Saturday, December 31, 2011

Uncle P's Last Post of 2011

Have fun and be safe tonight. If you drink, don't drive. Don't let your friends drink and drive. Don't get in a car with a drunk driver. You'd been missed too much.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful New Year! And I also want to thank you again, for reading my nonsense every day. I just started following my stats (I know - it's been almost four years), and I am amazed to see hits from all over the world. I hope I can keep you interested enough to keep you reading in 2012.

More, next year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Traditions

Not Quite My Grandmother's, But Close

My father's family is/was Hungarian. My mother's family is/was German and Welsh. Growing up, my sister and I were much closer to Dad's family than Mom's. We did love Poppie and Grandmom G (Mom's father and step-mother) and were very close with and spoiled rotten by Grandmom Cookie* (my mother's birth-mother).

But Grandmom B was the comfort grandmother. No one hugged liked her; no one smothered with kisses like her and no one sure as hell cooked like her! Holiday meals cooked by Grandmom B were a spectacular blend of traditional Hungarian cooking and American standards. And for my sister and I, the best thing about Grandmom's holiday meals included her astonishing stuffed cabbage. How many children do you know who eat cabbage? How many of you do? My grandmother's stuffed cabbage remains to this very day, my favorite meal of all time. She taught my father, who in turn taught me (one of the few things for which I am grateful to him). I later taught my sister, who has adapted a smaller yield recipe for her slow-cooker. 

My mother, Lord Love a Duck, has never been taught this recipe, yet she manages to chime in about some ingredient she thinks I've gotten wrong every time I make it. Of course, once she eats it, she admits I was right. The recipe is not written down, that I am aware of and will (very sadly), die with my sister and I. Hmm... Perhaps I will actually prepare a copy for posthumous publication. It's too good to let die. Though the recipe is hardly exact but Sis and I have learned to know when it looks, feels and tastes right as we go along. My version is getting closer to Grandmom's every time I make it, though I haven't quite hit the jackpot. It's the "rontasz" or Hungarian rue, that's the hardest to get right.

I make this dish twice a year; for my birthday in July and for New Year's Day. It's as much work for a small batch as it for  large, so I (and almost everyone else I know who makes it), make a huge (16 qt, for me) batch and immediately freeze half. The other half is left to cool and then refrigerated overnight so the flavors can marry. The prep time is almost as long as the cooking time, if you want it to turn out right. My fingers end up wrinkled and shriveled long before it actually starts cooking. This is one of those massive multi-step recipes that takes not only careful instruction, but trial and error to get right.

So, here's the deal. I hate to see Grandmom's recipe go away. Tell me in the comments of you would like a copy of it. If enough of you ask politely, I'll share it with you. I only ask that if you should share it, you do so using Grandmom's name (provided as the title of the recipe).

I also just realized that I haven't had her Chicken Paprikash in a long time, something she did teach my mother. Hmmmm... next weekend, for sure!

And now how's this for a segue?

Uncle Prospero received the hoodie you see on the right for Christmas. It says "Hungary" in Hungarian (or at least the Arabic equivalent of the Cyrillic) and features the crest and colors of the Hungarian flag. I am wearing it even now, as I was this afternoon when I ventured out to get some essentials and something no one ever gives me for Christmas -- a calendar. Luckily, Barnes and Noble still had a good selection at 50% off.
I got exactly the one I wanted, cheap! 

As I got up to the counter, the young woman behind it said: "Oh! That's not Mexican!"

"Excuse me?" I said, thinking she might be having a stroke.

Her: "Your shirt. I thought it was a Mexican flag, but... what does it say?"

Me: "Oh. It's Hungarian. It says 'Hungary.'"

She kind of squinted her eyes and said "Um, what? You're hungry?"

I started looking around for a hidden camera. 

Me: "No, Hungary. It's an Eastern European country near Austria and Romania."

Her: "So like, near Sydney, right?" (On my life, she said this).

Me: "No. Austria, not Australia."

Her: "Oh. I'm a Spanish major, so I thought it was Mexican."

Me: "Oh. Well, no. It's definitely not Spanish."

She finished my transaction and I left, wanting to cry for the future of Humanity, all over again. Of course, maybe the world can be saved. Grandmom's stuffed cabbage is a magical food, after all...

As the year gets closer to being history, I find myself  counting both my blessings and my pennies. I was lucky enough to have two vacation trips in 2011, something I don't see happening next year. And I was unable to be as generous as usual for Christmas this year, but still managed to deliver gifts that pleased (or at least their recipients were polite enough to lie about it convincingly -- of course, most of my friends are truly excellent actors). Personally, I'm looking forward to 2012. I already have tons of great stuff scheduled well into the summer and I can't wait to get started! I leave you with this, something you've probably already seen but I haven't had the chance to do so until now:

Once I've finished cooking, it's back to Flemington for a quiet New Year's Eve with my three wise folk, Q; K and Dale.

So, what are you doing New Year's Eve?

More, anon.

*The actual cookie jar Grandmom Cookie had.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Worst 5 Movies of 2011 - So Far

Tahar Rahim Covered in Mud with a Skull in His Hair

Once again, this is hardly my definitive "Worst of" list, either. Just 5 movies I've seen this year that have irked me the most - so far.

