Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian

Same lame jokes, less laughs
Than even the first flick had.
There went eighteen bucks.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek

I barely recall viewing the original Star Trek during the series' first run on television. Being less than five years old at that time, I was most likely tucked tightly in bed when Gene Roddenberry's show was first broadcast. My initiation with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the Enterprise came a bit later, when episodes were syndicated. I was fascinated by the series: the characters were larger than life, the stories addressed modern day issues I related to, and each story was told in a self-contained manner that was satisfying to the audience.

Technology in the late 60's didn't have the pizazz of modern television, and couldn't be relied upon to tell a story visually. The sci-fi aspect of the original series, then, always seemed to take a back seat to the story being told. Phasers set to stun, wireless communicators, medical equipment designed to diagnose by scanning and transporter beams were awesome ideas, but the technology level of the time still made each seem just a little cheesy.

But those stories! Complex, often socially relevant stories about humanity. Stories about the
duality of our personalities, racism, and religion.

Sure, there were Tribbles too. But everyone needs some fun once in while.


I didn't care that much for Capt. Kirk. He was stubborn, sometimes whimsical and seemed full of himself. I was much more interested in Mr. Spock; watching Spock explore his humanity and learn to embrace his emotions made him a terrific role model for a early-teen male coming of age. Like Spock, I had TNT-like emotions buried beneath my surface, and I struggled with keeping them in check. I understood Spock, and identified with him.

Save for the ears.

It was with this perspective that I viewed J.J. Abrams new Star Trek. The prequel, an amped-up technical bonanza, tells the story of how Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy and other major characters meet and develop relationships at Star Fleet Academy. Near the end of their training, Star Fleet detects a distress call from the planet Vulcan, and the Enterprise, lead by Captain Pike, is dispatched to assist.

What Pike and crew discover changes everything. Literally.

(Near-spoiler: You might check out the work of Hugh Everett before watching this movie.)

Abrams' take on the characters, and how they are portrayed by the actors, is pretty good. There's a hint of Shatner in Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto seems to channel Mr. Spock. Abrams adds a bit of humor here and there to offset the kick-ass action, but works too hard to make all the characters fit into the puzzle early. The plot felt a bit hurried, and a little too contrived.

I always viewed Star Trek TV sequels and movies as morality plays, and judged each by how well the stories addressed a modern social theme. Just as the original tackled important issues of its day, the best of those that followed did the same.

This is the missing key ingredient in the new Abrams version.

Terrific characters, an interesting twist, a great villain, incredible action and unbelievable technical scenes make for a pretty good story. But pretty good doesn't quite cut it if one wants to make a Star Trek flick. The movie's theme, "an all-consuming thirst for revenge will destroy all" is fine, but it's nothing more than that. Just "fine."

And for the Star Trek franchise, that's not good enough.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Visiting The Paul & Spike Show

Paul and Spike were kind enough to let me sit in on this week's show. We drank some beer, talked movies and I spazed about comic books. It was good times!

These guys are real pros, and both are very generous. They're also looking for guests this summer, so email 'em if you are interested. It's a blast.

You can hear it here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Jacknut Chronicles' Special Tuesday Edition: Thank God This Cop Wasn't Around When I Was 17

KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A man from Elkview faces several charges after police say he was caught fondling himself while driving on Interstate 64.

The alleged crime happened late Sunday night near Dunbar, WV.

According to the criminal complaint, two truck drivers called 911 to report a man fondling himself while driving on the interstate. An officer later pulled Andrew N. Jones, 34, over at the Oakwood Road exit.

The officer explained to the driver why he was pulled over and the officer reports the alleged perpetrator said he was just changing clothes while he was driving.

According to the complaint, the truck drivers both saw Jones driving with his pants down by his ankles, wearing women's underwear and stockings and he was fondling himself while driving.

"When challenged about the witness account Jones states that he had recently gone through a divorce, had used methamphetamine prior to the stop and was excited as he was going to see a girlfriend," the complaint states.

The man also stated he was talking dirty to the girl while driving and may have been touching himself.

Officers later searched Jones' car and say they found a bag of meth, along with a meth pipe.

Jones is now charged with indecent exposure, simple possession of meth, and driving on a suspended license. He was released on a PR bond.

