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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hurray for Victory

After whining earlier today that Ned's Sudoku puzzle was too hard, I have defeated the giant! Click here to view its corpse. Spoiler warning... don't look at it if you are still puzzling away yourself. I was beginning to doubt my own puzzle conquering prowess... whew! So, Nedra, is there some kind of prize? Like topless photos of all your drunken friends? Hmmm?

And here's an old photo you all know and love, but now it's freakin' huge! I love Flickr... my friend Flickr.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Kinder, Gentler Movie Night

Carole, Soapy and I took in Studio Ghibli's new masterwork Howl's Moving Castle. As a long-time fan of Hayao Miyazaki's animation style, I can't believe it took me this long to see H'sMC. I'm glad I did, and on the big screen, because it is a joy. Grab the chance if you can. If you wait to rent it you'll kick yourself the whole time thinking, "OMG, I'm such a moron for ignoring Stave It Off's advice to see this on the big screen."

Despite some voice acting problems (including the always unwelcome presence of Billy Crystal,) the film was subtle, rich in complexity and character, and filled with fantastic imagery. Miyazaki's work trumps even the biggest budget Disney films in quality, imagination and ambition. H'sMC stands alongside other Studio Ghibli productions (just behind Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies, and just ahead of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro) as some of the best animation ever made. They succeed because of production quality and the choice of script. Unlike Princess and Fireflies, H'sMC opts for a Western story... the adaptation of a fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. But similar to earlier works, H'sMC is a deep fairy tale, full of multidimensional characters, terrifying and beautiful moments and strong imagery.

None of these films are designed for a child audience, or perhaps they are... but like Danny Boyle's recent film Millions, they refuse to patronize the audience. Thank God that far, far away from Uncle Walt's Bowdlerizing Plant, there are storytellers and filmmakers telling children's tales that are still terrifying, meaningful and moving. Hopefully Terry Gilliam's new Brother's Grimm project will carry that torch next. _Cinema


Monday, June 27, 2005

Sports Injury Watch Day 8!

Eight days later and time to post an update to ongoing saga of my left foot. Lots of other notable things happened this week, but most importantly, the bruise continued to take over my leg. It has spread to the other side of my foot and a little further toward my toes. In a cool twist, the spot where the ball actually hit me has turned lumpy and a bit yellow and is still almost entirely numb (the bruising sort of looks like it radiates out from this spot.) _Bodily Injury


The BRAND NEW Best Thing on the Internets

Thanks to loyal Stave It Off reader Pam for sending me this link. The late April entries were some of my favorites. I laughed out loud for the first time in 8 years. We should all buy this guy's tee-shirts or something. _Cartoons


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sports Injury Watch Day 3

As predicted, the bruise has slowly begun to take over my entire leg. Soon the gangrene will set in and I'll have no choice but to amputate. Due to my dreadful fear of doctors, I'm expecting to have to perform the surgery myself with a hacksaw. I got the idea from a cool movie that Soapy and I once saw.

The bruise has taken over my lower ankle and is spreading!


Dirty Dirty Poetry

Inspired equally by Isaac Asimov's Lecherous Limericks and by Walter's recent haiku contest, I propose that y'all put your minds to penning a cheeky poem and submitting it here for consideration and general mockery. I happily submit this as a first effort (best read in a whiskey-fueled brogue.)

I knew at first look that she were a goner...
The lady determined to hold fast her honor.
She outlasted the rest
Stayed under her dress
'Til she spied a Scotsman and he fell upon her.

Please consider that we are a dignified and multi-gendered crowd. In the spirit of Asimov, profanity is unacceptable.

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Someone Else Pays Homage

Just imagine... my site could have looked like this.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sports Injury Watch Day 2

As most loyal Stave It Off readers are aware, the only thing I love more than panning movies is hurting myself while playing sports. Today's injury is a severe shin bruise created by taking a line drive directly off my leg while pitching some batting practice to JFS softball teammate Seth Klein. Seth, who had been struggling a bit at the plate, said it was the best he's hit the ball in weeks. _Bodily Injury

Soon the bruise is expected to turn my entire leg purple.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bummer Man Reviews Crash and Batman Begins

I took in another double feature, this time catching Crash and Batman Begins... two movies that made all the critics swoon... except this one. Equipped only with my own powers of skepticism and critical thinking I've managed to find fault even with these two fine films. Welcome to Bummer Man's Movie Reviews: Popping your Balloons since 1992.