It seemed that this year, there were far more bad movies, than good. And of course, any year that has a Twilight movie in it, has to qualify for a new low bar. I saw all of these movies on purpose, hoping that something (even if it was just the objectification of one its leading men), only to have my hopes dashed to the bottom of a rocky cliff and into the raging sea of suckage they actually turned out to be. These are movies that actually made angry at having spent my hard-earned dollars to see them. These aren't just bad movies, my friends. These are the worst. 

5. Final Destination 5. While there honestly is much to admire about the latest installment (that amazing bridge sequence; the surprise ending) of the "Death as Rube Goldberg" franchise, the acting is truly terrible and the deliberately gimmicky 3D did nothing to further the pro-3D argument.

4. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Wow. Talk about movies that should have been better than they actually were. This was one TV horror movie remake that was worth doing, on paper. Guillermo del Toro wrote the screenplay and produced it. It had to be good, right? I mean, it had to better than the ABC TV movie (which still freaks lots of folks out), right? Wrong. Silly and predicable, the movie isn't half as scary as it should have been. First-time feature director Troy Nixey relied too heavily on his mentor and delivered a watered-down version what the remake could (and should) have been. Also - Katie Holmes. Ew.

3. The Eagle. The trailer for director Kevin (The Last King of Scotland) Macdonald's adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliffe's novel "The Eagle of the Nine," promised a homo-erotic sword and sandal epic. What we got was a travelog. Yawn... I hope Channing Tatum's stripper bio movie is better this:

2. Your Highness. I saw this movie for free while on a business trip this summer. In fact, I ordered it completely by accident, even though it was on my list thanks to the pedigrees of those involved. Sadly, I didn't laugh once during this medieval quest fantasy/stoner buddy/sibling rivalry piece of crap. While I truly like nearly every actor in this movie, I have to wonder why they agreed to make it. A very bad, very unfunny film.

1. Season of the Witch. I am ashamed for him that D claims to actually like this movie. I think he's only saying so to make me crazy. And it's really annoying to me that the first movie I saw in 2011 is also the worst movie I saw this year. Nic Cage is clearly insane, while Ron Perlman does his best to play the comedic irony and camp, but even he can't save this silly mess of a movie. Our mutual friend Heather and I were reduced to fits of giggles at how ridiculous this film was. Season of the Witch was delayed by more than a year, I should have known better. Heather and I did finally get D to admit it wasn't a good movie, but he still says that he loved it. Of course, questioning his sanity is much like questioning mine... (love ya, D).

This was just a tease... watch for my full Ten Best and Ten Worst lists at the end of January.

More, anon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 5 Movies of 2011 - So Far

Chris Evans' Glorious Torso in "Captain America"

First off, this is by no means my definitive "Best Movies of 2011" list. There are still many films on my 'to see'  list, including but limited to: The Artist; Warhorse; The Adventures of Tintin; Midnight in Paris; Melancholia; The Perfect Host; Another Earth; Attack the Block; Drive; The Way; The Skin I Live In; Martha Marcy May Marlene; The Descendents; We Need to Talk About Kevin and a good dozen or more. For such a self-professed cinephile, I saw shamefully few movies this year. Sadly, my "Worst" list is longer than the "Best" list, this year. I'm hoping to get to see at least one more movie before my vacation is over. Maybe Friday and/or Monday afternoon. And of course, none of my friends or family gave me AMC gift cards, no matter how much I hinted... So it's going to have be matinees, anyway. Okay - I know. You're just dying to know what movies I've liked the most this year. Just be warned, this list is subject to change and or/growth:

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I finally got to see this movie the other night at Q and Dale's, OnDemand and must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I certainly never expected my sympathies to go towards the apes in this re-boot of the 70's franchise. Mostly well-plotted (with a few inevitable holes); well-acted (Lithgow!); well-cast (Sirkus!) and with nearly seamless SFX, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a welcome surprise.

4. Captain America: The First Avenger. The best superhero movie of the summer is a delightfully patriotic WWII action-adventure featuring the hotness that is Chris Evans as one of DC's Marvel's earliest heroes. Exciting, fun and smart, this origin movie is the perfect tie-in for next summer's The Avengers.

3.Insidious. The creators of Saw and Dead Silence are back with their best collaboration yet. Insidious is certainly the creepiest ghost movie in years, made all the better by a top-notch cast and yet another of the duo's signature surprise endings which was truly surprising.

2. Super 8. J.J. Abrams' Spielbergian tribute was not only fun, but gave young Elle Fanning her best role tand most impressive performance to date. Who cares if the monster was a little hokey? This homage to childhood in the 70's kept me smiling all the way through to  the end. Oh - and Kyle Chandler.

1. Hugo. Put simply, Martin Scorcese's love-letter to the movies is a genuine wonder. Based on Brian Selznick's YA novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," this delicious Steam Punk adventure uses 3D in the way it should be used, to remarkable effect.  We may have never met, but I'd like to think that Scorcese made this film just for me.

My final Top Ten will probably show up sometime next month.

More, anon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Waltzing "Matilda"

As you can imagine, Uncle P was snarky even when he was a child. As with many people, snark was a form of defense when we were kids. And if you were funny, you didn't get picked on for being different... too much. I realize now why I loved Roald Dahl's books as a kid. Their heroes were always smart, good kids who always win the prize, expose and punish the bad adults and rise above adversity, ending up with a much better life.

