Tuesday, December 28, 2010

5 One-Off Lines That Make Movies Better

One of the things that can drag even a good movie down is bad dialogue, especially among secondary characters.  No amount of set design, plot intricacies, or stunning leading performances can escape untarnished from a terrible delivery of one line that is clearly just filler.  That stuff lingers with the viewer (or at least with me).  Sure, sometimes you can get around the problem by eliminating dialogue altogether, but most films have a need for more than one character who is not a mute volleyball.
However, occasionally you get one-off lines of dialogue that, while not directly affecting the overall story arc, are nevertheless priceless bits of movie magic.  Often they end up being the quotes you throw around with your friends.  Sometimes they’re just a nice pick-me-up or change of tone.  And sometimes they cross into the sublime and actually elevate the movie to something it might not have been. 

Following are five examples of this phenomenon that I think best describe it.  I wanted to embed audio or video clips of each line, but due to licensing agreements, apparent Blogger deficiencies, and my own technical incompetence, I can't.  If you've seen the movies referenced then you may recognize the lines.  If you haven't seen them in a while, try watching again and keep your ears open.
1.  “Eat it, Harvey!”  (Richard Thornberg, Die Hard)
Journalism in action, ca 1988.
This, to me, is the quintessential example of what I’m referring to.  On the surface, this line has nothing, nothing to do with John McClain, the Nakatomi Towers, the terrorists, or anything related to the plot in any way.  And yet when slimy reporter Richard Thornberg hurls this outburst at the L.A. news anchor, in the middle of his passionate request to take a mobile unit to the site of what he suspects is the news story of the year, it is a window into their relationship.  These men hate each other, that much is obvious from the lines exchanged, but there’s more right there under the surface.  See how Harvey invites the insult with a passive-aggressive jibing of an apparently under-achieving colleague.  Check the look on Thornberg’s face as he delivers the line, the simple “I am just so tired of your shit” look.  And this tiny moment hints at a back story for him that shines a light on why he would stoop to the levels he eventually reaches in the film’s last act.  He should be sitting in that anchor’s chair, and he can get it with a big enough scoop.  And he doesn’t care how many journalism ethics codes he has to violate to get one.
2.  “My name is Ranger John Johnson, but everyone here calls me Vicki.”  (Ranger John Johnson, So I Married an Axe Murderer)

"Now here's something the other tour guides won't tell you..."
Okay, this movie isn’t the greatest thing put to film.  It’s probably not even the greatest thing Mike Myers has put to film (that would probably be Austin Powers if you’re talking about funny, or the Shrek franchise if you’re talking about money).  But other than Myers’ Scottish cartoon character of a father, the character I love the most is Phil Hartman’s Alcatraz tour guide.  His menacing tone and heavy glower assure the tour group, and the viewer, that he absolutely will not tolerate any crap from any of us, his flinty eyes reflecting the hundreds of nightstick beatings he’s surely handed out.  Then he requests that we call him “Vicki.”  It takes a scene that would be a lazy bit of exposition, and a “hey, the movie is set in San Francisco so we should shoot lots of well-known landmarks” bit of drudgery, and immediately makes it a gleeful walk through the world’s most famous prison.  This way to the cafeteria!
3.  “Most things in here don’t react too well to bullets.”  (Captain Marko Ramius, The Hunt for Red October)
Also:  "Shuck it, Trebek!"
If this little gem were uttered by any person other than Sean Connery, it would sound hackneyed and vapid.  “No shit nuclear missiles don’t like being shot at!” would be my instant reaction, and probably yours.  Connery being who he is, though, it totally works.  Whether it’s the deadpan, world-weary delivery, or the simple fact that the last word is pronounced “boolletsh,” the line somehow makes the subsequent scene that much more tense and high-stakes.  I was actually tempted to go with Alec Baldwin’s repetition of the line later in the scene (in a near-perfect Connery impression, no less!) but decided that the original is really what elevates the scene. 
Honorable Mention:  “Would you mind not firing…at the thermo…nuclear…weapons.” (John Travolta, Broken Arrow)
Terrible movie, but fantastic villain.  I still whistle his theme song from time to time when I want to annoy my wife.
4.  “That about sums it up for me.”  (Ralph, Groundhog Day)

This is seriously the best picture the internet has to offer to illustrate this scene.  Seriously, Internet?  After all we've been through together?
Is there a more quotable film than Groundhog Day?  Hell, you get multiple chances to hear half the greatest lines, and they’re delivered by some of the greatest comic character actors ever.  This one is literally a toss-off:  sitting at the bowling alley bar with Ralph and Gus (who wishes he’d stayed in the Navy), Phil has finally determined that he’s stuck in some sort of loop, and that maybe he can’t ever get out.  So he muses that maybe nothing you’ll ever do matters, and Ralph’s reply, delivered with the resignation of career small-towner, perfectly captures the tone of the situation Phil has found himself in.  There really is no escaping Punxsutawney in winter, so why not get drunk at the bowling alley?
5.  “Hey, that’s good advice!”  (Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own)

Dugan, pictured here avoiding the clap.
Tom Hanks brought the character of washed-up major leaguer Dugan to life.  The lines everyone remembers about no crying in baseball and girls not being ballplayers are justifiably awesome, but they don’t qualify for this list because they are a metaphor for the key theme of the film:  the acceptance of women’s ability to compete in a heretofore men’s-only club.  This line, accompanying his autographed admonition to beware of venereal disease, is not only the last big laugh of the movie.  It also short-circuits the tempting cliché of making Dugan’s character now a progressive feminist or something.  He’s still the crass, foul-mouthed bastard he was at the beginning of the film…he just now accepts that girls aren’t just what you sleep with after the game.  But if you do so, it is still good advice.  No arguing with common sense.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Microfiction 12/12/10 "Preparation"

I think I've found a muse with this character.  One of my personal goals when I started writing micros was to generate story seeds for longer fiction, maybe a piece of bigger flash fiction or a regulation-length short story.  Or, dare I say, a novel someday.  I'm actually very proud of this particular story, the basis of which came to me while listening to a song by Goth-rock band Within Temptation (and there you have a small glimpse into my creative process...)  I see a lot of potential for the character, and I've already sketched out several more story arcs.  Now all she needs is a name...

