The Essential MCF: 2K9-2K10: Part 4

Cloakfest 2K10 isn't over yet! Last time we reviewed the highlights from February and March 2010, and now we'll take a look at the essential posts from April 2010::

APRIL, 2010

My Things I've Learned Thursday feature takes a very strange turn, for some reason...you there, what day was that?

My Comic Book Movie Wishlist Five
There are some very cool, if obscure, comics I've read that will probably never become movies, and these are my top five picks.

Self Edit
My restrained nature and ability to not say aloud the things which should stay in my brain keep me out of trouble. More people could use that self edit feature.

Not My Beautiful Room
My Aunt Rose doesn't adjust well to her new room at her assisted living facility, and when we visit on Easter, she refuses to get out of bed or eat. She gets some tough love from my father and my Aunt Josie, and Aunt Josie does manage to feed her sister some watermelon. Afterwards, we visited my mom's brother, my Uncle Jerry, at his nursing home, then I took my folks to the beach and took some photos in case my dad's upcoming bypass surgery didn't got well and it was our last Easter together. Months later, as I reread this story, two family members have made great improvements, and another one is gone forever. If you asked me then who I would have thought would be in what condition, I would have been way off in my prediction. Life is unpredictable.

PBW: The Easter Choice
And here are some photos from that Easter.

Other Places
What implications does a new scientific discovery in the realm of quantum physics hold? Probably not the ones I'm hoping for, but it's still fun to speculate and fantasize.

The Big Day
After years of suffering, and months of anticipation, my dad finally reaches the day of his heart surgery.

Bye Past
I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank you all once again for your prayers, thoughts, and comments through some scary times. The day of my dad's surgery was a long one for my mom and I, but mercifully went much quicker for my dad who spent most of it under sedation. The first hurdle was behind us, but there were still a few more ahead....

"How did you make that so real?"
My father's recovery progresses and he moves to a new wing, but he doesn't react well to pain medication. Among his prominent hallucinations: kicking me repeatedly for being the “director” in charge of the hallucinations. At the time, when his feet were moving under the bed sheets, I just thought he was dreaming about running.

PBW: From the Heart
Behold the return of my father, complete with an enlarged heart(which in this case is a good thing).

Over this past week...
...that is to say, the second week of April, many things happened, including my dad's successful surgery, a promotion at work, a high tax bill, and one of my trademark near-death experiences....

Dreamcasting Five
Because I like franchising, dreaming, and thinking ahead, here are my picks for the cast of a West Coast Avengers movie.

Kick-Ass Kicks Ass
The title is fairly self-explanatory, and headlines a positive film review.

Bracketers Welcome
I apply the bracket formula to popular television characters.

One of THOSE Days
“Some weeks, I really feel the burden of working five days. Some weeks, a Thursday should really be a Friday. This Thursday was one of THOSE days.”

We're all tougher than we think. We can get stressed. We can get hurt. We can get sick. But, through the example of my parents, I realize we don't have to let any of that stop us.

PBW: Toe, No! Toe, YES.
For example, I didn't let a black toenail stop me from running, and nothing stopped me from posting before and after photos from the initial damage to the time it finally began to separate and finally came off entirely. Gross? Yes. Offensive? Yes. Essential...?

I Have No Idea....
...why I'd relink to that toe post. Here are some other things I had no idea about.

* * *

Busy month! And that's what I wrote about in April 2010 in my sixth year of doing this.

The Essential MCF 2K9-2K10 will continue....

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Phantasmic Links 8.30.10

This was a rough weekend. The guy who bought the warehouse next door to my dad's lot refused multiple times to remove or replace his crumbling fence, even though it was put up by the previous owner and not us. When my dad was eventually forced to have a code enforcer make him take it down or risk a fine, the guy struck back twice, first with the same code enforcer sending us a citation for excess vegetation, then with a summons regarding a retaining wall that's failing. Mind you, this wall is a stack of 3 railroad ties that flank both sides of the driveway to the warehouse, and are clearly on his property, but he's saying the wall on our side is our responsibility. So now my folks are looking into having a survey done, which will then allow a lawyer to defend us once it proves the wall isn't on our side. Meanwhile, not wanting to risk further escalation, both my folks and I spent a total of over ten hours doing major weeding, filling dozens of bags. The place looks pretty clean now, certainly better than the dumpsters and landscaper trucks parked in this guy's driveway.

I did escape my labors for a few hours on Saturday night to watch some UFC matches with my friends at a Hooters, which was an interesting experience. Flatscreen televisions all over the place aired the fights, while one friend got an extremely positive reception from our waitress. He's a professor at our old college, and she turned out to be one of our students. After she jumped up and down shrieking, I casually asked my friend if he knew her or if that was a standard practice. I of course knew of the chain, but never actually ate at one. The beer was good, the nachos were good, the waitresses were attractive, and I don't know what meat was on the nachos but it wasn't steak. So the experience was mostly positive. Occasionally, things happened to remind me of how old I am, like when the waitress told us she couldn't drink while working and wasn't 21 yet anyway. Also, she mentioned at one point that they did have an “old” waitress who was 30 but she was still hot. It was said with such incredulity, like anyone over 30 was instantly a senior citizen. I remember thinking that way, and in a sobering moment realized that my friends and I may have reached the same age that a lot of our professors were back when they taught us. Getting old is rough, although as I struggled on Sunday on 3 or 4 hours sleep to continue my landscaping responsibilities, I had to admire my parents. Sure, they were feeling the heat, but they were working a lot harder than I was. Someday, the waitresses of Hooters might realize that three old guys in a booth watching some fights weren't as old as they thought. That day will come fifteen years from now, and those 15 years will fly. None of us think that far ahead though, at least I don't, so I'm not even thinking about my 40s or people who are 40 and over now. I'm thinking about PHANTASMIC LINKS, and about the major sunburn I got while doing yardwork. But mostly about the links:

(1) A Texas state fair served fried....BEER?! Urge to overcome resistance to travel...rising.

(2) This just in: People don't really like unselfish colleagues. Hmm....

(3) ”Hot Nerds Reading Comics” is exactly what it sounds like.

(4) Nike may be making the Air-Mag sneaker featured in Back to the Future II. That's all well and good, but I'm still waiting for someone to invent a working hoverboard. The future is NOW, people!

(5) Here is an excellent response to a political ad which implies reading comics is a negative side effect that could result in a loss of teachers.

(6) Meanwhile, I totally missed Read Comics in Public Day! It's a good thing those uneducated kids were there....

(7) Together is a peaceful little journey through the stratosphere, to the depths of the ocean, to space, to anywhere this couple can fly. Collect hearts; avoid the beast....