And so it is with Matilda, a story about a very, very smart little girl who is being raised by rather dubious (and ignorant) parents who obviously don't care about her at all. Dumped in a private school run by an ogre of a headmistress (one Miss Trunchbull), thanks to a deal made by Matilda's crooked used-car dealer father, Matilda finds out some remarkable things about herself. Trunchbull is an evil tyrant, while Matilda's teacher Miss Honey, is kind and encouraging and (as it turns out), Trunchbull's niece, whom Trunchbull swindled out of her inheritance.

SPOLIER ALERTS: Matilda soon discovers she has telekinetic powers and uses them to right all the wrongs in her life, including finally allowing her to live happily ever after with kindly Miss Honey in the home that should have been hers, all along. End of spoilers.

Danny DeVito directed and appeared in a 1996 Americanized version, starring Mara Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire); Rhea Perlman ("Cheers"); Embeth Davitz (Army of Darkness) Pam (Aunt Marge) Ferris and Paul  (Pee-Wee Herman) Reubens. It's a funny and delightful (if not always faithful) telling of the tale, transplanting it to America and softening some the Dahl's edges and brightening some of his darker corners. DeVito and Perlman are hilarious as Matilda's scumbag parents; Ferris is downright frightening as Trunchbull and Davitz is just sweet enough without ever once slipping in to saccharine. It's a sweet and fun family fantasy. I may just have to do a "Forgotten Gems" post on it, soon.

And now the book has been adapted into a stage musical by the RSC, which is taking the West End  by storm and looks to make the jump across the pond to Broadway next year. I had heard something about this a few months back, but either didn't know or had forgotten that my favorite satirical song-smith, Tim Minchin, had written the show's songs. I can't imagine anyone better for the job. I follow NPR on Facebook and and got directed  to this excited and exciting article about the show here. Personally, I don't remember being so excited for a musical adaptation since The Producers. Have a look for yourselves:

I have to admit to wearing a big, idiotic grin on my face as I write this post. Of course, this news came after my last gift-exchange gathering of the year, with the big three; Q, K and Dale. We all loved what we got and then sat down to the first pasta meal my very Italian Q has served me in almost 30 years of eating her food. We did do a group effort spaghetti and meatballs at K's tiny, 3rd floor apartment many years ago, but that hardly counts. It was delicious, as was dessert. As was the new Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey that K got from Q & Dale. I gotta get me a bottle of that! Yum! I also finally got to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, thanks to Q & Dale's OnDemand - a terrific popcorn movie which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend, if you haven't already seen it. The four of us will gather again on New Year's Eve (along with a few other folks), for our traditional 'quiet' NYE. 

Sadly, real-life rears its ugly head until then, demanding the doing of laundry; the dusting of furniture; the putting-away of gifts and the running of the dishwasher. Maybe I should have gone to my sister's...

More, anon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Marketing for Dummies (or Should that Be "to Dummies?")

Christmas is essentially over. Uncle P has one more gift exchange with my three closest friends tomorrow and today was a Boxing Day gift exchange and Chinese smorgasbord with dear friends from college. I think everyone was and will be quite pleased with their gifts. 

Sadly, it's the gifts that seem to be the focus of Christmas, these days (though honestly, with my friends, it's the chance to spend time together). And yes, that's an old complaint. As far back as (and probably well before) 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas," Charles Schultz was bemoaning the commercialization of the holiday. Of course, we all have Mr. Charles Dickens to thank for it. Before the publication of A Christmas Carol, Christmas was a minor Christian holiday, far surpassed by Easter, which is the basis for the entire religion. And it was only after the Catholics co-opted the pagan holiday of Winter Solstice that the birth of Jesus was celebrated in December. Historical accounts place the actual birth in March or April, depending on which calendar is being used. And please don't get me wrong; I have no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth existed. There are plenty of documents other than the New Testament to verify that. It's the rest of it I have a problem with. 

But none of that has anything to do with this post. And I'm sure by now you must be wondering what any of this has to with Marketing and the new NBC musical "Smash." Well, I'll tell you.

I came across this first video on Facebook, posted by three friends whose only connection is yours truly. Riley is an amazingly perceptive young lady, who goes on a gender-biased marketing rant in her local Toys-R-Us. I hope she maintains her amazing acuity as she gets older.

I see a Gender Studies Major in the making, here.

And then on Towleroad, I came across the  promotional clip for the aforementioned "Smash" below. Produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Deborah Messing; Angelica Huston; Megan Hilty; Jack Devenport and "American Idol" winner Katharine McPhee, "Smash" is a story about the mounting of a Broadway musical, from inception to opening night curtain. The musical in question is a biography of Marilyn Monroe and from what I can gather, it focuses on the making of a 'star.' 

Now that's how you market a new show.

Spielberg admits that he is clueless about how a Broadway show comes to fruition, so it will be interesting to see if he has put together the right team to pull off a show like "Smash." Having cut my teeth on musical theatre and about to start rehearsals for what I'm pretty sure will be my last musical theatre performance, I am intrigued by and excited for "Smash." I hope it lives up to its hype.

I hope I made all the connections, here. We're all targets, folks. Just look at the ads on you Facebook walls. Hell, look at the ads Google places on my blog. Buy this! Watch that! Spend your money here! It doesn't take a genius to see what the Madmen are doing. The real joke is, they're making money by telling you where and how to spend yours. It makes my head hurt...

More, anon.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

...And To All, A Goodnight.

Wishing you all the very merriest of Christmases!

I continue to be amazed that so many people from all over the world care what I have to say and continue to read my ramblings and nonsense every day. I am also amazed at all of the blessings in my life, including my remarkable family and friends. Thank you, thank, thank you.

