Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Jeopardy”

Marriage as a Lovecraftian experience: Discuss.

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Quote P. Raven Nevermore


That Philip Raven. He don’t stick his neck out for anybody. Besides, he was once hurt by a woman. Really hurt. And now the only things he trusts besides himself are his gat and his cat -- and sometimes not even his cat.

We first see Philip Raven (played by Alan Ladd) at a boarding house in San Francisco where he is planning his latest assignment.: the murder of a blackmailer. He shows kindness to a stray cat but not to the maid who cleans his room. Instead he attacks her and tears her dress because she objects to his feeding the cat. But that does not matter because he has been hurt, you see. Really hurt.

Raven then goes to murder the blackmailer only to find that he is with a female companion, so he shoots her too. On the way out, he contemplates shooting a crippled girl on the stairway who is the only potential witness to his arrival. Then she asks him for a dropped ball and he realizes she is blind. Which is just as well because he was not hurt by a girl. He was hurt by a woman. Really hurt.

He shows up at a local diner for his payoff, which he receives from a fat man who likes peppermints. The fat man (played by Laird Cregar) is the type who allegedly abhors violence but does not mind paying for it as long as someone else does the dirty work. When he is greeted by someone who addresses him by the name “Dr. William Gates,” the fat man promptly claims such a greeting to be a case of mistaken identity. But Raven is not fooled.

Then Raven discovers that he has been paid with stolen money and that the serial numbers of the bills had been given to the police. He vows to track down the mysterious “Gates” who set him up but first he runs across the path of nightclub entertainer Ellen Graham (played by Veronica Lake). Graham recently talked Gates into giving her job at his club in Los Angeles. Shortly before she meets Raven, we find out that she has been recruited by an U.S. senator who has heard about Gates meeting with suspected foreign agents. Ms. Graham’s role as a true-blue patriot is to find out what is going on with Gates and those agents. But her assignment is so secret she cannot even tell her police detective boyfriend about it.

Then she crosses path with Raven. She and Raven sit side by side in the same railroad car and while they’re sleeping, Gates -- who is also on board the train -- sees the two of them together and concludes that they are connected.

Suddenly Graham is being set up by Gates and her only hope is Raven the hired killer. The same Raven who at one point of the movie, contemplated killing her to eliminate a possible witness. Because he has been hurt by a woman you see. Really hurt.

As you might guess, the main themes of this movie are deception and redemption. Gates deceives Raven, Graham deceives Gates, Gates deceives the police and Raven deceives himself. Indeed, apart from the police detective, everybody seems to be deceiving someone else at some point in this movie. (And when the police detective proposes to Graham and takes seriously her words about giving up a successful career in show business to take up housekeeping and baby raising, I cannot help but wonder if the police detective is not deceiving himself as to Graham’s eagerness to do all that. But I digress.) However, even an evil hired killer like Philip Raven might -- just might -- be capable of a good deed. Like saving Ms. Graham from Gates and his Axis-loving associates.

Toward the end, Graham attempts to appeal to Raven’s patriotism only to be turned down cold. Raven is not interested in being a good patriot; he is only interested in revenge. Does he get it? Does his vendetta against Gates ruin Graham’s quest to expose Gates’ ring of traitors?

For the answer to these and other questions, you will have to see the 1942 thriller This Gun for Hire for yourself. I suppose I could tell you how it all comes out but I don‘t stick my neck out for anybody.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “And Then He Kissed Me”

Who doesn't like the Crystals? Or Elisabeth Shue? Yes, it's a scene from 1987's Adventures in Babysitting, one of the first '80s movies to start that whole “white girl singing into a hairbrush” thing that has since become a romcom cliché, but here it actually works. (And not just because she doesn't actually sing into a hairbrush.) It's a shame that the rest of this movie doesn't work as well as the musical numbers, but hey, you can't have everything.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Song Quote of the Week

I've got a zillion ideas
And some of them great,
But nobody wants to listen.
I've got better ways
To get the job done,
But all you feel is threatened.
--Chris Butler and The Waitresses, “A Girl’s Gotta Do”

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Blanca”

Blanca is knitting another sweater for me tonight. She knits something new every night yet she never finishes any of them.

Sometimes I joke with her that her mother should have named her Penelope. But she just smiles and glances at me with those ebony eyes of hers.

Arabic eyes, I call them. After five centuries, the long-dead Arabs of Spain still live on in a young woman’s eyes. Blanca’s eyes. The eyes of the prettiest woman in San Narciso.

************************************************************

How I first met Blanca, I shall not say. Suffice it to say that as it is with many men of Mexican descent, it was a female relative of mine who saw her first and eventually introduced us. No paseo scene for me. The minute I first saw her entering her mother’s pharmacy, I fell in love with her. And I like to think that eventually she will fall in love with me. In time.

Our first meetings were at best platonic. I would visit her house and say hello to her mother and her younger siblings. Her younger brother would fetch me an apple which I would not eat and a Coke which I would not drink and after a while, we would go upstairs to the living room to talk. Of course Blanca’s brother was always coming up to check on us and I would like to think that in some ways, the little twelve-year-old relished the role of chaperone he was playing. Blanca, for all her beauty, did not look like she dated much, and at her age (27), she seemed an obvious candidate for Mexican spinsterhood. After all, most Mexican women married at far younger ages than Blanca -- even in the States. To make matters worse, three of her younger sisters were already wearing engagement rings. So, needless to say, my courtship of Blanca seemed a welcome event.

Yet Blanca herself seemed strangely reluctant to talk of marriage. Of parties and weddings, yes, but only if they were someone else’s. As for herself, she seemed content to do little more than knit and make small talk.

This frustrated me. I knew by all the framed diplomas on the wall of Blanca’s room that she was not a dumb person, and indeed, she had talked many times of all the sights she had seen when she had visited a married cousin living in San Francisco. Clearly, she was not the type of woman to be content spending the rest of her life in a small town. But she acted like it. Moreover, I knew that she liked me.

However, she always changed the subject whenever I spoke of marriage.

Yes, she was willing to think of a more serious relationship, she would say, but not now.

Had I met her back home in the States, I might have suspected that there was another man involved, but in truth, I seemed to be the only male non-relative involved in her life. Which puzzled me eventually. Could it be that for all her talk of marriage and children, Blanca did not really want to get married. And if so, why not?

A number of unflattering hypotheses came into my mind, but I rejected every one of them, one by one. Blanca showed no signs of romantic interest in her own sex. Nor did she seem destined for the convent. Her mother talked long and admiringly about my computer job in the States, so there were no objections on that front. As for her father, he had passed away about three years ago. Even the novios of her younger sisters seemed to like me. So what was the problem?

I made up my mind to ask Blanca about this one night when we were walking home from a party.

Her brother had come with us as a chaperone, but like most males, he was smart enough to walk a yard or two ahead of us -- enough room to give us privacy without compromising his sister’s virtue too much.

So as we passed through the deserted streets of downtown San Narciso, I gathered the courage to ask Blanca the fatal question: Why?