(8) I'm sure everyone has seen the Bed Intruder Song which remixed a serious newscast in hilarious and awesome ways, but I don't think I ever linked to it, so here it is.

(9) Jamie Roberts is an artist with a pretty excellent take on superheroes, using vector art.

(10) You knew it had to happen: Robot Wants Fishy! I would think this is the last in a trilogy, but I haven't played this one through to the end yet...

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 58

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 58th WWW:

1) From Paris With Love:
For a variety of reasons, I was skeptical when the drummer in one of the bands I play for recommended this film. With his tastes, I took it with a grain of salt. More importantly, I'd seen the trailer, and it looked like some dumb tongue-in-cheek spy spoof. I wasn't fooled by John Travolta's new “bad-ass” look, sporting a shaved head with a goatee. I'd never seen Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in anything before, but he was clearly playing “random affordable young guy #7 as a foil to the established veteran actor playing against type”. Still, every time I played a gig, this drummer asked if I'd seen it yet, so I finally put it on my queue. Going in with low expectations, I was surprised to see Luc Besson's name attached in the opening credits. Could this actually be...a good story? While he's done better, I was pleasantly surprised that it was more of a drama with comic relief than a solid comedy, and there were some truly shocking moments and occasional graphic violence. Travolta really plays a supporting role here, and over the course of the film you see he's less of a loose cannon and more of an experience CIA agent. Rhys-Meyers is a little rough at first, but makes for a good lead. He's working undercover, given minor assignments like planting bugs, but yearns to get more into the game. Complicating matters is his beautiful French girlfriend, and how their relationship is affected by all the cloak and dagger stuff once Travolta ropes him in is the meat of the film. It starts out as a simple drug bust, and somehow ends up being about taking down a terrorist cell before they take out the president. Don't make the same mistake I did and judge the trailer at face value; I watched it again after the movie ended, and was amazed at how a little editing can change the tone of any subject matter. It's probably not something that will stand the test of time, and certainly won't win any awards, but did show Travolta has some versatility and the new kid has some potential. All in all, I'd have to settle on giving this a resounding better-than-expected.

2) The Blind Side:
There's a little football anecdote at the start of the film, wonderfully narrated by Sandra Bullock(“One Mississippi”...hey, I just got that...), which purportedly explains the title of the film. I have a different theory, in that the name comes from the fact that you tear up so many times, it's hard to see the film. Maybe that's just me. Even though most of these little “D-awwwgotalumpinmythroat” moments were in the trailer, they still got to me. Michael Oher, or “Big Mike”, was removed from the care of his crackhead mother and bounced around from foster home to foster home, more often than not crashing on a friend's couch. When his friend's dad tries to get his son in to a better school on athletic merit, he also makes a case for Big Mike. So it came to be that the gentle giant, who preferred “Michael” to “Big Mike”, attended a mostly white Christian school with kids from affluent families. Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, and while the kid playing her son exemplifies everything that's annoying with precocious child actors, his outgoing personality allows him to reach out to Michael. Eventually, the Tuohy's would take Michael in, initially for one night, but eventually on a more permanent basis. It wasn't long before he was a part of their family, and officially adopted. Michael had a rough road ahead, struggling in school, but with the help and encouragement of his new family, he eventually got his grades up. And the one area he tested highest prior to coming to a new school was “protective instincts”, which translated well not only to family, but also on a football field. It's an inspiring and heartfelt story, and a lot more than just “kid from the projects makes good because he's athletic”. Quinton Aron does a great job portraying Oher, a role that often requires him to a convey a lot with silence and facial expressions. By the end of the film, when it becomes more about his football career and less about him bonding with the Tuohy's, I almost lost interest, but the drama soon returned, especially when his choice of school attracted the attention of a suspicious NCAA. And Bullock is outstanding as a woman who has it together, stays strong in the face of danger, and is extremely protective as both a mother and an adoptive mother. The cast did a great job bringing real people to life on the big screen, making you care about and like all of them, and overall it was a very enjoyable experience. I'm not a big sports fan, but this is so much more than a sports movie. Any one of us, with the right opportunities and right support, can use our strengths and bolster our weaknesses to excel at anything. Very inspiring.

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



MCF's Perilous 5.I Questions

Don't call it a comeback! Or do. MCF's Perilous! made its return yesterday and got some great questions in response to the answers. I'll probably do a few more of these in the near future.

MCF's Perilous! is a quiz in reverse. I posted ten answers. You had to come up with the corresponding questions There was even a scoring system:

1 pt=each question
2 pts=each question that matches MCF's
-1 pt=any sentences not in question form, or forgetting a question mark
15 pts=Bonus for the Best Question

Here are the results from Series 5, Round 1:

B13: 25

Spockgirl: 12

Everyone who participated got a point for each question. No one forgot a question mark, so there were no deductions. No one had the same questions as mine exactly, but Spockgirl managed to get in the ballpark with the limited information provided and catch where I was alluding to Joss Whedon and Michael Cera. So I gave her an extra point for each of those questions, bringing her score to 12. It was B13's very first question that cracked me up the most, giving him the 15 point bonus. Still, there will be at least two more rounds and, if history has taught me anything, it's still anyone's game. Even if you didn't participate in this round, you could still potentially play the next two and sweep our current players. It's happened before.

OK! Let's see what my questions were:

What are some of the letters which appear on my car's dashboard?

2. “Excess Vegation”
What absurd(and misspelled) violation notice did my dad receive when the guy with the warehouse next to our lot sought vengeance for my dad finally reporting him to a code officer after he repeatedly refused to repair or take down his toppled fence?

3. Mostly ones I already knew or could figure out with the information I'd been presented.
What questions did an extra 12 minutes of LOST answer for me?

4. Fish Biscuits
And what were Polar Bears rewarded with on that show?

5. Because I was in my underwear at the time.
Why did discovering myself in the background of a photo I recently took require heavy editing?

6. Mark Millar.
What comic book writer seems to have a lot of his graphic novels turned into movies, sometimes while he's still writing them?

7. Because he's known for writing such strong female characters.
Why did it surprise me to learn that Joss Whedon is only using one female hero for the cast of The Avengers?

8. They sent me the third one first.
Why haven't I watched the first Lone Wolf and Cub movie I rented from Netflix yet?

9. It would have been very awesome, but then they would probably have killed him in the first scene and someone like Jesse Eisenberg would have had to step in.
What if The Expendables played the “Seven Evil Exes” that Michael Cera had to battle in the Scott Pilgrim movie?