And to those of you who don't celebrate Christmas (for whatever reason), I hope you are celebrating the many blessings in your life, as well. You don't have to be Christian (or even religious at all) to participate in the joys of the season. I hope that you are and I hope you continue to have many reasons to celebrate life's joys.

"Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." ~ Calvin Coolidge

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wrap-A-Thon Tonight

I am very behind in my holiday preparations this year and will spend much of the night wrapping presents that will be opened tomorrow night, hence the earlier-than-usual post today.

I take great pride in my holiday packages. I always make sure the ribbons, bows, paper and tags are all coordinated, my edges are sharp, the ends folded over and the corners are nice and tight. And I try to make sure they create a pretty display under the tree.

This year, I have decided to not do that at all. I have so many rolls of left-over paper from who knows how many years, that I am going to wrap every present in a different paper and just have a riot of color and patterns. And while I do have a couple dozen gifts to wrap, this will hardly put a dent in all that paper. Maybe I'll do the same thing next year, too. It will probably save me a bundle on wrapping paper for a while. And it'll be just a little bit 'green.' 

I also wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who, both here and on Facebook, gave such wonderful advice on yesterday's post. It's good to know that so many folks care. Thankfully, I won't have to really deal with the issue until after the holidays. I'll be sure to let you know what happens.

If I don't get the chance to do so before, please allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa and/or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year. Thanks for reading me. And thanks for your comments. You should all know by now how much I love hearing from you.

Anyway, here's my early Christmas present to all of you; a funny bit-o-nonsense starring Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes. Enjoy:

More, anon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Damage Control

This is what happens when you jump the curb at a shopping center. 

My poor mother, on her way to her weekly hair appointment yesterday afternoon, attempted to park in front of the dry cleaner's next door to her salon. The poor thing says she has no idea what happened. "The car (a 2006 Hyundai Santa Fe) just shot forward," she told me and the police. I suspect she accidentally stepped on the gas instead of the brake, though she swears she no feet on any pedal at the time. Luckily, no one was hurt and amazingly, her car suffered only minor damage: a fist-sized dent in the right fender; a broken parking light and a few scratches to the bumper. A true testament to the safety of the Santa Fe (I drive one, as well). And to top it all off, after the police and EMT's left, she went and had her hair done!

Of course, this isn't the first time this has happened. She did the same thing last summer at my house, running into my shed and destroying a small table and chair, that time admitting she accidentally put the transmission into 'Drive' instead of 'Reverse.' And a just few weeks ago, she grew very confused and upset in the parking lot of another local shopping center while we were out Christmas shopping. I ended up taking over for her and extricating the car from the corner in which she'd trapped herself, but she insisted on driving home and scaring the crap out of me while doing so.

Mom's only 70; hardly old by today's standards. But her health is not the best. You may remember an incident in February of 2010, where I found her in diabetic shock, resulting in a week's stay in the hospital. Severe arthritis in her knees makes walking difficult and 50+ years of heavy smoking have impacted both her heart and lungs. Her hearing is going, though she refuses to admit it and since retiring, these conditions only seem to have worsened. 

My first reaction to yesterday's accident was: "I'm taking away her keys." Of course, the mere mention of doing so sent her into paroxysms of anger and denial. But I am afraid she is a danger to herself and others and it's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured. So I am asking you, dear readers, what would or have you done in similar situations? Anyone else out there caring for an ailing, elderly and exceptionally stubborn parent?  Any advice you have is greatly appreciated.

More, anon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More Christmas Crafts; Early Gifts and a Bit of Philosophy

So, yesterday I posted about the ZomBarbie I gave Mia for Christmas. Today, she returned the favor and gave me the "Dead Baby Wreath" you see to your right, hanging on the closet in my day-job cubicle.

Yes, we are sick. No, I take that back. We are hilarious. Both of us recognize the absurdity of life, punctuated by the indignity of death. Both of us appreciate our mortality and the cruel joke that religion has perpetrated on most people. 

As always, I encourage you to believe what you will, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Whatever gets you through the night, Baby. As far as I (and Mia) are concerned, life is what you make it, here and now. What matters is what you do, not what you believe. 

Be kind to and love one another. Help those in need when you can. Help yourself and those you love (and those who love you), first. Bring joy wherever and however you can. A smile created (no matter how morbid the joke) is worth more than a million dollars. And if the joke's on you, don't blame the joker. Laugh along and find a way to make a joke at the joker's expense. You'll both be better people for it. The worst thing that will ever happen to you is going to happen, no matter what you do. Embrace it and move on -- you'll be all the better for having done so.

Once again, this turned out to be a completely different post than I had planned, but it is a post I suppose I needed to share. The end of the calendar year brings out the philosopher in me, I guess.

My 70 year-old mother accidentally drove through the front of a local dry cleaner's store today. No one was hurt (thank goodness), but she and I were both shaken up. What does that have to do with anything else I've been rambling about? I guess it's this: Life's short. Enjoy its nonsense while you can. 

More, anon.

P.S. - The sign in the lower left corner of that picture actually read: "Sarah Palin - 2012. The World's Supposed to End, Anyway."


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Crafts , Early Presents and Ridiculously Hunky Greeks.

