Friday, October 31, 2008

13 Movies for Halloween

Not going out on Halloween? Want a decent movie to watch (or in one case, a great bad movie)? Here's some suggestions:

The Others: Creepy story of two families sharing the same mansion.

The Nightmare before Christmas: Halloween creatures take over Christmas.

Dead End: A family on a car ride attempt to take a short cut with dire consequences.

Love Object: A shy office worker transfers his feelings towards a woman in his office to a mannequin. Played for creepiness, not laughs.

Return of the Living Dead: Zombies and dark humour. They want your brains!

Halloween (1978): The 2007 version is fine too, but there's something especially creepy about this version.

Dawn of the Dead (1979): Again no slight to the remake, but the original story of people fighting zombies in a shopping mall is still the best.

Chopping Mall: Another good shopping mall horror, only this time with killer security robots.

Plan 9 from Outer Space: The classic unintentionally funny movie involves ghouls, alien invaders, and an obvious stand-in for Bela Lugosi.

Near Dark: A good ol' boy runs afowl of nomadic vampires.

There's Nothing Out There: A guy in a group of campers realizes they might be in a horror movie scenario.

Wilderness Survival for Girls: A group of girls camping either do terrible things in self defense or for no good reason. You decide which.

Highway to Hell: Sadly not on DVD yet, a hellcop kidnaps a woman and takes her to the titular road. Bad puns abound.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Wishes for 2008

As you may have noticed, Halloween this year falls on a Friday (so this essay can also apply to many other Halloweens to come, just not every year). As a result Halloween celebrators will be mixed with people trying to unwind after a week of work. So here's a few tips for enjoying Halloween this year.

1. Be sure to buy extra treats for your own kids. You may find more people not at home.
2. If you and/or your kid insists on pulling a trick on people who aren't home, remember the saying:"If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."
3. That person dressed up as a drunk might not be pretending.
4. Remember that some people turn into monsters for real when drunk, and wearing masks give them extra anonymity.
5. Don't let your kids eat chocolates shaped like bottles.
6. Don't bothered ringing the doorbells of people whose houses' music is turned up to 11. They won't be able to hear you and they may be unaware that it's Halloween.
7. Be careful when crossing the street with your kids to avoid drunk drivers. For that matter be extra careful on the sidewalk as well.
8. If you visit a house and the person answers the door and says, "I'm sorry, man, I forgot." Quickly say, "It's okay" and move on. You have a lot of houses to kill and don't have an hour to listen to the story of how they forgot.
9. If you yourself wear a Halloween costume to a Friday party, beware wardrobe malfunctions. Taking the Janet Jackson analogy further, consider pasties just in case.
10. Beware people dressed as vampires. Wine and blood look a lot alike when drunk.

Happy Halloween folks!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cats Flushing Toilets

When I sent the invite to this blog to friends, I mentioned cats flushing toilets in jest. But then I decided it was hardly fair to say I would post on this and then not do so. So...

On YouTube there seems to be two types of videos of cats flushing toilets: ones where the cats actually do their business in the toilet and then flush it, and those that flush the toilet just for the whirlpool effect.

In the former category, I definitely admire the intelligence of the cats, and their willingness to give up some of their independence to make their family's life a bit easier. But I can't say i get much enjoyment watching such videos. Really I don't enjoy seeing humans doing their business and I don't enjoy other creatures do so either. I'm not offended by the act; we all do it, it's natural. It's just a pretty private thing for me. I do understand some people get amusement by it and some get turned on, especially if it's humans. And I also realize that, conversely, that many cats enjoy watching humans do their business. Again, though, it's a personal choice and not my thing.

The latter case, though, I do quite enjoy. I love the sense of wonder and fascination with stuff that many cats hold, and I enjoy the sense of wonder and fascination that some cats hold for what is pretty mundane for humans. It's hard not to try to get into the cat's head and try to figure out what the fascination is. Is the cat trying to figure otu how it works, or does the cat simply find the whirlpool effect relaxing? I can't begrudge it if the cat does: there is something relaxing about a water fountain, and when I watch the International Fountain in Seattle, I find I get very relaxed. I think the repetition is interesting too: the fact that the cat will repeatedly move to the handle to flush the toilet, then back down to watch the whirlpool efffect, then back up to the handle, etc., seemingly never getting bored by this.