Preparation  (Jon King)

Ha-Ha, Next Day or Two...

In what should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this space, I've gone a week without posting a word, again.  And after I promised you new content within the next day.  The nerve of that guy!

Anyway, I've settled on a new blog design scheme.  Or rather, I've decided to not settle on a single one.  I like the general layout, which I'll keep, but I've got the flexibility to change the background image to whatever suits the current world outlook, or my mood.  If you're anywhere in the Midwest today, you'll find my current background very appropriate, no?

More to come.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Design...What Do You Think?

I've grown tired of the existing design for the blog, so I'm rolling out something new.  When I started writing this thing, it was sort of a "well, whatever pops up first is okay" decision to run with the bookshelves in the background, but now I notice that lots of other blogs, especially in the book review community, have very similar designs, and I should at least TRY to stand out.  So naturally I've gone with something more plain-looking...go figure.

Anyway, I'd like some feedback if you want to take two minutes and leave a comment.  Should I continue with this sleeker design?  Should I go back to the bookshelves?  Should I take some time and truly customize something, and if so, what sort of images, as my loyal and elite readership, do you feel best represent the spirit of the blog?

I eagerly awate your responses.  BTW, expect more content going up in the next day or two, probably more short fiction.  Thanks!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

6 Inescapable Christmas Songs That Make Me Happy

At the risk of sounding like an old man, it seems like holiday music starts leaking out of the radio earlier and earlier every year.  A local Christian station started playing 24-hour Christmas tunes on November 1st--I guess you wouldn't want to sully them with Halloween or anything.  By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, at least 1/3 of the FM band will be devoted to traditional holiday classics, and contemporary abominations (I'm looking at you, Mariah Carey).  And at least once a day, I will be ambushed with that damn "Hippopotamus for Christmas" song, which will then be in my head until a better alternative arrives (as it now is in yours...you're welcome).

But fear not, for there are safe zones in the wilderness.  These are the songs that invariably arrive every December that I can listen to again and again, and none of them will drive me to do something that will get me in the papers tomorrow.

The Carpenters,  "Sleigh Ride"

Hands-down my favorite version of my favorite Christmas carol.  It's ironically tragic that some of the most heart-warming and time-tested holiday songs were performed by such a troubled figure in Karen Carpenter.  Those husky vocals never fail to make me crave coffee and pumpkin pie (their version of "Home For the Holidays" also makes me want home-made pumpkin pie, in Pennsylvania no less).  

The Muppets,  "12 Days of Christmas"

BAH-DOM-bom-bom!  John Denver and the Muppets...it's like Rogers and Astair, Lewis and Martin, Farley and Spade, Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  I'm pretty sure that this is the version that actually taught me the song as a child, though it was a little embarrassing when I realized that one verse isn't actually just "ME-ME ME-ME ME-ME!" a-la Beaker.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie,  "Little Drummer Boy"

If there are two more different people performing a song together, I'm having a hard time coming up with it (well, maybe Elton John and Eminem, but that wasn't a Christmas song...).  But it totally works--Bing, old school baritone, Bowie, vaguely androginous tenor, and just perfect harmony.  This one is my wife's personal favorite, I think at least partly because it reminds her of the time she snuck out of the house to travel across the state to see Bowie play with Nine Inch Nails when she was in high school--and grounded.  Sorry honey, secret's out.

Paul McCartney,  "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time"

I'm a rather well-known Beatle-disliker (I'm probably the only person on Earth who likes McCartney with Wings better than with the other Liverpudlians).  But there's just something about that opening synthesizer that hooks my attention every time.  Though if you play this song too many times in a row, I think a large part of the world loses all meaning.  (Ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong-dong-dong-dong...)

Trans-Siberian Orchestra,  "Wizards in Winter"

If you've never seen TSO in concert, do so.  Like, tomorrow.  But until then, the video clip above will hold you over.  Christmas lights synced to this song is actually a pretty popular trend lately, since the Miller commercial last year featured it (incidentally on a house a few miles from my own...fun fact).  I wavered between this one and the always powerful "Sarajevo 12/24" but went with "Wizards" because it's more rarely heard in the wild.  Rock on, Kringle.

Vince Guaraldi,  "Christmas Time is Here"

I'd like to finish with the quintessential "watching evening snow" melody.  The Charlie Brown specials have lost a little bit of luster for me personally as I've gotten older, but when you have kids you rediscover the things that you always truly loved about them.  Vince Guaraldi's soft jazz is one of those things, and is always a comfort to troubled souls.  Enjoy...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Microfiction 11/28/10 "Reunion"

After an eternity, I've finally gone back to writing extremely short fiction (when stories are 100 words long, then a month is an eternity).  As with the other features I've been deformalizing the last few weeks, I'll be posting them somewhat randomly, rather than enslaving myself to Monday. 

I'm also going to try some longer form fiction from time to time.  Basically anything in the 1000-1500 word range can be posted all at once...if it's longer I'll probably break it up serially.  You know, to keep you coming back.