She glanced at me.

Then she glanced into the windows of a jewelry store.

“What lovely rings they have,” she said in Spanish.

I glanced at her.

“Please don’t change the subject,” I said in the same language.

She glanced at me, then at her brother, still a yard or two ahead of us. “We must not talk about it.”

“We must.”

“No, we must not.” She paused to glance at me, then she continued. “I -- I like you very much, Anton, but I cannot be engaged to you.”

“But why?” The words sounded much more anguished in Spanish.

“I -- I just cannot.”

She glanced into another store window.

“Did anyone in my family ever tell you about my first boyfriend?”

“I didn’t even know you had a first boyfriend. Aside from me, of course.”

She smiled. “This was long ago. When Papa was still alive. Papa never really liked him. In fact, he nearly threw him out of the house one time. He was a real bad sort.” She did not say to whom she was referring.

“So?”

“My boyfriend wanted me to elope with him. He had friends in Guadalajara, and if that did not work, we could always stay with his relatives in Morelia or San Luis Potosí. But I did not do that, of course.”

“Why not?”

She glanced into another store window. “I did not want to leave my family. I was the oldest, of course. And the oldest always has certain responsibilities. So he left without me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. A few months later, he tried the same thing with a girl in a nearby town. Her mother was one of those jealous sorts and had chased away one would-be novio with a gun. I hate to tell you what she did to my boyfriend.”

She smiled and then continued. “As for me, I really did not have much to say about the matter. I got very sick that year and spent much of that fall in bed. At one point, my parents even called in a priest and had him give me the last rites.“

She turned toward me with a smile and pointed to a small circular scar on her forearm.

“But I am much better now.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“Don’t be. I nearly died.”

“I’m sorry. I once nearly died too.”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “You have told me about the heart operation you had when you were a child. This was different. I really did almost die. Only my father saved me at the last minute.”

“He did? How?”

“With a silver coin. He heated it in an open fire and then placed it on my arm. If he had not done that, they would have buried me.”

“My God!”

“All these years, I’ve always wanted to pay him back for saving my life. But I never got the chance. And he never really forgave me for it either.”

“He never forgave you? But why? It was not your fault. You just said you were sick.”

“No, I did not.”

“But you just said -- ”

“I said I got sick. From taking too many sleeping pills from my parents’ pharmacy. Now do you understand?”

I glanced at her. Surely in this day and age, she could not be that Catholic. And yet something in the way she held her head seemed to warn me. Between her black hair and her light brown skin, she seemed to almost merge into the darkness behind her.

I suddenly realized that her brother was no longer in sight of us. I looked around for him.

“Don’t bother,” she said. “He’s gone home.”

“But why?”

“We have been courting long enough for him to trust us. And he knows that you are a most respectable man.”

“Then why did he accompany us tonight?”

“Because I asked him to. In case I was tempted.”

She walked on a bit. “I can’t ever come back to Dallas with you. And you could never be happy in San Narciso. So it would be best for you to forget me. Go home and find yourself some nice American girl. I am not worth it.”

“But you are,“ I said. “You are very beautiful.”

She laughed. “It takes more than beauty to make a marriage.”

“I know. That is why I want to marry you. Because I do not want just another mindless beauty. I want someone I could spend my entire life with. I want you.”

She looked at me again. “I do believe you are serious.”

“I am.”

She smiled.

“Blanca,” she said, as if quoting. “The woman with a name like snow.”

She smiled again. “My boyfriend made that up.”

“I see.”

“No, you do not. You do not know me that well, Anton. If you did, you would not dream of me. Must I deny you three times before the cock crows? Very well. I’ll show you why you must go back to Dallas and forget me. I will show you right here... right now.”

From out of her purse she took two knitting needles. She held them up before her so that their sharp tips gleamed in the moonlight, then plunged them into her left hand. She never so much as flinched.

“Do you understand now?”

“No. I do not.”

She drew out the needles. There was blood on their tips. Already her hand was bleeding.

I reached over to cover it with a handkerchief.

She pushed me back.

“You are a fool, Anton. A well-meaning fool, but a fool nonetheless. I can never love you. You know that as much as I do.” And with that, she wiped off the needles with a piece of old cloth she had and placed them all back in her purse. Then she drew out a multicolored handkerchief. She covered her hand with it and then disappeared into the darkness.

“You are a fool, Anton,” she kept saying as she disappeared. “You are a fool.”

************************************************************

I wish I could say that I went back to the States right after that and forgot her. But as I have pointed out, she is with me now even as I speak.

While I could not influence her, I could influence her mother, and Blanca, as always, was the type of good Catholic girl who always obeyed her mother.

So she sits in the corner of our bedroom, knitting like she always knits, the sun illuminating the side of her face to the point that she almost looks Anglo.

I kiss her every now and then and murmur, “Te adoro.” But she never murmurs “te adoro” back. She is determined to stay with me and be a good girl, but she will not pretend she enjoys it.

If that were the worst element of our life together, I would not object. For aside from her knitting, Blanca has made remarkably great progress in her adjustment to Dallas. Too great.

Every now and then, I see her wear a short-sleeved dress and witness the nail marks on her arms. I think of how few cats I have seen in the neighborhood and of how many pet-owning families have moved out of the neighborhood in the last year or so.

She keeps swearing that she will change, but I swear that her resolutions, alas, are all too much like her sweaters -- easily begun but never quite capable of holding her interest.

This worries me.

For lately, you see, she has begun to talk about children.

She has begun to talk about children a lot.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Trailer of the Week: The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Oh, big, big mistake. Really huge. Didn't anyone ever tell you? There's some things you just don't mess with. If you're smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there are just some things you never, ever mess with. And one of them is Jeanne Moreau.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “The Big Bang”

Oh, wow! I really didn't see that coming.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Hey, I Remember This Show: The Honeymooners

This show obviously wasn't the first sitcom to be made about a married couple but it is certainly one of the most famous ones. Of course, my first experience of this show was through syndicated reruns.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: He & She

Paula Prentiss looks so pretty in this intro that it's a shame for me to admit that my prior experience with this show is confined to its title's appearance in crossword puzzles. I was actually alive when it was on the air but if I ever saw an episode, I don't remember it.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

You’re not thinking of atomic energy, you’re thinking of... a brick wall!
--Martin Stephens, Village of the Damned (1960)

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TV Quote of the Week

I think there are times when you would crack the universe open if you could, just to see what would happen.
--Nicholas Amer, I, Claudius, “A God in Colchester”

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These Losers Aren't Really Losers -- Except at the Box Office


At last I find a sequel-friendly action movie that actually deserves a sequel. So naturally it bombs out at the box office.

No wonder it is so depressing to be a movie critic nowadays.

The funny thing is I did not really expect to like The Losers that much. After all, I started burning out on action movies some time in the late 1990s. I remember sitting through the beginning of John Woo's Face/Off and thinking that the last thing I ever wanted to see was yet another movie in which some dude holds a gun in each hand and fires them both at the same time as if that had never been done before. And that despite the fact that Face/Off was a good movie compared to much of its competition.

