My 100 favourite films. Entry #19: THX 1138.



THX 1138 (1971)
directed by George Lucas
starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie and Donald Pleasence
country: USA
genre: Sci-fi

Visuals: 9
Writing: 4
Everyday watchability: 3

I said the last movie was weird. I lied. THX is weird. It's about a dystopian future where everyone is required to shave their head and take mind-numbing drugs that keep them from feeling. Sex and love are outlawed, and you repent to a mechanical Jesus. I guess it sounds weirder than it is, because the movie is generally quite coherent. I say generally because Lucas takes his time with scenery of the future, and while it really adds to the reality of the entire situation, sometimes one has to wonder what the frig is going on. One scene (depicted in the fifth picture down) has two unseen voices controlling THX 1138's body movements and presumably nervous system for unknown purposes. I know what they're doing, but don't have a clue why they're doing it. Because they can maybe? Much of the movie is like this. I understand what's going on (they're making androids, they're watching a man beat another man on television, they're...um...praying to mechanical Jesus) but I know nought why.

The movie is technically brilliant. Walter Murch does the sound design, and as many current sound designers will probably tell you, he's a God (Ben Burtt being Jesus I suppose). The sounds are bizarre but completely natural within the space. The editing is again perfect, with shots lingering just long enough, but never too long, keeping the movie at an even pace throughout.

One caveat: George Lucas messed this movie up the same way he messed up the original Star Wars films. He digitally added people, things and explosions to "tell the story the way he originally wanted it told." What a load of hogwash. You made the movie. It was complete. It was good. You just added things for the sake of doing it. Just because you can doesn't mean you should George Lucas. As a side note, I'm probably going to get sued just for posting thumbnails from one of his films.








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My 100 favourite films. Entry #18: Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky).



Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (US: Castle in the Sky) (1986)
directed by Hayao Miyazaki
starring Mayumi Tanaka and Keiko Yokozawa
country: Japan
genre: Family / Adventure

Visuals: 9
Writing: 6
Everyday watchability: 6
Number of times Pazu yells Sheeta: around a million

Castle in the Sky is a weird movie. Not weird in the traditional weird movie sense like Tetsuo: Iron Man or pretty much anything starring Peter Weller (Naked Lunch, Buckaroo Banzai). It's weird as in ludicrous. Miyazaki loves the look of things and is seemingly unencumbered by any sort of physical realism. It is an animated film, but in terms of physics reads almost like an action film. Cars can drive on railroad tracks and destroy them as they go along. Explosions look huge but do no real damage or injury. Enormous punches to the gut have absolutely no effect and shirts tear off of rippling muscles like tissue paper.

This, besides the amazing animation, is the basis of Castle's appeal. Viewers don't always want realism. We see reality every time we wake up. We want the ridiculous, the outrageous, the exciting.

Miyazaki has all of that here in spades.

Update (06/26/08): I've been getting a little bit sloppy with these posts. I start out with a bit of a formula and it's sort of gone to pot. That's fine; I'm all with evolution of an idea, but the original idea had some definite merit. So I'm going to fill you in on a bit of the film's plot. It's about a young girl named Sheeta who's a descendant of the Laputa people, and has a special locket which is believed to have great power. The army is trying to get its hands on it to active the eponymous castle, and some air pirates want it for other reasons. Sheeta literally falls thousands of feet into the arms of Pazu, a young boy who must help her escape both pirates and army men.

About the DVD, Disney kind of sucks. I think it's great that they got the American distribution rights so that Americans can actually see this and all of Miyazaki's great films, but I wish they wouldn't have fucked up the DVD so much. Not only did they record a new English language track with current "stars" (James van der Beek and Anna Paquin), but they totally changed the dialog. If you watch the movie with the English track and the original subtitles, it's mismatched for a good 80% of the film. They add "jokes" and Disney flavour to the entire film, which I feel undermines Miyazaki's intentions. They did have the foresight to keep the original Japanese language track, truly the only way to watch the film.

Furthermore, certified douchebag John Lasseter has to give his two cents about the film right before we watch the film. I don't care what you think of it John Lasseter. This isn't TCM and you're not Robert Osborne, so please shut up. We know you were instrumental in the getting these films distributed in America (and poorly re-dubbed), now shut your gob.









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Hamster puppet.

This hamster puppet is adorable. It's about the same colour as my hamster making it all the neater. I kind of want to get one and just hold onto it until I have children because it's so damn cute.
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An open letter to sales tax.