10. Beer.
”Hey MCF, what would you like for lunch on Friday?”



MCF's Perilous Series 5.I

Once upon a time, there was a game I dubbed MCF's Perilous!, and it was good. I thought so, anyway. It started near the end of 2006, and throughout 2007 evolved into something with very confusing numbering. I believe I used arabic numerals to denote series of posts, and roman numerals to denote individual posts(or rounds) within each series, which would make this the start of a possible 5th series(or season). It's been three years since I retired this feature.

MCF's Perilous! is a quiz in reverse. I post ten answers. You get to come up with the corresponding questions and post them on your blogs, leaving a link to your post in the comments below(or if you prefer, just comment with your questions directly). If that sounds suspiciously like JEOPARDY!, I can only say, “Hey, what's that over there!” and move on when you look away.

Initially, the points didn't matter. Then I worked out this elaborate prize system in which people won some mysterious JPEG which was in fact one of twelve fragments of a picture of my real face(The Mysterious Master Prize™), some of which were inverted to make the puzzle even more challenging. I lost track of who got which pieces, but I'm pretty sure no one person ever got more than three, and I don't think any readers formed alliances to join their fragments. In any case, we're back to doing this just for fun, so no prizes, lame or otherwise. The points just count for bragging rights.

We'll see what kind of a response this edition gets before I plan other rounds in series five. At this point, I'm sure some of you are wondering just how you can get points when, in many cases, it will be IMPOSSIBLE to guess what question I'm thinking of. Scoring is somewhat subjective, but I do have a pretty simple system:

1 pt=each question
2 pts=each question that matches MCF's
-1 pt=any sentences not in question form, or forgetting a question mark
15 pts=Bonus for the Best Question

The “Best Question” is the funniest or most creative one that, though it doesn't match the one I was looking for, deserves to be rewarded. I remember what you folks came up with back in the day, and I've seen some of that creativity shine through recently in MCF's COMMON. You probably won't guess what I'm thinking, but you get points just for trying, just for even writing a QUESTION, and you might get a lot of points if you think of something great.

Will you face the perils below and attain the maximum points possible? Here are the first 10 answers for this game:


2. “Excess Vegation”

3. Mostly ones I already knew or could figure out with the information I'd been presented.

4. Fish Biscuits

5. Because I was in my underwear at the time.

6. Mark Millar.

7. Because he's known for writing such strong female characters.

8. They sent me the third one first.

9. It would have been very awesome, but then they would probably have killed him in the first scene and someone like Jesse Eisenberg would have had to step in.

10. Beer.



The Essential MCF: 2K9-2K10: Part 3

The early Cloakfest 2K10 continues! Last time we reviewed the highlights from December 2009 and January 2010, and now we'll take a look at the essential posts from February and March 2010::


Circles in the Dark
My mom's blind cat will spend the rest of his life walking in circles, while I begin to recognize the circles my own fears and emotions lead me in before, like Cubby, I pick a direction.

The Greatest Comebacks
I love a good comeback, love that it's always darkest before the dawn in some of my favorite movies and television shows. The contrast of some genuinely tragic times make the eventual comebacks even greater. It's a fantastic archetype.

Reminders that I'm not a kid anymore are never easy, but things like being called “Mr.” are probably important if I'm ever going to move forward.

80 Years and Out of Ideas
As my father's 80th birthday approaches, I wrestle with the problem of shopping for a man who already has everything he wants, doesn't want a party, and as I'd soon, realize, probably isn't healthy enough for a trip to a baseball stadium.

Snow Blind
It was good that I had this blog, so I could remember HOW MUCH SNOW WE GOT THIS YEAR. A snow day off from work swiftly results in a day of shoveling, and ultimately isn't much of a day off AT ALL, especially when I find myself in a third round of digging after my dad goes to sleep.

My Future Commercial Star Five
Sure, they're all celebrities now, but where might they land in the future in advertising?

PBW: A Snow Day's Night
Hey, did I mention it SNOWED a lot this year? I had the pictures to prove it....

Turn Turn Turnaround
Sometimes, the universe balances out, and those of us who were down are up, while those of us who knocked us down finally fall themselves.

Up Fate's Sleeve
When a raccoon saves me from a speeding ticket, I ponder recent positive changes in my luck, and wonder if missing a casino weekend due to a sick friend is also part of a larger design of fate.

MCF's Old School 100
It's the first 20 in a very awesome list of memories from the decades of my youth.

When an ex-college crush targets one of my friends on a social network, sharing her life's crazy problems(which include dating a crackhead), I realize how much of a bullet I dodged when she rejected me years ago. Maybe life does work out the way it's supposed to, but it takes years to recognize the pattern.

MARCH, 2010

MCF's Old School 100: Part II
It's items 21-40 in a very awesome list of memories from the decades of my youth.

Stenty Birthday
Against all odds, my dad makes it to his 80th birthday, and his cardiologist advises an angioplasty with the possible introduction of a stent to keep his clogged arteries open. And in the ultimate jinxing sentence in hindsight, I wrote, “At 80 years old, I don't think he has to worry about bypass surgery anymore because now it would be too risky.” Oops....

While My Black Car Gently Weeps
With my dad facing a surgical procedure, and me facing dental work, the “check engine” light on my dashboard is among the last things I want to see. A truck with “MEDIEVAL WEAPONS” written on the side of it is a different, and mysterious, story....

MCF's Old School 100: Part III
It's items 41-60 in a very awesome list of memories from the decades of my youth.

Never Tell Me the Odds.
Bad news: not only are doctors unable to put a stent in my dad's artery due to the location of the blockage near a branch, but they advise bypass surgery ASAP, to keep him alive longer than their estimate of five months WITHOUT the operation. The old man doesn't take the news well, and is ready to die. I don't take the news well, but I'm not ready for him to die, so I keep my fears to myself and encourage him.

Every Day is a New Day
At my age, every day means another meeting or assignment at work. At my parents' age, every day means a visit to a different doctor, as the list of procedures my dad may need grows....

MCF's Old School 100: Part IV
It's items 61-80 in a very awesome list of memories from the decades of my youth.

Heart Strung
My dad's heart bypass surgery is postponed for a month due to insurance requiring an office visit with the surgeon first, and the surgeon's schedule which includes a vacation. Giving someone five months to live then delaying an operation is strong psychological torture.

Lot in Life
Adding to March's growing list of problems, the fence between my dad's vacant lot and a neighboring warehouse begins falling apart. The new owner refuses to take responsibility for the fence(which is on his side and was put up by his predecessor), so it's up to me to check things out when a coworker who lives nearby notices not only the fence, but that someone opened the gate to our driveway and left it open....

MCF's Old School 100: Part V
It's the final 20 items in a very awesome list of memories from the decades of my youth.