And yet this movie won me over. Jeffrey Dean Morgan lived up to the promise he showed in Watchmen and the other guys were great too. Even the villain (played by Jason Patric) was memorable -- though the film's attempt to make a serious political comment by giving the guy an American flag lapel seems more laughable than effective. (Hey, it is not like we have not seen evil C.I.A men in the movies before.)

The one sore spot in the movie was the casting of Zoe Saldana as the mysterious woman who intervenes to help the group of ex-military men known as the “Losers” after a mission in South America literally blows up in their face. I usually do not have a problem with Ms. Saldana and I remember liking her well enough in Avatar -- a movie that other people either liked or hated a lot more than me -- but there seemed to be something off about her in this movie. On one hand, she speaks her lines well enough. On the other, she seems awfully thin for a femme fatale superspy -- even taking account of the fact that she originally meets up with the group by posing as a South American b-girl -- a profession not known for its aristocratic physiques. Indeed, she even seems thinner than Rosario Dawson was when she starred in Rent, the Chris Columbus movie musical in which Ms. Dawson played an AIDS-stricken stripper -- though I am hoping for Ms. Saldana's sake that that is just due to a lapse of memory on my part.

Oh, well. The movie ends on an emotionally satisfying note and yet leaves enough loose ends for at least one more sequel. But as I noted above, the film did not do so well at the box office so I guess we will never see that sequel. Instead we will be seeing even more attempts to ape Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight and other proven successes. What a pity.

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The Moore, the Not So Merrier


An American Carol seemed silly enough back when it came out in 2008. It seems even sillier now in 2010, at a time when most Americans are likely to be far more worried about either getting a job or keeping a job than what some semi-famous documentary filmmaker says about America. Since the film aspires to be a comedy, one would think that this silliness would be a good thing. But unfortunately, for a comedy to provoke laughs, such silliness has to be earned. No one minds laughing at a comedian who gets off a great joke or gets away with an especially daring pratfall. But the comedian who does not seem to care that much whether or not his jokes are funny or his sight gags are humorous is a comedian few people are going to laugh at. Unfortunately, An American Carol seems to have been written by just such a comedian.

Here's the thing: An American Carol was specifically created to poke fun at Michael Moore. I am not a big fan of Michael Moore. I used to be a fan after reading his book Downsize This and for many years after that, I thought it was neat that such a smart writer hailed from my home state of Michigan. But after seeing how blatantly he lied in his “documentary” Bowling for Columbine and how rarely he was called on his lies by political southpaws, I lost faith in the guy. I would like to believe he has good intentions but from an artistic viewpoint, I find his cinematic work suspect.

Yet the idea of an entire movie devoted to poking fun at the guy seems to induce in me more yawns than giggles. Perhaps if the film had had a better writer or a better director -- one would have thought that having the movie directed by one of the directors of the 1980 comedy Airplane! would be enough but it is not -- I might have been won over, but I was not.

At best, the movie brings to mind the old gag about a book in which what was original was not especially good and what was good was not particularly original. Worse yet, it ends up being patronizing to the very type of patriots it is supposed to be supportive of. For example, the film has one character get off a zinger about how bad country music is after deliberately introducing the audience to a country music concert that is supposed to emphasize the importance of patriotism. I suppose we are supposed to consider that country music was sung by an artist who was the great exception to that rule but then again, if the writers thought so little of country music, why end the movie with a country music concert?

For that matter, since when are only country music fans patriots? Are we really supposed to believe that Americans who prefer other forms of music -- especially, American forms of music like jazz -- are not real Americans? And if so, by whose definition?

If the movie had had anything creative to say about the hypocrisies of the left -- and let's face it, there are many such hypocrisies to criticize -- I might have been won over. But instead the movie seems content to illustrate the hypocrisies of the right. Thus, we get a lot of jokes about illegal aliens -- after a decade which has seen a lot of Hispanics of dubious citizen status volunteer for the U.S. Armed Forces in the wake of 9/11. A lot of jokes about the implausibility of Christian terrorists -- at a time when most abortion clinics still worry about pro-life bombers and snipers. A lot of jokes about the hardships many white Americans have had to go through because of increased security procedures -- and yet none about the problems equally loyal Arab or Indian Americans have faced due to racial profiling.

Fine. I get it. An American Carol is supposed to promote a conservative version of what American society should be like, a version they do not connect with director Michael Moore. But many of the Hispanics I grew up with and some of the various African- and Asian-Americans with whom I have worked here in this country are conservative too. They too support the Armed Forces and they too support the traditional family values that white conservatives often treat as their exclusive property. So why are such folks rarely seen in this flick until a group of multiracial military veterans show up toward the end of the picture? Am I supposed to believe that such folks are good enough to die for this country but not to live in it? And if so, why exactly should I be supportive of such an attitude?

I might not like everything Michael Moore stands for but I hate the hypocrisy of this movie far worse. And this from an one-time subscriber to The National Review who once voted for Ronald Reagan.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Little Woman”

As I noted in the comments for a previous post, my siblings and I used to listen to this single when we were children. I have no memory of which sibling actually bought this song on 45 but I remember one of us owning it. Actually this was one of two Bobby Sherman songs that almost every kid I knew growing up listened to in the early 1970s. For what it's worth, this is the other one.

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Fantasy Quote of the Week

“Go on,” it said in my own voice. “Marry the girl. You’re not a True Spirit either. And it’s best to have someone in your arms when Hell surrounds you.”
--William Mark Simmons, The Woman of His Dreams

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Science Fiction Quote of the Week

There‘s only one proper uniform for a bride on her wedding night.
--Harry Turtledove, WorldWar: Tilting the Balance

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “No Life Without Wife”

Ms. Aishwarya Rai and company sing the praises of the Indian approach to marriage -- sorta. From 2005's Bride and Prejudice, it is a musical number that the original Liz Bennet probably would not be caught dead doing. But it is still memorable, right?

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “The Pandorica Opens”

Oh my! Things do not look good for our heroes.

Amy Pond has just had an unfortunate reunion with Rory -- or at least someone whom she thinks is Rory; River Song has discovered something horrendous on board the Tardis; the Doctor apparently has every one of his enemies lining up against him. And I thought former producer Russell T. Davies had a thing for big finales!

Should I be alarmed that one of my female acquaintances regularly addresses me by the same term of endearment that River Song likes to use? And that as a result, “hello, sweetie” has officially become one of my favorite terms of endearment? Of course, if it was not a favorite before this episode, it definitely should be one now. Now if they could only get a character to say, “Hola, Sweetie”...

Anyway, it seems obvious that we are not going to get the answers to any of these questions before next week. Heck, we may not even get the answers then. We may not get the answers until next year. Or perhaps we may never get the answers!

Oh my, indeed.

I did like that they referenced one of my favorite Greek myths. And referenced one of my favorite periods of histo -- Wait a minute! Maybe they are getting this whole storyline from my imagination!

