Maybe he’ll lose another 25 pounds next year.

Maybe he’ll gain 50.

Maybe he’ll break a new personal record running a 5K race.

Maybe he’ll break his leg.

Maybe his family members will get through a whole year without being hospitalized.

Maybe his blind cat will regain some sight.

Maybe his demented uncle will regain some faculties.

Maybe he’ll start looking at houses again.

Maybe he’ll even buy one.

Maybe he’ll get a raise.

Maybe he’ll get a promotion.

Maybe he’ll take more risks.

Maybe he’ll do something stupid.

Maybe he’ll ask that girl out.

Maybe he’ll spend some time in a hospital.

Maybe he’ll finally get that mole removed.

Maybe he’ll stop wasting time playing internet games.

Maybe he’ll go to more concerts.

Maybe he’ll go to more casinos.

Maybe he’ll get on a plane again.

Maybe he’ll have a plan again.

Maybe he’ll shave his head.

Maybe he’ll grow his hair out.

Maybe he’ll grow a goatee again.

Maybe his investments will finally pay off.

Maybe he’ll roll over that one Roth IRA into that stock his mother’s cousin recommended.

Maybe he’ll make more new friends.

Maybe he’ll spend more time with old ones.

Maybe he’ll meet more famous people.

Maybe he’ll become famous.

Maybe he’ll become infamous.

Maybe he’ll get a new camera.

Maybe he’ll stop blogging.

Maybe he’ll blog more.

Maybe “blog” is an acceptable verb.

Maybe he’ll finally and irreversibly start referring to himself in the third person.

Maybe he’ll reveal his secret identity to you.

Maybe you know what’s going to happen to MCF in 2010.

Because I don’t.



PBW: A Wonderful Christmas Time

The holidays are winding down quickly, as is this year, but Photo Blog Wednesday will capture the residual magic of my family's Christmas, from our home to my Uncle's nursing home, which featured a great soundtrack juxtaposition:



Looking Back Looking Forward

2009 is over in just a few short days and with it, an as yet unnamed decade. Seriously, did we ever decide on a name? I've lived now through a portion of the ‘70s, all of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and....the ‘00s? How do we even pronounce that? “Oh-oh's”? Considering some of the things that have happened in the past ten years, that might be appropriate. Me, I'm already wondering what we call this next decade. The teens? And what comes next? The ‘20s? How do we differentiate those from the 1920s? Wait, those were Roaring.

It seems like each decade I live through goes faster than the previous one. I thought this whole new millennium thing just started. I began a new job on the very first working day of the year 2000, and a new chapter in my life. Gone was the educational but crappy job I spent four years of my life at after graduating college. Gone also was my girlfriend, and I probably spent far too many years getting over her. I've had my share of unrequited crushes, botched or misguided attempts to win hearts, and the rare date or two in the years since, but nothing resembling that relationship. Of course, since that went down in flames, I really shouldn't compare or make that my goal. Something better and more permanent is in my future; I just don't know when. Resolving to change my luck each year was too ambitious, but to achieve happiness in this next decade? I think I'm up to that challenge....

Ten years flew by, and while it seems like everything is the same, more things changed than I probably realized. I didn't have a blog ten years ago. I did have a birth defect that nearly killed me at the end of the year 2000. I'd never served jury duty; by the end of 2001 I'd spend a month on a grand jury, during which time I also had all four wisdom teeth removed. So there's definitely a lot less pieces in me now. I joined a gym, and gradually and surprisingly became a runner. Then I lost my job in 2007, with it the company gym membership, and spent a year getting fat again before joining a new gym. In 2009, I pushed myself to train for a race, and kept running after achieving my goal. I managed to shed 25 pounds, and despite the occasional fluctuation during high snacking periods, I haven't gone up more than 5-10 pounds before losing it again. Let's hope I can keep that up in the next decade.

2009 was a year of record celebrity deaths, so many so that any attempt on my part to list them would not only be morbid, but I'd almost certainly forget someone important. And while all people are important, not just the famous ones, family and friends are the most important ones of all. At the beginning of 2009 I was sure we were going to lose my dad. He was sure he was gone, too. He's feeling his age, but he still made a great comeback, and God willing he's going to see his 80th birthday in 2010. Maybe he can't walk as fast, lift as much, hear as well or raise his arms above his head, but he still has his full mental capacity, unlike my mom's brother, who drove his car to Staten Island in a state of confusion in the Spring, nearly set fire to his apartment in the Summer, and settled into a nursing home by Autumn. It's been a period of adjustment which I noticed both in holidays and in helping clean out his apartment; my car's trunk still houses many of his old paintings. It's been really hard on my mom and her other brother, who alternate days visiting and dealing with the situation, and my dad who goes along for the ride and has some sisters with health problems of their own.

I think I've done a lot of things in the last 10 years that I never, ever pictured myself doing, both good and bad. I've definitely socialized more and expanded my old tight college circle of friends with new ones at the two companies I've worked for in the past decade. I've been to a few more happy hours, but knowing my uncle's alcoholic past and wondering if it contributed to his current state, I keep track and pace myself. Knowing I have to drive home at the end of the night is enough to limit my drinking, although a situation like my Atlantic City visit in which I was staying overnight removed that limitation, and allowed me to go a little crazy. I think it's okay to loosen up, go wild, and blow off some steam once in a while, provided I don't go too far. I understand the phenomenon of the quiet, reserved guy holding back flying to the other extreme when let loose. Dancing like a fool is something I've done four or five times in the “Oh-oh”s, but damn has each time been fun in the moment.

