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Tuesday, 20 May

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Well, I haven't actually seen any of those things. I did once see a monkey washing a cat, but that was the Daily Show, and another time I saw a guy light his hair on fire at a bar, but that was me. None of these things are important, however. Because this last weekend I saw In the Name of the King by noted auteur Uwe Boll. So it really is time to die.

I'm no stranger to the work of Mr. Boll, having previously seen cinematic uppercuts such as the grindingly dull House of the Dead and the operatically inchoate BloodRayne. (Twice a year I complain to my video store that they still haven't bought a copy of the really promising-looking Alone in the Dark.) I was expecting the goods. By which I mean the bads. By which I mean the good-bads.

In the Name of the King is neither good nor bad, and yet it is both at once. In the Name of the King is the Schrodinger's Cat of garbage movies; until watched, it remains in a state of quantum superposition, and then when it is watched, the waveform collapses right along with your body's hemodynamics, and as you die, you think, "My last moment on earth was spent watching this movie."

This is, after all, a movie that stars Jason Statham as a farmer named Farmer. Farmer's wife is Claire Forlani, and his best friend is Ron Perlman, both of whom look distinctly embarrassed by the events unfolding around them. Statham, however, is incapable of looking embarrassed; Statham is in fact incapable of looking anything other than vaguely pissed off in any role he's ever had. In every role to date, Statham resembles nothing so much as Surly from Duff Gardens.

The rest of the performances range from simply slumming to baying-at-the-moon psychosis. In the former category I'd put John Rhys-Davies, who was apparently on loan--much like several set pieces--from the LOTR movies and Burt Reynolds, who looks so uncomfortable in his role as the titular king that when his death scene arrives, he appears to plunge into that good night like a man easing himself into a warm jacuzzi. In the latter, you've got Ray Liotta, a man with a truly puzzling film career that has seemingly rested entirely upon his tight, thin-lipped grimace-grin; he's the evil magic-guy villain, and he's about as frightening as a bent Slinky. Topping him, however, is Matthew Lillard, whose performance as the drunken fop who aspires to the throne is approximately as nuanced as the Dresden firebombing; halfway through the movie I wondered if Jeffrey Koons had paid him five hundred bucks in order to claim Lillard's performance as his newest art installation.

Somwhere in the middle of this miserable pack were questionable entities such as Kristanna Loken as the leader of a group of fierce dryads who are impeccable vine aerialists, and the always dependably awful Leelee Sobieski, as usual deploying her blankest brand of marble-mouthed dialogue and weirdly stiff gait. Both of them lose points in the end; Loken for not taking off her tunic like she pointlessly did in BloodRayne and Sobieski for failing to get punched in the face by Nic Cage like she pointlessly did in The Wicker Man. Frankly, I expect more from these ladies.

Boll's approach to action sets here is typically and magisterially Bollean: in order for the actors to not have to learn anything more than rudimentary combat moves, he simply makes sure that each scene is edited to contain no more than two seconds of action at a time. That way, you can see Jason Statham wave his sword within three feet of a combatant, and in the next shot, a basketball covered with hair and ketchup is thrown into the air next to the boom mike, and then you get a cut of John Rhys-Davies eating some corn. In the meantime, there are ninja archers performing balletic moves before firing synchronized arrow shots directly towards the moon and Loken and her band of Cirque du Soleil vine-winders are all swooping up and down failing to fall out of their shirts. The overall effect is not unlike having a small child describe his fever dreams to you. "And then the demon snowmen showed up but Superman and Matt Damon beat them with their science fart machine."

Did I mention the cannon fodder that Our Heroes are constantly battling? They are called the Krugs, and they appear to be cripples with scoliosis outfitted in armor made of artichokes. Their main battle strategy seems to consist of hunching over, running in circles and waving their arms in the air, creating the interesting effect of appearing to be a maurading band of vegetable-based addled ravers.

I mustn't keep thinking about this movie. Watching this film is like self-administering the Ludovico technique.

I can't go on. I must go on. It seems it wasn't quite time to die, but I also don't see Godot anywhere on the horizon. So: nothing to do but keep talking to you.

Let me tell you about my mother.

Wednesday, 14 May
Game Shows Touch Our Lives

Earlier tonight, staring at the gaping void that is the Wednesday 8:00 PM time slot, I made a choice. I watched The Price is Right. There he was! Drew Carey! Asking people penetrating questions such as: "So, how much do you think this can of beans is?" I love America.

(Please don't eat canned beans.)

The producers of The Price is Right were smart in that they have preserved nearly every embarrassing, half-assed aspect of the show, from the "Come on down!" hucksterism and hysteria to the bemused contempt of the host: Drew Carey treated most of the adrenalized contestants much like a cruise hypnotist treats the mooks he yanks from the crowd that he's about to force to act like homosexual construction workers. Carey seemed momentarily vitalized by the sudden appearance of a contestant wearing a Bernie Kosar jersey--he very nearly came within shouting distance of actual charm--before settling torpidly back into his colossal suit, like a hermit crab wearily withdrawing into a discarded Ding-Dong wrapper.