Yeah, right.

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Cuento de Mi Id

“The Mourning After”

He hadn’t wanted to attend the funeral, and already he regretted the fact that he had.

His bedroom smelled like something had died there, and his skull was afire with the granddaddy of all hangovers. Evidently he had gotten drunk last night. But what happened afterward was still blank.

He remembered seeing John there at the church and blaming him silently for the miscarriage which had taken Maggie’s life. After all, it should have been him that Maggie married, not John, and if John had not gotten her pregnant, she would have eventually changed her mind.

Instead she had been stolen by the ultimate suitor, and all his years of waiting were wasted. There was no divorce from the Grim Reaper. Not even a trial separation. And it was all John’s fault.

He knew he shouldn’t think that way. After all, thoughts could be as real as bullets. His father had told him that. But then his father had also believed in the mal de ojo, the Mexican evil eye. If that was real, John would have been dead by now.

The smell grew stronger in his bedroom. Then he turned and noticed a shape beneath the sheets on the other side of the bed. Evidently, he had gotten lucky last night. How ironic.

He had started to reach for his companion when his fingers brushed against a cold, dirt-covered hand bearing a familiar ring.

It was then that he remembered what he had done last night.

He closed his eyes and screamed. He did not wish to remember any more. It was just an illusion; Maggie wasn’t really there. When he opened his eyes, she would be gone.

But when he squeezed her cold hand involuntarily, she was still there. And that was not the worst part.

The worst part came when she squeezed back.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Trailer of the Week: El Dorado (1966)

This was one of the first movies my late father recorded on his VCR. I am not sure why he did so given his frequently expressed disdain for John Wayne, but he did it. And I cannot say I am sorry that he did so given that I found this to be one of John Wayne's better -- if less well-known -- movies.

It does not hurt that the same movie gives us a glimpse of the early James Caan before he became much more famous for playing -- ahem -- other stuff. And of course, Robert Mitchum is always a welcome sight.

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Happy Father's Day


My late father was never much of a John Wayne fan but he did like Pedro Armendáriz. So I like to think he would have liked this movie.

If not, he'll find a way to let me know.

In the meantime, here's hoping that all my readers out there who either have fathers or are fathers have a happy Father's Day.

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Buscando Trabajo de Nuevo: Parte XIV

Just as I was on the verge of writing a whole post filled with repetitions of the phrase "No work and no play make Jack a dull boy," I finally got some good news. My tax refund check arrived yesterday.

My middle brother suspects it might have been initially delayed because I didn't use the pre-written address sticker in my income tax book. Apparently there are two different addresses you send your tax forms to: one of which reads only the forms with that sticker and one that reads only the forms in which the address is written out by hand. I usually catch errors like that and considering the fact that I had lived in the same place for over six years, I really didn't think it would have made that big a deal. But apparently it did.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Perhaps it's just as well it didn't arrive before this week. The Texas Employment Commission is cutting off my benefits while they investigate the reasons I was let go by the employer mentioned in the last installment of this series. Depending on what they find, my benefits may or may not be reinstated. So it's just as well I have that refund check to fall back on in addition to the check I receive this coming week for training.

Hopefully, I'll find a job before I'm once again dependent on the kindness of strangers but it's not easy to find work nowadays and it's so easy to get discouraged. I had two interviews last Monday and Wednesday but both lasted shorter than I expected and I haven't heard from either company since then.

My family and friends have been supportive and I welcome their support. But I'll still be glad when I'm finally back to earning a paycheck.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

R.I.P. Ronald Neame

Ronald Neame, director of The Poseidon Adventure, departed on his last voyage Wednesday at age 99.

He will be missed.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Hey, I Remember This Show: Here Comes The Brides

Wow! Spock's dad was on this show?

I knew about Ms. Blondell and Mr. Sherman appearing on this TV series but I kinda forgot that David Soul -- the future Hutch of TV's Starsky and Hutch -- appeared on here too. Apparently this was a TV version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I had umpteen chances to see it in prime time and syndication when I was growing up but I do not actually recall making it through a single episode. And I must confess that intro seems a little weird to watch at a time when Seattle is no longer identified primarily with lumber camps.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: I Married Joan

I may seem like an old-timer at times but I'm not old enough to remember this show when it was in prime time. And since one of my relatives is named Joan, it is probably just as well I never watched it in syndication since I feel weird enough about the title as it is.

I am a little surprised that the announcer felt compelled to add that it was also The Joan Davis Show when they obviously chose not to call it that. Was that their way of keeping Ms. Davis happy or what?

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

Sorry is one thing. How are you planning on fixing it?
--Ann Weldon, What’s Cooking? (2000)

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TV Quote of the Week

I’m not strange. I’m just different. There’s a difference.
--Tommy Knight, The Sarah Jane Adventures, “The Day of the Clown: Part 1”

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “The Lodger”

If last week's episode was one of the most ambitious episodes of the season, this one is sorta like in the opposite direction. No real specialized knowledge required here unless you're the type of person who has no idea what a call center is and how the game of soccer is played. Or you're the type of person who is stumped by the fact the British use the word “football” to describe the same game that we call “soccer.” (And if you are that type of person, you're probably not likely to be watching this series for very long.)

Anyway, the whole story involves the Doctor “accidentally” getting locked out of the Tardis and having to board with an apartment dweller who lives downstairs from a mysterious alien. At first, the alien seems awfully similar to the monster of this season's first episode but in the end he proves to be quite different.

As for Amy, she isn't in this episode much. Make of that what you will.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Vincent and the Doctor”

This was obviously one of the most ambitious episodes of this season and the first one written for the series by former Blackadder writer Richard Curtis.

You don't have to know a whole lot about Vincent van Gogh or art to appreciate this episode. But it helps. Even if you did not know anything about van Gogh apart from the old story about him cutting off his ear, I suspect you would still get a lot out of it. After all, you don't have to know a lot about art to know what it's like to be depressed. Or to feel unappreciated. And it is a credit to Curtis that he manages to make van Gogh's feelings in that area more believable than one would expect to find in a science fiction show.

Of course, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the Doctor has not found something wrong in a van Gogh painting like he did at the beginning of this episode but if instead he had found something wrong in an Escher print. Or a Hopper painting. Or a Picasso portrait. Or...You get the idea.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Cold Blood”

Well, that did not seem like such a happy ending.

And it started off so well too.

Of course, if one were a spoilsport, one might wonder what might become of the two human characters who chose to be awakened again in the far-off future in a nest of ali -- er -- non-humans. Especially non-humans who have considerable reason to be mad at humans given the fate of the one of them who had been in human custody.

But perhaps it is better to think of this episode as being one of those episodes that works just right if you think about it provided you do not think about it too much.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deep Thought of the Week

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Literary Quote I Like

She didn’t seem to hear. “How many were in that car, Andrea?”

“I saw five, I think.”

“That is what I saw, too, and I have such very good eyes.”