Monday, May 18, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

On weekends during my youth, when I'd stop in the Ben Franklin store on Summersville's Main Street to pick out my comic books, origin stories always caught my interest. I would pick up an origin issue even if I didn't read the comic regularly; the back stories of characters fascinated me, and I loved learning something new about how superheroes became what they became. For example: didya know Ollie Queen, AKA Green Arrow, is a billionaire who became stranded on a deserted island and was forced to learn super-archery skills to survive?

Ahem...well, you see my point.

After I'd pick up my weekly comics, I'd generally wander off into the forest behind my house, settle under the shade of a large oak tree and read my comics. Titles in the 70s were highly narrative and, unlike modern comics, relied less on the art to tell the story. Reading one comic, then, might take as long as 30 minutes; reading my whole stash could take an entire afternoon.

It was bliss.

One of my favorite titles in the late 70s was X-Men. I like the team concept of super-hero comics, mostly because those titles don't rely on one character to tell the story. X-Men, with The Beast, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm and Wolverine, often pushed the envelope for the genre with themes of race relations, diversity and political corruption. I loved the title not only for the story and action, but also for how it forced me to think.

Of all the X-Men characters, Wolverine was my least favorite. He was too limited, in my view: despite his animal instinct to go berserk during a fight, he rarely if ever killed an enemy during that era. He'd threaten, slash, punch and slash some more, but always seemed to pull his punch and refuse to kill. This--despite his being in an instinctual, berserker rage during a fight--seemed absurd to me. As a result, I didn't take the character seriously.

I left my viewing of X-Men Origins: Wolverine feeling the same.

Hugh Jackman is always pretty good as Wolverine, although he could increase his "gruffness quotient" a bit to be more true to the character. But Wolverine is best appreciated as part of a team. His origins--even though the back story's been re-done a couple of times, and isn't told perfectly in this flick--is the fundamental basis for how the character evolves, so it's an important story for the audience to know in order to fully appreciate who Wolverine is.

But the movie is boring.

Wolverine just isn't interesting without the rest of the X-Men. The best part of this movie, in my opinion, was when Wolverine was a member of Team X: his interactions with team members he disliked was gritty and interesting, but when left alone to carry the film...

Well, I'm just not that into him.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bride Wars

Dear Maddisen:

Last night, as I semi-watched this dreadful movie called
Bride Wars, I had a sudden revelation: someday--and it's going to be sooner than later, I'm sorry to say--you will marry the man of your dreams and leave home!

And I became sorta depressed...

I'm not sad that you will find love in your life. If you're lucky enough to fall madly in love--and I'm talking true love here, not just the I-wanna-hang-out-with-him-all-the-time kind--I'll be thrilled. It seems lots of people settle for something other than the real deal, and then regret it later when they realize a crush isn't likely to transform into something greater. I made that mistake myself many, many years ago; take it from your old man, correcting the mistake is harder than simply making the right choice the first time. The tricky part though, is developing the skills necessary to determine what choices are right.

Trust me, that's the rub.

When I talk of feeling sort of depressed, I'm really saying I don't want to face reality. I don't want to know that someday you will invest so much emotion into someone else that you will leave home to be with him. You'll go to him for advice, or for reassurance when you're worried. He'll be the one you are excited to share good news with, and the one to whom you'll confide your deepest fears. You won't need me, your old dad, as much anymore.

And that's a hard concept for me to accept.

When you walk down the aisle, I'll be there to support you. I'll smile for the pictures, and I'll be proud. Somehow, between the angst I know I'll feel and the happiness I'll share with you, I'll act the part and not embarrass you. I promise. (No matter what your mother warns you I might do.) A part of me will be forever changed on your wedding day, though. And I can only hope it's for the better.

Oh, and promise me one thing: no matter how crazy the wedding will be, never behave like Kate Hudson did in this movie!

Ewwww....gawd, she was awful.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Long after I stopped believing in God, I remained active in the church. The routine was important to me, and the rituals helped me stay reflective and humble. Church leaders knew of my atheism; I'd confessed of my disbelief, after all, and the priest didn't flinch. He had doubts too, and often. It was his struggle through those doubts that ultimately strengthened his faith.

Not me. I've often wrestled with faith--faith in a god, faith in friends, faith in family--but I typically end up on the losing side of the battle. The faithless side. Generally, I remain skeptical of humankind. We tend to be selfish, petty and greedy, often to the detriment of others. Giving up my faith in God didn't affect my life very much, but being reminded on a daily basis about the misery and hopelessness we humans can create is sometimes overwhelming.

