December 28, 2007
Another Foolish Day at Sea

There has been another foolish day at sea. Mistakes made this day were mistakes of communication - too much in this case. I have learned that, at least as far as the sailing school I went to and hope not to rent from anymore, there's no point in letting them know if something has happened to the engine until you have sailed around and enjoyed the rest of your day as much as possible. They'll not have anything useful or encouraging to say, despite being a school.

I've also learned how unfortunately fragile outboard engines are. To my credit I was not on the throttle when it was (perhaps) too high to switch gears - I was raising a sail, and this was not my rental. Somehow as "senior" person on board, though, I was looked at as responsible party.

Oh, screw them. Time to round up all the movies I've seen since the last review I put on here, in time for the end of the year. Turns out I saw 131 films in '07, one mini-series ("The Room"), and all of one season of a show, at least that I specifically rented ("Six Feet Under").

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Heresy: I was underwhelmed by this, the big John Ford movie with John Wayne and James Stewart.

Haunted Honeymoon. For big, BIG Gene Wilder fans only. Well - no, they should probably skip it too.

Underworld Evolution. Sexy vampires in black leather and bright contact lenses making hissing noises. Neat boss vampire effects, but I'm not a big fan of this series.

Smiles of a Summer Night. I confess I am not a Bergman fan by nature - it is intellectual curiosity that brings me to them. I wish I'd seen this in the context of a class - or in some sort of academic setting, so I could be around those that found it wonderful.

Vertigo. I am ashamed that this was the FIRST time I had ever seen this all the way through. I felt about it the way I did about The Conformist - thank GOD I was amazed, since it's so revered.

In the Valley of Elah. Unique police movie with subtle, understated ideas about the war and War. Tommy Lee Jones was better in "No Country," but he's very good and so is Charlize. And another great part for Josh Brolin.

Blind Woman's Curse. Continuing the guilty pleasure girl-yakuza film series. Not as blatantly exploitational and therefore entertaining as Sex and Fury, but Meiko Kaji is great.

Michael Clayton. George Clooney out of the Oceans millieu - very good. Despite being a sparkling movie star, I buy him as a loser. I loved the quiet scene with the horses. Wilkinson is great as well. I firmly believe that the corporate "cleaners" that Tilda Swinton uses in this film actually exist - that they would be hired in this exact way and go about their job in this exact fashion.

Superman: Doomsday. Hey - this was actually pretty good, for a Superman story that's been done a billion times. Ann Heche was a great Lois. Don't mock me because I'm a comic geek.

The Good German. A bit tiresome.

Fired! I enjoyed this cute doc by Annabelle Gurwitch. It made me wish I'd quit some of my crappier jobs more dramatically. It wasn't very slick but, if it leaves me wanting more that's better than the alternative.

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. An indie gem by Jim Jarmusch to be studied and loved. Can't believe it took me so long to see this classic Forest Whitaker role. An "A" for sure. Maybe in ten more years I'll finally see "Last King of Scotland."

Vacancy. The Hotel Snuff premise was a bit implausible, even for Video On Demand. The characters were meant to be trapped, but it never felt like they couldn't more or less... run away very fast.

Lady Snowblood. Another great one with Meiko Kaji, (still #2 to "Sex and Fury" though) and probably the most direct inspiration of "Kill Bill" of the three girl boss films I've seen.

GalaxyQuestPartofAptPupilPartofInfamousPartofBigLebowski~. I had the flu for a few days, and while I lay on the couch watched all these one after the other. Through my fevered haze they all melted together into one big movie. Speaking of comic geekery - Galaxy Quest still taps right into the very nerve center of a sci-fi fan's secret fantasy.

Rise - Blood Hunter. Um... guilty Lucy Liu pleasure, but - hey! It really wasn't that bad. Seriously! The retarded vampire erotica is kept to a minimum, and of the one trillion films made in Los Angeles, this one actually seems to find some spots to be besides under the Hollywood sign and Rodeo Drive.

Diva. The NuArt manager gushed about the influence of this 80s movie perhaps a little much. At the end I was glad I saw it, but wasn't terrifically inspired or moved.

Juno. Very very cute, though again, speaking of gushing praise, I think a tad overrated. But a very enjoyable cineplex experience, and good for Ellen Page.

Rendition. Unfortunately, having been exposed to all manner of movie atrocities, I found the torture in "Rendition" to be slightly limp - and neither was I as horrified as I should have been about a man being "disappeared" so easily. Streep is chilling, and I would have preferred the movie be mainly about her, Peter Saarsgard, Alan Arkin, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The Reese Witherspoon sections I think detracted entirely. And the well-crafted but confusing flashback structure - was it totally necessary to tell the movie in this fashion? Still, a good film.

Look. A small independent job "shot entirely with security cameras," although really only shot from angles approximating where security cameras would be. But what is it about the story or theme that requires it to be told from that perspective? Not much - unless the filmmaker is telling us that for all the thousands of cameras in use, no one seems to be paying much attention to them.

