Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Movies That Suck: The Punsiher

*Warning: Contains Spoilers* 
 This weekend, against my better judgment, I decided to watch the 2004 motion picture adaptation of The Punisher starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn. Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of the comic book character as his only “superpower” was minimal body-fat and insatiable anger, and while this framework may not have appealed to me in a comic book setting, it was a perfectly adequate basis on which to stage a violent action film.
Like all revenge films, the protagonist must experience the violent death of an immediate family member(s) at the hands of an unredeemable villain. This act of violence serves two purposes: it untethers them from societal norms and rationalizes their callous disregard for human life. In this adaptation, director Jonathan Hensleigh (best known for directing Armageddon) takes the bar a little higher. Instead of the standard home invasion or drive-by, he stages a military assault on Frank Castle’s (played by Thomas Jane) annual family reunion killing all thirty members of his immediate and extended family using machine guns and explosives. As if this was not insulting enough the thugs proceed to beat him like a piñata, shoot him three times, then light him on fire before leaving him to drown in the ocean.

Castle, understandably dismayed at this turn of events, finds the criminal justice system too convoluted to properly administer his particular brand of justice. After being discovered in the water by a local who nurses him back to health, Castle returns to the city in order to announce his miraculous survival to the news media. He then rents a room in what appears to be a crack-den (presumably to lay low) and outlines his plans for retribution while befriending his neighbors. What follows is indeed punishment.

My biggest issue was the setup. I am onboard for senseless violence as a plot device, but are we expected to believe someone can mow down thirty American citizens in broad daylight without some kind of repercussion? Was it that necessary to ensure that every single attendee died? I really doubt that leaving a nephew or two breathing would have affected the story one way or the other. Quite frankly, I am surprised they didn’t have Travolta’s character put out a hit on Castle’s 3rd grade art teacher just to make sure he knew this was personal.

Even more ridiculous was the idea that a solitary local fisherman was able to nurse Frank Castle back to health. Setting aside the years of physical therapy normally required after being shot / beaten / burned / and drowned, this guy had Frank walking under his own power in six weeks. If an uneducated fisherman with no access to a hospital can produce these kinds of results, we need to reexamine how we approach healing in this country. Just think what this guy could do with an entire healthcare infrastructure at his command. Also, he did not charge Frank for his medical services so he may very well be a threat to the American way of life in general.

In addition to arming himself with guns, knives, and grenades; Frank is also packing clichéd one-liners that would make Michael Bay wince. For example, as Castle is leaving the care of his fisherman friend he is told to “Go with God.” His steely gaze piercing the horizon, Frank retorts “God’s gonna sit this one out.” Having sat through the next ninety minutes of the film, I cannot disagree.

Of course, what revenge vehicle would be complete without the villain getting his comeuppance? After  shooting, stabbing, or maiming the obligatory disposable henchmen, The Punisher finds himself face to face with John Travolta. After a merciful few seconds of cringe-worthy dialogue, Castle shoots Travolta, ties him to the bumper of a slow moving car, and then sets off a series of car bombs that resembles a skull from an aerial vantage point. Once this is completed, Travolta’s character is lit on fire. I was somewhat disappointed when Thomas Jane’s character did not spit on Travolta’s burning corpse just for good measure. He could have even thrown in a clichéd, “See you in Hell”.

Thomas Jane reportedly turned down several sequels because the scripts were not of the “quality” he expected. After seeing this film, I shudder to think of a screenplay that gives Thomas Jane pause. I can only speculate as to what would further anger a man who already had his entire family-tree whacked. Did someone change his federal income tax withholding so that he had to pay in? Did a new villain exhume the bodies of his family, defecate on the corpses, and then reinter them in his Jacuzzi? Alas, the world may never know….

This film has been rated “R” for genealogical-themed homicide and a scene of implied socialized healthcare.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Hamster Incident

At the beginning of the school year wife decided to obtain a class pet for her elementary classroom. The purpose was twofold, it would teach the students personal responsibility while being used as a form of positive reinforcement for acceptable behavior. The hamster was christened “Max” by the children and brought laughter and merriment to all he encountered.

Several weeks ago Max became afflicted with an unknown ailment and after checking with area veterinarians we discover that treatment would be $50-$75. If he was left untreated, the disease could prove to be fatal and he was in terrible shape. Respecting the deep sentimental bond the children had formed with the creature, we had only one choice: buy a similar replacement hamster for $13.95 and lie to the kids’ faces.