I wasn't taking pictures as frequently or even using a digital camera 10 years ago. There was no such thing as a Photo Blog Wednesday. There were probably phases during which there was no such thing as leaving my room unless I was going to work or a band gig. I've explored Long Island and the city, and even ventured further for conventions, races, paintball, or a Philly Cheese Steak. I've seen movies continue to amaze and raise the bar for my demographic, including X-Men, The Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredibles, District 9, Transformers, Star Trek, and even a feature-length Simpsons Movie. We had our share of disappointments too, proving costumes and special effects are meaningless without good stories, scripts, and direction. Still, this was a great decade to be a geek when you consider how many properties were brought to life and treated maturely and with respect. I never thought I'd see half the things I've seen. I'm excited for what's coming next and where we go from here.

Where do we go from here? The unknown is exciting and scary. I can think of some great things that might happen in the next 10 years, and I can think of some sad things that probably will happen as well. I can only look too far ahead before it gets overwhelming. We should all take things one day at a time. We shouldn't be afraid of the occasional risk, or occasional new experience. I saw Metallica for the first time at the beginning of 2009 and liked it so much that I saw them again before the end of the year. It was just another chance for me to let out the me I usually keep locked in my brain. And I think that may be my greatest wish for 2010 and beyond, after health and happiness for my family, friends, and pets. I want to be the me that I have the potential to be, confident and unencumbered by doubts and fears. I like that guy. I've met him a few times, but I've only caught glimpses of him in the last 10 years. I sense he's close to the surface again though, and that means that anything is possible. We can't eliminate our fear, but we can press on in spite of it. We should press on, in spite of it. But don't take my word for it. I'll let yet another cinematic icon who made a surprisingly good return in the ‘00s speak for me:


Phantasmic Links 12.28.09

This has been an exhausting weekend. Truth be told, the whole week, though short, was tiring, from shoveling snow to my awesome holiday party to spending time with family and friends! In some ways, I wish every week was like this, because it's worth it. In others, I don't mind the occasional quiet time to rest and focus on things like PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) A possible sociopath is brilliant in pointing out all the logic and plot flaws that made Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace such a terrible, terrible movie. Before I just thought the movie wasn't as good as the others, but this guy makes a great case, with some great comedic, occasionally disturbing, asides. I can't describe it, but I watched all 7 videos back to back. You not only walk away with a great understanding of what went wrong, but why, and you realize why a trilogy from the same man would differ so much from one he made when he was younger.
Hat Tip: Krispy(and Rey who also sent me direct links to the videos a few days later).

(2) ”Must be some kind of....Hot Tub...Time Machine” says Craig Robinson, guaranteeing that I'll want to see this flick. The red band trailer offers even more hilarious line delivery.
H.T.: B13.

(3) Five years ago, a computer rendered a new Christmas album. Technology, it seems, is not without a sense of harmony...

(4) A fugitive mocks authorities...from his FACEBOOK page. I wonder if he'll get one more status update when (if?) they catch him....

(5) Great Dane, that's a big dog! Of course, Guiness would seem to contradict the apparent photo manipulation.

(6) Here's another instant holiday classic: Marvel's Very M.O.D.O.K. Christmas.

(7) ”Alma” is the directorial debut of Pixar's Rodrigo Blaas, a beautifully animated tale of childhood curiosity and creepy toys.

(8) As was inevitable, John Daker takes on Super Freak.

(9) A bill would lower those annoyingly loud television commercials. I think the volume difference has gotten worse, because I only started noticing it in the last couple of years. I'm all for this.

(10) Can you infect everyone with a zombie plague before Christmas arrives? I love those heartwarming holiday games....

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 23

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 23rd WWW:

1) The Santa Clause:
Tim Allen does what other actors warn against, and works with both children and animals in a holiday family film that spawned a trilogy(more on that shortly). I probably caught more than half of this movie on television years ago, but only recently was in the right mood and frame of mind to sit through it properly from beginning to end. And in such a mood and frame of mind, it's not that bad. Allen plays Scott Calvin, a single dad juggling his career with the marketing division of a toy company and making time to see his son, who lives with his ex-wife and her new husband, played by Judge Reinhold. While watching the boy on Christmas Eve, a disturbance on the roof causes him to run outside and investigate, where he startles Santa Claus, startling the jolly fat man and causing him to plunge to his death. “You killed him!” whines the little boy, in a scenario that could have been a lot more gruesome if this weren't a Disney movie. But since it is, the body conveniently disappears when they aren't looking, leaving only the red suit and a business card which conceals the titular clause. Calvin dons the suit, finds reindeer on his roof with a sleigh, and is soon out delivering presents with his son before landing at the North Pole, where the head elf Bernard(David Krumholz) points out the clause and explains that this is now Calvin's new gig. It was one of the earliest roles I remember seeing Krumholz in, and it was strange that the next time I recognized him he was stabbing the hell out of some of my favorite doctors in the nightmarish ending to an episode of ER. Here, his role seems to be in more of a dream sequence, and when Calvin wakes up in his own bed the next morning, it seems to support the fantasy. The only problems are the monogrammed red silk pajama's with the initials “S.C.”(also his own) and the fact that his son remembers everything and has a snow globe that Bernard gave him. This causes problems down the line at school and with his mom and stepfather, and while everyone including Calvin is concerned for the boy's mental state, Calvin has to question his own reality when he starts facing radical physical changes. He gains weight rapidly. His beard grows back as quickly as he shaves it. And his hair starts turning white. When he receives a massive list of all the boys and girls he has to deliver presents to, he begins to realize that it wasn't a dream. It still sounds insane to everyone else of course, and convincing people while facing the loss of visitation rights with his son proves to be the central dilemma of the film. Will magic win out in the “real” world where adults have long ago stopped believing in it? It's the sort of corny feel-good stuff that only works this time of year. What happened to the previous Santa? Was he the original? Was there one before him? Is there always a succession? These questions aren't answered here, and perhaps are not important. With a ride like this, all you can do is embrace your own inner child, and go with it. And if your inner child can beat the game on the special edition DVD, he or she might get treated to a cartoon classic.