Reunion (Jon King)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review of "Dead Forever: Awakening"

Immortality is a well-worn theme in fantasy and sci-fi.  It’s in a neck-and-neck tie with “world domination” as the most popular goal for villains in all sorts of stories, driving the ambitions of everyone from Voldemort to Emperor Palpatine.  It is also in heavy rotation currently with the numberless volumes that have been written on vampires, zombies, and other monstrous denizens traditionally associated with everlasting life.  In these examples immortality is ultimately given a negative connotation, with nearly every story becoming a warning about the dangers and pitfalls of living long past your allotted time.  
William Campbell’s Dead Forever novel series takes a different approach.  Campbell seeks to utilize the concept of everlasting physical life—and the knowledge associated with it—as a way to deepen the intrigue and raise the stakes in a battle between individual freedoms and hegemonic domination.  The first novel in the series, Awakening, mostly succeeds in this goal, but is hampered by a somewhat sluggish plot arc and character dialogue that could have used some refinement.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eat This! Pumpkin Soup With Sage and Bacon

Autumn is the traditional harvest time, when mankind celebrates its evolutionary domination of nature, particularly large semi-flightless birds and various species of gourd.  I'm doing my part with this easy and versatile pumpkin soup recipe.  Really, any winter squash would work here (it's very good with butternut as well).  And don't use the big Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin, use the little thick-walled kind your kid gets for free at cheap hay rides and pumpkin patches.  A 2-3 lb gourd before peeling and seeding works just fine.  A spectacular variation includes adding a chipotle chile pepper (canned, in adobo sauce) with the onions, and topping the finished product with sour cream.

Pumpkin Soup with Sage and Bacon

2-3 cups fresh pumpkin, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 slices thick-cut bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2-3 large carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 fresh sage leaves, sliced (or 1 tsp dry rubbed)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer low-sodium)
1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Start by chopping the bacon into smallish bits.  Render in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat about 5-10 minutes, or until crispy.  Remove the bacon to a paper towel, but leave the drippings in the pot (this is seriously the ONLY fat in the entire recipe--it needs to stay).  Add the onion, carrots, and celery (or for you foodies out there, the mirepoix) and the herbs to the pot with a pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until the onions just start to brown around the edges. 

While the vegetables are cooking you can seed, peel and chop the pumpkin.  A decent potato peeler will take off the inedible rind, and you can use a spoon to scoop the guts (just like Jack).  When the vegetables are browned a bit, deglaze the pot with the wine, let it cook off for about a minute, then add the pumpkin and broth.  Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered 20-30 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.  Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to puree in the pot, or puree in batches in a blender.  Stir in the half and half (I like to do this with the stick blender to emulsify the half and half into the soup), and salt and pepper to taste. 

Sprinkle reserved bacon over top of each bowl, and serve with crusty bread and a salad for a light but satisfying meal.  If you're feeling fancy (as I clearly was above), garnish with sage leaves.

Makes 6 servings (1 1/2 cups each)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Week in Terrible Ideas: The Rubik's Cube Movie

Wait, what's this movie about...?
Proving, yet again, that Hollywood will never, ever make an original movie again without serious government pressure, The AV Club reports that Creative Arts Industries (an honest-to-god, reputable agency that represents such real talent as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Brad Pitt) has taken on the geometric nightmare puzzle from the 1980's as a client.  The agency is currently in talks with several producers to generate narrative ideas and gauge interest in a Rubik-centered film project--interest which appears, tangentially at least, to be depressingly high.

Early screenplay ideas seem to revolve around a Rubik's Cube competition of some sort, a la The Wizard, only less Fred Savage-y.  There are already lots of smartass alternate ideas being tossed out in the blogosphere, but I'll add my two cents:  the story of a serial killer who leaves a different colored block on each victim, and it's up to mathematical genius detective Denzel Washington and his attractive, loose cannon female partner to find him before the puzzle is complete.  Wait, I feel like this movie has been made before...crap.  Maybe add a train somewhere--Denzel's up for that lately.

By the way, this is far from the first nostalgic game to be dragged out of that musty box in the basement for an attempt at a quick and forgettable Hollywood paycheck.  Battleship, Monopoly, Candy Land--no family-time staple has been left unsullied.  It's really just a matter of time and waning public interest in Transformers sequels before we get "Rock, Paper, Scissors:  The Movie."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kids' Shows That Don't Suck

Having kids puts a damper on your entertainment lifestyle.  There was once a time you could come home on any given weeknight with a pizza and a couple of movies filled with profanity and violence, and not give it a second thought.  Heck, even babies don't put too much of a crimp in this.  I fondly remember picking up my infant son (forthwith to be referred to as "The Boy") from daycare, coming home and feeding him while watching Fight Club...ah, memories.

But eventually a child reaches the age of discerning TV viewership.  Also, they start to repeat bad words.  So the television becomes, before bedtime at least, the realm of the children.  This can be extremely distressing, especially when Dora and that damned monkey start repeating everything three times, then again in Spanish!  However, there are options out there that kids love, and I daresay an adult could watch...even without kids around.  Not that I do...

Spongebob Squarepants
This cartoon has, I think, officially reached "classic" status.  I knew people in college who swore by it, but I never watched.  Oh, how I'm saddened by my 20-year-old self's ignorance.  In fact, a good case can be made that this show isn't for kids at all, but there aren't very many kids who don't know the entire theme song, The Boy included.  The verisimilitude of the show is occasionally, um, lacking (how can Spongebob cook crabby patties on a flat top grill...under water?  It's madness!) but that's hardly a reason not to watch.  Personally, I'm waiting for the spin off featuring Mr. Krabs and Plankton running a themed restaurant together, Odd Couple style, perhaps as some sort of court-ordered punishment (note to Nickelodeon--make this happen).

I would also accept a one-man variety show featuring only Gary the snail.

Curious George
This show forms one of the anchors of PBS's educational cartoon block in the afternoons and super-early Saturday morning (<stage whisper at 6:00 AM> "Daaaad....Daaaad!  Can you help me with the remote?").  This particular iteration of H.A. Rey's beloved characters is geared toward teaching kids math and science concepts, which it does to a reasonable degree, but the writing is actually very clever and entertaining.  The man with the yellow hat (who remains nameless in this show as in the books) is the straight man to George's simian shenanigans, and is a very relatable figure for all those dads out there who could be classified as "lovable bumblers."  Though they still dance around the fact that a grown man with the scratch to afford a two-bedroom high-rise apartment with a doorman in Manhattan seems to feel more comfortable living with a monkey than a woman.

