Thursday, August 25, 2005

Warning: read instruction manual; to order write to address on back

So there we were, enjoying a quiet evening at home, when we heard a beep. Of course our ears perked up, but it didn't happen again for a couple minutes. Then there it was again. BEEP! Just once.

"It's the smoke detector in the bedroom," Meg said, and she pulled a footstool over to reach the ceiling-mounted device. She fiddled with it for a moment and came to sit down. "The battery is running low," we agreed, "we'll get one and replace it tomorrow."
All is well.

About half an hour later it beeps again. This time I take a look. I drag over a chair to get a bit more height and attempt to open the device. This proves more difficult than I'd expected. Smoke detectors aren't the kind of things you just instinctively open--you have to try a couple things before you get it right. Pull on one edge, twist it, etc. But you've got it open after a minute.

Not so in this case.
I tried all the standard pulling and twisting techniques, but to no avail. I then proceeded to try popping the face directly off of its plastic clips by working all around the edges. It was pulling away where I was working at it, but no place seemed to be willing to release itself. I twisted the Test/Normal knob, pulled with more force than ought to be exerted and tried several times to push and twist it in various ways, but never got any closer to opening the smoke detector. I was at it for what I swear was 20 minutes. The funny/frustrating thing is what it says on the face of the smoke detector: "Warning: Read instruction manual; to order write to address on back." On the bright side, I somehow managed to make it stop making the irregular and infrequent beeps.

It was getting late, so we went to bed. After about ten minutes after the lights were out: BEEP! I felt myself shudder. "Maybe it'll be OK," I thought, "it's not that bad. It'll probably stop on its own. Or maybe I can ignore it and fall asleep." The funny thing about irregular and infrequent beeping noises, though, is that they're ten times more annoying than a regular fire alarm. So I get up, turn the lights on and go at it again. This time I pull open a gap big enough to slip my finger in. Thinking I might release a latch or something, I poke my finger in there. I must have touched off something on the circuit board, because the full-blown alarm starts going off. This of course ticks me off even more, but it gets a laugh out of Megan. Jiggling and poking a bit more gets the alarm to stop, but I still can't get the thing open. I prod and twist and pull nearly to the point of breaking the plastic, but it won't give. The beeping has stopped again, so what's there to do but go back to bed and hope for the best?

After a few minutes, though...
So I did what any red-blooded American would do. I got up and ripped the damn thing off the ceiling.
It beeps again. I yank the battery out.
It beeps again.
The schadenfreude of the situation makes Megan and I break out in laughter.
It beeps again. So I take the guts of the smoke detector into the living room, stuff them under the couch cushions and pile pillows and quilts over it.

I still don't know how you're supposed to open the thing.

The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key hits all the right notes, but it could have been done in half the time.
About a third of the way into the story I realized that they weren't even going to throw red herrings at me, so I stopped paying too much attention and decided to just sit back and mindlessly enjoy the movie. Because of this, I'm not ashamed to say I didn't completely figure out the "surprise ending" before hand. Megan did, but she always does. (She spent half of Mission:Impossible saying, "See? I knew it was him!")
The MTV crowd (this movie's target audience) has been teased with ads saying, "If you haven't seen this movie yet, don't let the cool kids who have ruin it for you by giving away the super-awesome secret surprise ending!" Not dissimilar to the marketing of creature features and horror movies from the 50's and 60's... just not as elaborate.
Don't waste your time on this one. It might qualify as a renter if someone hasn't spoiled the ending for you.
The old lady is the hoodoo woman (she's taken over the body, after having taken over the little girl's body back in the 30's) and the young lawyer is her husband, who used to be in the body of the old man, who's being drugged to stay quiet until the woman can take over the body of the hospice worker girl, which she does.
Now you don't even have to rent it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Batman Begins

For Andrew. His indelible spirit taught us how to live.

I’ve said it before. I’m not a fan of comic books in general. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of DC Comics history, but what I’ve heard from those who have read the original Batman comics is that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins finally gets it right.

I can only speak as one who enjoys movies and has seen the other summer blockbusters—and I agree. Not only does this movie get Batman right, it gets storytelling right. Among all of its assets, the strongest is a well-crafted script. Kudos to David Goyer (who also wrote Kickboxer 2: The Road Back… who knew?). When a metaphor doesn't hit me until the next day I know it was done well. Beating me over the head with symbolism isn't good writing.

I doesn’t hurt that the movie is packed with great talent. Everyone from Gary Oldman (one of the greatest actors of all time), to Liam Neeson (one of the tallest actors of all time), to Michael Caine (one of the most met on a New York sidewalk actors of Joe’s time), to Tom Wilkinson (one of the most remembered as “that guy from The Full Monty” actors in the movie), to Ken Watanabe (one of the greatest Japanese actors in Hollywood), to Rutger Hauer (one of the most quoted actors by White Zombie), and Katie Holmes (one of the best actors to have performed along side my mother).

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading now, go see it, then continue reading. Spoilers follow.

One of the major themes in Batman Begins is Fear. The villain of the story is The Scarecrow, whose fear-inducing gas fits the story well, and in the end when we learn that he'd been working with AbuDhabi (or whatever his name is) to refine the blue flower's drug, the plot fits together in a neat package. The metaphor is the flower itself. It represents Bruce Wayne's fear. He literally carries it with him, then of course he takes its essence in when it's time to confront his fears at the end of his Bushido-Batman training.

Fear can be a good weapon, but what’s that called? Anyone? That’s right: Terrorism. It's interesting that the major themes in Hollywood are now reflecting post-9/11 America. War of the Worlds does that too. It's like how movies in the 60's reflected the cold war and fear of communism through Martians invading, or everything was "atomic-" this and "atomic-" that. Now after four years or so, when we've gotten past the "foot-up-Bin-Laden's-ass" country songs stage, writers and Hollywood have found the vein of America's cultural consciousness and tapped it. For some, the parallels in images from War of the Worlds were too much and I've heard several complaints about it. That's a good example of heavy-handed symbolism slapping you in the face. Batman Begins does the same thing, but it's done right and people love it.

War of the Worlds copied pictures we all saw on TV. Batman Begins told us a story of human emotion and human struggle that we can all relate to.

Batman Begins is the best summer movie of 2005.

Don’t drink Baja Blast

“Baja Blast is a Mountain Dew drink you can only find at Taco Bell.” That’s the official description. Notice how it’s a “Mountain Dew drink,” much the same way Velveeta is a “process cheese loaf”. Similar to a comestible, but not quite a food.

It’s no surprise, then, that Baja Blast is found only at Taco Bell—the home of near foods, not to mention the inventors of the term ‘Baja”. Seriously, does anyone know what a baja is?

The point is, don’t drink the stuff. I can’t even describe what it tastes like, but it’s not natural.