Americans, though. Not to mention those damned banshees.

Waiting on the TiVo: Shallow Ground (the SciFi Saturday movie) and The Fly II.