“What was the license number of that car, Andrea?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t have time -- ”

“I did. D3827. And I have such a very good memory.”

“Julie, don’t, you’re frightening me. Why aren’t you crying?”

“I am, where you can’t see it. Come with me, Andrea, I’m going back inside the church.”

“To pray?”

“No, to make a vow. Another vow to Nick.”
--Cornell Woolrich, The Bride Wore Black

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Random Thoughts

Should I consider it evil that part of me wants to go out and buy a big carton of Kroger ice cream -- with nuts?

Do any of the people who write Internet editorials about the importance of job seekers keeping a good attitude actually know anyone who is unemployed? I have to wonder.

Last time I checked, traditional Muslims were not really big on American beauty contests but that did not keep people from slandering the current Miss USA.

The harder it is to get to your cell phone, the more likely it is to ring.

The more badly you need a check, the more likely it is to get lost in the mail.

The more people talk about the efficiency of government, the more likely it is that the lost check will be a government check.

Should I pretend that historians just made up the Little Ice Age?

People who are insecure about their intellectual abilities tend to disparage the intellectual abilities of others for the same reason a person insecure about his or her appearance will often disparage the appearance of another person.

The more necessary people are to the running of a city, the more likely they are to be taken for granted.

Politicians tend to prefer intellectually unarmed peasants.

If we are really all that concerned about the scientific knowledge of modern-day Americans, why do we always seem more concerned about the image of American lawyers than the image of American engineers? And why do lawyers have a higher status than engineers in our supposedly pro-science country anyway? And why do lawyers rarely have to worry about losing a job due to outsourcing or being replaced by some recent immigrant who is willing to work for a lower rate than a current citizen?

Funny how discussions of the benign nature of Communism seem to involve people who spent all of five days within a Communist country and not people who were former citizens of such a country.

When you grow up among people who have worked in steel mills and automobile factories, it seems a bit obscene to go on and on about how "hard" it is to be a writer. Especially when the hardest part about being a writer is rarely the actual writing. It is finding something to write about that people are actually willing to pay you to write about.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Steel Men”

In honor of the late Jimmy Dean and the 19 victims of the Second Narrows Bridge collapse of June 17, 1958, a song he sang about them in 1962.

It would be nice to think that we no longer hear songs like this on the radio because blue-collar workers no longer get killed in the line of duty but somehow I don't believe that's so.

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R.I.P. Jimmy Dean

Country singer and sausage king Jimmy Dean -- not to be confused with actor James Dean -- got sent to the Promised Land Sunday at age 81. He will be missed.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “June Bride”

Given the number of wedding songs I posted last June, one would think that I would have remembered this one prior to last week but I did not. From 1954's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, it is the most obvious June wedding song one can think of -- if one is not me, of course.

I hope you all enjoy it.

Update: There's an even longer version of this song available on YouTube but it's not available for embedding. So you have to follow this link to see it.

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Song Quote of the Week

So this is what it's like living in limbo.
First I'm high, then I'm solo.
--Mike Elizondo, John O'Brien and Poe, “Wild”

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Cuento de Mi Id

“A Specter Is Haunting Gotham”

(I have written only three stories thus far that can be considered fanfic--four if you count this one. This is one of those stories. Of course, it can also be considered alternative history -- in a way.)

It moves through the urban darkness, a figure in white, so swift, so silent that any observer would think it either a hallucination or an illusion. But it is neither. You see, a specter is haunting Gotham.

A sound of movement stirs below. The figure in white pauses, crouching like a skeleton in the darkness. Then it leaps out into the night... out... and down... into the alley where three toughs in black jackets are accosting a young girl.

“Hey, baby, what are you doing out this time of night?” one of them says.

“Please,“ she says. “Please leave me alone. I’ll give you money.”

The thugs smile “Money isn’t what we want…”

“And we have no intention of leaving you alone…”

They do not notice him at first.

They have their minds set upon more important things.

Then...

“Hey, Billy,” one of them cries out. “Over there.”

The young hoods turn. Fingers snap. Three switchblades appear as if by magic.

“I don’t know what you’re doing in this neighborhood, mister, but you’d best scram.”

Beneath its white hood, the figure smiles. But from their point-of-view, it does not appear to hear. The muggers close in, expecting an easy target.

Then the figure moves. And three of Gotham City’s toughest find out what it means to be on the receiving end of a beating for a change.

When it is over, the figure in white walks over to the young woman. She stares at him, looking as terrified of him as she was of her would-be assailants.

“Who are you?” she asks.

If the figure’s features were discernible beneath its hood, one would almost detect a smile. But no reply is made. And the figure vanishes upwards into the darkness, leaving behind three battered corpses which were once men.

At dawn, the figure in white reaches a large mansion on the edge of town. Entering through the usual underground entrance, he is greeted by his faithful butler, Arthur.

“Rough night on the town, sir?” he mutters in a stiff, impeccable British manner.

He does not really expect an answer.

“Passable, Arthur,” says the figure. “Passable.”

He leaves him to enter the changing room where he doffs his nocturnal costume and prepares for the day ahead. As he showers and bathes, removing unwelcome traces of the night’s exertions, he contemplates the past which led him to his present nighttime activity. About his parents, long-dead, slain by unknown parties and how a youthful vow of vengeance against the murderers had led to a lifetime obsession with ridding the world of criminals.

It had been a long time since that night when he had first donned the white costume and gone out in search of evil-doers. And every night he feels older -- as if the cold wind of old age and its subsequent partner, death, were blowing down his spine.

He shivers unconsciously and wishes for the umpteenth time that he could see himself in a shaving mirror...

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quote of the Week

Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.
--Stephen King, On Writing

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Trailer of the Week: The Formula (1980)

Please don't stay home all weekend watching the latest news on cable.

Why not go out and see something that will take your mind off all that?

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A Man May Smile and Smile and Be a Villain...

Oh, that Baron Sardonicus. What a happy chap he must have been. Always smiling and grinning. And you just know he had a way with the ladies.

Unfortunately, between his lowly birth and the mask he wore, he suffered from an obvious inferiority complex -- which would not have been so bad if not for the way the not so good Baron felt the need to take it out on the world.

Then he married Maude Randall, a Victorian beauty who failed to appreciate his rather unique appearance. Ms. Randall had a former lover named Robert Cargrave, who had since come up in the world. He was once a lowly medical student but now he was a famous doctor with a thriving practice and he had been even knighted by the queen. Maude wrote to Robert and asked him to come examine her husband, warning him that it was most urgent to her well-being that he do so.

But what was up with the Baron Sardonicus? And what was up with the mysterious Krull, who is the Baron's very loyal -- and very creepy -- manservant? And what was up with the mysterious station manager who had all kinds of hints about the Baron that he dared not spell out? And why did someone put leeches all over the poor maidservant? For the answers to these and other questions, you have to see William Castle's 1961 production of Mr. Sardonicus, one of those old-fashioned horror films that seemed to work best as long as the late Castle kept off-screen.