Two Men on an Island
Years from now, I may remember my obsession with a little show called LOST, and the theories I'd formulate as I tried to piece it all together, especially in 2010 during the final season. Also, a new reader shows up and tells me to “get a life”, fitting in with my old readers right away.

POST #2000!!!!!
On my landmark 2,000th consecutive post, I reveal the one horrific secret some readers waited over five years to see: my face. It's all downhill after that....

* * *

And that's what I wrote about in February and March 2010 in my sixth year of doing this.

The Essential MCF 2K9-2K10 will continue....

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PBW: Overcast

There's nothing like a vacation day to recharge my batteries! Sure, I have to work a little late before taking a vacation, and the day I come back to the office is a flurry of catching up before I get back on track, but that day when I can sleep in, catch a movie, and roam with my camera is a day when I have little else to think about. Mind you, the giant cloud that seems to have set itself up over the Northeastern United States since Sunday could put a damper on a Photo Blog Wednesday, but with a little tripod, and a little determination, on Monday I managed to get shots not only in spite of the clouds, but of the clouds too:



Sensitivity Zero

Lately, it seems like a lot of the Italian feasts and processions I perform at with various bands have been celebrating 100 year anniversaries. At the close of one procession a few weeks ago, a society leader spoke for a few minutes on the occasion, relating a story from 1942. Due to Italy's involvement in World War II, the town objected to any ethnic celebration by people from a country we were at war with. They argued back that it was a religious celebration, not an Italian one, but were still outvoted. The celebration was held anyway that year, in the society hall rather than the local school parking lot. And the procession went on as well. The town could keep them off the streets, but they couldn't keep them from walking on the sidewalk.

Things like this seem silly in hindsight. In the year 2010, it's hard to imagine anyone taking issue with an Italian Catholic celebration. Everyone loves zeppole too much! In all seriousness though, time heals many wounds, and with each generation removed from any disagreement, the tension fades if the flames aren't fanned. As a melting pot of many cultures and religious beliefs(or lack thereof), America is often faced with unique challenges. It is human nature to condemn an entire group for the actions of any portion. Intellectually, people from the World War II era might have realized that because the Nazis were German did not mean that anyone who was German was a Nazi. But intellect and emotion may be two different things. Racism can arise when someone looks and acts like others who've committed heinous acts. From the ‘80s on, kids thought Japan was awesome because of their cartoons and technology. Kids who grew up when Pearl Harbor was attacked had a very different opinion of the Japanese. Japanese-Americans who had nothing to do with the attack were rounded up. It came from a place of fear and security concerns, though it was unjust.

Lately, I've been pondering the issue of the ”Ground Zero Mosque”. People have had very strong feelings for and against the construction of an Islamic center so close to the site of the former World Trade Center, destroyed 9 years ago when Islamic terrorists flew planes into the buildings. It was a horrible, horrible day that we won't soon forget, especially those closest to the event. I still remember the reports that morning, the people at my office concerned for loved ones who worked in the city. I remember an e-mail from an ex-girlfriend, who recognized a name among the missing as the husband of a girl we worked with, whose wedding we had attended. They had a little girl, and she was pregnant with their second child when he was killed. If you're a soldier or a cop you know death is a risk when you go to work. If you work in an office, you definitely don't expect to be attacked.

People continue to be affected. First responders who went in to save as many people as they could now suffer from respiratory diseases. I spoke with a music teacher at a gig over the weekend who lived and worked a few blocks from the site, breathing in the air as the wreckage continued to smolder and burn. He attributed a cancerous ailment to that, and recounted several coworkers who had similar problems. Parents lost children, and children lost parents. My friend's daughter will never know her father. These are the physical and emotional realities.

The harder issue is the intellectual reality. The terrorists were Muslims, manipulated by their beliefs into thinking they were dying as martyrs for a sacred cause when they crashed those planes. But all Muslims are not terrorists. In America, we have the freedom to retain our cultural and religious traditions, to practice and worship freely so long as we don't harm others or encroach on their rights. Intellectually, and legally, there should be nothing wrong with building an Islamic center anywhere in New York. If it's about faith, and peace, and not the destruction of the Western world, then they have as much right to be there as Christian or Jewish or any other group.

The problem is, 9/11 is a very fresh wound. Bodies were never recovered, the intense heat and pressure scattering ash and human remains for blocks. One mother described the area as her “son's grave” and opposed a mosque being built over it. Supposedly, a mosque is only one part of the center, which will also include a 9/11 memorial. Healing is needed. German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Japanese-Americans don't face the same opposition they once did when their original nations fought America. That didn't happen overnight, though. In the end, I guess I can conclude that the building of this structure isn't wrong, but it does seem insensitive. It's too soon. It's too close. And if I've read correctly, the groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for September 11th of this year, the anniversary of the attacks. Of all places, and of all days, why there and then?

It's a difficult issue, and I know I'm too close to it to be entirely objective. It will be easier for my children, and for their children, if history has taught us anything. The terrorists are the bad guys, not Muslims, but people are going to have a hard time making that distinction. Sadly, ignoring that will only make that misconception stronger, and there are so many compromises and options that would help avoid such an increase in tension. I just don’t get it. Do you?


Phantasmic Links 8.23.10

I am so sore right now. On Saturday, I helped my folks plant about 15 trees at my dad's lot. Long story short, the guy who owns the warehouse next door allowed the fence put up by the previous owner to collapse, insisted it was ours, and refused to put up a new one after finally being moved to clean up the mess. We'd need a permit to put up our own fence, but a natural barrier is a good alternative. The digging took a surprising toll on the back and legs of a guy who runs 4-7 miles every day, but I guess bending down and using a shovel on tough soil required muscles I don't use on the treadmill. I didn't have much time to recover before playing a feast in Little Italy on Sunday, and as the skies opened and torrential rain fell when we'd barely begun the procession, I was sure we'd finish early. We ducked in the basement of the church to dry off, some guys literally ringing out their socks, when one of the society members came in yelling for the band. The rain had stopped(somewhat) and we were moving out. Four hours and a few glasses of wine later, I was glad to be on a train home. I usually defend my career whenever anyone suggests that sitting in front of a computer isn't “real work”, but it's definitely easier than some of the stuff I did this weekend. I'm just glad to be in my room again, in dry clothes, surfing for this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) The ABCs of Mediocre Marvel Villainy makes for a great illustrated alphabet, and most of those guys deserve to be on the list, though all were entertaining foes in the comics I read in my youth.

(2) It's hard to believe Summer is almost over, not that I won't miss the excessive heat as it gradually cools down, but new and returning television shows are just around the corner! What will you be watching in a few short weeks?

(3) Seabreacher is a self-proclaimed “Ultimate Diving Machine”, which is a claim that can be substantiated by the fact that this is a BOAT which looks like a SHARK. ‘nuff said.

