Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wal-Mart: From the womb to the tomb

Maybe you've heard this and maybe you haven't but Wal-Mart, following in the footsteps of Costco, is now offering caskets for purchase on their Web site.
My first instinct was to scoff at this and shake my head at the downfall of society. The more I think about it, though, the more sense it makes. If you're willing to procure your final resting place from here, you're probably already a dedicated Wally World shopper anyway. What could be more fitting than buying your casket from them as well?
From the Associated Press article:

The caskets come from Star Legacy Funeral Network, Inc., a company based in McHenry, Ill., that sells the same caskets for about the same price — some less — on its site, along with many others.

Star Legacy CEO Rick Obadiah said the response in the first week has been better than the company or Wal-Mart expected, though he declined to give specifics. A spokesman for also declined to release sales figures and downplayed the venture.

"Several online retailers offer this category on their sites," spokesman Ravi Jariwala wrote in an e-mail. "We are simply conducting a limited beta test to understand customer response."

But Obadiah said it is not simply a test. He said more than 200 Star Legacy products, including pet urns and memorial jewelry, and eventually about two dozen caskets, will be sold at The company also supplies similar types of products to online retailer and urns to CostCo's Web site.

This reminded me of a bit comedian David Cross does on his "It's Not Funny" CD about segregated graveyards in the deep south:

There's a kind of racism in the south that is really so steadfast and true that I almost kind of begrudgingly, you know, admire it in a way, and that is that there are segregated graveyards. That just to me defies all logic...but it's also, like, "Well, hats're going to stick to your guns on that one, and take that shit to the grave? All right!" There's enough people to go, "Naw, man..ugh, I don't even wanna think about it. My dead, lifeless, rotting, maggot-infested to some black man's? Ewww!!! That's gross!" But that does pose an interesting scenario, because, what's going to happen when the zombies rise out of their graves? ... "We must take over the human race-- wait, what were you?" "I'm black." "Fuck you, nigger, you can't come." "What? No! But I'm a skeleton, you can't tell!" "Fuck youuu..."

That's what I love about these two death-related ideas: even if I think they're insane and stupid you have to give to the people that participate in them for their commitment to the idea.
It really does give a new twist to Wal-Mart's motto:

Always, indeed.

twentysomething watching thirtysomething

On September 29, 1987 I was 4.5 years old and my brother Chris had been on the planet for four months. That was the day the television show thirtysomething premiered the pilot episode of its run. October 27, 2009 was the day I watched it for the first time.
It is about as terrible as I expected.
All these yuppies can cry me a river of synthesizer tears. I get the premise. The baby boomers are upset that the revelation has been bought and sold. But in the present tense, with unemployment poised to crack 10 percent, they can sing the young urban professional blues to someone else.
The 80s were a weird time for fashion, especially for those older than 20 the time. At least the kids had an interesting take on it. The sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, though, were thoroughly confused. Overalls, jean shawls and puffy, flowery blouses for the women and tucked in, knitted, square-bottomed ties for the menfolk.
Mostly I don't like this show becuase in many ways it's like a made-for-TV version of the baby boomer experience of the Greed Decade. Ba humbug.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Enter the Mario Kart

One of the main reasons I don't play our Wii as much I'd like to has a lot do with movement. This is to say, anything that involves getting off the couch after I've come home from work. I've waved my arms and jumped around enough just getting through the day without having a computer simulation that causes me just as much pain as walking to lunch.
But then Ash got me Mario Kart for the Wii with wheel remote and that all changed.
I just finished a record-setting winning streak in which I aced at the very least 15 races in a row. It's now official: I am a pro at the beginner level. Hold your applause.
I have never played any incarnation of Mario Kart before this one, but like "The Godfather" I just heard about it from so many people that I just assumed it was good. (Kind of like "Goldeneye" for the N64 also.)
Mario Kart is so fun for many reasons, but I think it mainly has to do with two things:
1) The innate hand-eye coordination that comes complete with associated muscle memory.
2) The universe it creates is out of control fun to look at.
The entire Mario empire is so steeped its own mythology that at this point it's like seeing an old friend. Even the fire levels with pyramids and the ball and chain monsters seems like a homecoming. ("Oh level two of Super Mario Brothers 3 how I've always despised you.")
Now we just need to get another circular control port for the other controller and it's going down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This American Life: "Devil on My Shoulder"