2) The Santa Clause 2:
In some ways, the sequel loses some of the magic of the original, but still manages to be a lot of fun. Allen has really grown into the role of Santa by this point and genuinely looks the part, but the real fun arises when he also gets to play his plastic toy doppelganger, a stand-in while he goes off to find a wife. He's rapidly changing back into Scott Calvin, because some actors have to be recognizable as themselves in a movie(see Batman Returns, Spider-Man and its sequels, etc. and you'll get what I mean). The reason for the change given in the plot however is the previously unmentioned “Mrs. Clause” that states Santa must take a wife, for some reason before the 8th or so Christmas he's been on the job. If not, he loses his magic, and the world loses Christmas. So the movie splits in two, with Allen as his misguided twin providing the most entertainment as power corrupts. It wasn't a great plan and shouldn't have fooled the elves, but it made things entertaining. Back in the real world, we see that Calvin has become good friends with his ex-wife and her husband now, and their daughter even calls him “Uncle Scott”. Eric Lloyd, now grown, reprises his role as Calvin's son Charlie, and as a hormonal high school boy he keeps getting in trouble as he spreads graffiti to both protest the absence of Christmas in the school and impress a girl. This gets him in trouble with the tyrannical principal, played by Elizabeth Mitchell(Lost, V), and she clashes with Calvin. Of course, as is the formula, the initial not getting along phase leads to bonding and romance, and it soon becomes apparent that she will be his choice for Mrs. Clause, if he can win her over. This is all complicated by the fact that he keeps spending his finite magic in trying to win her over, and his double has decreed all children naughty, using an army of toy soldiers to enforce the distribution of coal. When the two plots finally come back together, the main plot is overshadowed by the subplot, and the movie suffers a little. My only other criticism is in the addition of Spencer Breslin as the elf Curtis. Krumholtz is still around as Bernard, but he has to share most of his scenes with this annoying new character. There's also the introduction of an entire council of mythical figures like Santa, who distract from the core cast to some degree but also set the stage for the next chapter in the series....

3) The Santa Clause 3:
Anybody else noticing a pattern with this week's reviews? In any event, Allen is fully comfortable as Santa now and, SPOILER, Mitchell as his bride is expecting their first child. Almost the entire cast from the prior films returns, although Charlie plays a much smaller role with his kid stepsister being the central child character. Most glaringly is the absence of David Krumholtz as Bernard, with almost no reference to his character other than Spencer Breslin's Curtis describing himself as the “NEW head-elf.” So what happened to Bernard? He was always older(and taller) than the other elves, so did he die off-screen? Did Curtis bump him off to get the job? We may never know. Santa has a lot on his plate as the arrival of his child seems dangerously close to coinciding with his Christmas duties, and as he struggles to give equal attention to work and family, he has the bright idea of bringing his in-laws to the North Pole, and telling them that it's Canada to protect his secret. Because these people (Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin) are apparently COMPLETE idiots, they fall for fake signs and elves in hats ending every sentence with “eh”. A G-movie aimed at children should still have some logic, no? Calvin ends up bringing his whole family(sans Charlie, who goes skiing with his girlfriend) up North, but instead of giving him more time to focus they all provide more distractions. The council of legendary figures is back, this time trying to discipline Jack Frost, played by Martin Short. If they needed another villain, they would have been better off bringing back Allen as the evil Toy Santa. Short isn't terrible, but his over-the-top ham routine makes him a scene-stealer and a distraction. My real problem is that this short film(about an hour-and-a-half) is mostly spent setting up Frost's plan to usurp Santa, by tricking him into invoking an “Escape Clause” using a magic snowglobe. There's a lot of potential in reworking the timeline so Calvin never became Santa, and revisiting key scenes from the first movie as actors interact with older footage. But, after an hour setting up this alternate timeline in which Frost puts on the coat and Scott Calvin still looks like Tim Allen(again, see previous movie, Batman Returns, etc.), the whole thing is resolved in about 10 minutes. I also had a problem with the way the in-laws react when they learn a certain secret; some seriously bad acting from two veteran performers. Is the sequel entertaining? Is it fun? Yes, but it's so inferior to the first two as to be a big disappointment. Jokes like flatulent reindeer that never should have been in the second movie are recycled, and ultimately it's clear that everyone involved was just milking the concept to squeeze out another paycheck. Ho, ho, horrid. Eh?

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



My Christmas Special Fives

Welcome to a very special post featuring My Five Favorite Christmas Specials! You can't see it, but the word “special” is totally spinning around in my brain the way it did in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Some of you know what I'm talking about; others are just nodding in fearful agreement. In any case, these are somewhat in order, counting down to my absolute favorite, and there probably won't be too many surprises here::

5) Christmas with the Joker:
You know, when it first aired, this was probably my least favorite episode of the otherwise dark and brilliant Batman: The Animated Series. If I wanted a Christmas special, I could look elsewhere, and the fact that it first aired more than a month and a half prior to the holiday didn't help put me in a festive mood. While other episodes stand out as the best in the series overall, this one has since grown on me and earned a place in my heart as a classic. I can't overlook one of the earliest examples of Mark Hamill establishing himself as a talented voice actor and the definitive voice for the animated Joker, especially in an episode in which he gets to sing this classic:

4) The Tick Loves Santa!:
Yes, I'm listing another animated series from the ‘90s, because I miss the hilarious brilliance that was The Tick, a witty and well-written satire of the superhero genre that would later be marred by an extremely short-lived live series. I think the animated version could have worked in primetime, but alas I'll have to be content with the 36 existing episodes, including a Christmas one that, as I recall, aired once or twice in primetime after the Saturday morning series was canceled. In it, The Tick has the moral dilemma of dealing with Multiple Santa, a villain dressed as his favorite holiday icon. What's a superstrong hero with a childlike demeanor and intellect to do?

3) Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire:
This special has the double distinction of not only being a Christmas episode, but the first episode of The Simpsons as a full-length series! They've done several Christmas episodes in the 20(!) years since, some better than others, and with improved animation. Though crudely drawn and faded with time, this is an old friend that has a lot of heart behind a more realistic slightly dysfunctional family. What happens when a father doesn't have money to buy presents? Will Christmas be ruined? Or will a family find a new friend? It's hard to believe the answers to those questions and more have lasted for over two decades.

2) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
As we get into specials that first aired well before I was born, this one by ten years, you'll notice an increase in quality and less hyperbole in my use of the word “classic”. Indeed, there's not a child or adult in America that hasn't been exposed to this Rankin/Bass stop-animation classic. It's a heartwarming tale of outcasts finding kinship and purpose, all wrapped together with the lyrical and narrative stylings of one Burl Ives. Bumbles bounce and misfit toys find their fit, and though I might die a little when I see the concept commercialized, all it takes is the warmth and beauty of the original to wash away the feeling.

1) A Charlie Brown Christmas:
I go back and forth between this one and Rudolph being my favorite, but ultimately this is the one tradition that I gravitate to the most. I even included the definitive clip in yesterday's post. Every time things seem too commercialized, or I see a small tree with a lot of potential, I think about this half hour of miracles, and the wisdom out of the mouths of babes, and smile.



A Very Merry!

I had a nice and relaxing Christmas Eve to rest up for what promises to be a busy but fun weekend with family and friends and those who are both. As is a last minute tradition, I hung ornaments on the tree, dropping one in the process which shattered in to a million pieces. The thing was older than I am, and I was more concerned than my mom was actually mad. Still, I was more careful with the rest. Later, my dad would try to add a garland, and knock another ornament off where it shattered on the floor. Some days it's best to sit still.

I relaxed. I watched a movie. I napped. And in the afternoon, I slapped on yet another Christmas tie and drove the folks to mass. There, the priest's main reading was of the lineage of Jesus--fellow Christians will recognize this as the passage with all the “begat”s. In his sermon, the priest told us of one of his classmates back home in Africa who actually committed the passage from memory, and could name everyone in the line from Abraham right up to the birth of Christ. I'm lucky if I can remember the names of my own grandparents, most of which I don't.

One of the ushers asked me to help with the collection, no doubt because of my festive tie. I'm almost incapable of refusing a request for help, probably something in my own lineage since my dad was the same way. In any case, it was nice to participate and I hadn't done so in a while. After the service, we stopped off for a very nontraditional meal of McDonald's. We've never done the traditional fish thing. My mom's people were Sicilians and didn't have that tradition to begin with. My dad's ancestry hails from Naples, so he did experience the fish thing growing up. I'm not a seafood fan at all, but I probably would have chosen a better option than Mickey D's. The meal left me as lethargic as that food always does the two or three times a year I make the mistake of eating it. I didn't fall asleep again, but I didn't do much of anything other than lie around.

I hope those of you who celebrate have a great Christmas, and I hope all of you have a great weekend. My presents were wrapped days ago, while my mom will probably be up until the wee hours wrapping stuff she bought the day before, another tradition. And, as we did on Thanksgiving, after a meal with just the three of us, we'll probably head to the nursing home to visit my Uncle Jerry. So sometimes, new traditions replace old ones.



Holiday Motion

Oh, yes. It's that time of year again, time for another tale of the office holiday party. This year's fell a little later than last year's, which worked out for me. About two week's prior, I was given the assignment of designing scratch-off cards as party favors for all attending. Even though I'd be using existing logos and design elements in coordination with graphics other people had already created for the event, time was still needed to put it all together and get about 400 cards printed. So, the extra time worked in my favor.

It also gave me time to recover from a brief illness I suffered last week, no doubt as a result of being run down from my Atlantic City adventure. I was still getting over it when I had to shovel snow for 5 hours. So I wasn't expecting much activity at the party this year. I was going to take things slow, chill with my friends and sip drinks, and certainly not do anything remotely like this:

It takes a certain combination of music, alcohol, and people to get me on a dance floor, but most of all it takes Newton's first law of motion. If I'm at rest, I'm more than content to be a wall-fella, and just observe. But once I'm in motion, it's like a wild and uncoordinated animal has been set free to flail limbs and have seizures.

It's happened before. Office parties. Weddings. Karaoke. Concerts. And once at a fashion show in a major Manhattan night club(a story for another time). So when the DJ approached a friend and I and asked if we'd participate in some kind of competition, I was wary. Last year, a ton of people got roped into a dance-off/race that, among other things, including riding on a miniature tricycle. I needed full disclosure before I agreed to anything, and assurances that he was telling the truth when he said it was a free throw competition. Sure enough, as he pointed out, a plastic net was sitting behind his DJ equipment. We just needed a third person to be a team, so I waved over one of our writers. And when the DJ asked us what our team's name would be, I said the first thing that naturally would occur to someone like me:

The Avengers.”

I swear, if I don't learn to do the opposite of my natural instincts, I'm going to be single forever. In my defense, I'd had a few drinks at this point and wasn't making the conscious effort to mute my geek voice. One of my supervisors who must have overheard merely rolled his eyes, while the DJ stared, blinked, and proceeded to ask our writer what her name was. He then tacked “...and The Studs” to the end of it, and an embarrassing team name was born. And after a few teams had their shots and it was our turn to line up and take ours, the DJ naturally made fun of us: “You call these guys studs?” Ass.

