Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Photo: The Dark Knight Rises poster, from its Wikipedia page.

One of the few movies I've ever considered going to the midnight screening for.  I didn't end up doing that, but I did see it at noon of the next day.  I've been waiting for this since the 500th time I saw The Dark Knight--and I listened to the CD soundtrack of The Dark Knight every day for almost two years.  I'm not kidding.  Still possibly the best musical score for a movie soundtrack ever made, and a true travesty that it wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award.  Anyway, the pacing, the music, the style, the flow, the panache of that film all made it great, so that you could easily look past the fact that when Batman saved Rachel Dawes from the Joker, the Joker was still with Dent and all his company--in Bruce Wayne's penthouse!

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited The Dark Knight Rises.  I went into the screening knowing that it couldn't possibly be as perfect as its predecessor--that kind of film comes along once in a director's career, and it did not happen again here.  TDKR started off slowly in of itself, but especially compared to the explosive beginning of TDK.  And where TDK didn't seem like a long film, because of the constant attack on the senses of the film, but it was long-ish, at two and a half hours.  TDKR was two hours and forty-five minutes, just fifteen minutes longer, but it seemed much longer than TDK.  And the MUCH slower pace doesn't help that overlong feeling.  It honestly drags in a couple of spots, mostly in the beginning.  (The second half's pace is much faster.)

Having said that, I don't want to sound like I didn't like TDKR.  I did, and a lot, especially the ending, which I believe made the whole film.  Whereas TDK was mostly about the Joker and the people of Gotham (the filmmakers said that Batman was the focus, but they were full of it; the Joker, and not just Ledger's performance, was the focus, as was the populace of Gotham itself), TDKR was fully about Batman.  Bane is given slight shrift; Catwoman is given even slighter notice, to the extent that you never really know anything about her character at all.  As it's Anne Hathaway looking eye-poppingly snazzy in the Catwoman outfit, and even more natural (and frankly awesome) on the Batcycle than Batman was, that's okay.  The slight background we're given makes the Catwoman outfit more understandable, if you know what I'm saying.

Nope, here it's all about Bruce Wayne (more him than Batman) and Alfred, too.  Speaking of Alfred, look for Michael Caine to get some consideration for Best Supporting Actor here.  His scenes are by far the most effective in the film, and his part of the ending makes everything just right.  In truth, the ending makes a good film into an almost-great film.  I won't give too much away, but the ending provides an obvious open-door for a sequel (Nolan couldn't close the door all the way, even if he is leaving the room for good) as the Bat signal gets fixed (i.e., Call me if you need me).  But the viewer also understands that any message sent to Batman may be long unanswered, if the call is returned at all.  The signal might go up, but Batman, not being Superman, might not see it from where he is at the end.  But, if so, that's okay; there's someone still in Gotham who'll pick up the phone.

More concerned about character and ending than about action, TDKR doesn't try to super-impress you with one awesome action scene after another as TDK did--though your eyes will pop when the Batcycle has to turn around; and there really aren't any surprises here, either, even with the "surprise" at the near-end that even a half-astute viewer would've seen coming from several miles away.  It's as if Christopher Nolan purposely tried to do something different; having impressed everyone with the mind-boggling pace and action in the second one, how could he better himself here?  He couldn't, and knew it, and probably wouldn't have wanted to, anyway.  If the first film was about how it all began, the last is about how it all should end.

It's very fitting, and very good.  What else were you hoping for?  As the last film of the trilogy, you wonder where someone else besides Nolan could go with it.  Nowhere, is my guess, despite the open door.  Maybe another re-boot, but I hope not.  If Nolan and Bale don't make a fourth one together (and both said they won't), I don't want another one made for a long while.