When I was a younger fellow, I had an unearthly love for game shows. I do not know why, apart from humanity's seemingly bottomless appreciation for these polyester spectacles. Wikipedia gives 197 pages of virtual ink to American game shows alone (out of 248 possible); I didn't have the heart or the intestines to even see what including the Brits would tot up to.

There was nothing I loved more as a kid than, when staying home sick (or in the summers) waking up to gargle joyously with a potent cocktail of daytime game shows.

(Apart, of course, from Saturday morning cartoons, but even then, I'm not sure. For one thing, I have way too many memories of the fucking Macy's Day Parade ruining everything. There I'd be sitting, at 7:00 AM, nearly in tears, as I saw a giant Pluto float fill my tiny TV screen. FUCK YOU, Macy's Day Parade. That was always the worst day of the year for me. "Look, it's a big Snoopy float!" my mom once said, trying to cheer me up. "You like Snoopy." "Not today!" I shrieked. She gave up and told me that the Smurfs would be back next Saturday. I was unmoved. I hated the Smurfs. Then a Smurf float went by on TV at the fucking parade, and I retreated into autism until I was old enough to smoke and legitimately practice sneering.)

But game shows! And not to get all 'mudgy on you all, but back in the day? THEY WERE GAME SHOWS. Sort of. At least they weren't botulism vectors like Deal or No Deal, which dares to ask the question "Can you count to 26?" Here were some of my favorites.

The Joker's Wild


This one is probably the earliest I remember, almost certainly because of the completely Mephistophelean appearance and demeanor of the host, Jack Barry. It welded all the tedium and dumb luck of slot machines with all the tedium and dumb luck of general trivia questions, and even better, when contestants missed a question, Jack Barry would explode into a cloud of stinging insects and eat his eyes right on camera. Winners were simply allowed to sob emptily as God turned his face away from them; it was a real sinner's game show.

Sale of the Century

I don't remember a lot about this one except again for the host, the diabolical asshole Jim Perry, who would periodically haggle with the contestants over the opportunity to "buy" prizes like robots that juggled dog turds. A surreally unctious douchebag, Jim Perry set the bar high for all future game show hosts to come. The show itself is also a sobering historical document: at the beginning of the show, each contestant had twenty bucks to spend. Awesome. Twenty bucks. That's like getting the opportunity to check your tire pressure at Conoco today.

(On edit . . . does Conoco even still exist? I think I hear my joints gabbling.)

The $(X) Pyramid

Oh, you all remember this; it long ago passed into the Emersonian Oversoul. A relative of the hoary Password game, this one paired B-list celebrities with fools from the crowd you attempted to get your partner to say a word or short phrase without using that word or any variants. I can't tell you how many hours I spent shouting out helpful clues for Michael J. Fox as he attempted to induce his partner to say things like "furburger" or "Morey Amsterdam."

Famously, the big prize money came at the endgame, which was basically the same thing only more restrictive. When (rarely) the contestant actually won, viewers would thrill to the sight of the ageless, ossified Dick Clark rushing over to perch on the back of the winner's chair and ecstatically shit onto the contestant's hair.

Press Your Luck

Another American classic, and another American classic TV hero, host Peter Tomarken, a charmless, witless haircut whose notable character trait was his sadistic good cheer displayed whenever one of the contestants hit a "Whammy," thereby losing all of their accumulated monies and causing some truly primitive animated shenanigans to take place, which featured things like the unfortunate Whammy being assaulted with hooks or date-raped or some such, and all the while Tomarken would be chanting things like "Guess you fucked it!" or "Pulled off your dick-skin there, didn't you!?" This show was really marketed mostly towards self-harming epileptics.

Name That Tune

"I can name that tune in one note."

Nobody can name any tune in one note. FUCK YOU, NAME THAT TUNE.

This wasn't a show for a young kid; they always played fucking garbage like Marvin Hamlisch. The producers probably got a little sweaty when they felt like being nervy and dared to plunk out seven notes of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Game shows are by definition hopelessly square, but Name That Tune was nearly a hypercube of curdled lameness.

The Hollywood Squares

I don't really have to summarize any of these, do I? They're almost all culture roadmarkers. Anyway, this wasn't even really a favorite of mine except for Paul Lynde, who for years I figured was a brilliantly inventive comic improvisor. "He is so funny!" I would screech at my parents, who would trade worried looks. "Wayland Flowers and Madam aren't nearly as funny," I'd solemnly proclaim. My parents traded a new set of looks, ones that said, "Well, at least he doesn't like bad queeny puppet acts."