I'm listening to this week's This American Life episode and it is awesome. It's a repeat of an episode I've heard before, but it's one of my favorites. It's Episode 213 "Devil on My Shoulder" and if you haven't heard before, but do possess an hour of free time and a high speed internet connection should listen to it immediately.

Here's an overview of the program notes:

213: Devil on My Shoulder

Stories of people who are trying to convince you that the Devil is there, whispering in your ear...and stories of people who try to deny he's there, against some very heavy evidence.


How does the Devil work? We hear stories from five different people who say they found themselves inexplicably doing something random and bad, something which made no sense to them at all. Host Ira Glass explains why this might be, cadging a bit from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. (11 minutes)

Hilarious. I laughed so hard at this. We all have strong random emotions from time to time and this explains this perfectly.

Act One. It's Fun to Make Hell on Earth.

Trinity Church in Texas puts on something called Hell House every Halloween. It's like a haunted house, but each scene shows teenage church members acting out scenes of things the church considers sins. There's a homosexual dying of AIDS; a girl in an abortion clinic (on a doctor's table with fake blood splashed between her legs); a mom who leaves her family for someone she meets on the Internet. George Ratliff made a documentary about all this called Hell House. He plays some of his footage and talks about how effective it is, and how much of a thrill it is for the pious teenagers to act like sinners. (14 minutes)

Song: "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels Band

I actually saw an entire documentary about this phenomenon. Fascinating.
Sample line of dialouge:
"This is the rave slash suicide scene."

Act Two. Sixteen Candles Can Lead to a Lot of Fire.

Faron Yoder lives in Amish country in Indiana. When he was a teenager, like every Amish sixteen-year-old, Faron was allowed to abandon the restrictions of Amish life and live as a regular American teenager. It's part of an Amish tradition called rumspringa, which lets Amish kids drive cars and drink and party for a few years, before they decide whether or not to be baptised into the Amish church and live an Amish life. Now 21, Faron explains to Ira why most Amish kids decide to stay Amish after rumspringa, and why, at 21, he hasn't. He's featured in a documentary called Devil's Playground, by filmmaker Lucy Walker. (9 minutes)

Are you not entertained?

Act Three. Devil in Angel's Clothing, or Is It the Other Way Around?

The story of a man who committed a murder when he was a teenager. He got away with it, and didn't tell the police for twenty years. But then one day, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to him, he did. Reporter Sarah Koenig talked with him in prison, about what it's like to come clean after twenty years, but not even remember how or why. (21 minutes)

Song: "Devil or Angel, The Clovers; and Running with the Devil," Van Halen


Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Book of Daniel"

The canceled 2006 TV show "Book of Daniel" grabbed my attention because:
- It featured an Episcopalian priest as the main character. (I was raised in the faith.)
- It also featured a hallucination by said main character where he imagines he's talking to a not-very-good-looking version of Jesus.
We watched the better part (I think) of the pilot episode tonight. It was not good.
In fact, when I went to research the movie online I was shocked to find that most of the criticism of the show was from the conservative Christians. From the Wikipedia article:
A spokesman for the evangelical organization Focus on the Family compared the show's depiction of Jesus to a "namby-pamby frat boy", saying that "Having previewed the pilot and an additional episode, I find NBC’s new television show, The Book of Daniel, extremely repulsive in its portrayal of Jesus Christ and intentionally offensive in its flippant attitude toward behaviors almost universally agreed upon as unhealthy to society."

