Known Johnson

October 22, 2008

No Tru Love lost for Ebert

Filed under: Movies — Tom @ 3:38 pm

Roger Ebert, one of my very favorite critics ever, recently caused a stir with a review of a film that turned out to really only address the first 8 minutes. So bad was this film that he couldn’t bear to watch any further into it. Of course, many among his readership erupted in angry diatribes about this, saying his job is to review the film, the whole film, and nothing but the whole film. But you know what? Ebert is one of those rare experts in the field for whom I hold complete respect on everything he says. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says – but I respect him immensely. In this case, however, I do agree, and it’s because of an incredibly thoughtful review for a mere 8 minutes of film that he did watch. There’s far more thought put into his writing than this awful sounding film warranted. What’s unfortunate is that if you read his follow-up, where he actually does review the entire film, you can click through to his further thoughts on the subject on his blog and read comments from readers, and you will see how people do not grasp that it really is possible to know a “tru” stinker from just 8 minutes. His review points it all out – he needs no more than this to know it will not get better. When you have seen as many films as he has, it’s pretty easy to spot the hopeless ones.

Sometimes you have to trust an expert to know when the signs are there – Ebert is one such expert. If there’s one critic I have come to trust, it’s Ebert, and it’s not because every positive review leads me to a great film – it’s because his reviews are written in such a way that I can tell, regardless of his rating, whether I will like it or not. That is the sign of a great critic, and he is a real rarity.

June 1, 2008

The Outer Limits of Fargo

Filed under: Annoyances,Movies — Tom @ 3:31 pm

Last week, Circuit City had one of those sales where a number of DVDs are marked down to some ridiculously low price, in this case, $3.99. Fargo was among the few decent movies in piles of absolute dreck, and I decided that this was the time to finally pick up this classic. Well, it turns out that it was not my time to do so, for the gods bid against me here. Pick it up I did, the one and only copy to be found, but when I got home later and opened it, what greeted me inside was not Fargo but . . . The Outer Limits? Well, I’m not alone, apparently. Here’s a dude who had exactly the same thing happen to him. Coincidence? I doubt it – my guess is that this sale was spurred on by some kind of production error where a small batch of discs got into the wrong cases, and they don’t know in how many it happened, but they know it happened in these certain movies, so drop the price, sell them off at a loss, and maybe a few people will complain and want the real disc while most will say “eh, it was $4. Big deal.” Well, cheap bastard that I am, I will be complaining to MGM* – I’ve waited ages to get this so I’m going to get it, dammit. I took it back to Circuit City and their policy is “even exchange only” – but since they only had the one copy, and it appears to be sold out in every other store. So keep that in mind. Best Buy isn’t the only crap-ass store around. Moral of the story: open those cheap DVDs in the store with someone watching, just in case.

*Except there appears to be NO WAY to actually contact the behemoth. Nice. Buyer beware.

February 24, 2008

Oscars the grouch

Filed under: Movies — Tom @ 8:35 pm

The Oscars are on right now. It’s hard to be too invested in it when we’ve only seen something like four of the seeming thousands of films that came out last year, and I don’t even know that any of them were nominated beyond Once. I’ll watch parts of it no matter what – Jon Stewart did a great job last year and I doubt he’ll be stretching for material this year, and, besides, it’s a great excuse to check out many of Hollywood’s hottest ladies lookin’ super hot most respected actors and actresses gathered together to honor each other’s great achievements. Ahem.


I’m a little peeved that one of the few films I saw last year is not nominated – the beautifully handled documentary about the Apollo astronauts, In The Shadow Of The Moon. It’s compiled from new interviews with most of the remaining living men who walked on the moon (sans the enigmatic Neil Armstrong, who maintains the hermit-like lifestyle he adopted immediately after his historic flight even for something this special) and archival footage that no one has seen in 30+ years. It was fascinating and beautiful, and for something that took as much time and effort to put together as this did, it is a travesty that it has been overlooked entirely, especially after garnering rave reviews from practically every critic. If you watch this and don’t come away thinking we did amazing things back then and don’t feel like we need to continue doing amazing things in space, well, I’d be surprised. It’s about more then 12 dudes who walked on a grey dustball in the sky.