I really didn't figure out for a long time that those fucking fools were being fed their zinger lines. And by then, Peter Marshall had left, so who cared? Also, I eventually had sex with women, which cheered up my parents. Sorry, gays! Seriously, you didn't want me lurking around anyway.

Tic Tac Dough

Another tic-tac-toe-inspired game (obviously), also salted with moronically easy trivia elements. Notable mostly for the immaculately lacquered host Wink Martindale (who, seemingly unchanged, now shills for Orbitz). I really only remember this show because my father once called him "Stink Fartindale," which I considered the finest example of comedy ever dreamed up by man.

Clearly, I still do.

Tuesday, 06 May
Go With The Phloem

This Sunday was our fifth wedding anniversary! And you know what the fifth means: wood. Yes, it is the wood anniversary. Do you know how many jokes I had to stifle? Erectile dysfunction can really kill a "wood" joke.

Wait! Is this on the internet? I meant that I'm as virile as a centaur! Oh, whatever, it's all too easy.

Here are some of the gifts that I lavished on my wife.

--Louisville slugger
--Cocktail muddler
--The wretched Promise Ring CD wood/water
--A seat as assessor of Wood County, West Virginia
--Fragment of the One True Cross
--Cunnilingus session from Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood

Well, not really. We're trying to travel to Europe later this year--good choice! The dollar is set to rebound any day now!--and so we didn't really go nuts for this one. But I did get her Season 1 of Deadwood, which I'm going to say counts.

But we did also have a lovely evening out. We started out our night at the Stumbling Monk, a Capitol Hill tavern that specializes in Belgian beers. It also specializes in the sort of anti-ambience that might be best characterized as a Fuddrucker's that was decorated only with things found at Goodwill. The Stumbling Monk, while having delectable beers, feels exactly like what it is: a former office supply store redecorated by a couple of schlubs who nailed some coasters to the walls and then went out to thrift stores in search of something, anything, that they might put around the place in order to cover up for the peeling paint and lack of running water. A dusty old fixed-gear bicycle presides perplexingly in an alcove that sits atop the primitive bathroom nook; next to it is a confused-looking typewriter. Nearby is one of those old boxy 70s gas heaters that seems all set to blow its payload directly out a window. For "fun," the bar stocks weathered old board games, such as Scruples--the 90s' bowdlerized answer to "I Never"--and a Scrabble game that is missing all the vowels. Needless to say, we love this place.

After that, we headed out to dinner at another Capitol Hill joint called Crave. "Two?" asked the unstoppably cheerful waitress. Her teeth were like Velamints. "We actually have reservations," said the wife. We all looked at the dining room, which had two other occupied tables. I felt sort of dumb. "Okay!" the waitress replied, and unnecessarily but enthusiastically scratched our name from the reservation tablet. She was sort of like Stalin, except that instead of executing us or forcing us into a gulag, she was going to bring us dinner.

We took our seats and ordered some wine and cheese, all of which were magnificent, and we took to idly watching the street life petri-dishing itself outside our window. Crave stands above a small theater space called CHAC, which stands for Capitol Hill Arts . . . Company? Collective? Consortium? Cocksuckers? I don't care. Anyway, there was obviously something going on down there on this Sunday evening, and whatever that something was, it involved the oddest mix of audience members I've seen in a while. There was a large constituent of the ink-and-skateboard crowd, wearing aggressively ugly clothing and fierce expressions; what was interesting was that for such an obviously anti-normals crowd, they sure did like to hug a lot. You don't often see a guy with full tattoo sleeves fist-pound another dude with a scrotum stapled to his forehead and then warmly hug each other. You also don't often see these sorts of fellows hanging out at theater venues with their mothers, but that's the only way I can explain the startling numbers of middle-aged women meekly wandering down into CHAC, clutching their purses, to witness what I could only figure was a reunion concert of the Crucifucks. The whole thing was deeply strange, but interesting to watch. It was, for all the cognitive dissonance, kind of a sweet scene.

On a cigarette break, I examined a tattered poster advertising what was going on that night: it was a night of dance performances. Well, okay. I returned back to Crave to deal with the rest of dinner and the pleasant waitress and her glinting, unsheathed teeth.

Which was happily fantastic. The wife had some gorgeous lamb chops--they were all out of braised puppies--and I had a "thick-cut" pork chop, which seemed to stretch the definition of "thick" to include "absurd." It had some glaze on it that included, ludicrously, sarsaparilla. I kept waiting for Yosemite Sam to appear tableside and ask me how my gol-durned hunk o' dang hawg was.

And naturally we ended the night at the Bar That Shall Not Be Named, where, as usual, we were treated as royalty. W., our humble bartender, fixed us our lovely drinks--I had a Vieux Carre; order that in your average bar!--and we quietly drank our nightcaps, chatting and surrounded by a pleasant hum of conversation, and warmly patted the gleaming bartop of comforting burnished wood.

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