(4) Sometimes, geeks find love. And when they do, their wedding invitations might look a little something like this.
Hat Tip: J-No.

(5) Geek Mind will measure your knowledge of video games. Are you a true gamer?

(6) Gene Gonzales is an artist with a variety of “little heroes” on his blog, including Etrigan, Martian Manhunter, and Cloak & Dagger. There's a Saturday morning cartoon in this idea just screaming to be made.

(7) These Skeletor redesigns range from sinister to cutely sinister.

(8) Hip hop albums are reimagined through comics in this gallery.

(9) Great Comics That Never Happened Annual #1 reminds me of two things, that there have been twelve of these things already, and that they are AWESOME.

(10) Blast RPG is a catapult game in which you must go the distance, but it is also an RPG in which you must level up your knight and buy weapons and spells to fight off a variety of creatures along the way.

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 57

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 57th WWW:

1) The Life of David Gale:
This wasn't an easy film to watch, certainly not one I could watch twice. On more than one occasion I was nearly moved to tears. But it was an outstanding film with Kevin Spacey in the title role doing what he does better than anyone else, playing a very ambiguous character. David Gale was a professor and a staunch activist against the death penalty. Through a complex series of events, he finds himself on death row for the rape and murder of a friend and colleague. Did he do it? Is he innocent? You're never sure until the last frame of the movie, and even then you're not sure how to feel about certain characters. Kate Winslet plays a reporter with a reputation for protecting her sources, which is exactly why Gale requests her for his final interview. In the three days leading up to his scheduled execution, he tells her his story. Her mind is made up about him, but sways as he paints a very different picture than what the media showed. He was a loving husband and father, and a great teacher. In debating a governor, he proves skilled at winning an argument. But he's still human with flaws, battling both alcoholism and a scandalous encounter with an ex-student. Some look at the movie as being just about the death penalty, but I think the larger theme is that of zealotry, and how far anyone would go for any cause he or she felt strongly about. As the clock ticks down, Winslet and her intern race to piece together evidence that could save Gale. The movie becomes a very tense thriller that zigs, then zags, then zigs again. I was surprised after watching to learn that Roger Ebert slammed the film with a shocking zero stars. The pacing is great, the acting is excellent, and the mystery keeps you guessing, leaving one important loose end to be forgotten until one powerful last revelation. The movie is graphic at times, certainly thought-provoking, and will leave you pondering motives and morality long after the credits and excellent soundtrack have given way to silence.

2) The Book of Eli:
Denzel Washington, as the eponymous Eli, does something in the first scene of this film that made me think I wasn't going to care for his character, or even the film itself. But it quickly becomes apparent that his actions are about survival, and he is a lone individual on a sacred crusade, walking West through post-apocalyptic America with precious cargo, the last known copy of a very important book. No one under the age of 30 seems to remember the war which turned the world into a wasteland, in which the sun is so scorchingly bright that sunglasses must be worn at all times. Eli can take care of himself, at one point smelling bandits lying in wait for an ambush. And though he is outnumbered, he proves more than capable in a fight, literally cutting through his opponents with a very big knife. The movie has a gritty Western feel mixed with Mad Max, and it is a twist at the end, obvious in hindsight, which puts the movie in much higher regard for me. Also great is Gary Oldman, a man ruthlessly obsessed with finding the very thing which Eli protects. Under Oldman's thumb is a blind woman(Jennifer Beals and her daughter Solara(Mila Kunis). Against his wishes, Solara eventually becomes Eli's ally and sidekick. There's a ridiculously stylish shootout that would make Michael Bay envious, as the camera pans 360 degrees around the action, passing through crumbling walls. In the end, this isn't a movie about the end of the world so much as what we'd need to rebuild, and the power of faith and determination when faced with a seemingly impossible quest. Eli was a man with a calling, and after walking for 30 years, wasn't going to stop without a fight.

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



MCF's COMMON Bondz 13

It's time to find out the COMMON bonds in Thursday's edition of MCF's COMMON. Thank you Lyndon and Lorna for your great guesses. Some were right, some were wrong, and some were clever and creative enough that I'm now considering dusting off MCF's Perilous as a game for next week. In any case, let's see which was which and who guessed what and where. Why? Why not:

(A) Frances Bean.
(B) Mary Kate & Ashley.
(C) Haley.
(D) Macaulay.
When I heard Kurt Cobain's daughter turned 18 the other day, I couldn't believe it. Frighteningly enough, while I still envision the people on this list as infants or children, Miss Cobain, the Olsen twins, Osment, and Culkin are all adults now. I see old people. I don't want to think about how old that makes me, so we'll move on to less depressing common bonds....

(A) Man About the House.
(B) Coupling.
(C) Red Dwarf.
(D) The Office.
These are four British sitcoms that were adapted in American versions. Two of the remakes proved successful; two did not. Look for Matt LeBlanc to star in a parody of the latter kind in a few months. Take that, Craig Bierko!

(A) Doctor Wily.
(B) Bowser.
(C) Ganon.
(D) Mr. X.
As Lyndon correctly knew, these are all bosses from old NES games.

(A) Drive Shaft.
(B) Oil Change.
(C) Greatest Hits.
(D) Live in Jakarta.
This is the discography of the fictional band Drive Shaft from LOST. But then I'm sure you all everybody knew that....

(A) W.
(B) A.
(C) S.
(D) D.
Play a lot of video games on your computer? Then you might recognize the left-handed alternative to using the arrow keys. The WASD is best used for games which require use of the mouse as well as the keyboard. Personally, I find the arrow keys easier to remember, but understand why this option exists.



M.C.F.A.T. XXIX: Answers

Last week I posted the TWENTY-NINTH batch of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test questions. Thanks to those who played along and answered:



Here are my answers:

1) Have you ever gotten around to watching a movie or television show that everyone raved about when you were younger, only to wonder what all the fuss was about?
I already went over it this weekend, but why was F/X such a big deal? I was also unimpressed when I finally saw Porky's a year or two ago, but I understand why kids in my elementary school would have been wowed by the nudity. I also didn't think The Omen was all that scary; I was actually bored at times, and wondered why it was considered a classic. I guess not everything is timeless, and it is not only important to see films or shows when they come out, but also where you the viewer are at that time in your life. Friends I liked in an aspirational manner, because these people living independent lives in the city could have been my near future when I was in college. In a similar manner, I now enjoy How I Met Your Mother, because it's a way for me to relive vicariously the life I never quite got to back when I was still in my 20s. One show represented a desired future, while another represents a past that could have been. If I was in elementary school when either show came out, or retired, I don't think I could have appreciated them on the same level. Conversely, another interesting aspect of this is nostalgia, in that a lot of things I enjoyed because I was just the right age, I will always look back on fondly. By today's standards, Knight Rider wasn't all that complex or sophisticated a show. But because it's something I watched when I was in elementary school, it will always hold a place of high regard. By today's standards, it probably wouldn't have lasted one season, let alone four. It makes me wonder then, if the remake was really that much worse. No, no it was. It started getting better, but it was too late.