Every team had 60 seconds to sink as many baskets as possible, and the highest score had been 5. My competitive nature boiled to the surface in the wake of the public humiliation, and I contributed 2 or 3 of our team's 9 baskets. We had a solid lead, and laughter had turned to cheers. The next two teams fared not as well, but then the final team, also two guys and a girl, proved to be a threat. The guys didn't even put their mixed drinks down, shooting with one-handed indifference, in stark contrast to my racing around like it was the NBA. 1, 2, 3, 4....before we knew it, the score was tied and they had a few seconds left! But the last shot bounced out and we were still in! It was time for a tie-breaking round. Of course, this is exactly when I choked. My first shot flew clear over the net and almost into the bar at the far end of the country club. Some kind soul in the crowd chucked it back, and thankfully my teammates each sank a shot. I fired again, this time hitting the backboard, but putting too much force into it. A brick! The pressure was too much! We only had 30 seconds for the tie breaker, and I had wasted so much! My partners didn't let me down, and in the end we had a score of 4. The other team was much more relaxed, almost overconfident, taking their time with their one-handed dismissive tosses. By some miracle, they only scored 4 as well, and in a fit of mercy, the DJ decided not to do another tiebreaker, but award us all prizes. In the end, a $25 gift card made it all worth it.

I was exhausted and triumphant, albeit by association. I needed another drink, and probably some food. At that point I'd only had appetizers. I lingered on the edge of the dance floor trying to figure out my next move, when some ladies I'd worked with at my last job as well as this one invited me to join them on the floor. One dance wouldn't hurt, and honestly a crowded dance floor isn't that intimidating, even to someone as shy as I am. I'm realizing that no one looks at anyone in particular at these things, that it's just a blur of people jumping around and waving their limbs. Sometimes it's okay to just let go, be a little silly, not care, and most importantly have fun.

And other times, you might get carried away, not eat anything, and be a sweaty, dancing mess for three hours in a routine that includes jazz hands and The Batusi. Not that I'd ever do anything like that, of course....



”Stupid weather people,” I thought, ”Always playing everything up. Blizzard warning indeed....”. That’s what I was thinking on Saturday when I kept hearing reports of massive snow, and seeing only a few flurries and a light dusting outside my window. When I went to bed, nothing had changed. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, 1-2 feet of snow had been dumped on everything. This Photo Blog Wednesday has the before and after pictures, from the beautiful mess I found outside my door, to the backbreaking result of shoveling for five or six hours:



In the Core Drama Universe

I always knew when I used the Core Marvel Universe meme as the inspiration for a Core Sitcom post in which I examined some of the more unlikely but accepted plot developments in our favorite comedies, that one day I'd turn my attention to dramas in a similar fashion.

And that day...

[overly dramatic pause]

...that day...

[another dramatic pause]

...is today.

Dramas might take things more seriously, but how many things would ever actually happen in real life? It doesn't stop us from watching, of course. If anything; we watch even more. So take a gander at some of the descriptions below, knowing that there might be SPOILERS, and see how many you recognize, clicking each one to confirm your suspicions:

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, a police officer was shot in the face and saved by a billionaire, who paid for plastic surgery so good that the cop had to be portrayed by a different actor. He was given a car to drive, powered by an intelligent computer and armed with a variety of special devices, and occasionally clashed with the billionaire's actual son, who looked just like him save for some evil facial hair.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, a man was hit by a car and killed, but got better when an entire season turned out to be his wife's dream.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, an entire series about doctors in a hospital turned out to be the fantasy of an autistic boy staring into a snowglobe.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, fake credit cards are enough to support two brothers whose full-time “job” is to wander the country hunting supernatural creatures, never actually getting paid for any of it.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, a Renaissance inventor was far ahead of his time, with his most important discovery of immortality being the motivation for a 21st-century man to create an entirely fake branch of the CIA.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, the bully from Stand By Me can handle any terrorist threat within the confines of a single day, and never needs to sleep or use the bathroom.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, a man working in the basement of the FBI was privy to cases no one else was willing to accept or believe, which went beyond what conventional science and wisdom told us to be true. He was given an attractive but skeptical female partner, who had a bad habit of being unconscious or otherwise occupied whenever they were being abducted by aliens or facing some other concrete proof of the extra-normal.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, doctors in an emergency room gave such attention to their patients that they'd occasionally straddle their gurney while trying to revive them, a doctor lost his arm to one helicopter and his life to another, and Hollywood leading man George Clooney was a television star.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, a high school girl routinely beat up vampires and other supernatural creatures, and even dated a few.

IN THE CORE DRAMA UNIVERSE, the survivors of a plane crash on a very unusual island--including a fugitive, an Iraqi torturer, a rock star, a con man, and a millionaire among others--all more or less followed the lead of the older brother from Party of Five.

Feel free to expand upon these or add your own in the comments section!



Phantasmic Links 12.21.09

I hurt. Talking my dad out of shoveling snow by threatening him with a reminder of his nursing home stint last Winter was a small victory. I wouldn't have to worry about him. I wouldn't have to shovel at twice my normal speed in order to do the bulk of the work. I could take my time, and have fun doing things my way on a Sunday morning. The only problem was, working alone and at a sane pace meant that a 2-3 hour job would end up taking closer to six hours. If the sun didn't start to set, I probably wouldn't have realized how late it was getting. Part of the problem was that the snow was packed tighter at the foot of the driveway where we'd been plowed in, and my dad didn't want me throwing it in the pachysandra in case it contained salt. So I had to keep walking down the street with each shovelful. In the end, I got 85% of it cleared and enough to get at least one car out, and I came inside to find hot cocoa as well as toast, and omelet with cheese, and breakfast sausage waiting for me. I know a lot of people who were wishing for this weather, but they either don't have to clean up after it, own a plow or snow blower, are crazy, or any combination of the above. Hard to believe I was walking down a boardwalk alongside the ocean a week ago.