After all, what else is there to say?  This one concludes possibly the best film trilogy ever.  Only The Lord of the Rings comes close.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How I Almost Got Beaten by the Salvation Army Guy

photo: The Salvation Army shield, from its Wikipedia page

I had a successful yard sale this past Saturday.  I very impulsively decided to have one for many reasons psychological and emotional, but in the end it came down to needing more space in here.  I'm fortunate to live in an area that is inundated every weekend with yard sale fanatics, so all I have to do is post a few signs on the major roads that lead to the peninsula I live on, and then on the side streets to lead them to me.  I don't even have to advertise on Craig's List or anything.  A neighbor was coincidentally having one at the same time, so we told our customers to check the other sale out.  So a few interesting tidbits from this:

--If you're more interested in getting rid of the things, and less interested on making a huge profit, the best thing to do, from my experience, is to not put a price on anything (it's okay to price any huge, expensive items you might have)--but also don't let anything go for free.  If it's free, people will think it's junk.  If it's twenty-five cents, people think they're frugal and getting a bargain.  This is what I did, with most items selling for between $.25 and $2, and at the end I just had one SUV trip to the local Salvation Army store.  This was a unique experience in of itself, which I'll get into later.

--My friend was amazed at the things people bought.  He kept saying: "I would have just thrown that away."  But it's true: People will buy anything.  Never underestimate the hoarding tendencies of many people.

--If you have a yard sale, take down your damn signs.  They litter up the telephone poles and trees, look like an eyesore, and make wary yard sale customers drive aimlessly around a neighborhood that had a yard sale a week or two ago.  I can't tell you how many times I drive around following old, undated signs.

--Speaking of old, undated signs, do not make a sign that says: "Yard sale today."  When you're looking at it, "today" could mean any day, not just today.  Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if people took down their damn signs.

--And take down the nails you use, too.  I almost couldn't nail up my signs because there were so many nails on the poles already, my nails couldn't dig into the wood.  In fact, I told my friend that I wouldn't need any nails because I knew there would be so many there already.  I was pressed for time, so I didn't have the time to re-use all of the nails there, but I did re-use many of them.

--Someone's complete Community Service Hours could be spent taking down yard sale signs and removing nails from telephone poles.

--Speaking of that, awhile ago, when I volunteered for my local Historical Cemetery Association, the woman asked me how many community service hours I needed to do.  Apparently it's kinda creepy that I'm interested in re-finding my city's many lost historical cemeteries.  (I do have one re-find to my credit.)

--For the second time in a year, I decided very impulsively to have a yard sale the next morning, and it turned out very well.  Last year, I decided firmly at 2 a.m. to have one.  So I put up the signs by 8, for a 9-2 yard sale, and was still bringing out stuff from my garage when I got mobbed at 8:30.  I had to shoo people out of my garage; I even had to raise my voice at one lady.  When I had to put up another sign that fell down, someone watching the sale called and said that people were rifling through boxes in my garage.

--This year I had the signs up and I was back at 8:58 and kept everything in the garage until I got back, and still managed to bring most things out before people came.  But I forgot things in the attic, garage and washroom that I meant to put out, so it looks like I can combine that stuff, with even more stuff, and have another one this coming Saturday.  It's too late to reserve tickets for the newest Batman movie, anyway.  And who wants to see that with a ton of loud teenagers and mobs of other people?  I'll see it in a few weeks.

--Okay, so the surreal Salvation Army story.  My friend and I took my SUV full of my unsold yard sale things to the local Salvation Army, where I donated literally thousands of dollars of things last year.  Now, I know these guys have had a tough time, and I believe everyone deserves a second (and third, and fourth, and...) chance.  I've certainly needed several dozen.  And I've always had a good experience here.  These guys are usually very helpful, and normally sociable.  Sometimes they seem a bit morose and downtrodden, but that's expected of an ex-addict having a bad day.  (You should see me early in the morning when I haven't had my iced coffee.)  But this guy was just plain mean.  Not even rude.  Mean.  And he simmered with bitterness and anger.  His face was a bit pock-marked, round, and with scruffy facial hair that unfortunately made him look even more bothered.  So I back up the car and open the trunk door, and instantly the guy says, "We can't just take everyone's junk."  And he said it meanly, threateningly.  I was a bit taken aback, but I said that was fine.  How about I unload the car, and whatever he doesn't want, I just load back in?  He shrugs.  So I unload the car, and he says, "We won't take that," to many things, but with a bite of control.  Whatever.  No problem.  I wondered about a few things, like Christmas Tree tinsel, unused, still in the unopened box.  Nope.  "We won't take that."  Gruff.  Angry.  Fine.  I'm able to unload about 75% of the stuff I brought--first time it wasn't 100%--and I go into the store to fill out the form as my friend puts the other 25% of the stuff back in the car.  My friend told me later that they had this conversation:

Salvation Army guy: "You guys from around here?"
My friend: "My friend lives around here.  I spent some time here, but I grew up in Providence.  Now I live in Pawtucket."
Salvation Army guy: "I grew up here.  But I lost everything.  Now I have to live in Providence."