I just couldn't wait to give my sweet, sick little Mia her Christmas present this year: the custom 'ZomBarbie' you see to your left. I actually wanted to make this for her for her birthday, but ran out of time. In fact, I was worried I wouldn't have the time to do it for Christmas. But once I got started on it, it went rather quickly. The hardest part was severing Barbie's arm. I used my heavy-duty crafting clippers and it still took several tries from a few different angles to get it, but I think the mangled stump turned out quite well. And the smear on the box's plastic (the result of not-quite-dry paint) was a rather happy accident.

Now, before you think we're both completely insane (as if you don't already), one of the things my co-worker and I bonded on immediately was our love of the zombie genre. And my regular readers know how much I loves me some good zombie-related content. And Mia, a lover of Batman comics and Zombie movies, recognized a kindred soul as soon as we met. Of course, our fellow co-workers think we're absolutely bonkers (and perhaps we are), but they understand (or at least pretend to) our special relationship. And honestly, what else do a gay man of a certain age and 20+ years younger straight woman have to bond about? (Don't answer that question, thank you.)

Mia made me the amazing Teddy-Z a few years ago, and has warned me that her forthcoming gift to me may well cement out reputations as the office loonies (I can't wait to see what she's planning), but I don't care.

And honestly, there is something quite cathartic about turning an American Icon into its antithesis. All I really cared about was making a friend happy at Christmas. Mia's exceptionally enthusiastic response (she immediately posted this picture of it on Facebook) to her gift was well worth the effort it took to make it.

And now, on to the completely unrelated second half of this post. 

While I still haven't seen last year's critically reviled remake of Clash of the Titans, I must admit to being quite excited by the trailer for its completely unnecessary sequel Wrath of the Titans. Do Liam Neesom, Ralph Fiennes and Sam Worthintgton really need the money? I neither know nor care, I just want to see how ridiculous this movie might be.

And how many films need to use Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" in their trailers? As my friend Megan is wont to say, "Que Queso!"

More, anon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I've Joined the 21st Century

I don't remember the last time I got a new cell phone. Maybe six or seven years ago. I do remember that it was free when I upgraded to a new plan. It was a little white flip phone and I was so excited to not have a clunky phone with an antenna. And that phone served me well.

Granted, I have not been a texter (the buttons were small; my fingers are big) and I only used it to make and receive actual calls. I rarely turned it on; only when I was making or expecting a call or sometimes while on my way to rehearsal. I scoffed at people who bought iPhones. "Why do you need to spend $400 on a phone? That's ridiculous!"

Then, this summer I went on a business trip to Chicago. As my co-workers and I sat in the airport waiting for our flight to board, they all pulled out their phones to play games; check their email; watch videos or text their friends and family; while I sat quietly staring into space, feeling jealous and bored. Granted, I had a book to read. But I wasn't in the mood to do so. Watching them being entertained so easily, I decided then and there that my next phone would be better.

So Christmas started to approach. 'Santa' (my mother) asked what I wanted. "A new phone," was my immediate response. I started researching, basing my criteria mostly on price. I could get a smart phone from my carrier (I've been with T-Mobile even before they were T-Mobile and have been quite happy with them) at Walmart for less than $50.00. So, off 'Santa' and I went. We quickly discovered that while the price of the phone was cheap enough, the monthly plan was outrageous. "What about the $49.99 a month plan they advertise?" I asked the very disinterested clerk. "Oh," she said. "You have to go to the T-Mobile store for that."

'Santa' said, "Okay. Just go to the T-Mobile store and pick out the phone you want and I'll pay for it. But don't spend more than $XX.00."

So while finishing my Christmas shopping on Saturday, I did just that. Of course, the phone I wanted was more than twice $XX.00. But the knowledgeable and patient salesman (actually, the store manager, who had dealt quite professionally with a very difficult customer before me) worked with me and we managed to come up with a deal and a plan that made everyone happy. 'Santa' paid for the down-payment on the phone, the 'skin' and the tax, while the remaining balance was broken up into $10.00 interest-free payments added to my monthly $49.99 unlimited plan. I got a top-of-the line smart phone that does everything but wash the dishes and tuck me in at night and 'Santa' even gets a $50.00 rebate. Double-plus good, no?

I'm still in the learning curve with the my new MyTouch phone. I have to sit down with the book, even thought the salesman told me just to play with the phone and discover it on my own. And I have to give it back to 'Santa' on Friday so she can wrap it and give it back to me on Saturday night. But that's okay. Maybe by then, I'll actually have figured how to use half of the functions it comes with. At least I can say I am "Walking in a 4G Wonderland." That is what they're singing, right?

I hope your 'Santa' brings you what you want for Christmas; Xmas; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa or Solstice this holiday season. More importantly, I hope you take the time to appreciate the people you love, the people who love you and all the blessings in your life.

More, anon.

P.S. - I donated my old phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which supplies phones for our military men and women who may not have one of their own, so they can call loved ones while serving their country. It's the very least I could do to thank them for preserving our freedom.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Director Guy Ritchie reunites Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law in the even more bromantic sequel to 2009's Sherlock Holmes. Holmes (Downey) is up to his usual nonsense on the eve of Watson's (Law) wedding, disguising himself as a bookcase in the jungle he's created in his office (much to the exasperation of his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson). This time, Holmes is after the evil mathematical genius Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is intent on amassing a fortune from munitions sales by initiating a world war. 