Nothing to see here.  Move along...
 The Penguins of Madagascar
In my opinion (which is really the only one that matters on this particular corner of the internet), Madagascar sucked.  Maybe it's my latent dislike of David Schwimmer--he should never have gotten Rachel in the end, she should've gone to Paris--or that I just don't believe in Dreamworks the way I believe in Pixar, but I can't stand that movie.  Except for the penguins.  From the Shatneresque Skipper to the ridiculously good-hearted Private, this crew screamed for its own show.  The plots aren't earth-shattering in their originality, but the screwball interaction of the members of the team and their lemur next-door neighbors at the zoo make the show eminently watchable.

Kind of like those lovable marching waterfowl from a few years ago, but without Morgan Freeman's voice.

The Clone Wars
I'll come right out and say it:  George Lucas is an asshole.  He gave my childhood a good kick in the pills with the "remastered" original trilogy that was re-released in the late nineties.  Apparently, "remastered" means adding a snazzy CGI song-and-dance number, at least for Return of the Jedi.  Then between Jar-Jar Binks and Hayen F-ing Christensen, the prequels took the virgin canonical territory of the Clone Wars and turned it into a series of extremely expensive toy commercials.  But an awful lot of that was redeemed when Cartoon Network picked up The Clone Wars.  The animation is interesting and edgy, with 3D CGI that doesn't strive for so much realism that human characters fall into the uncanny valley (think Tom Hanks' cold, dead eyes in The Polar Express), and the drama is arguably more palpable and real than anything in the prequels.  Kids dig it because of R2-D2 and lightsabers, adults can watch it and actually immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe again without feeling a vaguely awkward anger.

Even animated Samuel L. Jackson is a badass.

Any Holiday "Special"
OK, these aren't truly very "special" anymore, since you can have any one of them on DVD to watch in July if you want.  But in our house, Frosty goes away with the Christmas decorations, and The Great Pumpkin gets cleared from the DVR exactly one week after Halloween, so the sense of nostalgia that we all feel when watching won't diminish.  Although, it is very apparent that most of these shows were made in the 1960's--what the hell were these people smoking?  Have you ever really watched Rudolph?  The Island of Misfit Toys will haunt my dreams forever...

Pictured:  A creeping sense of dread...
And don't get me started on Frosty Returns:  John Goodman Ruins Christmas For Everyone.  Still, there's something really warm and fuzzy about watching a holiday special you've seen at least 25 times in your life with your kid, and seeing what he laughs at.  Then it becomes fresh again.  But The Little Drummer Boy will always, always be creepy.

So, if you find yourself owing your kids some TV time but still want spend "quality time" with them, keep these in mind.  Otherwise you'll be singing "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the MAAAAAAPPPP!" all through the following work day.  Doesn't play well on conference calls.  Avoid if possible.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Microfiction 10/25/10

Microfiction (on this site, anyway) is a short story, exactly 100 words.  Check back every Monday.

This installment should help you enjoy working late the week before Halloween.

After Hours  (Jon King)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: Guardian of the Mountain (David Dalglish)

It's been a little while since my last book review, mostly because I read at a snail's pace when I don't have a vacation in the offing.  But we're back with an indie author that I think everyone should give a try.  A quick note on grading:  I've shifted to a 5 star rating system, since that translates better to other review venues I find myself frequenting.  Also, I think I'm going to abandon any pretense of posting one of these every week on Wednesday...so these will go up as I get them written.

So, without further adieu...

Greed is a powerful motivator.  More powerful than fear, even...

This is the first book by David Dalglish that I've read, but I can assure you it will not be the last.  At only around 30 pages, Guardian of the Mountain is really more of a novella (or maybe novelette?  Pick your descriptor), but it's the perfect size to give the reader a taste of Dezrel, the fantasy world of Dalglish's "Half-Orc" novel series.  This story functions as sort of a prequel of sorts, filling in back story for at least one character in that series.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Monday Microfiction 10/18/10

Sorry about the week's hiatus...Muse tickets last week.  But hey, this one's actually a day early!

For newbies, microfiction is a form of extremely short story, in this case defined as exactly 100 words (not counting title).  I try to post one every week, and I'm always open to submissions from readers who might want to try their hand.  Enjoy!

"Fair Trade"  (Jon King)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Community" Recap, Episode 2.4

It's been a while since I've recapped a Community, but I think we can jump right back in.  Actually, I had planned on writing up something for last week's, but after watching it, I was so disappointed I couldn't bring myself to do it.  That whole thing with Pierce's dead mother and the examination of mortality--deepish, maybe, but not funny.  It was actually a good reminder of just how young the show still is, really, and in some ways still finding its rhythm.  But after a very solid season premiere and then a very good second episode (Pop-and-Locktoberfest!  Word, ja?), it was disheartening.

And now, Community goes and does something like this week's episode...and totally redeems itself. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Movies to See This Fall (According to Me)

Ah, fall.  A time of reflection--the evening of the year.  When colorful memories of summer vacations and backyard barbecues begin to fade and drift away like the leaves.  If one listens carefully, one can hear the whisper of winter in the air, and, ever so faintly, the shrug and sigh of a nation of Notre Dame fans accepting the inevitable once again.  The cycle is timeless, and ongoing.  Much like the Saw franchise, which will give birth to yet another shrieking catastrophe in theatres this year (this time in 3D!), fulfilling its own fall tradition of unthinking mediocrity.