My friend tells me that he said this last part so angry and bitterly that my friend just shut up on a dime and put the stuff in the car.  So I return and the guy's just glaring at me.  I close the door and head to my side of the car when this woman approaches the guy and says she needs help unloading things.  He sort of glares at her.  She goes back to her car, a little gingerly, then walks back towards us with a box in her hands while her son backs up the car.  In her hands I see an Ionizer.  With zero intent whatsoever (Seriously.  I was in the midst of yet another sinus infection and my neighbor and I had spoken about our many infections the same day), I say to my friend, "I get around twelve sinus infections a year.  I should get one of those."  The woman immediately says to me, "Do you want it?  It's just been in storage for five years."  I'm flabbergasted.  I know the rule: Once it's on the property, it belongs to the Army.  As it should be: You can't have cars of people picking through things near the receptacles and just taking what they want for free.  And knowing how pissy this guy was already, I said, "I don't know.  I don't want to create any problems."  She said, "It's no problem.  I haven't brought it over there yet.  [We were about twenty feet from the receptacle at that point, and the thing was clearly in her hands.]  And I'm offering it to you.  I'd feel better knowing it's going to someone specific I know will use it."  (She says this like the thing had been her husband's, or someone, who had just died; she was emotional about it.)  I ask her if she's sure.  She says Yes.  As she's handing it to me, the guy twenty feet behind us bellows: "Once it's on the property, it's ours!  You can't take it!"  The thing's in my hands now as I look at the guy.  He is simmering with rage, and red in the face.  Before I can say anything, he said to the woman, "Did he take that from you?"  She said, "No.  I gave it to him.  It's fine; I want him to have it."  I felt terrible, and said to the guy, "Seriously.  She gave it to me.  I'm a good guy, really.  I wouldn't steal from the Salvation Army!"  I'm mortified and babbling at this point.

Now here's the worst part.  In the meanest voice I've ever heard (and I've heard many), and I mean the meanest--not sarcastic; not angry; not frustrated; but almost erupting with a flatlining monotone voice, I mean seething, like Tom's early male owner in the Tom & Jerry cartoons--this guy says to me: "Okay, you can take it.  You can take all your stuff back, too."  This is way out of control, so I put the thing on the ground near my stuff and say, "Hey, no problem.  Take it.  There's no problem here."

But the woman is so upset at the guy that she says to us: "Meet me over there in the Benny's parking lot," and picks the ionizer up off the ground, right in front of the guy (and maybe had a few words with him), as we drove away.  My friend's astonished.  So we park where she said, far away from the guy, and she gives it to me, after I asked her if she was sure she wanted to, and she said the thing was hers and she could give it to whoever she wants.

And that's how I almost got assaulted by an embittered Salvation Army guy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


photo: The Victorian Rocking Chair in question, taken by yours truly

A few random things rattling and echoing around the empty brain cave:

--In the 2010 movie The A-Team, Liam Neeson looks exactly like Carl Yastrzemski--tanned face, pronounced nose and chin, close-cropped grey hair, all of it.  They could be twins.

--After about a month of craziness, including a breaking vacuum head, snapping hoses, tubes that won't stay attached, a filter that didn't filter, a vacuum that didn't suction, and poolwater that had been left stagnant for three years to the extent that it was black, not green (and it was awesome when the tubes snapped and that three-year old stagnant, smelly, sticky, icky, foul water drenched me from head to toe)--after all that, the pool is just a ph test away from opening.  Don't even ask me about the number of man hours spent on it, or the number of nights I was vacuuming it until 11pm.