Crash should win Don Cheadle a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His performance stands out as the most balanced, believable and moving of the entire movie. He's also the only actor that has made me crave a cigarette in years.

With that out of the way, this film is a moody patchwork of sophomoric emotional exploitation. Perhaps the film should have been called, LA is Full of Stupid People Behaving Stupidly and That Makes It Hard to Live Here. Or perhaps, I'm Going to Push Every Race Button I Can Think of to Make Sure That You Find Yourself Affected. Lastly, I submit this potential title: I'm Going to Make an Ensemble Picture ala Robert Altman and Hope No one Notices that Most of the Story Arcs are Shallow and Two Dimensional. Everyone that I've talked to that loved this movie warned me that I should bring a box of Kleenex... apparently in case I needed to blow some boogers out of my nose. The most shameful aspect of the film is that while is seems to want to show all sides of racism (hanging its hat on this shockingly un-PC approach) it wimps out in one significant way: it balks at showing a Hispanic character in a bad light. Sandra Bullock's maid, Don Cheadle's partner, and the locksmith Daddy are all portrayed just shy of sainthood. This seems pretty significant as California's biggest racial conflict centers around the Latino community. Why did the filmmakers forget to show the dark face of the Latino community along side those of the Black, Asian and White communities?

The best quality of the story is the sadly underdeveloped principle theme, which gives the film its title. While attempting to dice up every possible racial interaction you can think of, the movie is actually based on a novel idea that we live such isolated lives that we "crash" into each other. We behave in stupid, racist and violent ways just because we are so desperate to connect. This theme gets some attention in the beginning and again when Sandra Bullock finally hugs the Latina maid that she's been verbally abusing for the rest of the movie. The maid, being almost saintlike, accepts the hug graciously, rather than bitch-slapping her and telling her that she's getting what she deserves for being so evil for all these years.

Bummer Man's Bottom Line: Still worth seeing, but don't believe the hype.

Batman Begins suffers mostly due to the raising of the bar for comic book films. Marvel's X-Men and Spider-Man franchises have set a new standard of excellence. A film that would have once been considered a great comic book movie now seems weak. The first big victim of this phenomenon was Daredevil. Panned by everyone from the haters of Ben Affleck to the haters of Jennifer Garner, it was probably one of the five or six best comic book to movie adaptations yet made. But it couldn't match the tight scripting, perfect casting and outstanding special effects of Marvel's biggest two properties.

So now here comes Christopher Nolan's dark vision of Batman and every comic fan is drooling to see what the genius who made Memento has come up with. The result is sadly predictable... It's better than any previous Batman film, but fell short of what I was hoping for. Just like Daredevil, it has brilliant moments of darkness and intensity undermined by pathetic moments of bad acting, cheap one-liners and stupid special effects.

The casting is mostly solid. Despite his speech impediment Christian Bale impresses as Batman, especially physically. Michael Caine is perfect as Alfred the Butler, and he's the only source of effective comic relief. Surprisingly, Liam Neeson owns the screen whenever he appears (as Ras al Ghul, principle villain.) Cillian Murphy seemed too young to be The Scarecrow, but channeled creepiness like Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Gary Oldman and Katie Holmes, however, are painfully bad in their parts. This would be forgivable (barely) if they weren't playing such key roles (the young Commissioner Gordon and the main love interest.) Also several flunkees and minor villains are terrible in their performances. This is a MAJOR MISTAKE that DC and Marvel need to correct if they want their movies to be more successful. Daredevil was NOT undone so much by Ben Affleck or Jennifer Garner. It was ruined by letting Joe Pantoliano near it; And it was almost redeemed by the brilliant work of Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson. Lesser (but key) characters make or break these films... and Batman, like Daredevil, is sabotaged by the weak performances of half of its cast.

As for the actual plot, Batman Begins takes a great approach. It retells the origin story but doesn't linger on the death of Bruce Wayne's parents (and didn't adhere to Tim Burton's stupid idea of having them killed by a young Joker.) Instead it focuses on the darker, Eastern mysticism of Batman's history. Like the Shadow, the Batman mystique is tied up in his ability to incite panic and fear in his prey. The approach is a little bit Ninja High School, but it's still more interesting and more philosophically provoking than any other film treatment that Batman has received. The prologue of the film builds the idea of a troubled young adult seeking to understand the criminal element that he hates/fears so much by living amongst them. The true origins of the Batman aren't about his parents' deaths but rather about how he builds his skills and refines his approach to vigilantism. These scenes are high in the Himalayan Mountains (presumably) and filled with a rich darkness. Imagine Luke Skywalker's training with Yoda (down to the hallucinogenic spirit journey) if Yoda were a lot more bloodthirsty.