The others we saw, in case you’re curious, were Knocked Up, The Transforming Robots, and, on DVD, Once. Of them, Once is up for best song, The Transforming Robots is nominated for Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Knocked Up got nuthin, but does that really surprise anyone? (Update: Holy crap, Once won! I figured that dorky-ass Disney crapfest was going to take it, with three songs nominated, but Alissa thought early on that those three songs might split the vote. She might be right, but I’d like to think taste won tonight.)

Do yourself a favor. Take $5 down to Blockbuster and pick up In The Shadow of the Moon, put it in your Netflix queue, whatever. Just watch this movie. You will see amazing, beautiful things and hear incredible stories. And then you’ll be amazed and maybe even pissed that the Oscar nominating committee overlooked this.

April 16, 2006


Filed under: General,Movies — Tom @ 11:07 pm

I awoke in the very early hours Saturday with sickening stomach pains and a general confusion and achiness. My first thought was food poisoning. I rolled around and around in bed for hours, jerking in and out of sleep violently as one position proved more uncomfortable than another, or one became suddenly very uncomfortable. Strange smells filled my head at times – pungent, sickening, vomit-like – and, in my sleepy stupor, I blamed my pillow for harboring odors that I’d somehow never noticed before. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning when, squinting and wincing at the the post-dawn lowlight filling the living room, I asked Alissa to close the blinds, that it hit me: I was having a full-blown migraine. And it was the first time in many, many years that I’ve had such a thing.

As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve had visual migraines on and off for quite some time and seem to get them every couple of months. Sometimes they’re accompanied by a migraine headache of varying severity, sometimes not, but they’re always paired with a common element of confusion, crankiness, touchiness, and loss of appetite, among other things. But yesterday I got the Big One, and it knocked me out good.

Now, a full day later, yesterday is a bit of a blur – a lot of pain, but not a lot of details. I spent a good deal of the day in bed trying, in vain, to get some sleep, and a lot of time in the shower – not getting clean, but simply sitting under a hot spray of water that pounded my head and, for a short time, alleviated some of the agony. The rest of the time . . . I just sat, doing nothing. It was a long, long day.

Somehow, out of curiosity, I had the sense to weigh myself shortly after getting up, having felt so bloated and painful overnight. I had lucked out and weighed myself the day before and was shocked to see that, somehow, I was 3.5 pounds heavier in the course of one day. This is important because, as the day wore on, I found myself entirely unable to eat and even unable to drink for the most part, save for a part of one cup of water and a cup of Diet Coke. When I finally went to bed – suprisingly late, given how little sleep I’d gotten the night before (but remember that state of confusion I mentioned – anything can make sense in times of extreme pain) – I ate one piece of bread. The migraine was slowly making its way out of my body and some sense of hunger had returned in the form of extreme stomach pain. Eating that one piece of bread was a mighty undertaking for fear that it would simply be vomited back up almost immediately. It wasn’t, and I slept fitfully for a second night, but somehow still much more restfully.

When I awoke this Easter Sunday morning, I felt refreshed and alive – the light was brighter and more beautiful, the air cleaner, everything, in general, better than it had been even before the migraine, not to metion nearly 6 pounds lighter than I’d been just 24 hours before. I’ve been reading Dr. Oliver Sacks’ Migraine and was amazed at how accurately he portrayed the reports of his patients, how they awoke after a migraine with the same near-euphoric feelings that I had. You have to wonder, is it simply making it past the migraine that feels so good, or was the migraine a kind of cleansing that makes the sufferer more aware to the rich beauty of life? I ask because, in days leading up to the migraine, I had been really, unpleasantly unhappy, a general unprovoked kind of dissatisfaction and a feeling of aimlessness – I felt like I was being ground down by life. And then this horrific event took place – due to some combination of triggers like stress, food, overexertion, need for sleep, you name it – a sudden attack that threw me off guard, and afterward I’m left thinking only about the good while marvelling at the time I wasted on the negative. Was the migraine a kind of flood gate that functioned to cap off something that was simply going to drown me otherwise? I’ll never know, thankfully.

Maybe it can be looked the way women describe childbirth: it was horrible at the time, but what resulted from it was wonderful. You never quite forget the pain, but you also never quite remember exactly what the pain was like. The human brain is amazing like that. It can allow something so severe and unrelenting to occur, yet leaves you afterward with only enough memory to know that it happened and that it hurt, but not enough memory of the pain that you don’t prevent it from happening again. Otherwise, like childbirth, who would willingly go through it again? If you awoke from a migraine feeling as if life was as crappy as it had been the day before the migraine, would anyone willingly suffer through the next one?