But autumn is far from being a barren wasteland for movie fans, of both the effete, art house variety or the Joe Popcorn Bucket looking for middle-brow laughs and expensive melodrama.  Fall is the time for studios to roll out their last-minute Oscar contenders, so their big name ACK-tohrs and period dramas will be fresh in the Academy voters' memories.  In the more mainstream make-a-buck realm of movies, the fall season is the time to release those movies that would not have nabbed enough box office against major summer blockbusters to cover modest but not insubstantial budgets.  And then of course are the latest incarnation of old-concept horror movies released in time for Halloween, which mostly have become vehicles for torture porn gore and as an excuse to pay attention to new starlets in their pre-Lindsey days.

Following is a list of the movies I plan on making an effort to see this fall.  Some are already in a multiplex near you, some won't be out until closer to Christmas. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Even the Credits for "The Walking Dead" Look Awesome

Well, fan-made credits, anyway.  Danial Kanemoto's 51-second sequence here is by far the coolest piece of marketing for the show I've seen yet.  The animation is borrowed from the original comic book series on which the show is based, backed by the Eels' "Fresh Blood."  I hope, hope, hope AMC picks this up (or some variant) for the regular credits. 

THE WALKING DEAD "Opening Titles" from Daniel Kanemoto on Vimeo.

And I realize I've mentioned this show perhaps a disproportionate number of times, so sue me.  But it would be an excellent opportunity for a sponsorship...are you listening AMC?  Just think, literally DOZENS of people could see promotional material for all your fine quality programming...

"The Walking Dead" premieres October 31st on AMC.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Microfiction 10/4/10

A brand new microfiction.   Exactly 100 words of story for you to chew on.

"I Know"  (Jon King), 10/4/10

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Check Out "Zombiepalooza" This October!

Hi everyone, sorry I haven't posted anything fresh since Wednesday...paying work sometimes gets in the way of this fly-by-night operation.  And, well, I don't really have anything new right now, either, if you want the truth.  But I can offer you a nice alternative. 

Amanda Hocking is an independent novelist who writes predominantly paranormal fiction (if you're unfamiliar with the genre, think Twilight, I guess, only Amanda's writing is actually good).  She writes a blog called My Blood Approves, and she's declared the entire month of October to be Zombiepalooza--in her words, "a celebration to recognize the societal contributions of zombies."  Every day this month, she'll feature a guest blog post, short story, or free stuff giveaway devoted to the shuffling undead.  And, if I may say so, I'll be writing a guest column on the 26th.  I don't want to give too much away, but readers will then have clear access to my deepest thoughts on the cultural value of that greatest of masterpieces, Shaun of the Dead...and I say "greatest of" with no hint of irony.

So while you're waiting on me to finish with the day job nonsense and get back to posting random mutterings on the internet, check out Zombiepalooza, and get ready for Halloween!


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Book Review: Shoeless Joe (W.P. Kinsella)

Baseball fans are dreamers. Not baseball players, mind. I’ve known a few of them, and while they’re superstitious as the day is long, they are at their core a fairly practical species. No, I’m talking about us baseball fans. The rhythm of a baseball game, either on television or sitting at the ballpark in the hot July sun on a Sunday afternoon, beer in hand, allows a lot of time for contemplation. Baseball, with an unbroken history longer than any other sport in America, is layered with traditions and collective wisdom bordering on mysticism. A dreamer’s fertile field.

Shoeless Joe is a novel for dreamers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Now You Can Get Email Feeds!

After a certain amount of tinkering, I've managed to install a new way to get content from this dog and pony show.  If you click the link at the upper right, supply a valid email address, and enter one of those ridiculous secret words, and you can receive email alerts when I update the blog.  You'll get a confirmation email with a link to verify that you are in fact who you say you are (if "you" is in fact your real name...)  It's run through FeedBurner, and I promise it will not send you spam, just a daily email summarizing the activity on the blog.  If nothing's been posted, no annoying empty email, either.

Being the engineer I am, I tested it before rolling it out to an unsuspecting public, and it seems to work pretty seamlessly.  Any experienced bloggers out there are probably chuckling at this, but I'm still getting the hang of this, so keep your eye rolls to a minimum, please.

I'd like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who's been reading this space regularly (especially that person in Canada--I don't know who you are, but I know you're a regular, and I gotta tell you it's cool to see international stats).  I've been at this just over a month now, and I've found it to be very cathartic to allow some of the stuff rattling around in my head loose on the world.  I think I might just continue, as long as you're all willing to stay on board!


--PS:  I looked up "cathartic" to make sure that was the word I really wanted to use, and one of the alternate definitions pertained to "evacuating the bowels."  After some deliberation, I decided that was exactly the word I wanted to use there.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Microfiction 9/27/10

For the uninitiated, microfiction = short story, exactly 100 words.  This is a weekly feature.  Enjoy.
"The Alley"  (Jon King), 9/27/10

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Get Updates of JLOS Using an RSS Feed

A few people have asked me if there is an easy way to know when I add new content to the blog.  So far my primary means of syndication have been shares to Facebook which, considering I'm not a constant status-changer, means that is about all you see on my FB page any given day.  This can understandably get a little annoying. 

An easy way to find out when I post new stuff is to set up an RSS feed using your browser.  Just copy the following URL into your browser address line (or, you know, click it right now):


Depending on your browser of choice, you'll get a page with a link asking if you want to subscribe.  Click it, and you're there.  Best of all you can have it add a button to your favorites bar, which will show up bold when new content is present.

There are other RSS readers out there that I'm not as familiar with, but I think they can be set up to send you an email when it finds new content.  If anyone has luck with that, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!

New Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Trailer

The second official trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Pt 1) was released a few days ago.  If you haven't already seen it, check it out below.  I'm glad the final chapter(s) look good, because on the whole, I've been a bit underwhelmed with the movie versions of J.K. Rowlings' books, apart from some absolutely magnificent casting choices.  Alan Rickman as Snape (Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves) and Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) as Lucious Malfoy can only be described as perfect, and even though you can barely tell it's him through the makeup, Ralph Fiennes gives Voldemort the creepy heft the character deserves. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Community Recap, Episode 2.1 "Anthropology 101"

Yay!  Community’s back!  I’m not going to try and be objective and journalism-y here--why the hell would I?  It’s my blog…it’s not like I have an editor to please.  In my opinion this show was the best new comedy last year, narrowly edging out Modern Family, and soundly beating most everything else that debuted in the sitcom genre.  Tonight’s premiere was, well, a premiere.  Season premieres are often dragged a bit by exposition and general refreshening exercises to bring us all back up to speed (see there?  I just made up a word, and nobody’s telling me I can’t…), and the episode’s impact on the whole sometimes suffers for it.  Anyway, this should go without saying, but if you haven’t yet seen the episode, SPOILERS FOLLOW.  Consider yourself warned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Microfiction 9/20/10

For the uninitiated, microfiction = short story, exactly 100 words.  This is a weekly feature.  Enjoy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arsenal Fandom Update: 20,000 Leagues to Play In

If you remember, a few weeks ago I officially pledged my support of Arsenal FC in the English Premiere League.  Not that this was a momentous occasion for everyone, but I view it as a perfect opportunity to learn about the essence of what it means to be a sports fan.  It's also a chance to immerse myself in a world that until now was completely foreign to me, in the literal sense.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I'm Watching Fall 2010

Expect this list to change as the season goes on.  TV shows, and new TV shows in particular, tend to have insecure lives.  The TV business is fickle and flighty, and if network executives aren't happy with ad revenue or ratings, a new show can get the axe pretty quick.  The last decade of television has seen dozens, if not hundreds, of network TV series' cancelled before their initial story arcs were even begun, much less allowed to play out (Heather Graham had a series last precisely one episode a few years ago).  That doesn't count the piles of shows that have pilot episodes written, cast, and shot, only to be tossed to the death pile at NBC, ABC, or CBS (not Fox--they'll put any drivel on the air).  I guess what I'm saying is, this might not be what I'm watching in a month.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)

This review is probably not going to be much of a "scoop," really.  This is possibly the most talked-about book since The Da Vinci Code, and for none of the "inflamed conservative opinion" reasons, either.  If you follow popular literature at all, you're aware of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  If you follow movies and popular movie stars at all, you're aware of it.  If you only listen to NPR and consume no other media at all, you're REALLY aware of this book.  It's been kept pretty solidly in the news recently by the U.S. release of the third and possibly final chapter in the Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. There is also a sense of fascination concerning the circumstances of its publishing.  Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson wrote three manuscripts (Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and Hornet's Nest), and then died of a heart attack in 2004 before they could be published.  In addition to the three novels of the de facto trilogy, there is known to exist three quarters of a fourth novel, as well as possible outlines or early manuscripts of two more, currently in possession of Larsson's partner, the rights still tantalizingly undecided. 

At the beginning of this cloud of media attention is a gripping, if dense, page-turner of a crime thriller.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Letter from Kurt

Letters of Note is a pretty cool site that posts personal correspondence from celebrities or historical figures, usually as submitted by the letters' recipients.  Some are short missives between colleagues, some are fan mail (there's a particularly touching one from Wil Wheaton to an 8 year-old fan club applicant, 20 years late), others are fairly major pieces of secret history that were seemingly lost over time (like the memo from JFK to the head of the then-fledgling NASA, asking how the U.S. could "win" at the space race).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Priest" Looks Awesome...For Now

In the course of researching another topic on IMDB.com today, I ran across the trailer for "Priest," due out in 2011.  Apparently based on a comic book--sorry, "graphic novel"--it stars Paul Bettany as the titular character, a futuristic clergyman defying his order to rescue his niece from vampires.  Bettany has made a small niche for himself playing badass religious figures, from The Da Vinci Code to last year's Legion.  He also stars here alongside nerd favorites Karl Urban (LOTR, Star Trek) and Stephen Moyer.  It's possible this will end up being a disappointing cross between Judge Dredd and Waterworld, but at this point it's definitely early enough to think it looks good.   Trailer at IMDB is linked below:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Former Bodyguard Finds Britney Spears "Shocking" and "Disgusting" Enough to Sue

This from TMZ (by way of AV Club):  in a story that's apparently been developing for a couple of months, a former bodyguard of Britney Spears has filed a lawsuit against the pop "singer" and his former security agency.  Fernando Flores alleges sexual harassment and, more troubling, child abuse at the hands of Spears.  On numerous occasions, Spears allegedly disrobed or otherwise behaved lewdly toward Flores, which caused the bodyguard "shock and disgust." 

Now, much fun and debate could be had at the expense of Spears' relative desirability at various stages in her career (which, let's face it, sort of ended with Federline), but the abuse allegations put a damper on that.  The suit claims she once demanded Flores' belt and used it to "savagely" beat her younger son Preston.  More disturbing still is an account of Spears forcing her seafood-allergic kids crab meat and then prevented them from receiving medical care as they vomited.  I'm going to go on record as saying that's the worst thing I've ever heard of a celebrity doing.  Including OJ.

It should be noted that all of this is "alleged" at this point (LA County Dept of Children and Family Services investigated and found no merit for the claims), and no response from Spears' camp has been made public yet.  So, either Britney is the worst--worst--mother in the world, or Flores is guilty of some serious slander.  One way or the other, ugly business.

No word yet on the reaction from this guy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Book Review: Cyberdrome (Joseph and David Rhea)

Cyberdrome (Joseph and David Rhea)

Reality can be hard to define. It can be what we believe or experience, more than what actually exists. That seems to be the message of Cyberdrome, although it is not a message clearly delivered.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

R.I.P. Robert Schimmel

Those of you familiar with Schimmel's work will be saddened by this news.  After beating a heart attack, cancer, and the death of his 11 year-old son, to be taken by a seemingly random car accident seems unfair, at the least. 