--And now to clean out the basement.  I'm not even going to get into the years of...stuff...I found behind stacks of wood and metal against the wall, but I will say that the so-called experts insisted that the problem would not die in the house after it ate the poison provided in several traps.  Are you sure? I asked them.  I think there's nests in here somewhere, and since you guys left the poison, there've been flies.  Nope, they said.  They just come in to snack and leave.  They'll snack on the poison and die outside.  So...uh...No.  Didn't happen.  Where's my power vac?  Ewwwwwwwwww...............

--At a yard sale recently, I spotted this old-looking rocking chair from about two houses away.  (I had to park a short distance from the yard sale.)  I went up to it, and, since I've always wanted an old rocking chair (and since there had been one in this house when I was younger, but now there isn't), I've been looking for one at a good price.  This one (I'll provide pictures.) has a leather seat, a leather headrest, and has been re-supported beneath the seat (you can't see it unless you turn it over).  The whole thing is very strong and very, very old but regal looking.  I sat on it before I decided I wanted to buy it.  She asked for $100.  I pointed out a couple of minor rips in the seat (which are actually no big deal; tiny drops of fabric glue will solve that problem), and the fact that the seat re-inforcement will decrease the value (it probably won't), and that one of the curved rocking pieces has been supported on the side, and that means that there's either a lack of support on that side, or that the other side will soon need strong re-inforcement (not likely), so she dropped the asking price to $85.  Then $80.  I asked for $60 and bought it for $65.  Immediately I took it to a woman I sometimes sell items to (I pick at yard sales and flea markets and then sell them for higher amounts to antique stores, consignment shops, or my own rare yard sales; purely for fun and part-time summer income), who owns her own vintage/antique store.  She said it was a (I've already forgotten the name) from the 1890s, most likely 1895, and it's worth at least $150 to $165, and she'd be interested in it if I ever wanted to sell it.  So I made a profit of $100, just like Mikey on American Pickers.  Not bad, and I'm sitting on it as I type this, and my laptop is on the 1890s library table I wrote about a long time ago.

--A guy I know just said that he had to give his ex-wife his 401k, and he said this with relief.  He explained that she could have taken half of his pension, too, but she didn't. Made me shudder in the summer heat.

--I'm just remembering now that The A-Team tv show was an odd combination of characters who were former armed forces professionals, but the show was aimed at young kids and younger teens, so they had to nix any and all violence.  So Mr T., George Peppard, et al. used to defeat the bad guys by shooting heads of lettuce and frozen vegetables and stuff at them.  Odd.  The cartoon violence of the movie might actually be more realistic by comparison.  Well, okay, maybe not.  Discuss.

--I'm happy that the bus monitor's harassers have made her rich (I'll support that irony anyday), but I'm not altogether sure she deserves over $650,000 for essentially not doing her job for the past ten, fifteen years.  I feel badly that she's been clearly (and perhaps clinically) depressed all these years, and the kids were obviously little monsters (and they got vilified because one of them thought their monstrosities were so cool that he posted it to his Facebook page, and then someone else thought it was so awesome that they downloaded his video and then put it on YouTube--all of which only reinforces my irony-fed happiness), but she was clearly not the right person for an important, safety-focused job, and the bus driver, school vice-principals and principal, and district all dropped the ball for a very long time here, as this situation had obviously been going on for many, many years.  I'm writing a treatment on this and hoping to sell it to a magazine's commentary section.  I'd better get it done soon, as it already may be old news.  And I'll write it better than I just wrote this.

--I get great sunset views from my westward windows and second-floor deck.  Cool, man.  You've gotta enjoy the little things.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Easy A

photo: Movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page.