February 7, 2006

Bait and switch

Filed under: Movies — Tom @ 9:07 am

A few weeks back, after reading Chris’ piece on Defending Your Life and his need to own this, I realized that I too needed to own this. Afterall, I rank this as one of my all-time favorite movies, one of those great things that you can watch over and over, and that’s what I used to do when it would pop up on cable. Unfortunately, the days of Defending airing on cable are apparently over, for I haven’t seen it in a long, long time – so long that Alissa has never seen it.* I decided to rectify that and went in search of a copy locally.

For the uninitiated, Defending Your Life is Albert Brooks’ film about the afterlife. Sounds fun, huh? It is! Brooks stars with Meryl Streep, two recently dead people who meet up after their deaths in Judgement City, a kind of terminal for departures to Heaven. While here, the recently deceased are judged on the actions and choices they’ve made in their lives. Rip Torn represents Daniel (Brooks) as his defendant in a heavenly courtroom where we see regrettable moments of his life. Ultimately, the decision comes down to whether Daniel deserves to move on to heaven or must come back to live another life.

This is one of those films that is not only wonderful, but is endlessly quotable. Usually the best quotes come from really pretty bad films – a good line sticks out so much better in a bad movie. This one, however, is just a stream of humorous lines. A couple of my favorite moments that seem to stick with me on a day to day basis: upon being shown to the new car that would eventually kill him, Daniel is first presented with a luxurious high-end sedan. (I’m having to paraphrase this, because I can’t find the quotes, sorry.) “There she is,” the salesman says, and Daniel is flustered at the sight of this new car. When it pulls away, revealing his real car, a small, lower-end convertible, he quips, “You can’t show me mine after letting me see that one. Mine looks like a turd in comparison.” Moments later he’s on the road, top down, loudly blasting Barbra Steisand’s take on “Something’s Coming” when another driver is heard in the background yelling “Do we all need to hear that?!”

I’m just going to copy this whole section right out of IMDB’s quotes. Forgive me, copyright gods:

Bob Diamond: For example, I use forty-eight percent of my brain. Do you know how much you use?
Daniel Miller: Forty… seven?
Bob Diamond: [laughs] Three.

[Lounge comedian is talking with audience members]
Comedian: How’d ya die?
Arthur: I was in a coma.
Comedian: I’m sorry. How long were you in the coma?
Arthur: I really don’t know.
Comedian: Let’s play a game, Art. Elvis: living or dead?
Arthur: Living.
Comedian: Long coma, Art. Long coma.
Comedian: Well, there’s a nice-looking young man over there. Hi, how’d ya die?
Daniel Miller: On stage, like you.

And reading quotes like that only makes me want to see it again even more. Unfortunately, that was not going to be easy.

I checked Tower Records’ DVD section, I checked Best Buy, Circuit City, I checked the used music/DVD stores . . . nothing. So I ordered it from an Amazon reseller for something like $8 – a pittance compared to the greatness of this movie. And yesterday a package arrived, the invoice for which stated that Defending Your Life was inside. I unfolded the clever cardboard packaging to find . . . Air Bud? I shook my head a couple times, checked the invoice again, then checked the address. Everything was correct, except the DVD, of course. Air Bud.

The first thought through my head after that was simple: “Has anyone ever purposely ordered Air Bud?” It then occured to me that maybe this was a ploy by Air Bud‘s distributor – “We’ve got a million of these things and no one’s buying! What are we going to do?” The answer is obvious – coax buyers of good movies into “accidently” receiving Air dud, with the hope that apathetic buyers will simply respond with an “Oh well, it was cheap” and keep the offending DVD instead of returning it.

But not me! My theory bears more weight when I received a reply to my email inquiring about returning the DVD for the correct one. It was simply a generic response from someone there informing me not of a return-merchandise authorization number, but that I could follow a link in the email to see the status of my order. I already know the status of my order: it’s incorrect! After sending another more sternly worded email re-stating in very clear terms my desire to not own Air Bud, I finally got what I needed to get this thing back to them.

So, in a few weeks, after Air Bud has slowly crawled across the country to them, and Defending Your Life has scooted its way, inch by inch, to me, Alissa and I might actually get to watch this great film. I know that the best things usually don’t come without some effort, but I really didn’t imagine this.

