May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011

In My Opinion: Fast Five

Vin Diesel’s assertions aside, this is no Oscar film. I think we’ve learned that Oscar films usually involve characters overcoming adversity while wearing period costumes and speaking with British accents. Fast Five involves characters overcoming adversity while towing a bank vault through Rio with souped-up Hondas. All worthy of acclamation, to be sure. Fast Five’s addition to the cinematic canon, perhaps less so.

I’ll break this down for you as for someone unfamiliar with the series to this point, as I had been. The film opens with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto on a prisoner transport bus. Said bus is spectacularly blown up, allowing Toretto to escape. So right in the first five minutes, we have a) flipped an entire passenger bus and b) sustained no casualties despite the fact that zero of the passengers were wearing seatbelts. Credibility has already been tossed to the wind, so whatever’s coming up should be amazing.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we meet Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner, who is apparently former law enforcement. Dominic’s sister is O’Conner’s love interest. The two of them meet up with some friends to steal fancy cars off a train. We have shades of Firefly here (or do I just try to see them everywhere?) and some pretty cool gadgetry. They exchange some gunfire with the DEA (wait, why is the DEA involved?) and blah blah blah everyone eventually gets back to the safe house.

Shift gears (no pun intended): the gang discovers a chip hidden in one of the cars that reveals the location of all the safehouses owned by *the* drug lord of Brazil (DEA, gotcha). Since Dom’s sister and Brian are having a baby, the gang decides that the best baby shower is one funded by illegally-gotten drug money. Time to rob the safehouses!

Here we have a series of plot machinations that culminate in that car chase through downtown Rio. You don’t need to know how the gang ends up towing a bank vault with stolen cop cars while being chased by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Just go with it. Btw, they totally end up with the cash, obviously.

I’m not in a position to say how this movie fits in the F&F canon, nor whether it remained true to character and spirit. What I can say is that you need little knowledge of the other four films, the English language, or logic to enjoy this one. In fact, too much familiarity with either of those things might ruin the credibility of F5. (I did rent the initial movie to see if that helped; I was just confused by the hairstyles, additional characters, and Vin Diesel’s eerie agelessness.)

May 25, 2011

May 25, 2011

Let's Go. Expo. San Diego.

A few weeks ago, I got to attend the GSA Expo in San Diego. This was my second Expo—last year’s was in a swamp sometimes known as Orlando but which I recall as “That Place Where I Turned Into a Puddle While Waiting for the Shuttle Bus.”

Anyhoo. The GSA Expo is thrown by the General Services Administration, the agency charged with managing the government’s buildings and cars and whatnot. They are literally the landlords and used car salesmen of government. The rest of us treat them as such. However, the plus side of GSA’s fat coffers is their annual shindig for those of us who buy things with government money. We are legion.

This year’s keynote speaker was Steve Wozniak, aka Woz, aka the guy who founded Apple…no, not Steve Jobs…the other guy. He focused his speech on innovation, but did manage to get a few potshots in at government. NOT COOL, WOZ. NOT COOL.

The sessions I attended are probably of no interest to you, as they focus on things like SmartPay, E-Gov, the FAR, and the FTR. So I’ll just say that I sat in a room like this five or six times during the week:

And there were the lunches. Oh, the lunches. Glorious free lunches!

Plus the vendor fair. Now, working at federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named as I do, my purchasing is limited to supplies, equipment, and the occasional cool item. But when you go to a governmentwide vendor fair, you realize that we buy A Lot of Stuff. I mean, John Deere has a booth (for USDA?), Coleman has a booth (NPS?), and hundreds more. I managed to get some great swag, including a red Swingline stapler and an easy button.

Alas, the week passed all too quickly and it was time to fly (SIX HOURS) home. Next year’s Expo is in San Diego. You might be able to get a federal job by then if you start now. Do it! Do it for the Swingline!

May 24, 2011

May 24, 2011

Where's a caste when you need one?

I should’ve known better than to disobey the What Not to Wear mandate banning graphic t-shirts. Foolishly, I decided that getting groceries while wearing a Brewers t-shirt would be fine. Unremarkable, even.

It was all going so well until I stepped up to the register.

“Are you a Brewers fan?” asked the cashier.

“I sure am.”

“Are you from Milwaukee?”

Already, we have thrice exceeded my preferred conversation level with the servant class. (Oh no I di’int!) (Oh yes I did!) I foolishly go with it.

“I sure am.” (Honestly, I was not trying to be a smartass. Repeating my answer seemed like the shortest course of action.)

“Are you a Packers fan, too?”

Now, normally, I make a joke here along the lines of, “You have to be a Packers fan if you’re from Wisconsin. It’s in the contract.” This time, however, I was so off my game that I went with a third “I sure am.”

At this point, the cashier would definitely have assumed I was mocking him if he hadn’t been…perhaps not all there.

I think he then asked how I felt about the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl and I mentioned how there are Cheeseheads everywhere and then mercifully I paid and got the frak out of there.

I fear that crap like this is preventing me from blogging about the really good stuff, like how I enjoyed Thor less than I expected, and yet Fast Five melted my face off and convinced me to pursue the rest of the series.

(Also, am I the only person who can’t discern between Bradley Cooper and Paul Walker? Are they not the same person?)

