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Thursday, August 28, 2003

A Hot Time in Radium Hot Springs

Sylvia and I are back from Radium Hot Springs. Much fun was had, even though our intended journey through BC was cut short BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE! We drove right by a burning mountain - the biggest fire I've ever witnessed. Quite a sight. After making it through that with barely a singe, we were nearly caught in a rockslide near the Yoho bridge, currently being refurbished. Okay, it was a small rockslide, but still worrisome, and I got dust all over my car. :-(

Our hotel room (at $95 per night, quite a steal) had a built-in private jacuzzi. Talk about relaxing - I nearly fainted in there. And at the hot springs, for that matter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Shots to the Teeth

Susan Shyluk notes that her brother Steven Neumann won the Earl blog pool by being the first in their clan to be mentioned in the Bleak House of Blahgs. It's strange I haven't written about Steven, Susan, or Susan's husband Jeff before, since there are so many great stories about them.

Jeff, for example, has taken several punishing blows to the teeth in the time I've known him - ironic, since he tells a great Teeth Tale himself, about a young man who shattered his teeth on a gymnasium floor. But that's another tale.

Two of Jeff's teeth torment tales take place in the office of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club, still located in room 620 of the Student's Union Building. I don't quite recall the chronology of events, but during one incident, ST and Scuba Club member Andrea MacLeod was bouncing a nickel off the desk. An errant bounce caught Jeff in the upper incisors, and the sound was like...well, like a nickel smacking headlong into a defenceless set of choppers. Jeff yelled and clapped his hands over his mouth, eyes watering.

The Star Trek Club teeth story had similar roots (if you'll pardon the pun). I (or was it Tony Longworth?) was flicking a plastic paper clamp across the desk, using the spring action to propel it, when it flew into the air and smacked Jeff - you guessed it - square in the teeth. He yowled and clapped his hands over his mouth, eyes watering.

Later, a bunch of us went down to Hawrelak Park to play frisbee. Well, not frisbee - we were tossing one of those flying rings around. We stood in a large circle, passing the toy back and forth, and for whatever reason, the circle got smaller, until Jeff and Susan were only three or four metres apart. The ring came to Susan, and she flung it with all her might at Jeff, not noticing how close he was. Jeff's arms were outstretched, and it looked like he was attempting to catch the ring in his teeth. Well, he caught it in the teeth all right - the ring mashed Jeff's lips against his brutalized incisors with a rubbery "twang," then rebounded into some bushes. Jeff howled and clapped his hands over his mouth, eyes watering.

Poor Jeff.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy!!!!

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy!!!!

Ahem. Sorry. Little excited.

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy


HOLY SMASHAMOLEY!!!! The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy is out on DVD!!!!!

I've seen the preview for this little-known film perhaps100 times, and it never gets old. As a clunking, clanking contraption of rivets and steel drums menaces mankind, to the rescue comes - THE AZTEC MUMMY! A shambling monstrosity, now mankind's ONLY HOPE!!!!!!! :-O

In the preview, the announcer screams, "The ROBOT - versus the AZTEC MUMMY!!!!" And that's just what I'm screaming now! The ROBOT - versus the AZTEC MUMMY!!!!!! Let's get ready to RUMBLE!!!!

Since there are several "Aztec Mummy" films, I'm betting the Aztec Mummy wins, but even so, I can't wait to see this little gem. I mean, judging by the preview, it has several elements true cinephiles drool over:

1) A fake-looking humanoid robot that wreaks all kinds of havoc, sending villagers into a wild panic
2) An aztec mummy
3) An aztec mummy smashing through walls
4) A robot fighting an Aztec mummy
5) Underground tunnels
6) Loopy, completely insane dialogue delivered with the utmost gravity

Shout it out, my homies! THE ROBOT - VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Clowns, clowns, they're evil and weird
Even young children and pets have they jeered
Clowns, clowns, with faces all painted
Even strong men when confronted have fainted

Who was the sadist who came up with clowns?
Those merry mad demons who joyfully drown
All hopes and all dreams and all manner of joy
Who cheerfully laugh as they eat little boys

If I had two wishes, the first thing I'd do
Is wish all clowns away, and for wish number two
I'd erase all the clowns who lived in the past
(Like Fatty Arbuckle, alleged pederast)

Clowns, clowns, they juggle and jape
Those terrible, tortured, juggling jackanapes
Harlequin horrors under the big tops
Backstabbing jesters, dagger-toothed fops

Clowns, clowns, Pagliacchis and Jokers
Stabbing your eyes out with gleaming hot pokers
Joy buzzers and spritzers and fools stuffed in cars
A pie in the face, and Bozo on Mars...