Superbad, again. The laffs were diminished by a factor of, oh, maybe 10% seeing it a second time on TV.

I Am Legend. Exciting! Very good! Until the time


that Will Smith is joined by the woman and child, and then, although Smith continues to give one of the strongest performances I've seen from him, the story feels like it clicks into high-speed gear. I could have used thirty more minutes. Lots of plot-holes if you think about it, but WELL worth your cinema dollar for the first 2/3rds alone, for the best friend the last man on earth ever had, and for Smith's great melt-down scene with Fred.

Christmas Story / Nat'l Lampoon's Christmas Vacation / Scrooge. We enjoyed this seasonal trifecta at the Aero over two Christmas holiday days. They never got a better Russ and Audrey than the first pair, and too bad about Chevy Chase going mad or whatever's happened to him. For "Christmas Carol" versions, my favorite is the Henry Winkler made for TV version.

Cube 0. The series continues! Unfortunately, it continues downhill, but #1 was a tough one to beat. Despite going a bit behind the scenes of what the Cube is, not many questions are answered. Although if you know the original very well, this one comes full-circle to a character in that film.

The Hunt for Red October. Like "Christmas Story" above, this one is a part of the "I Can't Believe Ami Never Saw This" Netflix series. Still a fantastic movie. Richard Jordan is the best politician, EVER. And Alec Baldwin is my favorite Jack Ryan.

Posted by Chris at 1:50 PM
December 19, 2007
Preventing Workplace Harassment

Preventing workplace harassment is everyone's job. But, only people that share my lofty position or one above it are required to take a two-hour online training course in it here at my workplace, and that is what I am doing today.

What I love about this online course is that 1) it comes with an audio track, and 2) most computers here do not come with audio cards. However! The third-party producers of this training video (and I have never seen my company use the same third party twice for this sort of thing) have included a transcript tab so you can read along. But sadly! The page will not "finish" until the audio track, unheard by most, has come to the end. And you cannot skip ahead.

Meanwhile, as the unheard audio track streams in, still images of people posing as potential harassees and their harassers (which I pronounce in the archaic mode, putting emphasis on the second syllable, NOT THE FIRST) appear sequentially on the screen - though not sequentially enough to be called a "video." It's a slide show. Speech bubbles appear on the screen, so I am viewing sort of live-action comic strip.

I feel sorry for the actors or models they have hired to do this sort of work. This is a style of acting - I'm guessing it might be the Lee Strasberg School of Tableau - that hasn't been in use since the stereo-opticon. "OK, the supervisor is leaning in, yes, that's good, now Bob if you could sort of lean away from her because in this shot she's making an inappropriate comment about your race, yes that's right, now a look of disgust, OK, HOLD THAT HOLD THAT, and TABLEAU! Moving on!" And how are you going to put a series of still images on your reel?

Since there is no soundtrack to the "video" I choose AC/DC's "Shake A Leg" to play along on my iPod.

There are occasional questions that pop up. Because this is an official company harassment video, the best response 100% of the time, without fail, is to go with the absolute most conservative answer. Adopt the POV of the most litigious office prude, just as with the "Security" test I adopted the attitude of a humorless office nazi, to achieve total excellence. It works every time.

As the course flows along it deals with such flash-point topics as whether you can touch people's hair at work (BEST NOT TO!), whether you can safely make jokes about ethnic groups (BEST NOT TO!), how to handle office romances (BEST NOT TO!), and what to do if things get out of hand at conferences held in Las Vegas. I am vaguely intrigued by a slide that features an attractive woman touching another attractive woman's hair to illustrate a no-no. I think they could not bring themselves to cast a creepy old man in the role of the Letch for this slide, and for that I thank them. I wonder if there might be a sub-group that collects these sort of training videos as a turn-on?

And speaking of that, my favorite thing ever about these training exercises is how the examples themselves are kept vague and inoffensive so that the harassment class is not itself harrassment. META-HARASSMENT, I believe the linguistics experts would call it. Thus, I just had an example where a supervisor / harasser claimed that "all Canadians are poor writers." Uh... this is not a negative stereotype of our neighbors to the North that I have encountered. Later, a hypothetical was introduced wherein a man named "Pierre" tries to impose his very conservative religious views about the length of a woman's hemline in the office. Riiiiight. You know the French! Such prudes!

When I am finished I take a screenshot of the "Congratulations! 100%!" - which I achieved without reading one word of the background information - because after all this is an online course required in the year 2007 by a technology consulting company. You can't expect these required results to be recorded or transmitted in any way.

How long will my certification as an Understander of the Boundaries of Harassment (This time I put the emphasis on the first syllable) remain in effect? I assume, like CPR training, I will need to revisit it one day, as new advances are made in workplace lawsuits.