I will agree that the actor they picked to play the Son of God wasn't as cut as some other film Jesusi I've seen (I'm looking at you Jeremy Sisto.) But the real crime here is that it is just not a very good show.
I can just hear the log line now:
It's "7th Heaven" meets "Six Feet Under" meets "Joan of Arcadia."
How disappointing it is that people get all worked up over the wrong things. Their biggest concern is a frat boy Jesus giving a thumbs up to the gays when what they should be worried about is the fact this show is one big forced conflict. Gay son! Adopted son! Asian son! Marijuana-selling daughter! Pill addictions! Death! Affairs! Embezzlement! Hallucination! Jehova!
Real Episcopal days are hardly this action packed. Say what you want about us, but we know how to keep things in order in the end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Crank II: High Voltage" is the best sequel ever.

Most sequels seek to take what was successful about the original and turn it up a notch. This often results in a copy-of-a-copy feeling that proves the rule of diminishing returns. The most successful of these feel as if they were saving all their best the second installment.
When I rented “Crank” and “Crank II” in succession I thought the first would prepare me for the second.
This was very, very wrong.
“Crank” is based on the premise that that professional hitman Chev Chelios can’t stop moving or else the synthetic Chinese poison that has been injected into his blood stream will kill him.
“Crank II” takes this about 100 steps further by having his heart replaced by a mechanical organ that needs to be juiced to continue working.
Watching “Crank II” you almost get the sense that the first installment was just an excuse for the second’s existence. The introduction of high levels of electricity was a stroke of genius. The first film was an open-ended canvas for which every way of raising Chelios’ heart rate were splashed on screen. This goes many times more for the second film. In “Crank II” Chelios tasers himself, grabs a power pole and attaches jumper cables to his nipples.
My words would only do a disservice to this whirlwind and after only one viewing I’m not sure I caught everything. I vaguely remember a flashback in which Chelios’ mother, played by Geri Halliwell (formerly Ginger/Sexy Spice,) takes him on a talk show because of his bad behavior. There are a hundred other fantastical, disconnected images in my memory that I can’t quite piece together.
No matter the viewer’s sensibilities, boredom is not an emotion I would imagine many dealt with.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Every bad movie should watch "Crank" and take notes.

"Crank" is the definition of a must-see movie.
I'm not sure I mean for everyone. There are certain sensibilities that won't take to it's XTREME nature. I wouldn't want to waste anyone's time.
What I want is to make this required viewing for every director who realizes they are in the midst of making a film that doesn't work. I fully understand that no one sets out to make a shitty movie. Things happen. I get it.
What I can't stand more than anything is a piece of art that's strictly middle-of-the-road. The worst thing a movie can be is forgettable. I know I've seen "S.W.A.T." and "The Leauge of Extraordinary Gentlemen." I have the ticket stubs to prove it. The problem is, I can't remember anything about them. Not one single, solitary scene. That's probably five hours and several dollars out of my life. I'll never see that again.

"You there! Director boy! Make with that paycheck I was promised!"

"Tromeo and Juliet" was a horridly bad movie, but the image of Tromeo eating popped popcorn out of Juliet's cleanly exploded stomach will live with me until the day I die.
"Crank" is a bad movie. Now when the directors looked at the fork in the road they went straight. They took their concept to the max. The movie has a built-in driver that the rest of the plot is speared on and super-charged by: Hired killer Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is injected with a synthetic Chinese poison that will kill him if he stands still.
But still...
Subtitles that only cover random phrases embedded in sentences. Overt, surely paid, corporate shoutouts to Google maps. The inclusion of every racial stereotype for every hue except white, who are always the heroes. These do not normally a great movie make.
But still...
The chutzpah to have your main character standing atop a stolen motorcycle rolling down the street in a hospital gown; all while sporting an implied erection, now that's entertainment.
This above all, to thine own self be true. If you're going off the rails anyway, why NOT step on the gas?

UPDATE: Just looked on the special features and apparently you can listen to the family-friendly audio version of the movie that plays on cable television and on airplanes. Genius.