Clowns, clowns, they won't go away
No matter how much little boys and girls pray

Friday, August 01, 2003

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean

Sylvia and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean last Friday. Here’s my review:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is the best pirate movie since the days of Errol Flynn. The film succeeds because of two key elements: sincerity and a great sense of fun.

The first step in creating a good film is to write a good script. This is common sense, but it seems almost a lost art these days. Lo and behold, Pirates not only has witty dialogue, but a logical plot that unfolds with precision and clarity. Most action films these days are just a collection of expensive set pieces connected by the most fragile threads, but not so here; each bit of action is integral to the story.

And a good story it is, with likeable (or appropriately detestable) characters who have actual motivations for their actions and understandable goals. The predicament of the villains, led by Geoffrey Rush’s pirate scourge Barbossa, is so ghastly that you even root for the bad guys a little, if only out of sympathy.

And who can help adoring Johnny Depp’s lovable rogue, Jack Sparrow, the pirate without a ship? He’s the Hunter S. Thompson of the seas, looking and acting as though he’s taken a lot of really good drugs to shore up his courage for his many acts of derring-do. Of course, any man who takes a date to the film will have to put up with some swooning over Depp, but that’s all right; there’s plenty of scenery for the men to admire, too.

Orlando Bloom as blacksmith Will Tanner and Keira Knightley as damsel-in-distress Elizabeth Swann play the straight roles here, commoner and noblewoman who are clearly meant for each other, no matter that society forbids fraternization between classes. Bloom reminded me very much of Errol Flynn, in fact; he buckles his swash with extreme flair, and Knightley is spunky and independent without being overbearing. Plus, she looks great in a corset.

There’s a lot of fun to be had from the supporting cast, too, most especially the British navy men, whose upper lips are so stiff that I’m sure they could repel cannonballs. Jack Sparrow’s pirate friends are only sketchily drawn, but they’re likeable nonetheless; the black female character can even be seen as a progressive element in the film; her race and sex are never commented upon, and yet she’s presented as a pirate captain in her own right, and takes the helm of the Interceptor during the key naval battle.

The action sequences—chiefly swordfights and ship-to-ship combat—are spectacular, an overused adjective that nonetheless applies here.

The battle between Barbossa’s Black Pearl—usurped from Depp’s character before the film begins—and Sparrow’s stolen British ship, the Interceptor, is a thrilling spectacle, with cannon fire aplenty, grappling hooks flying everywhere, a suspenseful chase, and a brilliant maneuver that I’ve never seen before, but which seems so logical that I’m surprised this is the first time we’ve seen it in a film.

The special effects are seamlessly integrated into the film, used only when appropriate, and they’re very effective. Special effects should always be used to serve the story, never the other way around, and it’s a huge relief to see them used properly.

Klaus Bedelt’s score is perfectly suited to the raucous goings-on, and reminded me of the glory days of Erich Korngold. There’s lots of crashing percussion and soaring brass, all appropriately nautical—perfect music to shoot cannons and cross swords by.

Clearly, the filmmakers approached this material with an abiding respect for the genre, but neither are they afraid to send up its excesses. The key animal sidekicks—monkey and parrot—have been included, there’s a desert island, rum, a stodgy colonial governor, scurvy dogs, pieces of eight, the skull and crossbones, flintlocks, broadsides, the plank, the obligatory comic relief, and almost all the other pirate trappings. The only things missing, as far as I can determine, were a character with a peg leg and someone with a hook for a hand. Maybe in the sequel.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is pure escapist entertainment at its best. It’s lighthearted, funny, exciting, romantic, and it does all this without pandering to the audience. It’s my second-favourite film of the year, after X2.

By the way, don’t be in a great rush to leave as the credits roll; as is becoming increasingly common in films these days, there’s an extra treat at the very end. Call it the “post-credits coda.”