*Alissa now reports that she has seen it, and it was me who made her watch it. I didn’t think she could possibly escape the past 10 years with me without having seen it. That’s just not possible. I don’t mean to go all Frey on you, Dear Reader. I lied to America, and I ask forgiveness. Oh Oprah, can you forgive me?

January 23, 2006

Question of the day

Filed under: Movies — Tom @ 2:51 pm

Is it okay with the rest of America if I have absolutely no interest in seeing Brokeback Mountain? Gay theme or not – I don’t care, I really don’t have time or, hell, whatever, to give a crap about anyone’s sexual orientation, let alone a friggin’ movie about it – I just do not want to see this film. It might be fantastic, and from most reports it really is a good movie. But like a million other “great” movies, if I’m not interested in the story itself, I’m not going to go see it. The controversy seems to be driving more people to the movie than anything else. Think about it this way: replace one of the guys with a woman and ask yourself how interested you’d be in seeing this. No thanks.

Hell, I’m still offended that people didn’t go see American Splendor two years ago. That was an incredible film that went completely overlooked by most moviegoers. And that was a true story. I guess a cranky recluse who writes comic books about his everyday life (drawn by other people because he’s not an animator) just isn’t all that interesting. Whatever.

November 7, 2005

Together alone

Filed under: General,Movies — Tom @ 12:57 pm

Alissa and I decided that maybe this weekend we needed to do something sans-baby, things we hadn’t been able to do for a couple months. We opted for a movie and dinner (in that order – we’re cheap and hit the matinee) while my parents hovered anxiously over Amanda for the afternoon, just waiting for signs of a smile, a diaper filling, or as is often the case, both. We chose to partake of Steve Martin’s new film, Shopgirl, based on one of his novellas. It’s better than the Rotten Tomatoes collective indicates – but don’t be expecting typical Steve Martin here. In this role, Martin is a predatorial older man, Ray Porter, preying on an unsuspecting loner played by Claire Danes’ Mirabelle Buttersfield, whose experiences with men, if her encounters with Jason Schwartzman’s odd outcast, Jeremy, are any indication, are few and awkward, at best. A budding, but struggling and hesitant artist biding her time behind the counter at Saks Fifth Avenue, Mirabelle’s life is empty. While she attempts to find a way to fit the oddball Jeremy into it, his bluntly bumbling ways simply don’t work out – and Ray steps in at exactly the right moment to whisk her away to nights filled with expensive dinners, private jets, and gifts galore. As you may already have guessed, both Mirabelle and Ray are looking for exactly the opposite of what they get out of the relationship, and, as in real life, wind up willfully blinding themselves to what is so obviously wrong.

It’s not a comedy, per se, but Shopgirl has a smartly comic and realistic touch – earmarks of what Martin brings to the writing. And, with an equally smart and deft touch, Martin crafts his role as Ray Porter such that he’s creepy in a “dirty old man” way and yet you still find something about him to like, which allows his romance with Mirabelle to ring more true than many other films would let it.

(I’ll also refer you to the much more accurate Roger Ebert review, with the caveat that I think Mirabelle is much more ambiguous and naive than he makes her out to be.)

We capped off the movie with dinner at the Jumper of Claims, home of massive plates filled with massive portions. (Side question: do they really need a Flash-based site?) Alissa chose her usual rotisserie chicken (with a giant glob of mashed potatoes and an apple muffin) and I opted for the chicken & biscuits dinner, and I got the “full” size because, well, it’s just two chicken breasts. What I forgot was that while the two chicken breasts aren’t overwhelmingly huge, the biscuits that come with it are, and in addition to the shoe-string fries (in place of the mashed potatoes – I’m not a fan, they’re just too creamy for me) it really does make for a hell of a lot of food. As it was, I took home one of the two enormogantic biscuits, but minus the sweet honey-butter they give you, which is a shame because it really is delicious on the biscuit. As good as that was, I wound up wishing I’d gotten a burger – their burgers are excellent, and it’s a very hard choice to make in deciding not to have one.

And then that was it – our wild, carefree afternoon was spent, and we happily returned to pick up Amanda. As Alissa put it, and there’s no way around it, it just felt kind of weird to be away from her, and alone together. We’ve been to ASU football games without her, with her dad and older brother, but “us,” together alone, doesn’t feel complete without tiny Amanda diverting our attention and entertaining us with smiles and noises. I guess the idea of a family, your own family, creeps into you, and makes itself known not by the presence of your loved ones, but by their absence.

Blog at