A friend suggested I watch this movie, as it connects (in a slighter way than the filmmakers would have you believe) to The Scarlet Letter, which I'm currently re-reading.  I saw it last night on cable, really late at night because I couldn't sleep (so why DVR it like normal people?), and I have to say that it was a very entertaining, witty, funny and intelligent (by comparison to movies of its type, for its audience) movie.  I say this wholeheartedly, yet also with reservations.  This is because--

--The main character, Olive Penderghast (a very good, smart and sassy Emma Stone), is so insecure about her high school social status that she agrees to lie about having sex (which Roger Ebert, in his review, calls "blissful congress") with several unpopular (and, later, quasi-popular) boys at school, including those who are gay, hairy and overweight, and just overall sad and downtrodden.  This is icky in of itself, and severely implausible (especially to the movie's extent), but what makes this even more improbable is that Olive comes across as very, very, very smart, sassy, intelligent, and sure of herself, at least vocally.  These two opposing personality traits do not mesh in this movie.  A girl (or anyone) who acts so much to one extreme will not also act so much to the other extreme, often in the same minute.  Not unless she's in a facility, or on heavy doses of meds.  (It has to be said that the movie pulls this off very well and throws it away, but that's more because of Emma Stone's acting ability than it is the script.)

--Nobody's parents (a very good Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci--and this role is a change for him, though not of his ability, as he's always good) are this awesome, smart, sassy, funny and just overall cool.  Again, this movie gets away with this, but that's again because of the great acting of Clarkson, Tucci and Stone (this sounds like an expensive law firm), not because of the script.  The mom even hears all of the yuckiness at the end, and tells her daughter how much of a tramp she used to be, and spreads and lifts her legs like a Rockette to prove it.  They've adopted an African-American boy (whose job it is, apparently, to look befuddled) and they're also very verbally smart, sassy and funny.  I say this last because, again, it is not probable that such people would raise a daughter to be as insecure as Stone's character needs to be to do what she does. This script, as written, could've only been a sassy success, as it was, or a crash-and-burn.  The actors save it.

--The movie makes me feel old, as I was a teenager when Ferris Bueller, Say Anything, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and others came out.  There's a good line when Stone's character says she wishes her life had been directed by John Hughes (who didn't direct all of the films Easy A pays homage to, such as Can't Buy Me Love, the one where Patrick Dempsey drives off with The Girl on a lawnmower.  That movie, incidentally, is about a nerdy guy who pays a girl to "date" him to become more popular in high school.  There's no mention of sexy ickiness, as it's an innocent 80s film.)  Easy A pays homage to all of these, and really does take the coolest parts of all of them to showcase.  But, again, made me feel old.  That's bad.

--Nobody's sons and daughters are as sassy and smart as the movie ones, and nobody's English teacher is that cool, either.  I say this last with sadness.  Sad, but true.

--Lastly, the connection to The Scarlet Letter really isn't there, no matter how fervently the movie says it is.  Olive has not committed adultery, after all.  Maybe she could've stitched on a big, red S--but that's already been done, though in a much different context. A W or T would've been okay, I guess.  But I digress.  Hester bears her sin and shame stoically, which Olive admits, but says she could never do.  And Olive finally tells the truth at the end, while the crime in the book was known from page one.  The book was about how the community gradually admits its own sin, and accepts Hester--though Hester ultimately refuses to be accepted.  Olive comes clean at the end because she so desperately wants to be accepted again--very un-Hester.  Olive's community, it is very clear, would never have forgiven and accepted her, as it's the sin that makes her popular to begin with.  The American social strata would lovingly feed off that carcass for eternity.

Love that last sentence of mine.  So true.  But that's a blog entry for another day.  So if you haven't seen it yet, do so, because at the end it's very smart, sassy and funny.  Just don't overthink it like I just did.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Re-Claiming My House and Land

So now I bring your attention to  This is a website, also a little old and I don't know when it was last updated, about a guy who essentially is like the MacGyver we all want to be in, and around, our own homes.  He has gardens that could apparently feed a small army.  He makes awesome-looking wall shelves out of old desk parts--and these shelves have great-looking and handy drawers, too!  He uses types of paints I've never heard of, and he uses metal pieces to kill weeds in his gardens.  He makes his own honey and jams and things, and he only uses a stove to heat his house.  He sort of comes across as a survivalist, big-government hating kind of guy, but whatever--the point is that he knows how to really take care of his home and land.

Now, I'm never going to be this guy, and aspiring to be this guy is useless.  I'm just not that handy.  But after viewing his site, I decided that I needed to take control of my own home and land.  He has his son (maybe sons) and his wife to help him, and I don't, but I can still do some things.  And, believe me, some things need to be done.