Joined by gypsy fortune teller (the original Girl with the Dragon Tatto, Noomi Rapace) who is a reformed anarchist, Holmes and Watson journey to France, Germany and Switzerland in search of their prey. Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) is also on hand (and occasionally naked). Rachel McAdams makes a brief return appearance as Holmes' love interest, joined by Kelly Reilly; Gerladine James and Eddie Marsan who also reprise their roles from the 2009 film, brief as those reprisals may be (though Reilly gets a bit more screen time this time around).

D and I really enjoyed the first movie, which was funny, smart and had a hint of supernatural elements in its plot. And while we, for the most part, enjoyed A Game of Shadows, we couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed by it. Holmes is almost completely out of control here; swilling formaldehyde, dressing in more and more outrageous disguises and behaving like a kid with ADD who hasn't taken his Ritalin. His behavior is in fact so outrageous, one must wonder why Watson puts up with it all. It must be true love, especially after he continues on with Holmes after Holmes throws Watson's new wife off a moving train into the river below (don't worry - she's rescued by Mycroft).

Ritchie relies even more on the 'slow-mo/stop-mo/reverse-mo/full speed-mo' camera work he used in the first film and after the third time, I wanted to say "Enough, already!" The overly-complicated plot (courtesy of screenwriters Michelle and Kieran Mulroney) would have been a complete bore, if it wasn't broken up by several exciting and generally well-executed action sequences. 

Downey and Law are fine, though neither brings anything new to the table. Rapace struggles against the stereotypical Victorian gypsy fortune-teller character, but the role is so poorly written, she can't help but fall back on those old tropes. Fry is wonderfully acerbic as Mycroft, but no more so than in anything else he's ever done (though I do applaud him for displaying his very far-from-perfect body for all to see). Harris (well-known for playing villainous types) is appropriately creepy as Moriarty, but once again, brings nothing new to the table.

In the end, D and I both expected more from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. At  nearly two and a half hours, it could have benefited by being about 20 minutes shorter; employing a less heavy-handed editing approach; a less complicated plot and better character development. Should there be a Sherlock Holmes 3 (as the movie's end suggests), we'll probably go see it. But with much lowered expectations.  ** (2 out of Four Stars)

More, anon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stick a Fork in Me; I'm Done

I finally finished my Christmas shopping today. And while many of you may be cursing me because you haven't, I am kicking myself for letting it take so long.

Honestly, I am usually done by the first week of December. In fact, I often start with my annual trek to Florida in the spring to visit my sister and brother-in-law. While I did buy one or two things there in April and another one or two in Chicago this July, I let the bulk of it slide this year. The economy had a bit to do with that. I had to wait until the Fall/Winter O.T. kicked in at the day job, before I could actually afford to shop.

It's not like I have a huge list of people to buy gifts for. There's Mom; Sis & the BIL; Aunt Ev (whom you will eventually learn all about in a post dedicated to her special loonieness, I promise...); D; K; Q and Dale; my godson, his sister and parents and a few folks at work. I tried not to use plastic too much, though some things bought online or via catalog required it. And thank goodness for Amazon wishlists. They made holiday shopping a bit easier this year...

Still, I'm glad my list didn't include any of these items:

Or these:

And while I may actually know where to get "Daddy Butter," I'm not about to share that with a bunch of mostly strangers... ;-)

More, anon.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2012 - Year of the Fairy Tale Movie

  1. I've already posted the trailers for the two Snow White movies being released next year. Now comes the trailer for openly gay director Bryan Singer's upcoming take on 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' Jack the Giant Killer. Singer (best known for directing The Usual Suspects; the first two X-Men movies and the much maligned and under-appreciated Superman Returns), has cast Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy; X-Men: First Class); Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!); Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada); Bill Nighy (Sean of the Dead; Love, Actually); Ian McShane ("Deadwood;" Snow White and the Hunstman) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) in the story of a poor boy whose magic beans grow a giant stalk which leads to a land of giants. Singer's film has nothing to do with the terrible 1962 movie of the same name, which also has nothing to do with beans.

Here's the trailer (once again via):

But Singer is just the latest to jump on the Fairy Tale bandwagon. Both ABC and NBC beat the film studios to the punch with ABC's very silly "Once Upon a Time" and NBC's darker and far superior "Grimm." And it hardly stops there. Also scheduled for 2012 is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, from Dead Snow director Tommy Wirkola. Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Atterton. Peter Storemare and Famke Janssen in a story about the grown-up siblings offering their services as the title suggests. And then there's the 3D re-release of Disney's Beauty and the Beast; the animated Dorothy of Oz and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  

Of course, director Terry Gilliam (Brazil) was way ahead of the curve with 2005's also much-maligned and under-appreciated The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and the much-missed Heath Ledger:

And that movie has nothing to do with the "Star Studded" 1962 cheesefest, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm:

So glad I was too young to appreciate that craptacular, even at 'popular prices!'

More, anon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Argento Finally Loses It

That's Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing in Dario Argento's upcoming Dracula 3D. Argento is the director of what many consider to be the seminal giallo film, Suspiria. Argento's 20-odd other fims include the classics The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; Deep Red and Tenebre. His films usually feature American or British stars who speak English and are later dubbed into Italian (except in English speaking countries, where the Italian actors are dubbed in English). They also often feature his daughter Asia, who is best known in the U.S. for George A. Romero's Land of the Dead and Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

While I understand the appeal of Argento's films, I don't really count myself a fan. They are often boring and make little sense, even after the killer is revealed, though they usually have an artistic flair rarely seen in American slasher movies. Of course, Argento's last film, 2009's Giallo (featuring Adrian Brody), was critically reviled and only released in the U.S. direct-to-DVD. It performed so poorly, Brody had to sue to claim his salary, blocking the DVD release until he received his contracted fees.