If my fingers don't lock up again, I should be able to type up this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) This is the weather according to Star Wars®, and I had to input a few regions far from where I am to get anything other than “Hoth”.
Hat Tip: J-No.

(2) When Jack Bauer interrogates Santa Claus, the outcome may surprise you.

(3) According to Ben Franklin, the best way to get someone to like you is for that person to do you a favor. I'm going to start asking random girls in bars “Do me a favor?” and see what that gets me....

(4) As of now, this 26 gigapixel panorama of Dresden is the largest in the world.

(5) As of January 1st, that will be SIR Patrick Stewart to you.

(6) The Final Countdown would be my song of choice on a made-up instrument too.

(7) It took me 12 Days(game time) to upgrade my rocket enough to save the world in Fly Hard; how will you do?

(8) Would you eat a 1,000-Year-Old Egg? I wouldn't....

(9) The ABC's of Branding is a brilliantly designed 5x5 grid that takes a number of recognizable letters and crafts a commercial alphabet. How many do you recognize?

(10) After 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes, I'm ready to do just about anything! I could have used this around hour five of shoveling...

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 22

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 22nd WWW:

1) The Big Bounce:
This was a very tough one to rate. Owen Wilson was generally likable and charming as a smalltime thief who gets on the bad side of the wrong people, and Sara Foster was great eye candy as the girl who captures his heart and lures him toward something a little bigger than breaking and entering for the thrill of it. Morgan Freeman, as Krispy recently noted, could talk about anything and give it substance and class. Still, Freeman, bathing beauties, and the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii weren't quite enough to save a movie that doesn't quite go anywhere. There's a lot of character development and set up, then there's a series of “twists” in which 2 or 3 too many people are just being used in double, triple, and quadruple crosses, and then it's over. In the end, it comes off as a subpar adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book and falls short of the wit and cleverness of other films based on his work. I liked the actors and the scenery, and that's probably why I gave it an overly generous 3 out of 5 stars. The potential was there to be something more, but it never delivered.

2) The Thirteenth Floor:
I don't remember hearing about this movie, and vaguely thought it was going to be some horror movie or ghost story about a nonexistent floor in a hotel building. I either dreamt that movie or was thinking of something else. This turned out to be a film about virtual reality and having our minds interact with computer simulations of other people and places. If that sounds slightly like The Matrix, then that could explain why this movie slipped through the cracks and I confused it with something else. It was released a few months after The Matrix, and while dealing with similar themes, didn't have the budget or cast. Still, The Thirteenth Floor turned out to be a very intelligent and cerebral exploration into the nature of reality. What is real? Am I real? Are the keys on this keyboard real? I can feel them, I can hear the sounds as I type, but what if that's all part of the program? Because I've seen The Matrix, and Dark City, and a few other science fiction journeys into this theme, I managed to predict a few things, although I wouldn't call The Thirteenth Floor predictable. It's just that, from the moment the 1930s world in the film is revealed to be a program, it leaves many possibilities open, and I was more than happy to have them explored. Craig Bierko is one of those generic actors who will probably never be a household name, but the cast is rounded out by the likes of Armin Mueller-Stahl, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Dennis Haysbert. It's gritty and dark, and while the effects are limited to a few laser light shows, this is more of the classic, thought-provoking science fiction that makes you wonder about everything. Definitely worth a rental.

3) Gran Torino:
When I grow up, I want to be Clint Eastwood. The guy is pushing 80, but just grits his teeth and turns out both solid acting and directing. Here, he plays a grizzled Korean war vet and recent widower dealing with the changes in his own neighborhood as well as ungrateful sons and bratty grandchildren with no respect and an inappropriate sense of entitlement. Welcome to America. For all his comments and racial slurs, you gradually see that he's just a product of his generation, and some of the comments he makes are just banter, while others are just honesty. He doesn't mix words. He might be wrong, but he speaks his mind. When a Southeast Asian family moves in next store, it's a further source of irritation, especially when the young boy next store tries to steal his beloved 1972 titular car as part of a gang initiation. Eastwood stops the kid, and later saves him from the gang, earning gratitude and friendship from his neighbors. He befriends the boy's sister, and eventually the boy himself, and becomes more of a father figure than he ever was, or the kid ever had. In the waning years of his life he discovers his own humanity, and perhaps a way to make peace with all the killing he did in the war. There's a lot of guilt and pain under the surface, and people expecting this to be a vigilante movie might be disappointed to learn that, while Clint still kicks ass, he somehow manages to do it without firing a single damn shot. Anybody could be Dirty Harry with a big enough gun; Eastwood doesn't even need to pull the trigger anymore. He's earned it, and that's fitting in a film about earning things. His character's granddaughter already starts asking him what she's going to get when he's dead. The local gangs take what they want, and the boy he befriends doesn't see how he'll ever afford what he wants. But if we put in the time, and some things take more time than others, and work hard enough, then we can more than earn what we want. It might take sacrifice, and the cost might be high, but being a man means facing any challenge head on, and paying whatever price is necessary. Another solid film and performance from Clint.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Here to Stay

It's time for another one of those ”Answer in Song” questionnaires in which song titles are the answer to some of the internet's most burning questions, many of which pop up over and over in different combinations and iterations across all corners of the internet. Sometimes I wonder if all of it--blogging, social networking--is all some secret unifying force in which we're all acting as some living supercomputer of individual processors. That thought was better fleshed out in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or the increasingly brilliant and depressingly finite Dollhouse though, and my brain is nowhere near the level of the geniuses behind those explorations of such a theme. In any case, this set is more random than my previous sojourns into this exercise, since I'm not limited to song titles from a single artist. I'm just setting my iTunes on random, and hitting the forward key once every time I get a new song title. Some are fitting answers; others less so. Many surprisingly and accurately make sense, and a few may or may not be prophetic.