I think that in doing this cats reveal that we should never take even the little stuff for granted, that we should never lose our sense of wonder. Most of us have less than a century to experience life. We should find the joy in it wherever we can, even in a toilet bowl.

DVD Caveat Emptors 1

Again shamelessly modifying an older e-mail, but there's lots of new content. Unfortunately, yes the "1" does mean I expect there will be a part 2, etc.

Most of this post relates to Wal-Mart, but there's some non-Wal-Mart material at the end.

Wal-Mart has taken to offering exclusive bonuses on DVDs, but only for the single disk versions, even if double-disk versions exist. I'll expand on this below using three examples currently for sale: Sex and the City, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk.

Sex and the City:
Wal-Mart is including T-shirts with select single-disks (as the T-shirts have the names of characters from the show, they're probably of limited appeal to men, but it's still a nice gesture, or would be if it was attached to the double-disk version). So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's T-shirt(s) BUT
If you want both disks and the t-shirts you have to buy them separately, meaning you'll have two disk-one's (plus a t-shirt with a fictional character's name across the breast area).

Iron Man
Wal-Mart is offering an exclusive bonus disk with the single disk version of the movie. :( So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's bonus disc (which has completely different material from the non-exclusive disk 2) BUT
If you want all three disks you have to buy both 2-disk versions separately, meaning you'll have two disk 1's (as well as a disk 2 plus an exclusive 2nd disk which isn't disk 2).

Incredible Hulk
Pretty similar to Iron Man, albeit with a slight (very slight, as I'll discuss at the end of this post) extra wrinkle. Wal-Mart is offering an exclusive bonus disk with the single disc version of the movie. :( So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 and 3 (more on this below) OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's bonus disc (which has completely different material from the non-exclusive disk 2 and the non-exclusive disk 3) BUT
If you want all four disks you have to buy the 3-disk version and the single plus Wal-Mart disk version separately, meaning you'll have two disk 1's (as well as a disk 2 & 3 plus an exclusive 2nd disk which isn't disk 2 nor 3).

In all three cases I plan to wait for them to drop in price and then get the more common 2-disk versions. Wal-Mart's Iron Man & Incredible Hulk bonus disks are likely to have some scarcity appeal and I would be happy to have the extras but the "real" disk 2s have more interesting extras given that I'm forced to make a choice.

Pretty bone-headed in my opinion. An exclusive bonus disk is of greater interest to the DVD consumers who want everything. Connecting an exclusive disk to a single-disk version when a 2-disk version exists is nonsensical because the single disk buyers are generally the people who don't want to look at bonus material.

But I said I would tackle something that wasn't Wal-Mart, didn't I? Well, let’s revisit The Incredible Hulk. I said that with the non-single-disk version there are 3-disk, didn't I? It certainly announces it on the front cover. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? Exciting enough that I might have bought it at over $20. Only one problem: I read the back cover.

Once you read the back cover you discover that the 3rd disk is simply a copy of the movie that you can download into your pc or iPod and... nothing else. If you'd rather just play the movie on your disk it has nothing that the first disk doesn't offer, and the first disk has additional extras (commentary and deleted scenes).

Now don't get me wrong, I'll still get this at some point. The second disk sounds like it's chock full of extras. My point is, if you're considering getting this, ask yourself if you'd buy it at the price listed if it had only 2 disks. If so, then go ahead and buy it; you'll probably be quite happy with your purchase. But if you would only buy it at the price offered if it had 3 disks, then wait until the price reaches 2-disk levels.

Review: Religulous

Note: This is a modified version of an e-mail I sent to the buddy I saw the movie with.

Premise: Comedian/political activist Bill Maher goes on a crusade to convert religious folks to atheism to save the world from Armageddon

This movie is Evil! The people who made it are going to burn in... oh, wait. this blog is called Sane Insanities. Very well, then, here's a sane review of the movie from someone who is in fact religious.