Argento is back, with his own take on the Bram Stoker novel, shooting in 3D. The movie stars Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong; Wanted) as Dracula; hunky Spaniard Unax Ugalde (Goya's Ghosts) as Harker and Asia Argento as Lucy, as well a bunch of Italian and German actors playing characters which cannot be found in Stoker's novel. Thanks to JA at My New Plaid Pants, here's the teaser trailer (which is still missing some key effects):

Wow. Okay, let's start with the positives: The film seems to have an old Hammer Studios vibe from the days when Christopher Lee played Dracula and Peter Cushing was Van Helsing. And there seems to be a bit of bare boobage for the str8 boys. And Rutger Hauer will always be badass. But that's all I got.

The negatives? I can't begin to count them. But, I will start with the GIANT EFFING PRAYING MANTIS!!! Seriously - WTF? I have read Stoker's novel several times. Hell, I even wrote the lyrics and libretto for a musical adaptation of it. I am intimately familiar with that novel and I can assure you that NO WHERE in "Dracula" is there a giant praying mantis. Seriously, this movie is just dying for the MT3K treatment, and it hasn't even been released.  I can only conclude that Argento has completely lost his mind. Either that, or he's pulling the greatest prank in film history. 

I really can't decide whether I want to see this movie or not. Will I laugh at it's obvious ineptitude or just be sad to see one of the most famous pieces of English literature get bastardized even worse than in Andy Warhol's Blood for Dracula? Maybe if I see it with two smart-ass robots...

More, anon.

Old Testament Christians

Boy, am I tired of so-called "Christians" who claim their values are based on the Bible when in reality, their values are based on the Old Testament, which has absolutely nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus as reported in the New Testament. 

Case in point: The Salvation Army. The SA espouses the Christian value of Charity unless of course, you are gay, in which case you can suffer. 

Founded in England in 1865, The Salvation Army claims to embrace all people in need, regardless of their sexuality. In reality, they oppose gay rights and fight against same-sex marriage. They don't hire LGBT people; encourage gays to "embrace celibacy" and tried during the GW Bush administration, to get themselves excluded from laws which prevent them discriminating against people because of their sexuality. As recently as 2010, the SA refused to accept donated toys based on the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" movies, because they thought such toys promoted 'witchcraft' and anti-Christian values. This, despite the fact that the "Twilight" series is actually a Mormon treatise which espouses celibacy until marriage.

If I remember correctly, Jesus never said "Hate the gays" or "Ignore thy neighbor." The SA uses a passage from Leviticus to support their anti-gay stance, but I don't imagine any of them espouses the stoning of women; the sale of one's daughters into slavery or the avoidance of shellfish, all of which Leviticus says we should do. 

Should you want to donate to worthy charities this Holiday Season (and I encourage you to do so), please direct your gifts towards organizations that so not discriminate against any particular people. There are may worthy causes out there, including, but not limited to: AmFar; The Trevor Project; The It Gets Better Project; The Red Cross; God's Love We Deliver; The James Tolin Memorial Fund; The Human Rights Campaign and hundreds of other NPO's that actually endeavor to make life better for all people.  

When I pass a Salvation Army red kettle, I drop a note that reads "Stop Discriminating Against LGBT People" and I urge you to do the same. LGBT activist Zinnia Jones has this to say about the Salvation Army:

Please... put your holiday donation towards a charity that doesn't promote hate and skip the bell-ringers this year.

More, anon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Goodbye, 2011

There are less than 18 days left in 2011. And honestly, for every good thing that happened this year, there were 3 bad things. 

The economy tanked even further, Japan experienced a major earthquake and tsunami, we lost Anne Francis; Jack LaLanne; Jane Russell; Michael Gough; Elizabeth Taylor; Sidney Lumet; Yvette Vickers; Jackie Cooper; Dana Wynter; Arthur Laurents; Delores Fuller; Jeff Conaway; Clarence Clemens; Peter Falk; Betty Ford; Amy Winehouse; Bubba Smith; Cliff Robertson; Andy Whitfield; Frances Bay; Charkes Napier; Steve Jobs; Andy Rooney; Joe Frazier; Ken Russell and Harry Morgan (among many others). We saw violence against peaceful protestors and the continued tragedy of teen suicides. Ignorance and hate still abound; the worst possible crop of Republican candidates dominate the news while more folks are jobless, homeless and completely ignored by an ineffective Congress that seems to think their petty differences matter more than the welfare of the country. Our men and women in the Armed Forces continue to die in two pointless wars; arsenic abounds in fruit juices and contaminated honey from China sits on our grocery store shelves. Big pharmas continue to reap profits from the suffering of millions; AIDS still ravages Third World countries; homophobia runs rampant and a beloved University football program was toppled by a pervert. Is it really surprising that a show about the Zombie Apocalypse is among the most popular on TV?

But the news wasn't all bad. New York State approved Same-Sex marriage; the US Military is finally being removed from Iraq; gas prices have started to drop and Good Samaritans continue to do nice things. And in the spirit of nice things, I thought I'd share the video clip below with all of you. 

You all know by now how much Uncle P loves a good flashmob. Sent to me by my co-worker Sue, here's the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management's official 'Christmas Card:'

There. Don't you feel better? I know I do.