But of course you all know how those horror movie director tend to be. Just as all actors live to play Hamlet, all horror movie directors live to play Hitchcock. And so did Castle. Thus, for the opening sequence, William Castle magically appeared in 1880 London -- almost as if he were a time traveler -- and proceeded to introduce himself to the audience as if he were an old friend -- or Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, Castle did similar introductions for many of his films -- introductions which seemed like lowbrow knockoffs of the introductions Alfred Hitchcock used to do for the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Poor Castle was never as memorable as old Hitch and I suspect that he knew that as well as anybody. Yet he managed to keep a sense of humor about himself just the same -- which is more than I could say about some modern directors.

To be fair, Mr. Sardonicus was one of Castle's better films and thanks to a good script by author Ray Russell, it remains very watchable despite the rather arbitrary use of torture as a plot device. Unlike some horror films from the early 1960s I could mention, it never descended to the Ed Wood level of badness but then again it was never comparable to the most inspired work of Hitchcock. Perhaps the best comparison would be to the Edgar Allan Poe movies Roger Corman was making for American International at roughly the same time. Like them, the movie was entertaining enough but in no danger of being mistaken for art by even the most liberal horror movie fan.

I must confess that as much as I liked the movie's old-fashioned approach to storytelling, I would liked the movie a whole lot more if Castle had not insisted in cutting in toward the end with a needless “punishment poll” sequence in which movie-goers were supposed to vote on the fate of a particular character. However, even that part did not subtract from what turned out to be a neat little B-film.

If I had only one additional quibble to make, it would be the fact that the one character I really wanted to see get a comeuppance never got one. Instead, the character was made responsible for punishing yet another character who also deserved a comeuppance.

Perhaps it was a bit too much to expect total justice in a film like this. Neither Russell nor Castle ever explained why the same servant who so eagerly tortured his fellow servants suddenly showed a twinge of conscience when it came to torturing a more aristocratic subject and I suppose we will never know why Castle insisted that one sadistic character got punished while another got off scot-free. Such is life and such is film.

Then again I suspect that both Castle and Russell realized that the only thing movie audiences would find as emotionally satisfying as seeing a sadist get his just desserts would be seeing the same sadist get a taste of his own medicine from another sadist. And indeed, if the sadists of this world have to pick on anybody, why not on another sadist? It certainly beats their picking on innocent victims. Of course, it would be far nicer if we would dispense with sadists in the movies altogether but unfortunately, no one ever bothers to listen to me about that.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Hey, I Remember This Show: Banacek

Maybe I'm just biased because my beloved mother is Polish-American, but I wish Hollywood had made a movie out of this George Peppard TV series.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: The Swamp Fox

Leslie Nielsen as an American Revolutionary war hero? Well, there have been American TV shows with stranger premises. This show was produced by Walt Disney, of course, but unfortunately, it never became as popular as other Disney shows like Zorro or Davy Crockett. Even The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca seems to have lasted for at least one more episode than this show. Perhaps if The Swamp Fox had had a cooler theme song...

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Buscando Trabajo de Nuevo: Parte XIII

It looks like I spoke too soon.

I have been training for the new position all week and doing what I thought to have been an okay job when I finally flunked a crucial test. And unfortunately, that one test was the one I should not have flunked. Ironically, it involved my physical skills more than my mental skills.

So now I am depressed and going back to a mode I had thought I would be done with for a long while. After all, I had had high hopes for this job and I had actually relished the thought of working for a company for which my late father once worked. (Not that I would have working in the same department that he did. But I would have been working for the same company that used to sign his paychecks.)

On the plus side, I learned new respect for factory workers, especially the type who work with microchips and cleanrooms. Of course, I grew up around cousins and uncles who were factory workers and my late father used to work on an assembly line before he became a computer programmer -- no, seriously, he did -- so it is not like I ever dissed blue-collar workers too much. But I did take their work for granted, and now that I had the opportunity to see for myself what they go through each day, I hope that I never get so complacent as to take it for granted again.

So I am applying online again and hoping that the same agency that gave me this opportunity calls up with another one before too long. Plus I still had a week's worth of unemployment coming to me along with my eagerly awaited tax refund check and a not so eagerly awaited rebate check.

So as much as I hate going back to square one, I am not in as bad a shape as I could be.

Edited to add:

Cool! I already have an interview for next week. I'm already crossing my fingers.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

I got nowhere else to go!
--Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

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TV Quote of the Week

I am not taking home some English curse.
--Kate Hodge, She-Wolf of London, “She-Wolf of London”

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Buscando Trabajo de Nuevo: Parte XII

Bluejay's wish actually worked. I managed to make it through the fourth day of orientation on my new job. Of course, it's no fun having to get used to a new routine and there's still a chance I might flunk out. But so far, so good.

At least the worries I have this week beat the worries I had last week.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Vincent”

I was going to go with a less serious choice this week but after last weekend's Doctor Who episode, I had no choice but to go with this.

You want a less predictable dedication? Okay. This song is for that wonderfully bewitching entity who posts on MaryAnn's site under the name bronxbee. I suspect I know her real name but she hasn't chosen to reveal it online so I won't either.

I hope you all enjoy the song.

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Song Quote of the Week

Such a muddy line between
The things you want
And the things you have to do.
--Sheryl Crow, “Leaving Las Vegas”

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “I Will Wait for You”

I posted the Connie Francis cover version of this song last week. It only seems right that I also post the original French version from 1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

I hope you all have an abundant supply of tissues handy.

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Skeleton Girl”

(Callie was one of the first female characters I invented. One of the dreams she had in this story was based on a dream I once had.)

Callie took her clothes off. Stood in front of the mirror. Her ribs looked like a xylophone. Her face like a skull. Her skin was white, too white, but there was a fever in her brain that seemed to compensate for it. Her arms looked like sticks, and she could see parts of her collarbone that she had never seen before.

But it was not enough.

She was still too fat.

************************************************************

She got up the next morning. Ate an egg for breakfast. Only one egg, but she did it because only dumb girls starved themselves and she was not dumb. She took a quick shower. Afterward, she shivered as she put her clothes on and she never used to shiver. But she shrugged it off.

On the way to school, some radio preacher started talking about creationism and about how if evolution was in fact a reality we’d be seeing mutations all about us. She laughed and changed the station.

The radio started playing an old Robert Palmer song, and she sang along with it. Then it played a song about somebody’s imaginary lover, and then she suddenly stopped singing. Instead she changed the station.

She arrived at school, and her stomach started rumbling. She promised herself she wouldn’t break down and go to the school cafeteria. She didn’t.

Halfway through algebra class, her stomach started rumbling again. It was only ten o’clock, and lunch seemed so far away. She silently cursed the teacher for not letting her out early. Then she cursed the clock for not ticking faster. It was probably a few minutes slow, she told herself. She congratulated herself on her keen insight.

She was so hungry when lunchtime rolled around that she was tempted to buy out the whole cafeteria. But she didn’t. She brought an apple so she ate an apple. After all, if it was good enough for Eve…

She took her time eating the apple, but it still wasn’t enough. Her stomach craved something more. Down boy, she said. You’re just going to have to train yourself to do without.