And when we combine religion, selfishness and greed we're at our worst.

Doubt, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, addresses that very issue. The film's central characters, Hoffman's Father Flynn and Streep's Sister Aloysius, are terrific examples of the devastating effect that can result from combining human pettiness with religious authority. If Father Flynn really did molest young Donald Miller, then Flynn used his position as God's human authority to abuse an innocent, naive child eager to please the one adult who showed that child kindness. Sister Aloysius, despite the assertion she is protecting Miller, is really using her position to rid herself of a priest whose personal philosophy of his work is in direct conflict with the nun's belief of how those in The Church should conduct themselves.

Sister James, played by Amy Adams, represents the general parishioner. She's caught up in the politics of the conflict, even though all she really wants to do is serve and worship God.

Although I participated in mass for several years after I stopped believing, I no longer attend church. I miss the services; I always left feeling more optimistic than before I went in. The manner in which the Catholic leaders addressed the sexual abuse that came to light several years ago, however, forced my decision to stop attending. If, for example, I was a member of the Rotary Club (as if the Rotary Club would actually accept me as a member), and discovered officers in that club had molested children and that the leadership moved the pedophiles into other communities rather than have them arrested, I could no longer be a Rotarian. I'd leave the Rotary Club, just as I left the church.

Having no faith in a god is pretty easy. Having doubts about people and their motivations really sucks.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Frost / Nixon

I've had Frost / Nixon on my list for a long time. Mrs. Film Geek, who is not a political movie geek, called in a few markers and forced the movie down the list.

For several weeks.

"It can't be better than the live Watergate hearings," she said. "Plus, Ron Howard [the director] will try to humanize Nixon, there will be lots of subtle references to the Bush presidency and we won't learn anything about Watergate, Frost or Nixon that we didn't know before the movie."

I waited until she wasn't home to watch the movie. After watching the movie alone, I planned to list off to her each of the things she had wrong, after she arrived home from shopping. I even watched the flick with a notepad just in case, because I'm a competitive bastard.

I'll be damned, but she was right. Dead on right.

While the acting was very good, the plot and pace were rather tepid. Frost / Nixon was mostly smoke, with only a little fire.

I'm not gonna tell Mrs. Film Geek I saw the movie. The only problem is, I'll have to figure out a way to bow out gracefully if and when she does decide she wants to watch it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

And Speaking Of Role Models...

I am regularly amazed by my wife, who seems forever capable of doing it all, and doing it all very well.

Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for helping me be a better person, and for being the incredible role model you are to our children.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Role Models

As funny as Role Models is--and the unrated version I watched is one of the funniest, grittiest comedies I've seen since Bad Santa--the real theme of this flick is a very serious one: selfish adults who live to satisfy their own interests are fucking up our kids.

Mothers who ignore their kids in order to keep the step-father happy: Check.

Self-involved step-fathers more interested in turning someone else's kid into a new, younger version of himself: Check.

Smug, self-appointed heroes in society, who pretend to "do it for the kids" while really taking care of their own needs: Check.

Adults who are so jaded and annoyed by society that they don't even notice children until forced to: Check.

Damn, I'm sorta depressed now...did I mention how incredibly funny this movies is? It's one of the best written comedies I've watched in years.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Flashback! Bad Movies That Haunt Me: Freejack

A flick staring Mick Jagger as the time traveling mercenary who kidnaps Emilio Estevez into the future so his body can serve as the host for the wealthy Anthony Hopkins sounded like such a good way to spend a Friday night.

At the time. (No pun intended.)

Freejack, a dystopian nightmare set in 2009, still haunts me.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Reader

I recall vividly the angst felt during my years in junior high school, when I worried obsessively over falling in love. The worry wasn't that I wouldn't find affection; it was the issue who. The pre-teen me had a theory: You can't choose with whom you fall in love.

It simply happens.

Falling in love with the wrong girl could be a disaster. If The One didn't love me back, I might lead a life of loneliness and misery. If the love of my life wasn't considered attractive by my peer group, I'd catch hell from my friends. I wondered: if the girl I'm smitten by isn't a nice girl, could I accept that and be happy simply because we were in love?

"What if..." It's the kryptonite of an obsessive-compulsive pre-teen.