Dear Sales Tax,

Fuck you. I'm done with you.

Sincerely,

Lee Scott Benson
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My 100 favourite films. Entry #17: Real Genius.



Real Genius (1985)
directed by Martha Coolidge
starring Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink and William Atherton
country: USA
genre: Comedy

Visuals: 7
Writing: 9
Everyday watchability: 8
Number of shirts in the film that I own: 4 (thanks to Found Item Clothing)

Chris Knight is my hero. Val Kilmer plays one of the quintessential anti-establishment types. I feel like if I could combine a personality from movie characters, it would be 1/4 Chris Knight, 1/4 The Thin Man, 1/4 Hawkeye Piere (from the film, not the TV show) and 1/4 Fletch. Then I'd be smarmy, funny, intelligent, non-chalant and still get all the chicks. That would be awesome.

As for this movie, the writing is just fantastic. It's seriously funny and derived from strong characters, which I think is where much great comedy comes from. I don't want to talk too much, but check out these stills with some choice quotes.

Crossbow; it's what the main characters don't know they're making.
Kent: Alright, God. Let me have it!
This shot comes at the end of the second of three montages. As the semester goes one, there are fewer people and more tape recorders, until there are no people at all, only tape recorders, and a taped lecture playing on the front desk. The chalk board reads: The math on the tape is hard to follow, so listen carefully.
Don: Maybe you should hide while I'm driving.
Professor Hathaway: He saw me Don.
Dr. Dodd: Why is that toy on your head?
Chris Knight: Because if I wear it any place else, it chafes.
Chris Knight: Have you ever seen a body like this before in your life?
David Decker: She happens to be my daughter.
Chris Knight: Oh. Then I guess you have.
Student: What is it?
Chris Knight: It's a laser beam, bozo!
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Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster.

I love this trailer. It's an American trailer for a Japanese film, and it has the amazing line: "Created from an atomic fireball hurled from outer space." What does that even mean?! He says it like it's so normal!

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Maybe baby, Part II.

Well, I finished the Amy Grant video I started the other night as chronicled in this blog post. Let me start by making a correction to my previous post. Amy doesn't wear bright gold pants. She wears bright pink pants and a bright gold jacket with bright silver shoes. And a brooch that really ties everything together. I also forgot to mention this one guy in the audience who dances like he's having an embolism. At the start of a chorus of Grant's song Emmanuel, he throws his head forward so hard I swear he broke a vertebra. Then he turns to the left just so he can bang his head at someone else. If those dancers weren't so well separated, someone could have been killed.

Now on to the new stuff. Boy does this special get bland. Yeesh. There isn't any more footage from her big concert, which is the closest this film comes to rocking. Instead, we get Amy and Gary singing a song they wrote by a campfire, "Tennessee Christmas." It isn't at all a bad song, and Gary looks a lot more comfortable when he only has to play guitar. When they make him lip-synch his background vocals, however, his lips are way off. The best part of this scene is when a single tear runs down Jenny's face. I swear I saw it happen, but I couldn't believe it.

Before that, Amy visited a local museum where Dennis Weaver spews some crap about the Black Elk word for horse, which apparently translates literally to Elkdog. As if I care. Then he shows them some art that's such a dark brown, it barely shows up on camera. It seriously looks like a carved pile of shit. That's not even a joke. It literally looks like poop.

Later, Dennis inexplicably drops Amy off at a local store. I don't know why he's ditching her here. He just says he'll "be back later." What, in like 10 minutes? In three hours? Tomorrow? What an asshole.

The store is filled with useless crap and the scene is filled with useless dialogue. This is where Ed Begley, Jr. shows up (also inexplicably) as the store manager, Moose. As she's purportedly looking for a Christmas gift for her dad, Ed shows Amy a number of items: a lamp made out of Elk hooves; a stuffed bear; and various other crimes against nature. You think someone as green as Ed Begley, Jr would take exception to all this dead animal, but he doesn't seem to mind. After all, they paid him like $50 to do the special and he was just excited to be able to eat that week. I think he improvised his way through this scene, because it's gibberish. Eh, you get what you pay for.