School was over. Time for work. She punched in at three-thirty, and smiled at Billy. Billy didn’t smile back. Billy was talking to Karen again, and she didn’t like Karen.

She took her stand behind the cash register, and pretended to be interested in her job. She reminded herself that this job was one reason she was going to college in the first place. End up like the fifty-year-old employees you met at the store meeting a few months back? That would be a living hell. Even Billy seemed to sense it. And she was sure he would have told her so if only she had ever got up the nerve to speak to him.

But she didn’t get up the nerve. And she never will -- as long as she looked as she did. Once she lost more weight, things would be easier. Billy would be talking to her instead of Karen, and boys would be turning their heads in her direction when she walked through the mall, and girls would be envying her left and right.

But she wasn’t quite thin enough yet. Just a few more weeks…

************************************************************

The weeks flew by. The pounds came off more slowly than they did a month ago. Perhaps it was the food she had been eating, she thought. Perhaps if she switched to a liquid diet…

She started having nightmares in which she raided the refrigerator and ended up going on a non-stop eating spree. The next morning, she woke up in a panic until she realized that it was all just a dream. She smiled with relief as she stepped on the scale and confirmed that she hadn’t gained weight. But then she hadn’t lost weight, either. This fact depressed her.

At the store, a customer asked her if she was sick, and she took it as a compliment.

She almost blacked out when she was putting up light bulbs, and she considered that a compliment as well.

Soon they would be envying her at the mall. Heads would turn as she walked by, and every guy there would be asking her for her phone number. Billy would be staring at her -- yes, her, not Karen or those other girls he used to go with before he met Karen -- and he would ask her out, and he would take her to a fine restaurant with white tablecloths and silver candlesticks, and then he would propose, and she would say yes, and then --

But then she woke up.

The dreams she had at night started to change in nature. She started dreaming about scarecrows and skeletons. She pictured a parade of ghouls in black, ragged clothing fetching something white from a river and feasting upon it. Then they tumbled the leftovers into the city reservoir. She did not know what this dream meant.

Her father confronted her one day at the breakfast table. He asked her to start eating more. You’re losing too much weight, he said. To lose so much weight so fast was bad for the heart.

She smiled and reassured him that she would eat more. Then she sneered at him behind his back, and asked why he didn’t worry so much about her when she was overweight. Could it be that her ability to lose weight so easily actually threatened him? Who could imagine a spineless wimp like her having so much willpower? Soon the heads would turn to look at her in the mall, and she would feast with Billy upon white tablecloths, and she would be able to eat anything she wanted, and Billy would look at her, not Karen, at her, not Karen, at her, not Karen, at her, not Karen…

Then one night she showed up for work, and Billy was not there. He had apparently quit, along with Karen.

The next day, Karen showed up, bragging about her engagement ring. If that was not bad enough, Callie heard rumors that Karen had already bragged about being pregnant. But that could not be, she thought. Not her and Billy. It had to be a mistake. It just had to be.

She found herself tempted to eat when she got home. She held off. No way was she going back to the days when she solved every problem by putting something in her stomach. But someone had already put something in Karen’s stomach. And now there was no going back.

The next day, Billy showed up. Karen was not with him. Callie pretended not to notice him. But she managed to be outside when he finally left, and she met him in the parking lot. She wanted to ask him if it was true. But she did not. She just stared at the concrete, and offered Billy congratulations. Then she smiled when he suggested he might come by the store again.

She knew she was not ever going to see him again. But for some reason, she thought she had scored a victory.

She drove home and thought about pigging out. Instead, she got a bottle of her mother’s sleeping pills. She took them out, one by one, Then she lined them up on the bathroom counter, one by one. Then she took them, one by one.

Thought you weren’t going to solve your problems by putting things in your stomach, she asked herself.

Shut up, she answered.

She started dreaming about white tablecloths and silver candlesticks and black, ragged clothing and heads turning at the mall and being able to eat anything she wanted…

When she woke up, the last thing she wanted to do was look at a mirror. She felt quite sure that she looked quite horrible. After all, she had come to hate that increasingly pale image she had seen in the glass for the last three months. But, in the end, she did not have to worry about it. She walked over to the bathroom to wash her face, and, lo and behold, she did not have a reflection in the mirror. Great. She was tired of looking at herself in the mirror anyway.

More importantly, she did not even feel hungry. The food in the family refrigerator no longer tempted her. Not even her mother's lasagna -- which used to be her favorite dish -- tempted her. In fact, her stomach turned just at the thought of eating such stuff. And yet she felt so thirsty.

A thought occurred to her. Something about a thing which was thin, and pale, and hated mirrors, and never ate ordinary food. But the thought did not stay with her for long.

She was already thinking about that thirst of hers. And what she could possibly find to satisfy it...

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Trailer of the Week: The Longest Day (1962)

It's the anniversary of the D-Day invasion tomorrow.

I don't really care what else you all see as long as you all don't forget that.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: The Golden Girls

In honor of the late Rue McClanahan and the late Beatrice Arthur.

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Fantasy Quote of the Week

Big corporations aren’t always the bad guys; but it’s the sensible way to bet.
--John Taylor in Simon R. Green's Paths Not Taken

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Science Fiction Quote of the Week

Andy traded a glance with the Mayor. “Look, Freeborn,” he said gently, “you don’t seem to get the point. We don’t want such gadgets. It isn’t worthwhile scheming and working to get more than we have, not while there are girls to love in springtime and deer to hunt in fall. And when we do work, we’d rather work for ourselves, not for somebody else, whether you call the somebody else a capitalist or the people. Now let’s go sit down and take it easy before lunch.”
--Poul Anderson, “The Last of the Deliverers”

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Friday, June 04, 2010

R.I.P. Rue McClanahan

Actress Rue McClanahan, most known for her roles on Maude and The Golden Girls, went out on her last date yesterday at age 76. She will be missed.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

You people are insane! You’re wasting your lives making shit! Nobody cares! These movies are terrible!
--Sarah Jessica Parker, Ed Wood (1994)

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TV Quote of the Week

There is nothing glorious about dying in a war. A bunch of starving, freezing boys killing each other so that the rich can stay rich. Madness.
--Stephen Moyer, True Blood, “The First Taste”

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Turn and Face the Strange Ch-Ch-Changes

If I pass orientation next week and am able to start my new job successfully, I'll probably be posting less stuff on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and more on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I already plan to start posting my Movie Song of the Week on Monday when my schedule allows for it and my Pop Song of the Week on Tuesday.

For some reason, there seems to be a law on the Internet that for every unembeddable music video out there on the Net, there's at least a dozen embeddable ones. Of course, that could change but then I kept expecting to run out of entries for my Movie Song of the Week all this year and so far that doesn't seem likely to happen.

I wouldn't mind requests, though.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca

They made a TV show like this in the 1950s? It almost seems too good to be true -- especially if you consider the real-life person who inspired this show.