2) Is it better to feel nothing so you feel no pain, or feel pain so that you might also feel joy?
Pain is important. Physical pain tells us when something is wrong. So does emotional pain, though it can make us irrational. More importantly is the value of contrast. We wouldn't know what it was like to feel fine if we didn't have the opposite to compare it to. Still, for every loss I've encountered in my life, from family to friends to pets to relationships, I find myself a little desensitized, find I recover more quickly because I've been through similar things before, and know to expect it. That can be a slippery slope where I get too numb and two comfortable, maybe avoid relationships so I don't have to go through the pain of a breakup. It's tough finding a balance in life sometimes, and it gets easier and easier as I get older to turn on the old emotional novocaine and just not care. I worry about that sometimes, because while I might feel no pain, I might be separating myself from my humanity in the process. As fast as life goes by, going through it as an automaton isn't living at all.

3) What habit or habits would you like to give up?
Ironically, 6 days after posing this question, I fell off the wagon and had a Venti Mocha Frappuccino after four months of training and discipline. I imagine it was the whipped cream that put me over the top back when I had two or three of those a week, and exercise alone isn't why I've dropped 30 pounds over the last year or two. I was never a coffee drinker before I discovered those things after college, and lately I've been getting a caffeine fix from the free coffee in my cafeteria. Now around 3:30 or 4:00 I feel myself fading, and I need a cup. I put in way too many sugars, like 6 or 7, because I don't actually like the taste, and to make matters worse I hit the snack machine for a packet of Peanut M&Ms. I lucked out for about two days when they were out of those. The weird thing is, I usually feel more tired at first, then get a burst of energy that lasts through my workout, then I'm ready to crash by the time I get home, then the caffeine seems to kick back in when I'm ready to go to sleep after midnight. I don't need that much sugar, I really don't need caffeine, and I really don't need to have all that so late in the day. When I first started working at my current company, by the Winter I got into having green tea in the afternoon, with 2 or 3 sugars, and no snack. That was a far better habit. I could probably list dozens more, but the last one that I'll mention here is my morning nap. I get up at 7:15, finish my breakfast by 7:35. then go back to bed until 8. I should probably just sleep a little later and stay up, or just not take a 20-25 minute nap that sometimes goes longer, and as it is makes me have to rush to get to work on time. The thing about habits is, by definition, they're things we do without thinking about after a while. Sometimes I need to switch from autopilot to manual, but it's tough.

4) Do you have a plan for your life and, if so, how is it working out so far?
My plan was to save as much money as possible, invested in many different ways, until I accumulated enough to bolster a poor salary, or even support me should I go unemployed for any extended period of time. My ultimate goal is to buy a house, with a large enough down payment that my mortgage and taxes would be something I could afford with my paycheck. I've been working nonstop since 1996 and still live at home. I'm a lot closer to my goal than I was 14 years ago, but a home is a bigger investment than just money; it requires time, which I don't seem to have because I'm always working or playing in bands on the side to earn more money. I've definitely curbed my frivolous purchases, such as DVDs, since the technology is becoming obsolete and I can just rent movies, plus I'm running out of room to fit all my stuff, which is another reason why a house is a good idea. I guess achieving goals requires risk and sacrifice, so until I take some chances and give some things up to free up some time, I'm not going to move forward with my plan. At least I've managed to remain steadily employed. I left my first job by choice for a better one, while I was laid off from the second one, but was fortunate enough to find a third immediately. My field will require me to adapt, and the sort of design work I do will eventually dry up or become scarce as more and more people focus on web design since it's so much cheaper and more immediate. I've run across older designers unwilling to adapt, who may be in for a rude awakening. I'm prepared to learn whatever software or skills I need to remain an asset to any company that will have me. And if it ever came down to asking people if they want fries with that, then so be it. One thing I learned after college was that benefits and a steady paycheck are more important than fame or dreams. In the real world, it's important to have things like insurance and a 401K plan, and to maintain a steady stream of income.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION(s): Who is Chip to Pidge? To Spike?
Kev Bayer, fellow ‘80s kid, nailed it. I was talking about two different Chips from the two most popular robot cartoons. Chip and Pidge were twin brothers on two different Voltron cartoons. Pidge piloted the Green Lion of the lion version, while Chip flew the helicopter as part of the Air Team in the vehicle version. Meanwhile, on The Transformers, wheelchair-bound Chip Chase was a computer-savvy ally to the Autobots and good friends with their main human ally, Spike Witwicky.




Hey, it's my 13th MCF's COMMON! I should have done this one last week to coincide with the 13th day of the month! Instead I wrote a new M.C.F.A.T., for which my answers will be posted tomorrow. At this rate I'll need to hire an assistant to help me with my crazy scheduling....

Below I'm going to list FIVE groups of FOUR things. Each group has some thing in common, some thing that links each quartet. It's up to you to guess, and I'll reveal the answers on Saturday.

20 items. 5 COMMON bonds. Through a combination of skill, luck, knowledge, and flat out guessing, can you guess what they are?

(A) Frances Bean.
(B) Mary Kate & Ashley.
(C) Haley.
(D) Macaulay.

(A) Man About the House.
(B) Coupling.
(C) Red Dwarf.
(D) The Office.

(A) Doctor Wily.
(B) Bowser.
(C) Ganon.
(D) Mr. X.

(A) Drive Shaft.
(B) Oil Change.
(C) Greatest Hits.
(D) Live in Jakarta.

(A) W.
(B) A.
(C) S.
(D) D.



PBW: Stationary in Motion

My camera has been spending more time in the office than I do lately. I did play around with some different exposure and lighting settings, as well as the stitching feature that I haven’t used in a while. It made for a few interesting shots of my cluttered workspace for Photo Blog Wednesday:

One of my friends at work recently got a high end digital SLR, and has been taking phenomenal shots that put mine to shame. It will either inspire me to push myself even further, spend money on a better camera myself, or simply find a new hobby. One of the things my friend has experimented with has been kinetic shots, taken by leaving the camera on a long exposure and moving it in various ways while the subject matter remains stationary. He got some cool laser effects doing that. I tried it with my camera, and got some fuzzy shots of my room and my ceiling light:

The closest I came to my desired effect was shooting my computer monitor with the light out, so it was the sole light source, and moving my camera in various controlled arcs with a 15-second exposure. It wasn’t quite what I was going for, but still created a cool enough design for me to upload at 1024 x 768 desktop image resolution:

More experimenting with light and exposure to come in the future, when I have more time and practice....