After this, Amy goes to sing at a recital with some church choir, and this is where I tuned out again, because my stars was it boring. Just a total yawn-fest. And then Art Garfunkel shows up in his best Cosby sweater. I never knew it, but Art Garfunkel is a real creep. He doesn't do anything but sing, but he has that soft, high-pitched voice that makes him sound like the kind of guy who picks up kids after school...kids that aren't his. They sing a few songs I guess. Like I said, I tuned out.

I tuned back in -- as much as you can tune in to a program like this -- when it looked like Amy was singing by herself again. But then a bunch of jerks showed up. These jerks consisted of Gary Chapman, Dennis Weaver, Kaleena Kiff, Ed Begley Jr. and sigh...Art Garfunkel. I thought we'd gotten rid of him. They all uncomfortably sing along to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Ed looks like he doesn't know why he's there, probably because he can't sing for beans. Plus, he'd rather be eating that can of beans he bought after getting his paycheck. At one point, Gary looks like he's really into singing, because he cranes his head up and to the right in this awesome rock star pose, as if he wanted to sing directly to God. I'm pretty sure God missed out; he probably had his Walkman headphones on listening to Amy's last studio album instead.

That was it. I watched the damn tape. Where's a magnet when you need one?

+=?
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Another way to save cash.

In my search for the cheapest deal on a rental truck, I decided on Budget truck, as it was $2 cheaper a day and 20 cents less a mile. It seemed a no-brainer. When I got to the reservation check-out screen, there was a box for a promotional code. I didn't have one, but a quick Google search for "budget truck promotional code" lead me to RetailMeNot.com. It's a site where users input promo/coupon codes that they've used for different websites. You browse the listing (sorted by business) for the one that looks good and is applicable to you and try it out. If it works, you click a check mark; if it doesn't, you click the X. There's even a little graphical timeline that shows how many people it worked for and how many it didn't, so you can see if the code's probably no good anymore. What a great idea! And it saved me $10.

Some stores have request to have all user contributed coupons removed from the system, and they post their own. Still, you can find a bunch of deals in one place. That's handy.
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People people.

On the bus ride home yesterday, gridlock gave me plenty of time to think. One thing I thought to myself was, "what's the plural of people person?" At first, I thought it might be people persons, then I realized that the plural for person is people, so does that make it people people? That just seems silly. Who says, "they're people people." It makes the talker sound annoyed, as if they're ineffectually decrying some injustice, "they're people, people!" I ultimately decided that the acceptable form was indeed people persons because it leaves the original term intact, but simply pluralizes it.

And now that I look in the dictionary, persons is apparently a completely acceptable plural form. Sigh....

vs.

The reason I thought of this, unlikely enough, was bus drivers. Specifically, it was C-Tran's bus drivers. Here in Portland, the bus system is called Trimet, but since I'm staying over the border in Vancouver, I have to take the Clark county bus system to even get into the city. And discovered that C-Tran kicks Trimet's ass. Every time I board a C-Tran bus, I get a friendly greeting and help paying the right fare for whatever I need to do. I told one driver where I needed to get and he said with a complete lack of sarcasm, "well let's see, mmm..." and proceeded to tell me exactly what I needed to do. Another driver, whenever anybody thanked him for the ride, he would sincerely thank them back! It was blowing my mind. Since our bus was late due to traffic, he even called another bus to make sure a woman wouldn't miss her connection.

You don't get that kind of service on SFMuni. Or on Trimet for that matter. One driver I had was downright surly, and another had her head in the grey Portland clouds. She flew right by someone waiting at a bus stop, who had to catch up with us at a stop sign and plead to be let on. Then she later missed somebody's stop request by two blocks. When I got on the bus, I had to put my bike in the front rack, which I'd only done once in my lifetime, and I accidentally dropped it. When I boarded, she said, "you know, you shouldn't let it drop like that." I replied, "I didn't mean to." What I wanted to say was, "give me a break. That thing weighs like 60 pounds and it's not spring-loaded to stay up or anything. And I have to hold up my 40 pound bike while I do it. That's 100 pounds I'm dealing with, so give me a freaking break!"

Did I mention, this was after I had to chase her down on my bicycle, because she was unexpectedly right behind another #4 bus with a full bike rack, so I went to use the restroom and she drove by as I stepped out? It's a long weird sentence I know, but I'm trying to imply my irritation.
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Maybe baby.

I'm staying at my parents' condo this week, where the DVD player is buggy but the VCR always works, which is perfect because I just got rid of almost all of my VHS. In my box of tapes were some things I didn't know I had: self-taped footage of my friends and I sitting around eating ice cream; some MadTV sketches that are actually funny; and an Amy Grant holiday special.