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Why Do I Remain a Catholic?

1. Because it's a family tradition.

2. Because many of the brightest and most creative people that I've met in public school were Catholic.

3. Because the people who taught me most about love, generosity and other virtues were Catholic.

4. Because I wanted to.

5. Because I love the sight of stained glass.

6. Because I love the taste of Communion wine.

7. Because I love the taste of Communion wafers. (They taste like victory.)

8. Because I loved CCD class.

9. Because I underwent an experience which made it impossible for me to logically disbelieve in the Supreme Deity.

10. Because I believe there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

11. Because I like being part of a centuries-old tradition.

12. Because I'm pretty fond of the Virgin Mary and that Jesus fellow.

13. Because I promised my father.

14. Because I'm loyal to my godparents.

15. Because I don't consider the many differences between me and many of my coreligionists to be more important than our similarities.

16. Because I really like church music.

17. Because I really like confession.

18. Because I really like lighting candles.

19. Because I refuse to let my faith be defined by someone else's sins.

20. Why not?

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Stealing across the Borderline

There’s something sad about watching old movies about Mexico at the same time the local news is just full of stories depicting that country as being more and more overrun by drug dealers.

Perhaps it is because so many of the movies made in the 1940s and 1950s had such a sunny, optimistic view of Mexican life. Granted, it seemed a lot easier to appreciate Mexican life in the 1940s and 1950s if you were a visiting American tourist than if you were an actual Mexican citizen. Mexico was all too often depicted back then as a worry-free paradise full of colorful dancers, beggars, cab drivers and bartenders whose sole function seemed to be waiting on visiting American tourists. The idea that Mexicans could have lives that did not center around visiting foreigners was all too often a quaint notion that Hollywood had little time for.

And to be fair, the image more modern Hollywood movies often paint is not much of an improvement. In some ways, I would almost prefer a downbeat movie like Traffic or El Norte which at least tries to deal seriously with the issues which still affect modern Mexico than yet another movie like 10 or the recent Heartbreak Kid remake which depict Mexicans as little more than background characters in their own country.

In any event, I recently watched two movies about Mexico: 1950’s Borderline and 1949’s The Big Steal.


Borderline was not quite forgettable but not really worth devoting a lot of time to. The film basically involves Claire Trevor going undercover to expose a big drug ring run by Raymond Burr, only to stumble across the path of a mysterious character (played by Fred MacMurray) who may or may not be on the same side. Along the way she sings a really awful Spanish song which serves as her way of establishing her credentials as a song-and-dance girl and gets wooed by one of Burr‘s assistants. MacMurray butts in, Burr gets wise, Trevor and MacMurray are forced to flee for their lives and the chase is on.

Along the way Trevor and MacMurray get a few good lines but nothing particularly memorable. None of the Mexican characters are depicted as being as evil as the American characters -- indeed, the film‘s absence of a conventional Latin villain is perhaps the best part of this flick. Then again none of the American characters are depicted as being as backward as a local Mexican lawman who shows up halfway through the picture. The guy is depicted as a well-meaning sort who nevertheless had the potential to prove a formidable adversary had his wife not been using as a clothesline the phone line with which he communicated with other Mexican lawmen. How truthful this depiction was, I do not know, but I doubt it was much appreciated by the local Mexican Chamber of Commerce.


1949’s The Big Steal is a big improvement on Borderline. As much as I liked MacMurray and Trevor, there is no denying that the pairing of Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum in this movie was truly inspired -- or at least as inspired as one can expect after seeing the same team-up in 1947’s Out of the Past. Indeed, The Big Steal seems very much a reverse version of Out of the Past.

Both viewed Mexico as a sanctuary for tourists fleeing the hecticness of American life and both films hint at disaster if certain characters were to make a premature return to the States. As most movie buffs know, Out of the Past ends on a more downbeat note than The Big Steal and is famous for being one of the more well-known examples of the film noir genre. The Big Steal is too upbeat to make for a good film noir and too full of car chases and gunshots to make for a good romantic comedy. And yet I found it just as memorable in its way as Out of the Past and even the presence of William Bendix as a very unlikely military officer did not change my mind about it.

Especially memorable in The Big Steal was Ramon Navarro’s performance as a local police Inspector General who used his poor English to disguise a cleverness that Columbo would envy. Navarro’s character might not always seem like he knew anything that was going on but he was a whole lot more smarter than any of the American characters ever realized and his commentary on the events that unfolded in this movie was often a joy to hear. If nothing else, I certainly found it refreshing to see a Mexican police officer in an American movie who never once fussed with telephone lines nor complained about not needing any stinking badges.

If only more Mexican policemen in Hollywood movies were like him. For that matter, I would not mind seeing more people like him in the real-life Mexico. But, alas, I fear that such an individual would not have a very long lifespan.

¡Qué lástima!

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The Unified Field Theory of Film Criticism and Other Myths

Anyone who has ever noted how often critics disagree with each other and how often today's critical turkey turns into tomorrow's critical masterpiece -- and vice versa -- cannot help but think that the average movie-goer would be a lot better off if he or she only uses a critic's work as a general guideline. If critic so-and-so likes a movie, he or she might like it too but then he or she might not. There is no Unified Field Theory of Film Criticism and yet people continually act as if there is one -- or more importantly, as if there should be one.

Indeed, sometimes I think the main distinction people make between the average film critic and the friend they have who sees a lot of movies is that most people are willing to let it slide if their friend inadvertently recommends a movie that they did not care for but if a critic recommends the same type of movie, it is just another reason why you cannot trust those damned critics.

To be fair, we live in a world where money is getting increasingly tight and where most movie-goers are even more determined than ever to get their money's worth. Most movies nowadays are not just competing for Joe's beer money (to steal a phrase from the late Robert A. Heinlein); they also seem to be competing for his bill money to boot.

It does not help that few critics either build or keep a substantial readership by saying "this movie was okay" or "this movie was nice" or "this movie was not what I hoped for." Instead, there is a temptation to hype everything as the "best movie since The Great Train Robbery" or "the funniest movie I ever saw" or "the worst experience I ever had in my life". And of course, most movies cannot be accurately described that way.

Anyway, most of the time people complain about critics being too opinionated, what they really mean is that the critics do not express opinions that they can agree with.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “I Will Wait for You”

I don't know if Connie Francis is the most appropriate artist for the first week of June and I know she has had more famous songs than this one. But this song is the one song by her that I love the best. I know it's a cover version but it's a good cover version and I love it every bit as much as I do the original. Even if it's not in French.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Quote of the Week

There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.
--Torvald Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

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Buscando Trabajo de Nuevo: Parte XI

The female friend who had lost her job last month has already found a new one. It does not pay as much as her last job but at least she is working.

I finally found out what went wrong with my tax refund this year and I should have it by the end of this month -- if I am lucky.

And I report to orientation for my new job next Monday so hopefully this should be the last installment in this series that I have to write for a long while.

Wish me luck.

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