I was placed in charge of this task and entered a local pet store armed with a cell phone video of Max and the knowledge that I was looking for a Chinese-dwarf hamster. Upon entering the store I encounter a young woman working the front register who asked if she could be of assistance. I briefly explained my quest and when she asked what had become of the original pet I leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Let’s just say he fell in the shower…”

Upon hearing this, she inhales dramatically, places her hands on her chest and in a volume much louder than necessary responds “Why did you have a hamster in the shower!?” Sensing the judgmental eyes of several shoppers upon me, I decided to continue to the hamster section unaided. I was able to locate the Chinese-dwarf hamsters without a problem, and while they did resemble our beloved Max, they all seemed to have a disproportionately large set of testicles. This was going to be problematic since I doubted the children were going to miss the fact that Max had dropped a set of danglers over the weekend.

I inquired if perhaps they had a female model since Max did not come with such prominent reproductive accessories. After engaging two other employees, they assured me that they do not sell female Chinese-dwarf hamsters. Equally emphatic, I assured them that the animal my wife procured from their establishment was not “ridin’ dirty” and therefore must have been either a female or a male with a birth defect. Remembering the cell phone video, I asked them if them if they could tell by looking at an image of one. Two of them agreed to try and I found myself huddled around my cell phone with two complete strangers while they said things like “Can you pause it and zoom in on the gonads?” I just prayed no one I knew was shopping there.

Eventually, we engaged the store manager who suggested a different course of action. Apparently, when my wife acquired Max she had to sign a release (indicating that we would not sue if Max was carrying Bosnian elbow syndrome or some other exotic pathogen) and those forms were kept on file for a year. After several minutes of searching, she discovered the discrepancy. My wife had not purchased a Chinese-dwarf hamster as she believed, rather Max had been a Russian hamster. While he apparently was a male, the Russian variety is equipped with much smaller accoutrements than their Chinese counterpart.

We then walked over to the holding cells and after comparing the floor models with the video of Max we found one who was similar. They placed him in a carryout container and I proceeded to the register to complete the transaction. While standing in line, a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “What’s in the box?” When I replied that it was a Russian hamster, she looked perplexed for a moment and then asked me what separated a Russian hamster from other hamsters. I told her my understanding was that all hamsters were separated by their ideological views on socialism and that I was unable to locate a capitalistic-sympathizer version.

The conversation continued until I had explained to her why I, as a grown man, had spent a solid hour locating a specific breed of hamster. Once it was my turn to check-out, I was asked if I had any questions and I told the employee that I needed to spray paint the animal to better match his processor and was not sure if he needed a primer coat first. When this was met with dramatic gasps from shoppers behind me, I assured all of them that I fully intended to cover his tiny little nose during the process and he would be just fine. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Poop Again!

Earlier this year Trudy Grafton, principle of an Indiana Elementary School, called an assembly to address the third, fourth, and fifth grade students. Unlike previous assemblies, this one was not accompanied by a plea to stay off drugs or a sales pitch by the local Jostens rep concerning 5th grade class rings. Instead Principle Grafton informed the student body that someone had seen fit to smear large amounts of fecal matter on the walls of the restroom.

During her address, she referred to said excrement as “sh*t” which ignited a firestorm amongst the parents. In short order, the school board issued a statement assuring the public that the incident was being dealt with and Grafton penned an open letter apologizing for “using the explicative term for excrement.” For now it appears that the board will allow the principle to retain her job and although she has several years of administrative experience this is her first year as principle at that particular school.
Personally, I believe that firing this woman would be a tragedy. Just imagine it is your first year running a new school and on top of the endless parade of behavior issues and staff conflicts you now have to deal with poo hieroglyphics in the 4th grade boy’s bathroom. While I cannot condone a principle cursing at a school assembly, I can certainly sympathize. Unless she makes this into a tradition, let the woman do her job.

What the board should really be concerned with is that a student on the cusp of middle school completed a bowel movement, looked at their own feces, and thought “I should smear this on every non-porous surface I can find.”  While artistic turd redistribution is not unheard of in certain situations (prison, the DMV, chemical toilets at Ozzfest) it has traditionally been implemented as a sign of derision, often in protest of inhuman conditions. With that in mind, I suppose we cannot rule out the possibility that Timmy was simply making a political statement about the bureaucratic process suffocating our nation’s public school system.