The Essential MCF: 2K9-2K10: Part 2

My jumpstart on Cloakfest 2K10 continues! I've already covered October and November of 2009, and now we'll take a look at the essential posts from December 2009 and January 2010::


How I Wasted My Autumn Staycation
The older I get, the faster my longest weekend goes, and the easier it seems for me to waste 6 days of my life. Somehow, I still made it interesting....

Wish I Understood...
There's a lot of things I don't understand: the death of a good friend's sister, the notion that animation as a medium is limited to an audience of children, the humor some people see in vomit, and why people will go to work when ill. I've been guilty of that last one, but actually encountered someone almost as bad as if not worse than me....

MCF Libs
It was an experimental [NOUN] that [VERB] readers [ADVERB].

The Tent
At the memorial service for my friend's older sister, I learn that his brother is a minister, and an amazing public speaker. As one of my other friends observed, “Weren't we supposed to be comforting him?” It was an amazing display of faith in what could have been a very dark time.

As weird as I am during the daytime, sometimes even I'm amazed by my subconscious. Here's yet another one of my crazy dreams, in which among other things, I'm a transforming Jack Tripper robot.

And He Can't Get Up
I have an off day at the gym, which pales in comparison to the news that my nursing home-bound uncle had a fall. I'm aging, but my family has a great head start, and it's tough seeing what they have to deal with, what I'll have to deal with someday.

The Hangover One Point Five
Who has two muscular calves and a wild first visit to Atlantic City? This guy. (Not shown: me pointing at myself with my calves.)

PBW: So Money, I Don't Even Know It.
And, in case there was any danger of me forgetting my weekend getaway to AC, I took plenty of pictures.

Shopping Daze
With the holidays fast approaching, and me run down with a sinus infection after partying too much in Atlantic City, I trudge through work, skip the gym, and manage to get some Christmas presents for my cousin's kids. Some years, last-minute shopping is more last minute than usual.

My Current Songs Five
It's five songs that I was really digging at the time. Three of those still get regular air play; I realize I miss the other two. I don't know if I could come up with as strong a current five right now....

In the Core Drama Universe
I turn my trope-busting gaze upon...DRAMATIC TELEVISION! Dunh dunh duuuuuuuhn! (Not shown in this house: “reality” television. Ever.)

Holiday Motion
Who has a tie full of Christmas trees and dances like a fool at his office holiday party? This guy. (Shown: Christmas tie and me dancing like a fool).

A Very Merry
Seasons greetings, from my favorite holiday special, and my cats.

My Christmas Special Fives
And these are my five favorite Christmas specials. Man, I had way too much holiday spirit last year....

Looking Back Looking Forward
2009 draws to a close and with it, the “oughts”. What did I do that was new, and what will I do with the next 10 years of my life?

...I'll do everything I listed as a possibility for 2010. At a glance, I did get a raise, a promotion, shave my head, and set a new record running an annual race. There's a few things on the list I didn't do yet, but this year isn't over yet either....


Firsts and Lasts 2009
I continue the tradition of starting one year by listing the first and last sentence I wrote for each of the 12 months prior.

2009 Music & Movie Wrap-up
What songs and films did I like in 2009? And what movies turned out to be disappointments?

I finally get into Psych(which I've since caught up on), and try to psych myself up for great accomplishments in 2010. I still don't own that house, but did I mention how well I did in the race? Also, my BMI is currently 27.3, which is almost one less than it was at the time of that post. Slowly but surely....

My 2010 Midseason Fives
Remember when I wrote about pop culture on a more regular basis? Here I go through my favorite shows starting the second half of their respective seasons, as well as the ones just starting in January or later.

I Need NEW New Sneakers
I realize, after the umpteenth time I damage my feet, that I need new sneakers, better than the last disastrous new pair I bought. The right shoes, I would learn, would make all the difference.

My trip to Atlantic City lands me on a mailing list in which they constantly bombard me with enticing offers to return. But even in January, my various band leaders are vying for my availability, and I find weekends booked months in advance. Updating my credit card at this time also proves complicated, as does my love life, which I only allude to in the post. Fortunately(?), that last one would get much simpler when both options became unavailable within the course of a week.

...if I mixed in some genuine inquiries with some hypothetical ones, would anyone notice or respond?

Status Quo
My flair for the melodramatic gets the better of me, as I descend into a fit of feeling sorry for myself because a girl someone tried to fix me up with lost interest and stopped talking to me within a few short days. Looking back, that molehill is hardly the mountain I made it out to be, especially since I probably made more money playing all the gigs I was complaining about than if I'd missed them to visit this girl out of state. Things always work out the way they were supposed to, even if I only realize that in hindsight. And no roll of the dice is ever guaranteed.

No Sweat
Fortunately, it doesn't take me long to recognize I'm being irrational about that girl(even if it did continue to nag at me a bit longer). There's a big difference between playing it cool and actually staying cool for real.

It takes a sermon from my pastor for me to consider the other side of the equation, to get out of my “What's wrong with me?” pity party and think about what someone else might be feeling or might have experienced that would influence her decisions(or seeming lack thereof). I also draw inspiration from Conan O'Brien's classy parting words. He rocks.

Wisdom in Stupidity
I'm the sort of guy who can listen to a Weird Al song and recognize the value of taking a risk. There's a 100% chance of nothing happening if we don't at least try, so the only thing we should regret is not trying, and never regret not succeeding when we do try. Or, as Han Solo more succinctly put it, “Never tell me the odds”.

The Finish Line
Dollhouse limps sadly across the finish line too soon, and my love life sidelines into the friend zone(which isn't so bad), but my physical fitness life accelerates as I get ever closer to running 7 miles a day, a distance I would reach and exceed in the coming months...

* * *

And that's what I wrote about in December 2009 through January 2010 of my sixth year of doing this.

The Essential MCF 2K9-2K10 will continue....

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Phantasmic Links 8.16.10

The weather this weekend was gorgeous, especially Saturday! My dad joined our Italian band for a short procession, though he did get some chest pains before it began. I knew he was getting stressed because at every red light he complained about how long the light was taking, and asked if there wasn’t an alternate route. Mind you, we’d left a half hour early to pick up the band leader and his son at a train station, so not only did we have plenty of time, we had the boss with us. But that’s my dad. I gave him his nitroglycerine pill, and after he sat for a few minutes the pain subsided. When the gig was over, he remarked with astonishment that he felt great coming back in. I tried to explain that he was relaxed because he knew the job was over. I guess he’s too close to see the link between stress and his heart problems, while the pattern is very obvious to me.