The leitmotif of fear is strongly present throughout as Bruce Wayne defines his role as the Batman. He fights his own fears, uses "fear against those who would prey on the fearful", and fights a primary villain named Scarecrow, who uses a drug-induced fear state as his weapon. Ras al Ghul chastises Batman for being afraid to accept his ubermench approach to justice. As a theme, analyzing the different roles fear takes in a vigilante-style superhero film is a unique and largely interesting approach. Again, more could have been done to play with this theme, rather than to just keep ramming it down our throats. And if they just wanted to artfully facefuck us, the filmmakers missed a huge creative opportunity when they portrayed the paranoid hallucinations of people exposed to the Scarecrow's drugs. They hit the nail on the head a couple of times, but my God, somebody should have jumped on that rollercoaster and really lit it up. Better that this was a sin of omission. Christopher Nolan apparently opted to understate things (which is some relief after Joel Schumacher almost overstated Batman to death.)

Bummer Man's Bottom Line: Comic book movies will grow up, like comics themselves, only when audiences turn toward the independent offerings of great artists. Go see this film, but make sure to rent Sin City, Hellboy or Ghost World. It will increase your karma, and you'll see some great examples of what comic-to-film adaptations are capable of outside the compromises of the Marvel and DC universes. _Cinema


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Photo Log of Monday's Great Adventure

Thank Hashem for Shavuous. The Jewish holiday (commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai) gave most of us JFS employees a 4 day weekend. Carole and I took advantage by spending Monday taking a road trip over to the scenic Olympic Peninsula.

We started by driving north to Edmonds and, fortune guiding the way, were able to drive right onto a loading ferry. Sailing across to Kingston, we went up to the sundeck to enjoy the view. Once across we drove west toward the Hood Canal Bridge, but stopped briefly in Port Gamble (a town known mainly for its seashell museum and rampant vampirism) where Carole discovered a store specializing in her favorite thing: stump furniture.

We picked up some road-side cherries from a vendor near Chimicum, but by the time we got to Port Townsend we were famished. Carole wanted to try the local seafood and we settled on a lovely restaurant called Fins, where for the goodly sum of $15 one can enjoy a plate of ravioli and seared scallops floating in a white truffle sauce accompanied by fresh herbs and wild mushrooms. Carole claims it was absolutely delicious. For my own lunch, I opted for Stave It Off staples, beer and pizza (sorry, my lunch not pictured in photo.) After nourishing our bodies, I had to take Carole to Elevated Ice Cream for my favorite dessert, a double shot of espresso poured over two scoops of almaretto-hazelnut ice cream.

Port Townsend itself is full of capital "A" Art. Every building seems picturesque, with faded old advertisement paintings still covering many of the exposed brick walls. Plus there were rusty objects EVERYWHERE! It was a non-stop photo-op. We walked the streets for a bit, window shopping and taking pictures in the early afternoon sun. Carole picked up much-needed spiritual artifacts at the local House of Woo, Phoenix Rising.

Next we headed for Fort Warden. Parking down by the lighthouse, we could quickly see the face of the cliff that we were planning to scale. Carole, dauntless as ever in the face of danger, followed right behind me as we began our ascent. Stopping for only occasional breathers, secluded romantic trysts, and moments to take in the incredible view, we quickly made it to the top.

Above the cliff face, and through 20 yards of dense undergrowth, we then explored the bunkers. These are abandoned military instillations designed to protect the Puget Sound from the Japanese Navy during WWII. Now, long free of military use, they are graphitied, rusted out treasure troves of creepiness and photographibility. Every wall, and each tiny object still attached, begged to be shot. Walking back along the cliff-top road we encountered Memory's Vault where we lingered, reading the poetry written by local poet Sam Hamill.