This story reminds me of an incident that occurred near our office about a year ago. A portable outdoor toilet had been placed in a nearby alley, presumably to service the work crews renovating a nearby building. After several months, a few employees walking down the alley encountered what could only be described as a gastrointestinal crime scene. There, abandoned in the alleyway just feet from the chemical john, was a pair of men’s pants complete with soiled underwear.

It appeared that the garment’s owner had misjudged the severity of his situation and had become the victim of a premature deployment. Faced with the prospect of either putting his compromised trousers back into action or wandering the street half-naked, he apparently chose the latter. So there they sat for several months as a memorial to whatever it was he ingested the day before. Eventually Waste Management collected them or he decided that they were salvageable because they eventually disappeared.

Now far be it from me to pass judgment on someone in such dire straits, but as a veteran of several intestinal emergencies I am proud to say that I have never left a man behind. What does your diet consist of that you can be within ten feet of salvation and still be unable to go the distance? I cannot imagine the disappointment. It must be akin to falling on the last twenty-five feet of a full marathon…..and then pooping your pants.    

Saturday, February 18, 2012


When Whitney Houston passed away on February 11 at the age of 48, the world lost an undeniably- talented vocalist. As is the custom with American celebrities, she was found in a rented room surrounded by large amounts of prescription medication. The scene has become so commonplace I am beginning to suspect it is a package offered by the hotel itself. I can just imagine Keith Richards checking into an Embassy Suites and the concierge asking whether he preferred to have the maid surround his corpse with Xanax or Lortab before alerting TMZ.
While the circumstances of Whitney’s death might have been unremarkable, the media coverage was anything but. For three solid days, there was nothing else on television and they were scrounging up every warm body that could conceivable called an acquaintance of the fallen starlet. I believe that at one point I ran across Dr. Drew interviewing a lady who once participated in a church bake sale with Whitney’s dental hygienist. These insights were punctuated by footage of ex-husband Bobby Brown performing impromptu tributes during several stops of his “Have I Managed to Play Ever Native-American Gaming Facility Yet?” tour.

The public’s sudden fascination with Mrs. Houston has even impacted my personal finances. A few days ago, I was standing in line at the bank waiting for my turn to make a deposit. The woman in front of me had requested cash from her account and presented her driver’s license as proof of identity. When the teller glanced down at the woman’s ID, she gasped sharply and exclaimed “You look just like Whitney!”  

The woman, obviously flattered, coyly deflected the observation and revealed that she was “emotionally unable” to continue watching the news coverage because of its profound effect on her psyche. At this point, the teller abandoned any semblance of productivity and proceeded to reminisce about catching The Bodyguard on Lifetime a few weeks ago and how it had given her a renewed sense of Whitney’s prodigious talent. Bobby Brown was not mentioned.

Later that same week, New Jersey Governor Chris Chrisite ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff to mourn Mrs. Houston and recognize that she was “a great source of pride for the people of the state.” Her memorial service will be for close friends and family, but they have chosen to broadcast it online so that the masses can enjoy.

I will admit a certain ignorance when it comes to the rules of half-masting the stars and stripes, but I was always under the impression this ceremony was performed when presidents were assassinated or a space shuttle exploded, I did not realize that state governors could order it done at will. Are there no parameters? If Jersey natives Ice-T or Meryl Streep kick the bucket is he going to drop the flag again? If something happens to Kevin Spacey they might declare martial law and ration seedless-fruit.

If I was to become governor, discretionary flag-dropping is definitely one power that I would abuse. The building managers would have rope-burn every time The McRib goes into hiding or my DVR cuts off the two minutes of my show. On some occasions, I may even authorize three-quarter mast flag height if I am still unsure how I feel about an event (like the most recent Van Halen album or retro soda cans).

I am also unsure how I feel about webcasting a funeral. I suppose such things are inevitable in the modern era, and perhaps there is a business opportunity in such things. Just imagine, a site where you could pay your respects without having to engage in the awkward small-talk that usually accompanies a memorial service. Your virtual grieving would be interrupted by a few banner ads and a Tide commercial or two, but it still beats flying to Denver in order to hear things like, “She looks so peaceful.”