His "Unprotected" HBO stand up special from 1999 stands as one of the funniest things I've ever seen on television.  A two-minute clip from that special on YouTube.  Warning, extremely NSFW:

Rest in peace, good sir.  Don't forget to take it out of the box first.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Sit Down, We're Not Going Anywhere" Movies: Die Hard With a Vengeance

This feature will start with a simple premise: think of the movies you adore, and then maybe figure out why. Movies you'll stop and watch when you see them on cable, no matter what's going on or where you have to be (as a friend of mine would say, "Sit down, we're not going anywhere"). Movies that may or may not be pieces or artistic genius, but that pull you in every time. Movies that you may know inside and out, and yet are surprised by something you've never noticed before.

I have a large, amorphous list of movies that fit this qualification, so source material won't be the problem. The challenge will be to translate the reasons I watch these films over and over again into coherent thoughts that are accessible to the world at large. Now, maybe no one will care why I've seen Independence Day at least 100 times, but some just might see it because I've explained myself (though that would probably just encourage Roland Emmerich to make another turd like 2012). And, since I'm sure everyone has their own list, the comments sections can easily become a sounding board for your own favorites, and why. This is really a formality, since most of these films have been around a while, but THERE WILL SPOILERS. Each time I pop up with this irregular feature, I’ll drop that warning early, to avoid angering anyone who’s been purposefully avoiding talk about Back to the Future for 25 years until they get time to watch it.

Monday Microfiction--Another New Feature!

As some of you may know, a couple of weeks ago I reviewed a short story collection by David McAfee.  The bulk of this anthology was made up of hyper-short stories--exactly 100 words--known as microfiction.  It was a bit of a revelation to me that so much could be conveyed in such a short space.  It is also a very strong disciplinary tool for fiction writers.  With only 100 words to tell the story, every damn one of them better mean something. 

I thought I'd try it.  I'm starting out by writing them as often as I can (and it's pretty easy to bang out a rough draft in a few minutes), and posting one here every Monday.  Ultimately I think they'd be very useful as story seeds for longer stories or even the novel I keep telling myself I'll write someday.  I'd like feedback from my readers, if possible.  It's easy to leave a comment now that I think I've disabled that annoying secret word crap, so please do.  And also, if you want to post your own 100-word microfiction story, no place like a comment!

So without further blathering (I've already chewed up more words in the feature intro than the story contains), my first Monday Microfiction entry...

Friday, September 3, 2010

OK, everybody! Follow me!

I know I'm only a few weeks into this nonsense, but it seems I already have quite a few loyal readers.  To those, I am very grateful.  I'm also happy to have anybody drop in, read a post, decide I'm a complete idiot, and leave.  They're all pageviews, man.

I'd like to ask a small favor of those of you who find yourselves here often.  See that "Followers" tab in the upper right corner of the screen?  If you click the button and register as a follower of the blog, it adds to my reader numbers, and comes with the benefit of streamlined updates when I post new material.  The process is pretty easy, and you have the option of using your existing account info from any other social media site you use (Google, Twitter, etc). 

So go ahead and follow me (see what I did there?), and let's make this tomfoolery a little higher-profile.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fantastic Four to be rebooted for some reason

According to comicbookmovie.com (not one of my usuals, but they would be the ones to know), a reboot of the crappy 2005 version of The Fantastic Four is already in development, with Bruce Willis as the Thing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

First-Time Fandom

As sports fans, we often face existential crises when our teams perform poorly.  As a die-hard Cincinnati fan, I've endured (along with many others in the area code and beyond) the horrible Bengals teams of the 90's and a Reds team that for reasons of MLB economics or poor management haven't made the post-season in 15 years, without a winning season in ten.  While both teams have undergone a bit of a renaissance in the past few years, the point is that we as fans suffered along with the players (probably more, given the salary differential between us as groups), as well as exalted in the victories.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jeremy Renner to be new Tom Cruise (in Mission Impossible universe)

Part time-actor, Scientologist, and noted couch jumper Tom Cruise is retiring from the Mission Impossible franchise after the upcoming fourth installment, currently slated for a December 2011 release date.  Paramount announced earlier this week that they would be casting for his replacement soon...some fresh young actor who would also co-star in MI4 as a bit of a transition plan.  They then immediately chose The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, who wasn't on the original short list, and at 39, is hardly a "fresh face."

But no matter.  It's hardly news that Renner can play a badass, as anyone who saw The Hurt Locker can tell you, so it's probable this will be a step up for the franchise, at least in terms of believability.  And surely Tom Cruise contibuted to the research that went into casting the role. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

AMC Gives the Zombie Apocalypse the "Compelling Television" Treatment

Check out the trailer for "The Walking Dead," AMC's newest hour-long drama that premieres on Halloween night.  For those of you experiencing zombie fatigue, this may actually sooth the wounds a bit, since it appears to be a well-crafted dramatic series from the network whose first two dips into the original programming pool ("Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad") became two of the most critically acclaimed shows of the last decade.  And look!  Hawkins from "Jericho"!  He's pretty awesome.


Wednesday Book Review: "The Lake" and "33 A.D." by David McAfee

One feature I'd really like to get started in this space is a regular book review.  I first started writing them earlier this year at the behest of my wife, who is active in the online Kindle community.  Informed reviews are highly valued on these message boards, both by readers needing input for buying decisions, but also by the authors themselves.  Many independent and relatively unknown writers publish on the Kindle because of the reasonable costs associated with eBooks, and to tap into a wide distribution network already in place.  These authors often are fixtures on the message boards, interacting directly with their readers and generally promoting their work.  Most are happy to see honest, coherent reviews of their work posted in a forum full of potential readers.