Afterwards, we kind of got kicked out by the society. Usually we get a bottle of water and sit at one of the tables, but one of the guys first yelled at us for having our instruments on the table(which was covered in disposable plastic), then told us to go so he could set up “for the people”. You know, because musicians aren’t people. On Sunday night I played another procession with a different band, and despite a few drops and the threat of rain, it went much smoother. It was the 100th anniversary of that feast though, so we had to wait through a ton of speeches and announcements at the end. I think one woman they called up was an impressive 97 years old and had been part of the feast since its 3rd year. I was afraid I’d be 97 before they finished calling everyone up.

All in all, it was a profitable and productive weekend, and I’m ready to go back to the office for another week. Am I forgetting anything? Ah yes, the weekend doesn’t transition to the week before I collect some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) I haven't seen the new Scott Pilgrim movie yet, but I really hope some form of this epic battle appears. Pure win.

(2) I've yet to see Toy Story 3(what the hell have I been doing this Summer?), but I love this comic book fan art(which fortunately doesn't spoil the 3rd film, at least as far as I can tell).

(3) Here's an equation for pure awesomeness: Garfield Minus Garfield PLUS Chewbacca.

(4) What if The Mighty Avengers had a movie as early as 1952? Who knew the past was so cool?

(5) Prototype robots capable of developing emotions have now been created. And I for one welcome our future machine overlords....

(6) Consoul is a short film which follows the life of one man...in 8 bits...and beyond....

(7) Mark Grambau's minimalist superhero posters capture the recognizable true graphic essence of some of your favorite characters.

(8) You haven't heard the history of the Soviet Union until you've heard it sung to the tune of the Tetris theme.

(9) Small Town Noir is a collection of mug shots and the stories behind them, rescued from New Castle, Pennsylvania, when the local police station was throwing them away.

(10) Catapult Madness is a go-the-distance game with a goal: can you help your loyal subjects to safety 50,000 away from a besieged castle, the only radical way you know how?

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 56

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 56th WWW:

1) F/X:
I've always had the notion that this was one of the big ‘80s movies that I'd missed, that it was something my friends raved about. Maybe I was confusing it with something else, or maybe it was a big deal because Brian Dennehy was an alumni of my high school. I like his work, but he doesn't show up until halfway into the movie. The star is Bryan Brown, an Australian who looks and sounds really familiar, but who I couldn't place. Checking his credits now, I do kind of remember him from Cocktail as the mentor bartender. But here, he takes front and center as a movie special effects wizard hired by the witness protection program to help fake the death of a mobster, played by Jerry Orbach. Of course, things go wrong, and Brown's Rollie Tyler finds himself framed and on the run from the law. Enter Dennehy as a gruff cop who realizes some things don't quite add up. There are some great dated scenes with him working with the computer girl to piece clues together on a computer with glowing green type. Ah, the ‘80s. It's actually an interesting story, with some realistic fighting. In one scene, instead of being some Hollywood choreographed martial arts sequence, Rollie has a struggle with a hitman in which he hurls pots and pans and anything he can find at the guy. Ultimately, Rollie kind of becomes a special effects superhero, outwitting mobsters with smoke and mirrors and other tricks. Lacking a bigger budget, it all feels more like a television movie-of-the-week. While entertaining with some genuinely likable characters, it doesn't feel like something that was ever shown in a movie theater. Maybe I simply waited too long to see it.

2) F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion:
Against all odds, Rollie is back, so I suppose that's something of a spoiler for anyone who didn't see the first film. I won't go in to why it doesn't seem likely he'd be showing his face in public in this sequel. In any event, he's in happier times with a new girlfriend, though he's out of the movie business. He makes toys, from a helicopter that entertains his girlfriend's son to an animatronic clown that mirrors the movements of anyone wearing a special telemetry suit. His girlfriend's ex is a cop, and calls on Rollie's help to catch a killer. So Rollie dusts off the mirrors and smoke machines and helps with an elaborate sting. Something goes wrong, and the film kind of devolves into this cliché police drama about crooked cops, internal affairs, and stolen art. Rollie calls in Dennehy's Leo, now a private investigator, to help crack the case. The computer girl returns, and there's another unintentionally hilarious dated scene involving the transfer of data from a floppy disc over an old-school telephone modem. There's even some delayed “instant messaging”, perhaps the first time on screen. Maybe that was the appeal of these movies, while modems and oversized cellphones look silly now, they were state-of-the-art then. Rollie does step up his fight choreography in this one, and uses that clown to battle a hitman in a pretty fun sequence. There's at least one random and unnecessary death scene, and one or two predictable moments. It was definitely a different era for movie making, even if it did feel light like a television show. Maybe it harkened back to things like Columbo. Maybe it looked ahead to shows like Psych in which characters can still have banter despite the presence of a dead body each week. Brown and Dennehy are certainly charismatic in their respective styles, and do get to play off one another more in this film than they did in the original. In the first movie they don't really meet until the very end, while here it's more of a buddy comedy. It's also the sort of movie that wouldn't work in this day and age of CGI special effects, so it is a good celebration of practical special effects. These films apparently inspired a series which I vaguely recall, but never watched. It apparently lasted for an impressive 40 episodes, so I may have to look it up some time.

3) Bad Company:
I'm not sure if this movie was boring, or simply not my cup of tea. Laurence Fishburne is, of course, a cool cat as always. A former CIA agent, he now joins some dubious private corporation known as the “Toolshed” which specializes in corporate blackmail. Frank Langella does what he does best as the sinister leader of this organization, and Ellen Barkin actually smolders as his femme fatale right-hand lady and steamy love interest for Fishburne. So there are three strong leads, and a nice film noir feel to the whole piece. Yet the pacing is very slow, and the plot isn't all that complicated. A man whose company is being sued for dumping toxic waste that poisoned one community hires the Toolshed to sway the vote of the judge trying the case, fairly simple given the judge's gambling debts. A lot of double-crossing is woven in to the plot as well, with a few twists, and you're never quite sure whether Fishburne is still working for the agency, or just working for himself, or if anyone in the movie can really be trusted. And then it's all wrapped up in one messy bow, and it's over. I think there was some fine acting, and the movie had a lot of potential, but lacked any real excitement. I was never really worried for any of the main characters, nor perceived any danger to them, at least until the final scene. And by then, most of the plot had already unraveled, save for a few loose ends that seemed to exist solely to extend the story to feature-length running time. As as rental it's okay, but I've seen better, especially from the principal cast.

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