So the first thing I wanted to tackle today, in the second straight day of 95+ degree heat, is clearing away this nice shed/patio area I have (basically it's a much smaller version of my house).  This thing has a large-ish storage shed, with electricity and plug outlets, no less, and a large sitting area that's completely in the shade, with blinds that I could maybe use, but that also may be a bit of an eyesore.  We'll have to see about those.

Anyway, I used to sit in this area and a) watch my father work very hard; b) watch gales or hurricanes; and c) drink a beer with my father after I'd exhausted myself sitting in the shade watching him work very hard.  When I bought this place after he died, I would sit in the same area, on comfortable chairs, and just kind of chill.  Which I don't do very often.  I guess I would also reminisce, and read a little, and enjoy the outside.  It's as country as I get.

But now I can't do that.  For some reason, I thought it would be wise to store large, and small, pieces of wood against the stone wall in the back.  This ended up taking more room than I thought it would, and I also now have to walk through the entire area, which is also full of other things, to get to this wood, which is now inconvenient, which defeats the whole purpose.  (Though the wood was kept dry over the winter, without having to cover it.)  For some reason, a mostly-hollow door also found its way to this porch area connected to the shed, and there's a grill there, and boxes and barrels of kindling and smaller pieces of wood and sticks, and some broom handles, and lots of plastic barrels, and...and beside this shed is another area of wood--a pallet that is now empty because I used up all the wood that was on it, and a box-spring from a neighbor that I have flipped over and stored more pieces of wood, of various shapes, sizes, and thickness.  (I have a little bit of a wood/fireplace/firepit problem.)  So now I can't get into the sitting area, and the land between this area and the fence is crowded with a pallet and a box-spring of wood.  And, oh yeah, I also have a very old glider, with no cushions (though the thing still works very well, I think, but I wouldn't ever sit on it again), that has some very old wood on it--wood that goes back to when my father was still alive, when he would pile his wood on that.  (My father would jury-rig things like that all the time.)

That whole part of my backyard, in short, is a mess.  And I also have wood stacked haphazardly on the other side of the fence, on my side-yard.

Now this is obviously a multi-day, perhaps multi-week task.  What to do first?

Well, here's where I impressed myself with my slight MacGyver-ism.  I took this door, and I quickly but carefully tore off all the cheap, weak plywood, or whatever it is, and I broke that up into little pieces to use for the firepit.  (I told you, I have a firepit, firewood problem.)  I also took off most of the round cardboard thingies on the inside, and I threw that into the same barrel for the same purpose.  These will make good kindling.  (The barrel is weakening on the bottom, so I'm not using one of the good ones for this.  And it's just for storage, so I'm not worrying too much about moving the thing and having the bottom fall out on me.)  Then I noticed that some of the nails I took out to do this were really good, long, strong nails.  So I took these, and I hammered them into the wooden boards of the lower walkway in the backyard, as these pieces were coming loose because the wood had warped, or the screws and nails in it already had given way (Yes, screws and nails; as I mentioned, my father would jury-rig things--but they always worked when he did!), or whatever.

So the point here is that by tearing up this door, I a) re-used the plywood, or the wood panel, or whatever, and the round cardboard thingies for the firepit, so there was no waste or more junk for the landfill; b) I re-used the nails as needed for my wooden walkway; and c) I'm going to re-use the solid, good pieces of wood of the door for other projects around the land, as the wood is still good; and d) I'll re-use the wood I can't use for other projects by burning it in the firepit or fireplace.  And I cleared some much-needed space off the shed patio, so I can sit and reminisce again about how I used to exhaust myself watching my father work very hard!

And now there's only a dozen more hours of work to do there before I can really relax there again, as opposed to the fourteen or fifteen total hours that there had been.  I also spent some time in the sun--with constant breaks for water and central air; we're not stupid here.  Well, not all the time--and I exercised, got a tan (or a slight burn?), and enjoyed working on my own land to try and re-claim it.

Not the Deliberate Agrarian, maybe, but not bad--for me.  And I will put a garden around here, too.