Michael Berg (played wonderfully as a youth by actor David Kross) spends a lifetime working through the "what if's" of his teen years, and how they changed him. After stumbling into a sexual affair with an older, emotionally distant woman, only to be abandoned by her months later, Michael is emotionally wounded. He changes; the optimistic, care-free youth was transformed into a jaded, cold adult. During a chance encounter with Hannah, his former lover, a 20-something Michael balks at the opportunity to help her during a time of crisis in her life. He's ashamed that he once loved a woman who, as the story reveals, had participated in efforts to imprison and kill hundreds of Jews during WW2.

The Reader is a complex, tale that focuses on the complications of being human. Hannah was often the victim of circumstance, choosing this job or that job based on the fact she was illiterate. Shamed by being unable to read, Hannah did as her employers told her, was dependable and did her job well. Employed as a Nazi prison guard in wartime Germany, Hannah performed her duties as instructed. "We were told to keep order," she said.

And to her, that meant some people had to die.

Both Michael and Hannah seem like good people who under different circumstances would be very different people. But, the characters are what they are: the results of their environment, and the sum of their lifetime choices and experience. How they answered the "what if" question determined who they became.

Monday, May 04, 2009

American Teen

"Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us... in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed."
~ The Breakfast Club, 1985

Some things never change.

And according to American Teen, an almost-too-slick documentary about kids in Warsaw, Indianna, high school stereotypes remain the same. Even decades after the iconic John Hughes movie.

The film itself is interesting, even if most of the kids are not.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Live bloggin' Quarantine:

(It's a more manly way to divert my eyes from the screen, rather than putting my hands over my face during scary scenes.)

Things about zombie flicks that scare me:

1. The animal-like growl that comes from zombies just before they attack.
2. The sound of flesh being torn from the neck of the person being eaten.
3. Thick, rabies-like foam that drips from the mouths of the undead.

4. Kids that turn into zombies.

What takes those who are not yet infected so long to figure out what's going on? In real life, if I see a 60 year old woman bite into the neck of a person like it's a rib-eye, I'm screaming:...

"Zoooommmbie!!" ...and running like hell.

Twenty minutes into the movie, and Mrs. Film Geek has already passed judgment: "It's no 28 Days!" she says. I think the hand-held camera effect reminds me of Cloverfield.

Dude, uhhh.....that federal agent just drilled into that zombie's brain with a power-tool. That's worse than the foamy mouth thing.

Zombies make me scream like a girl.

Note to self: If I ever stumble across a kid standing in a dark corner, staring blankly at me with blood and foam dripping from her mouth, DO NOT try to pick her up and carry her to safety. THE KID IS A ZOMBIE!

Biological warfare and doomsday cults are good for nothin' but zombies!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bread And Circuses

Since posting the trailer to The Wild, Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia last Friday, this blog has been overrun (if, by "overrun," I mean triple the daily traffic) by folks searching for a peek into the hillbilly lifestyle.

(At least what they presume is the typical hillbilly lifestyle.)

As I mentioned when I posted the trailer, I wasn't sure what to think. The footage was off-putting, yet strangely interesting. The behaviors depicted by the Whites were clearly over the top, but I've known others with similar lifestyles and world views; sure, the family presents as an exaggeration, but not so much that most of us living in Appalachia don't recognize something familiar about Jesco and his clan. Step outside Taylor Books, the Huntington Mall or off a college campus, then drive a few miles off the Interstate and see how long it takes you to find Jesco.

He's there.

Appalachian Being recently published a terrific commentary about this (which can be found here) in which blogger BuzzardBilly articulates quite well how cultural, societal and educational paths cross to produce the exaggerated, stereotypical lifestyle of the Whites. It's insightful, and well worth the read.

But a post published Friday by Spike Nesmith, on his blog, Blog! The Musical, caused me to flip my thoughts a bit on the White saga. In his post, Nesmith confesses to searching for and watching the video-taped death of comedian Tommy Cooper, and asks the question that made me care less about the behavior of the White family, and become more interested in the people a-google-in' up their movie trailer : "What draws us to these clips?"

What is it about the unusual, the forbidden and the shocking that causes people to seek out and watch activity we'd otherwise turn our eyes away from if witnessed in real life? It's an interesting question that deserves a thoughtful, genuine answer.

Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle may hold a clue.