More, anon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gayest Things You'll See This Week (NSFW Version)

If you are straight, easily offended, an a-hole or my little sister, I highly recommend skipping this post.

Gay comedian/songwriter/singer Jonny McGovern is back with a new video for his latest single "Dickmatized" from his upcoming album "The Gayest of All Time."

Jonny was a cast member of Logo's short-lived sketch comedy show "The Big Gay Sketch Show" and was often very funny on it. I posted his video for "Sexy Nerd" not too long ago.

His latest music video is certainly the dirtiest he's done, but  it's also very, very funny. And very NSFW (Not Safe for Work, for those new to the Internet - and if are in fact, new to the Internet, welcome to the 21st Century, Loser). 

I'm sorry. I try not to be mean, but it sometimes just slips out.

Anyway, here's Jonny's video (via). And while I won't admit to actually suffering from this particular condition, I will say that I understand where he's coming from (pun subconsciously intended).

Time for a cold shower... Or maybe I should take up B-Ball...

And here's a bit of Jonny on 'The Big Gay Sketch Show:"

Funny stuff.

More, anon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adapting Stephen King

Writer/Director Mick Garris is a friend of Stephen King's. He directed the mostly excellent TV version of The Stand; the more-faithful-to-the-novel TV version of The Shining; the direct-to-video version of Riding the Bullet and the TV version of Desperation (which makes no sense without its companion piece The Regulators, which was written under King's pseudonym, Richard Bachman). Most of Garris' versions of King's works are just okay. They certainly can't compare with Frank Darabont's astoundingly good film adaptations of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; The Green Mile or The Mist.

Garris is back with a two-part mini-series version of King's ghost story Bag of Bones airing tonight and tomorrow on the A&E network. Since I rarely watch TV in real time (I love my DVR), I won't be reviewing Bag of Bones until Tuesday. But I thought I'd share my thoughts on Garris' (and other directors') takes on King's works.

King is difficult to adapt to film. His novels often rely on emotional reactions to what is happening on the page, and that's not always easy to convey on film. And while King's plots and premises are often silly, he is quite skilled at developing characters about whom the reader grows to care. When awful things happen to those characters, it's easy for a reader to get caught up in those characters' emotional responses to whatever outrageous things are going on around them. Few film directors have been able to capture that. Brian DePalma (Carrie); Lewis Teague (Cujo); David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone); Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) and - to a lesser degree - Mikael Hafstrom (1408); John Carpenter (Christine); Mary Lambert (Pet Semetary) and George Romero (Creepshow; Monkey Shines; The Dark Half) have all had some degree of success with adapting King's works. And while there are plenty of folks who adore Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining, I have never been anything less than disappointed with that brilliant film which completely ignores a full third of the novel and makes so many changes to the story that renders it almost unrecognizable from it's source material. None of these movies can compare to Darabont's films in capturing King's intent, though a few come close. And don't even get me started on the many dreadful adaptions of King's novels and short stories, one of which was directed by King, himself.

Garris is limited by what American TV standards will allow. His version of The Shining, while closer to the novel, because of standards imposed by the FCC, omits all of the truly twisted sexual passages King wrote. And while Garris' version of The Stand is quite good (though often miscast), I imagine the proposed theatrical version might be better. Garris is a decent director, and his adaptations of King's novels are workmanlike and serviceable. Still, they don't always succeed in capturing the essence of what King manages to convey on the page. Not to be a naysayer, but I hope he is not involved with the upcoming TV version of The Talisman*, King's brilliant novel co-authored with Peter Straub (another amazing author whose work has been abused by Hollywood).

I'll let you know what I think of Bag of Bones once I've seen the whole thing. In the meantime, here's the trailer:

And here's a teaser trailer (which I've posted before) for a movie version of The Talisman (one of my favorite modern novels, ever) which never got made:

*Which partially takes place in the same universe as King's "The Dark Tower."

More, anon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finally In The Mood

Well, despite the monsters lurking amongst us, I finally feel it is the Christmas season. Temperatures have dropped and tonight I wrapped the gifts that I am shipping down to my sister and brother-in-law in Florida

It's not as much as I would like to or even usually send, but it's been a tough year for everyone. I'm spending less all around, this year. And the older we get, the harder it is to find the perfect gift (though I do pride myself on my gift-choosing skills). No one has ever looked at a gift I've given them and said "What the hell is this?" I can't always say the same about some of the gifts I've received. 

Of course, the gifts aren't really the point. 

For me, Christmas has always been about celebrating the love between family and friends. And as I've said repeatedly, I feel so very blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life. I can't imagine how empty my life would be without them. They make me laugh (and sometimes cry). They bring me joy (and sometimes sorrow). They offer ears to listen, shoulders to cry on and hands to lift me up. They go along with my crazy schemes; they perform for and with me; they accompany me to the movies and the theatre; they keep my secrets and share theirs; they know me as well as I know them. 

So, while religious Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of their spiritual savior, I celebrate my many spiritual saviors - the folks I love and who love me in return. So let me wish you all an early Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Good Solstice and the best in the coming New Year.

Oh - and here's the Gayest Holiday Thing You'll See This Week:

By the way - for those who find offense at the use of "Xmas," you should know that the 'X' in "Xmas" comes from the first letter of the Greek word for 'Christ.' Y'all need to get over that, already.

More, anon.