Exhausted and satisfied, we lay down on a blanket in a field near the Fort's housing facilities. A playground for low flying barn swallows, we were strafed and divebombed as we napped. We left PT by 5:30ish and headed back toward Kingston to catch a boat back to the mainland. I had to stop and take a look at Spectrum Community School, where I spent 4 wonderful years working and learning what it means to be a social worker. The kids had left this wonderful still-life for me.

It was a wonderful day and a wonderful trip. Stave It Off may soon need to sponsor a photo shoot somewhere out on the Olympic Peninsula so that we can attempt Photo Contest 2: Digital Boogaloo. _Photography

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Chia Hippo Watch Day 8

Of the suggested names for Mr. Hippo, I've decided to go with Albert... Partially because it reminds everyone of Bill Cosby's favorite incarnation, and partially because when pronounced with a French accent it sounds like Owl-Bear. Today he looks surprisingly similar to an angry boar god from Princess Mononoke... His sprouts looking just like the possessing hatred demons.

Albert marches across the great veldt of my computer desk.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

We Have a Winner

After a late surge in the voting, the Butterphant of Excellence goes to Artist #2... which is ME! So I keep all the prize money... Sorry to the rest of y'all... Kinda funny how that worked out. Soapy was actually Artist #3, and Diane was Artist #1. The only specific photo to receive more than one specific mention was this one, entitled American Darling.

Some additional Stave It Off awards and comments:

Most Bizarrely Inappropriate Response goes to Hippy Shauna.
Most Desperate Attempt to Jump on the Bandwagon goes to Soapy for discarding his ethics and logging in to vote... for me!
Most Inventive Voting Vernacular goes to Dan for using the word culvert.

Diane noticed that all of her votes came from women.
I noticed that everyone who played the "guess which artist took which photos" game fared poorly. Apparently the three of us did a terrible job reflecting our personalities in our work.
And Soapy pointed out, quite rightly, that square-shaped photos appeared larger than 3x5 (displaying instead as 5x5). I did not intend for this to happen (the photos were automatically sized by an application called Hello) but I probably benefited the most as two of my photos appeared significantly larger than everyone else's.

Oh, and the two photos that are of the same object were this and this. _Photography


The Mystery of Clay and Emily

Mr. Clay Smith, long thought MIA, actually had just dropped his old email address without bothering to inform me... which explains why he hadn't responded to the last dozen emails that I sent him! And I thought he just hated me. We all had a lovely dinner at Carole's apartment last night delving deep into what makes relationships tick and how sensitive process-oriented people like Emily and I need to learn how to deal with reckless emotional timebombs like Clay and Carole.

The horror of flash photography is abandoned for warm blur instead


Voting for Best Picture

The votes are flying fast and furious... along with the mudslinging and ballot stuffing. I think I'll give one or two more days for the final votes to come in and then announce the winners, and announce which photos belong to which artist so you can all see if your guesses were right on or right off. Also the prize, let's call it the Stave It Off Butterphant of Excellence, will be awarded to the winner. And from now on, please sign your votes... anonymous votes (while still valid) are kinda fishy! And perhaps a Brownie point (pun intended) to anyone who can figure out which two photos are actually different views of the same object!


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

First Annual Memorializing Day Photo Contest

The long wait is finally over. I hereby present the fully Photoshopped results of the first ever Stave It Off photographic exhibition. The works of Diane, Steve and John are anonymously posted under the links below. Feel free to leave comments for any given artist # or photo #. The artist will know whose is whose.

Randomly Selected Artist #1
Pic1, Pic2, Pic3, Pic4, Pic5

Arbitrarily Selected Artist #2
Pic1, Pic2, Pic3, Pic4, Pic5

Leftover Artist #3
Pic1, Pic2, Pic3, Pic4, Pic5 _Photography


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Chia Hippo Watch Day 2

The real news that everyone needs to know about is that I've finally planted my Chia Pet Hippopotamus. I'll post occasional photographs so that you can watch the baby's growth. Please submit name suggestions (or exotic photograph locales!)

Day 2, Chilling on the Kitchen Table


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Memorializing Day

Soapy, Diane and I spent most of Memorial Day walking around dangerous neighborhoods in Sodo looking amongst the trainyards, the antique stores, under the viaduct, in abandoned shipyards and construction sites for Art. We, digital cameras in hand, took hundreds of photos sure to blow all your minds once you see them. I'll post several and allow you, the voters, to decide who's got the queerest eye. _Photography

Steve confuses Art with what is likely dog urine.