Oh, and lest anyone forget, I am a bit of a geek, so if you see a response linked to a television show rather than a song, it probably means a theme song came up, because I've got those in there too. You'll see....

I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

Water's Edge

Live and Let Die

Love Shack

Since I Don't have You

Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Buddy Holly

Rock me, Dr. Zaius

9) WHAT IS 2+2?



Thank You

Ode to a Superhero


Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

No Woman, No Cry



Take Me Home Tonight


Don't Stop Believin'


It's My Life

The Dolphin's Cry


Crazy Mary

The Flash

Turn the Page

Reach For the Sky

Here to Stay



My Current Songs Five

My Five current favorite songs may be a vague choice for one of these columns, since it could easily be repeated in a week, month, or year. Heck, tomorrow I might have a different quintet stuck in my head. I could probably qualify these as late Autumn/early Winter tunes, or stuff I've been hearing mostly in December, even if a few are older. In any case, long after I turn off the radio and go to work, any one of the songs below might still be playing in my brain. One of them is there right now. So these are five songs I'm currently digging, and I'm sure I'll find a different qualifier/excuse the next time I want to share the music I like:

1) Muse, “Uprising”:

It first came to my attention in television spots for the new V, but possesses the same epic quality and thick layering of sounds and vocals that I've come to expect from the band.

2) Alice in Chains, “Check My Brain”:

The first time I heard this, I wasn't knocked over, and thought the instruments were intentionally loud to compensate for the absence of the late Layne Staley. But over time it won me over, especially when I heard it in context with the rest of the album.

3) Weezer, “...I Want You To”:

The retro-modern geek-rock of these guys is as strong as ever, and though this one didn't speak to and stick with me as thoroughly as last year's Pork & Beans, it still has a great driving drum beat, well-crafted lyrics, and the ability to continue playing in my brain long after it's ended.

4) Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, “Relator”:

It's jaunty and upbeat and not quite the type of thing I normally listen to. For the most part, it's been a background song on my commute that I don't pay attention to, but on Thursday morning I caught myself bopping my head back and forth to it and imagining how idiotic I must have looked to the people driving behind me. It was in that moment that I realized that yes, yes I did like the song. It bopped its way into my subconscious. It could be possible I was also affected by The Iron Man 2 trailer, which includes Miss Johansson amid the awesomeness that I've probably watched 20 times since it debuted on Wednesday. (Note to self: consider “trailers” as a possible future My Fives topic).

5) The Airborne Toxic Event, “Sometime Around Midnight”:

Love this one. It just builds and builds, in both volume and tempo, even as it paints a vignette, a rare structure in the age of verse chorus verse. Never heard of these guys before; hope to hear more.



Shopping Daze

December is always a rough month. The days get colder and shorter. Key people take off work for holidays at conflicting times. And then there's my own holiday preparation, from shopping to wrapping to decorating, although my folks tend to take care of that last one. Still, I'll do what I can when I can, especially since this time last year is when my old man lugged in a giant potted pine tree by his lonesome when no one was around, subsequently aggravating a cyst in his shoulder which became infected and landed him in a hospital and then a nursing home until February. Those were interesting times I'd not repeat any time soon.

My company's holiday party is less than a week away. My layout skills were called upon for a special secret party favor that I was about to write about until I remembered someone from my job might read this. I got the printed sample today of the secret project and I'm happy with it. I'm also happy to have another side project out of the way. This week has been increasingly difficult as my twelve hours of partying this weekend took their toll. I figured my sore throat was just me being run down, and the Airborne tablet my friend gave me seemed to make me feel better, whether or not it was that product, my own psychological perception, or the ailment moving its natural course. On Wednesday the sore throat was gone, which is my least bearable cold symptom, but now I'm a bit congested and stuffiness turned into sneezing by the evening. I'd suggest anyone I had lunch with on Wednesday wash their hands with antibacterial soap if you have not already. Sorry.

I was not feeling up to running my usual six miles on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I probably could have managed, but it might have made me worse. Besides, it would be inconsiderate to handle the equipment if this is a full-blown cold. Another day away from the gym wouldn't be so bad. Looking at my work calendar, I realized a very sobering fact: Christmas is next week. How did that happen? Seriously, where did this month go? Wasn't it just my Thanksgiving staycation not that long ago? I felt good a few weeks ago when I already picked up a card and a music CD for my parents. But I had a lot more presents to buy for both of them, not to mention my cousin's children.

Last year we issued a “kids only” rule for my mom's side of the family. We stopped exchanging with my dad's side years ago, which helps a lot since he has four sisters, three of whom are/were married, two of whom have sons. Of my three cousins, one never married, one has four sons, and another has two daughters and a son. So that could add up. My mom has two brothers, one of whom never married and another who has one son, with two children. With the kids-only rule, I now had to buy presents for four people instead of eight. But then my uncle as well as my cousin and his wife surprised me with gifts, counting me as a kid. Yes I still live with my parents, and yes I'm still single, but I'm 35. And yes, spending most of our visit with them last year playing Wii with the kids probably doesn't help that argument. In any case, I should probably be prepared with gifts anyway, even if it's just gift cards.

I wish I'd thought of the gift card idea earlier. With the realization that Christmas was so close and the decision to skip the gym again, I decided to hit Target after work. I had a lot of success going late on a weeknight last year, finding both great gifts and avoiding crowds. This year, a lot of folks had the same idea but I'm sure it has been worse on weekends. People are so rude, and are raising their kids the same way. I overheard some brats tell their mom they didn't want to get anything nice for one uncle because they didn't like what he gave them last year. Then the kid boasted how he was a great gift giver because he knows everything. That's pretty close to verbatim. There's a fine line between confidence and delusion, and there's something to be said for humility and understanding the true holiday spirit.