The movie didn't quite work for me. I did find Maher funny at times (the mock translations, etc) and did laugh at points at targets I agree with (I think a lot of televangelists are going to Hell for corrupting their religion). I think if you already agree with most of what Maher says, you'll probably find the movie very funny.
But here's why the film didn't quite work for me, despite the film giving me stuff to think about:
  • Maher makes numerous attempts to interrupt the subjects (one of my favourite bits was when the one guy wouldn't let him interrupt him).
  • Related to the above, Maher does not always let his subjects finish (he dismisses the one guy who said he had a series of miracles because he didn't agree that the first point was a miracle, and did not let him provide other examples; he did not address the guy's point that one incident in isolation might not be a miracle but that a series of events might illustrate a pattern).
  • He engaged in listening to subvert rather than understand: when he asked questions, he was clearly looking for stuff that he could use to throw in a zinger, as opposed to really trying to understand the other side's perspective (which he claimed was his goal at the beginning of the film). This is the reason why my favourite of the current crop of entertainment-based documenters is neither Maher nor Michael Moore but rather Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days). While he's also funny, he also makes a genuine effort to understand perspectives he disagrees with.
  • Maher does not tackle religion from a spiritual perspective, only from a purely logical perspective. While he addresses faith and how illogical it is, he does not address the fact that people seek out religion to feed some spiritual side of them (in fairness the film does show one guy alluding to this). He thus assumes that religion is purely a security blanket and does not really address other reasons why people seek religion.
  • Further on the logical bit, he ignores emotions completely beyond the aforementioned dismissing blind faith outright. To really understand religion you do need to look at the emotional side because it's absolutely critical to religion.
  • He goes for easy targets and does not address more difficult points when they come his way (the aforementioned pattern argument, plus there was a point in a Jesus-themed park where he dismisses the park's head's claim that people from other religions are welcome; later at that park when a Jesus actor sent a difficult question back at him, he gave a smirk but made no more effort to answer the question than "Jesus" did).
  • Related to the above, Maher shows disdain when people make fair points (he smirks when the guy running the Jesus park points out that he lets people come to the park and does not try to force religion on anyone, or even particular beliefs).
  • Again related to easy targets, he ignores those aspects of religion that have caused little harm over the centuries (the Wicca for example) and does not examine areas where religion has benefited people (e.g. providing food for the poor).
  • He contradicts himself a number of times (again he claims at the beginning he wants to understand religion but then makes no effort to do so in his journey; he claims he does not know, yet other times he claims he does know that there is no validity to religion).
  • He basically comes across as bullying the people he talks to; while funny he's also pretty mean-spirited even towards nice people (my gut feeling is that the Muslim woman he bullied probably isn't one of those Muslims who agrees with 9-11).
  • Maher does not address the belief that some religious people have (myself included) that while there are some facts in the Bible, a lot of the stories are allegories.
  • While he makes some intelligent points his inability to really understand the other perspective and in fact the need to come into people's religious centres with no real purpose than to make fun of them does suggest a certain level of insecurity about his atheism. Why is he so afraid to really understand the other side? Growing up I was regularly bullied by people who were afraid of me because I was different. I do see a lot of that in Bill Maher, at least in this film: he's afraid to let in anything that might chip away at his world view, so he takes a wrecking ball to other people's world views).
  • Maher claims, especially at the end that his film is designed to convert people to atheism, let frankly his attitude is more preaching to the converted. While again, he's pretty funny, you convince more people (at least in part) by trying to understand their perspective and comparing notes than by showing a complete lack of respect for deeply help beliefs and openly mocking them. In this area in particular the film must be considered a failure because for the most part it's unlikely to achieve what it supposedly set out to do.
  • The friend I was with would probably be annoyed if I didn't mention her pet peeve: that when looking at how gay people have been oppressed by religion, no lesbians were spoken to (they might have been glimpsed in a quick montage).
Now, watching the film wasn't a total loss or else I wouldn't have that much to say about it. I'm definitely not one of those radical bible-thumpers who think the film should be banned. I feel that the true test of believing in freedom of speech means willing to hear perspectives you don't agree with. I just didn't agree with much of what he said (beyond religion being abused by warmongers and televangelists. And yes, the guy who believes himself to be Jesus reborn is probably a crackpot). He also makes some good points on how religion can lead to bloodshed and the risk of us blowing up the planet sooner or later, but I don't think he realizes how distracting the religion part is to the message of "We really ought not to blow up the planet". I'm not saying he can't do a film about how religion can be self-fulfilling in the Armageddon department, but if you do, you ought to realize that religion is a highly complex issue and can't be dismissed as easily as the more extreme atheists want to believe.

Maher is a witty, intelligent guy, and if he were to do a documentary on something I agree with, I would probably laugh a lot. It would probably prove to be a severely flawed film when I dissected it unless he learned from this one, but I would laugh a lot more nevertheless.