It's called Headin' Home for the Holidays (1986) and it's awesome. They probably wanted to make Home for the Holidays, then realized that she wasn't at home at all. She's in Montana, but she's from Tennessee. I can imagine the CBS execs now.

CBS Exec #1: I've got it. We'll call it Heading Home for the Holidays! It'll be her in a different state than her home state and basically have nothing to do with being home for the holidays at all.
CBS Exec #2: Brilliant! But we can't use the letter "G." Pronouncing that letter makes middle America feel stupid. Let's make it an apostrophe so it's friendly to people that don't pronounce the end of words.
CBS Exec #1: Brilliant! Let's have a sandwich.

The idea of a Christmas special starring Amy Grant isn't actually a bad idea. She's young, she's talented, she's attractive and she's comfortable in front of a camera. The bad idea was making her hang around with her bandmate/husband Gary Chapman, who looks about as comfortable as a hospital patient with a rectal thermometer up his backside and has a name like a convicted rapist. There's a part near the beginning where she mentions him in concert, and they cut to him, and he glances sideways with this weird grimace on his face. I'm guessing they wrote all this crap starring Amy and her husband and then realized how awkward he was. At that point it was too late. Amy probably had to convince him to do the special using the Christian equivalent of a blowjob, a gift certificate to Wal-Mart.

It starts with some concert footage of the goofiest concert I have ever seen in my life. It's at a venue with stadium seating, so everybody stands up and dances in front of their seats, which makes them look like a bunch of morons. Something about people dancing in such a clearly delineated fashion just looks wrong. It's like some alternate dimension where you can dance but you can't touch. Also, it's the 1980s, so they're all dressed like total geeks.

Amy is dressed the worst of all. She's got on an awful blouse and these big, flappy, shiny gold pants; they're like proto-Hammerpants. She can sing, but she can not dance. She does this one move where, partly because the pants are so big, she looks like she's alternately breaking one leg then the other. And she does it for a good thirty seconds! Try something else, like breaking your arms. I suppose the fact that she can sing with two broken legs is pretty impressive.

The "plot" has them tooling around Montana, which is actually just some B-roll footage of a car driving through snow, and studio-recorded dialogue of the two of them talking. In what's supposed to be a humorous "I told you so" moment, they run out of gas right outside a farmhouse. Here they meet Jenny, a horserider and amateur singer. "Oh, but not like you Amy. You're the best." Jenny is played by Kaleena Kiff. I kid you not. Who names their daughter Kaleena? Especially when your last name is already Kiff. Name her something basic, like Helen, for God's sakes!

Jenny's dad is played by (no joke) Dennis Weaver, who the credits list as playing himself. So the real Dennis Weaver has a fictional daughter named Jenny? That guy needs some serious help. Before his psych appointment, he takes Amy and Gary on a sleigh ride through the snow, where Amy sings and Dennis Rex Harrisons his way through the song, talk-singing.

This is where I turned it off. This is also where I discovered the soundtrack listing online, and every single song from then on was Christmas-related. I couldn't abide that. I didn't even get to Ed Begley, Jr. or Art Garfunkel, both mentioned as "special guests" in the opening credits. The word special sure had a different connotation in 1986. If I try watching any more of it, I'll fill you in on any inanity.


UPDATE: Click through to Part II.
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My favourite meal.

I write this post as I struggle with the debilitating grips of an oncoming food coma. It was brought on by what is quite possibly my favourite homemade meal: sandwich, chips and root beer.

Sandwich: This particular sandwich was a 5-grain tempeh sandwich on 9-grain wheat bread with vegan mozzarella and all the usual fixings (vegan mayo, mustard, tomato, white onion, green leaf lettuce).

Chips: Kettle's Backyard Barbeque potato chips. I've never had them before and they were delicious.

Root beer: Henry Weinhard's, probably the tastiest root beer around. Someday I'll do a blind taste test with top-to-bottom ranking of a bunch of root beers.

Dessert (aka Yummy Sweet Things): Zensoy vegan vanilla pudding, which has a great consistency and no funky aftertaste, all the while being very nummy; that's no small feat for a soy-based dessert product.
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A note on my blog.

From now on, all the links in my posts will open in new windows. Isn't that awesome? I know you're excited. You better be, because I have to enter the code manually each time.
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What I've learned about Portland, Oregon.