I wandered for over an hour, avoiding the busier sections like the toy aisles until the crowds there thinned. My cart filled with sweaters, slippers, puzzle books, calendars, tools, snacks and more, and soon I had a satisfactory amount for my folks. The kids were harder to shop for, especially since I forget their ages every year. I had a rough idea, and got the boy an actual LEGO® Star Wars® ship . I know he liked the video game and I'm pretty sure he falls into the 7-12 age range. I didn't get him Darth Vader's Tie Fighter, as tempting as it was, because the odds were greater that he already had it. Yes, you can never have too many spare LEGO® pieces and I wouldn't have balked at a repeat LEGO® item when I was a kid, but I still wanted to get him something he didn't already have. The girl, who's 2 or 3 years older, was harder to shop for. Every time I thought I found a doll or animal or electronic thing that might be good for her, the age on the package said “3+”. I settled on some board game about a mall with girls and pets and batteries not included. It's too bad I don't know what games they have for the Wii, and I'm sure their parents already got them the major releases for this year. Those kids are getting close to the age where I just say “**** it” and give them gift cards and/or socks, and suddenly I understand the shift in presents my extended family got me as I got older.

At the register, I have to say I was pleased and impressed when the cashier shook a box, and suggested it might be empty. It was some little stocking stuffer I got for my dad, these little flashlights that fit on your fingers. They were indeed in there, but I thanked her for checking. It seems people have been taking stuff and resealing boxes, and customers have gone home before realizing they bought an empty box. So kudos, cashier lady, on vigilance and honesty.

I'm definitely in a fog this week and running on autopilot, and wiped after working all day and then getting most of my shopping done. At least I'm pretty sure I got enough for my folks, who I will see on Christmas day. I don't know about the rest of our family, especially with my other uncle now in a nursing home. I probably have a little more time to get the adults those gift cards, and pick up one or two more small things to give the kids. It's tough to get it all done in one shot, even with the number of people I shop for so drastically reduced. It's bad enough I make lists and check them twice for my work assignments throughout the year. I guess I'm where we all are right now. Some of you might be done already, with everything wrapped and tagged with a neat little bow on top. Maybe others are reading this now with the same sense of dread “OHCRAPOHCRAP!” realization that I had on Wednesday afternoon when I looked at my calendar. For those who fall into that latter group, I can only offer sympathy, empathy, and well wishes. May luck be with you in the season of last minute shopping.


PBW: So Money, I Don't Even Know It.

Yesterday, to the best of my ability, I shared the twisty tale of my first trip to Atlantic City. It's been a few days, and I woke up on Tuesday with a bad sore throat, and generally run down. A buddy at work told me that I can't party all night like when I was a kid, that it takes two days or more to recover after something like that. I'll have to take his word for it, since I never partied like that when I was a kid. In any case, no trip would be complete without my camera, and even though it spent the bulk of the time in my hotel room on Saturday night, I got a few cell phone pictures, and on Sunday morning took my camera out on a misty boardwalk to complete my latest collection of images for Photo Blog Wednesday:

Someday I'm going to figure out how to get to those rockets, but for now a blurry shot from the train is what I'll have to settle for.

ACES: New York to Atlantic City in less than three hours, and they serve beer.

The first few night shots were taken from the train station and our cab, and the two preceding ones were from the window of our hotel room.

While the only picture of our new friend Pam is this blurry cell phone shot, I'm pretty sure her phone's pictures are much clearer. After that insane drink that had me breakdancing, I lost some judgment and common sense. Hopefully, leaning over in our booth and licking the side of her face just as my friend took a picture of her is one of those things I'm remembering wrong. I guess the moral of the story is to make sure any embarrassing, drunken photos are taken with your own camera.

I took a half hour or so to do some exploring on my own, and to try and sober up. I got some shots of the holiday decorations, and even the beach at night. I bet that place is amazing in the Summer, though probably crowded.

I never sleep well when I'm away from home, and after two hours I was awake and ready to take some good pictures. A few shots out the window showed gray skies, windmills, and the general layout of the city.

The hallway was pretty cool, and very empty in the morning. I remember thinking I saw the little boy from The Grudge run past in one of the mirrors when we first arrived the day before, and that was well before I got drunk.

A shot out the window near the 8th floor elevator bank gave me my first real sense of the beach and the ocean just outside. I couldn't see anything out there at night.

Who is that mysterious man in black on the escalator pointing his camera up at the mirrored ceiling?

It's a bar shaped like a boat, but it don't float.

On the one hand, the crummy weather allowed me to get a shot of the boardwalk without any people in the way. On the other hand, the weather was crummy. Oh well, it gives me an excuse to go back on a nicer day for more photos.

I bet it'd be nice to stay at the Paris Hilton, although I probably would have come home with more than a sinus infection...

I didn't even see the boat in this shot until I got home. Madness.

“I predict...you will spend a lot of money...” Uncanny!

Even the birds drink in A.C.

My friend told me a lot of cats dwell beneath the boardwalk, but this was the only one that ventured out while I was taking pictures.

I probably was within my rights as a photographer, but the security guard didn't have to tell me twice after taking this picture that photos were not allowed in there.

There was a whole book full of food and drinks we could have ordered, were we ever there long enough to get room service. The two or three hours I slept was probably the most time I spent in the room. Meanwhile, as we were checking out around noon on Sunday, the noises in the next room seemed to indicate that our neighbor either had a very agreeable wife/girlfriend, or had purchased companionship. I'd like to read his blog entries. It seems like the best stories are always in the next room....