Posted by Chris at 11:19 AM

Did it, I wonder, go into quid pro quo? Because if you're offering a raise, promotion, or other incentives, it's no longer harassment. It's a business transaction.

Also, what if you're only pointing at their privates?

And if you harass EVERYONE it's not like you're singling anyone out, is it?

Best not to, I suppose. Tchh,

Posted by: simon at December 20, 2007 7:46 PM

this made me laugh. out loud. at work.

Posted by: kjk at December 26, 2007 12:43 PM
December 4, 2007
I Made Some Shelves and Saw Some Movies

Very occasionally I make bookshelves. It makes me happy to make an actual thing with my actual hands, something that is not typed out on a keyboard and only exists on the interwebs. It's annoying to have to get people at Anawalt's to cut the boards but I'm an apartment-dweller in a city - I gots no space and I gots no Skil-saw and don't want to store one.

These latest were better than my last "nail-less" peg-and-dowel shelves, copied from a friend, and which leaned so precariously when they were done that I had to install some hidden L-braces. This time I learned how to stain and finish (Stain is not paint!!! Watch where you lay your brush down, you can't fix it later!!! Don't keep staining after dusk falls because you can't see what you're doing!!! Put more finish on than you think you need and don't over-brush!!!) , and even though there are many spots I'm not happy with, they will be covered by books so who cares. After I was done I wanted to apply a coat of finish to everything, to every single thing in the apartment so that all would be smooth and glossy.

Probably ultimately cost more than store shelves would - if I could have found some to fit this corner and not from B, B, & B (because that stuff has a way of taking over your place), which I couldn't anyway, which was the point of making them. The whole thing could have been done in maybe two days if I'd had two consecutive days. I didn't, so I set my alarm very early one morning to do a quick coat of finish before work - and when I heard raindrops at 5:30 that morning, I ran out to the tiny alley between apartment buildings - that I was using as my workshop - to hustle my masterpiece inside.

I saw:

Devil's Rain. When I was a kid this movie made a big impression on me, probably because of the melting, eye-less faces of the Satanists (which ARE pretty startling) and also it was probably the first time I saw William Shatner not acting as Captain Kirk. But it's possible no movie ever had less of a plot. They had a ghost-town, a guy that made drippy devil-masks, and inexplicably the sign-off of actors like Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Keenan Wynn, Tom Skerritt and Shatner, they didn't NEED a plot I guess. I liked the way they began without much setup at all, but avoid this one judiciously.

Tough Guys Don't Don't Dance. As embarrassing as a Nagel print of Sheena Easton. I had to turn it off after 20 minutes.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Disappointing. I don't want 83 year-old Lumet to leave us on one like this. I have always had a crush on Marisa Tomei, but I've never seen her give such a poor showing. (While ironically showing more of herself than she has before - and more than I think she should have.)

No Country for Old Men. I am not going back to check all the movies I've seen this year to verify yet, but I think this is the best one of 2007. I have seen Tommy Lee Jones polish his grizzled act for years and years and I don't think I've ever seen him frightened before - not until this movie. There's that moment


when you feel the movie stop being about the crime plot and being about Tommy Lee, and how this killer Anton Chigurh is his monster - the same way Leonard Smalls is H.I. McDunnough's monster in "Raising Arizona" - and it's just slightly disappointing, because we know we're not going to see Anton get what's coming to him in a fantastic revenge scene - but then it's all right because the theme of the movie is so powerful, and so well told.

You may find the "Raising Arizona" parallel tiresome but I couldn't stop seeing connections between the people in the two films. Maybe because they take place in desert communities in the south. When Chigurh slows down to take a totally random shot at a crow on a guardrail I was reminded of Smalls shooting little desert critters as he streaked across the highway - he was especially hard on the little things. And even though his character meets with a nasty end, I felt like Woody Harrelson was playing the M. Emmet Walsh role from "Blood Simple." Maybe I'm just a Coen Bros. geek.

Javier Bardem gets a nod as the creepiest psychopath since Hannibal Lecter. And even though I've seen Tommy Lee Jones phone it in before, this was the best performance I've seen from him in a long time.

D-Wars. "Dragonslayer" is still safe as the bestest dragon movie ever made. Don't mock me because I saw this.

American Gangster. I was expecting a lot more. Pretty standard rags-to-riches fare. At the end of the movie there's a title screen that tells us the man Russell Crowe plays, Richie Roberts, went on to defend Denzel's Frank Lucas in court, after working so hard to capture him. And I learned from Charlie Rose that Roberts is also now godfather to Lucas' son. Why didn't they make a movie about THAT?

Great showing from Josh Brolin in both this one and "No Country."

Posted by Chris at 10:22 AM

Hi Chris. After reading your reviews, I now know what "spoilers" means. Goddamnit. It's a form of emotional rape, innit? Telling me how it ends and all.

Have a Cool Yule! (Although I hear there's a "war on Yule".)

Posted by: simon at December 16, 2007 7:16 PM