Well, there are some things I knew about Portland already. Since it's in Oregon, there's no sales tax and you can't pump your own gas. Other interesting things are now coming to light. I'm going to lay out a few of them.
1. Nobody is actually from Portland. Of the three people I've talked to for more than 10 seconds at a time, 100% of them are from the San Francisco Bay Area. Now I don't feel so bad for being from the San Francisco Bay Area.

2. People from Portland are called Portlanders. I guess there's no good way to say it really. I would probably just go with "people from Portland."

3. There are bicycles everywhere, which is kind of interesting because the weather is lousy for bicycle riding.

4. Portlanders don't know how to lock up their bikes. This one is the funniest to me. 95% of the bikes I see around town are improperly locked up. Most of the time, their lock only goes through the frame and bike rack and not through the wheel. Anybody looking for a couple of new wheels would have a field day in Portland. Simply stroll up, undo the wheels and walk away. I've also seen a number of bikes using crummy cable locks which can be snapped through in a second with a pair of bolt cutters. My favourite is the bike I saw with a U-lock hanging from its frame, with the bike resting on its kickstand next to a bike rack. I almost rode off on it just on principle.
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My 100 favourite films. Entry #16: Se7en.



Se7en (1995)
directed by David Fincher
starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman
country: USA
genre: Drama / Thriller

Visuals: 10
Writing: 8
Everyday watchability: 3

You see movies and TV shows like this all the time now. A clever serial killer taking his victims by some esoteric whim and a pair of detectives working to stop him. It doesn't sound especially novel, but it has all the elements you see again and again in movies and TV. But Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker have the privilege of giving a raspberry to the later incarnations and saying, "we did that 13 years ago and we did it better."

I remember when Se7en came out, and it was the grossest thing that I had ever seen. An obese man force-fed to death, a man forced to cut off a pound of his own flesh, a man held in bed for an entire year. It was foul; it was bitter in my mouth; it was...amazing. I think this movie (and Fincher's later film Fight Club) were popular because of how stylish and (as the media likes to say) raw they were. Viewers latched onto the style before they could really grasp the substance. In the truly great films, the substance begets the style. Se7en therefore is dark, brooding and intense only because it needs to be, not simply because it looks cool.

Now, here are some shots that look cool.












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The kind of cheesecake I like.




I don't really have much to say about pin-up art (also known as "cheesecake") except that I think images like the one above really have a timeless class to them. These women as drawn will remain sexy for years to come, despite the fact that they don't follow fashion trends or lose weight.

Vanity Fair recently featured a portfolio of pin-up inspired photography on its website. I'm glad cheesecake hasn't died.

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My 100 favourite films. Entry #15: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.



Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
directed by Terry Gilliam
starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro
country: USA
genre: Comedy ?

Visuals: 10
Writing: 8
Everyday watchability: 6
Number of pounds del Toro gained for his role by eating donuts: 40

I have to get to a Gilliam film at some point because there are five more of his films on this list. Oh shit, spoiler. As if you didn't know I was a huge fan.

Movies can do all types of things for the viewer: awe them with technical skill; make them laugh; make them cry; make them wish they hadn't spent $10 to listen to some guy talking on his cell phone through the entirety the film. Some films do these first three things better than others. Truly great films make you feel something (anything really) for hours or even days after viewing. Fear and Loathing was one such film for me. After watching it, I felt positively intoxicated and invigorated by its manic energy and bizarro tone. I was impressed by its ability to leave such an impression on my psyche. Not many films can do that. I was a film major after all.

Furthermore, Depp gives a fantastic performance, the special effects are nice, the cinematography is ludicrously good, and it's funny as hell. Not only is it funny, it's poignant. Depp gives a great reading of Hunter S. Thompson's "Wave Speech," probably one of the finest pieces of writing of the 20th century, and the scene puts the book on tape version to unimaginable shame. Come to think of it, it puts any book on tape to shame, unless it's The Book of Awesome by Professor Fantabulastic as read by Robot Jesus. That would probably be pretty good.



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East Bay: Four images by me.

Due to the fact that I just moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area, I thought I would share four photographs I took there. I hope to take many more photographs in my different places.

01
My bedroom, Emeryville.
04. Iceland sign.
Iceland ice skating rink, Berkeley.
407 pm
My workstation, Richmond Blueprint.
09. Skyway.
Government buildings, Oakland.
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