And to be honest, reviews are a great outlet for my own writing.  Not only am I allowed to exercise my writing skills (such that they are), but it forces me to pay closer attention to the books I'm reading.  Thinking critically about a work often enhances its impact, and gives me insight into making my own writing better.  Any aspiring writers out there...if you find you're stuck doing the same things over and over (or more commonly, doing nothing at all), try reviewing a book you've read that moved you.  It will likely help get you kick started, it's only about 1,000 words, and any writing is good writing, right?  Right.

Anyway, I've now written what looks like a tome on the post and I haven't even gotten to the reviewin' yet.  We'll try to make this a weekly gig (alert readers will note that it should recur every Wednesday).  I'll try to link to the books' listings on Amazon so if you feel the urge to IMMEDIATELY READ THIS BOOK! you can do so with ease.  The grades assigned at the bottom should be taken as they are--an ironclad judgment from the highest authority on whether or not a book should be read, or even allowed to exist.  No, that's not true...it's just my stupid opinion.  Forget I said anything...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scavenging the Carcass of a TV Phenomenon

A few months ago, right about the time Lost was wrapping up its final season, it was announced that ABC would be auctioning off hundreds of props from the show to bidders via internet, phone, and fax (not sure how that last one worked out).  This was the big chance for Lostophiles with disposable income all over the world to bid on pieces of random detritus from the 6 seasons of the show.  Enthusiasm seemed high at the time, but I guess I had a hard time believing they could get anything for Jack's Season 1 backpack or a box of Dharma-brand red wine.

Woe be upon me, the disbeliever.  The auction was this past weekend, and while the prices fetched are in some cases still a little speculative (it was difficult to keep track of the sheer number of lots), the consensus is that Lost fans have a stupid amount of money that they could comfortably light on fire.

Some highlights:
12-pack of Dharma beer - $4,500 (it's full, so there's your emergency stash)
1977 Dharma group photo - $7,000
Locke's Ajira Coffin Crate - $3,000
Crazy Claire's Squirrel Skull Baby - $2,750 (hope it was deloused)
Pierre Chang White Lab Coat - $2,500 (this would be kind of awesome, actually)
Hurley's "Empire Strikes Back" Script - $4,250
Bunch of Dharma Supplies (Apollo bars, baby!) - $3,000

And the biggest tickets:  Faraday's Journal and the Lighthouse Number Wheel went for a cool $27,500 each, and the highest successful bid was the winner for the Dharma VW van from Season 4, at $47,500!

The full list of items available is catalogued here, and a partial list of the big tickets is here.

Even a pair of Sawyer's standard-issue white boxers went for $850.  Apparently Kate couldn't decide whether she wanted those or Jack's bloody death costume, and just sort of alternated bids on both, driving the price up and everyone crazy in the process...and then bought neither.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Gradual Conversion to the Tomato Religion

I cook.  I'm not making a confession or anything, but I thought I'd lead with that as I launch into a short diatribe on heirloom tomatoes, and follow it up with a recipe. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Saw The Expendables...

Let me be up front with everyone.  This will not be an objective movie review.  If you want detailed, well-reasoned analysis of The Expendables, go to Metacritic. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Christopher Walken...Just Readin' Stuff Out Loud

This is via Mental Floss (one of my go-to websites).  Everybody's favorite weirdo reading selections ranging from kid's fairy tales to Poe.  Check it out.


What I'm Watching

It's pretty easy to cover what interests me on TV in summer, since the majority of well-made, compelling shows are on break to allow the hellscape known as Reality TV to sweep across the land.  However, good things can be found if you look...and have access to cable or satellite.

1.  Top Chef:  Interesting that I list a reality show at the top, huh?  However, of all the cooking contest shows that have sprung up over the last few years, this one remains the best.  Truly skilled young chefs (mostly), competing in sometimes difficult conditions, creating completely original dishes.  It's one of the few reality competition shows that is very much still a meritocracy rather than a drama contest.  Also, I could watch Padma Lakshmi host an accountant's convention.

2.  True Blood:  The vampire phenomenon not involving sparkling or abstinence (definitely not abstinence...)  HBO took a bit of a risk greenlighting the show three years ago, based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris.  Classic vampirism set in the modern (though campily backward) Deep South, the show's themes deal with segregation and discrimination, religious intolerance, and personal conflicts of loyalty.  Lest you think this sounds too cerebral, there are also terrible Southern accents, over-the-top gore, and plenty of nudity for those looking for less thinky fare.

3.  The Daily Show With Jon Stewart:  Stewbeef continues to be the recognized leader in fake news.  Presenting well-researched and hilarious commentary on those who make their living delivering poorly researched commentary on the world of politics, the work done by the team at the show has never felt stale.

4.  The Soup:  Joel McHale could well be the funniest man on TV right now, and "Community" doesn't even start its second season for a few weeks.  Long live Mankini!

Anybody watching anything that should be noted?  I'm always willing to give a new show a try (except for Seacrest, because screw that tiny man and his millions...)

And so it begins...

Welcome to my blog!  I've finally decided to pull the trigger on this little enterprise, and all of you reading this post are clearly early-adopters, willing to gamble on a brand new experience.  Ground floor, and all that, and for that I'm grateful.

A little bit about the blog, and by association, myself.  The blog is not what I would refer to as "high concept".  That is to say, I don't have a hook or some specific subject that will be explored ad nauseum (like, say, a blog about off-color fire hydrants in Midwestern cities ending in "o".  Don't laugh, it's out there...).  More, as the title suggests, this is about what I'm observing at any given moment.  Riffs on pop culture, suburban life, cooking, book/TV/movie reviews, and light commentary on current events. 

In short, water-cooler and lunch table talk.

It will take awhile to find our bearings, and as a result I'm sure the content will meander a bit.  But honestly that's how my thought processes work, and a little meandering is good for the soul, right?