May 19, 2011

May 19, 2011

WTF Product of the Day, Volume 13: The Mile-High Bed

Take a look at the bed pictured below, and you should see two things that immediately appeal to the average man:

(The correct answer is not “boobies.”)

First, of course, there is a very pretty lady. I assume that she does not come standard with the bed, though who really knows?

Second, the bed is made from an airplane. That’s right: an airplane. Specifically, “two DC-9 rear stabilizers and a C-130 inner flap.” I’m assuming that means something to the aviation enthusiasts among us.

The other pictures highlight another feature:

The bottom is lit. Because everybody loves sleeping in a red-lit room.

The mile-high bed feels like a joint invention of Hugh Hefner and Howard Hughes, amiright?

The only way to get pricing on the bed is to contact one of the manufacturer’s showrooms in Los Angeles, Maryland, or Italy. I think that means they’re quite reasonable.

And it’s not just beds. They got all sorts of furniture made from planes. It’s the next best thing to actually living in a plane. As someone who just flew 6 hours and back from DC to San Diego, I know that *I* wished the cramped conditions, shoebox bathroom, and constant turbulence could have lasted even. longer.

May 18, 2011

May 18, 2011

Movie Reviews: A Threeve

In clearing out my “Blog Ideas” file, I realize it’s been so long since I’ve seriously blogged that I have three films in the queue. Let’s start with most recent first:

The Company Men

To my chagrin, I didn’t see this movie until a six-hour plane ride across the United States. The flight attendant named the sitcoms that were going to bracket the film, “In the Company of Men.” Judging by his demeanor, he was wishful thinking.


As you may know, The Company Men stars Ben Affleck as a high middle manager in transportation who loses his job. Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper lose their jobs at the same organization, though the three aren’t immediate co-workers. Rosemarie DeWitt (who shall forever be linked with Mad Men in my mind) plays Affleck’s wife.

Affleck’s character tries the company-paid job placement service for a while, then takes a carpentry position with his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). As you might imagine, the tone of the film is “Happy, depressed, depressed, depressed, REALLY DEPRESSED, REALLY F-ING DEPRESSED, okay.” In case you miss the symbolism, Affleck’s character builds his kid a tree house. Working with your hands = exorcising demons and > working in an office because corporate overlords = greedy. As the mathematicians would say.

(That sound you just heard was my math inclined friends stabbing their eyes out.)

Look, I’m blessed with more job security than most, and even I am stressed about the future. So I can appreciate the plight of the millions of underemployed.

The Last Airbender


Generally, I’m not a fan of M. Night movies, because THEY ARE SO SCARY. I kid you not, I kept the lights on for three weeks after Signs. That movie absolutely scarred my psyche in ways I cannot yet fathom. Mock away.

But then, y’know, he did that movie with Bryce Dallas Howard as a mermaid. That was weird. And then I saw the ads for this thing with the tattooed kid and was like, whoa. Weird.

But it was so bad it was good!

You’ve got your sloppy special effects. I mean, they just gave up/ran out of money on those things and screwed it. “We had to come to outer Mongolia to film, so your water effects are going to look like Saran wrap.” I feel like that sentence was actually uttered on this set.

So I didn’t even care that there was no twist, or that the plot made very little sense, or that the guy from The Daily Show was completely miscast. So bad it was good, my friends. So bad it was good.

And not scary.

Dark City

I had no idea what I was getting into with Dark City. I assumed a sci-fi mystery, with noir elements. Did not realize that the cast included Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Kiefer Sutherland. Or that its in medias res dystopia beautifully prefaced that of The Matrix.

Sewell’s character wakes up in a bathtub with no memory. He gets a call from a doctor (Sutherland) urging him to flee, and then finds a murdered woman nearby, really urging him to flee. A police officer (Hurt) is also seeking him—maybe something to do with that corpse—as is his wife (Connelly). The city (always dark, weird, huh?) is filled with seedy motels, restaurants, etc. You thought Barton Fink was bad? Not so much.

Now this all seems run of the mill until the Strangers (albinos with telekinetic powers) show up and start swarming around like those ghosts in Super Mario Bros. We eventually discover that the entire city is a (SPOILER ALERT) floating spaceship (hence the darkness) and the Strangers are aliens powering the city and MIND. EXPLODE.

You know that painting, The Scream? This film is like that, but for two hours. So amazing.

(What, not your thing? Maybe try The Last Airbender.)

May 17, 2011

May 17, 2011

Stoneybrook Revisited

The author of the Sweet Valley High books (Francine Pascal, I think) recently released a follow-up book to that series positing what SVH’s characters would be like ten years later. Apparently they grew into adults. In some cases, this involved homosexuality and fornication. Big scandal.

I never read the SVH series, so I can’t comment on how true the follow-up was to the spirit of the series. But I was a huge (HUGE) fan of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club, so I can discuss her prequel, “The Summer Before,” with some authority.

As a girl, I had my dad take me to the mall every month to buy the latest BSC book. Luckily for both of us, they were always released in paperback. Since I’m so old, each book cost like $3.50 ($4.50 Canadian), so it wasn’t a huge investment. I’ll be darned if I didn’t amass dozens of those things, though. (Once I snapped and became OCD, I donated them all except book #1. Purge alert.)

In case you’re not familiar with the BSC concept, the series involved several teenagers (exact number varied from four to like twelve) who got together several times a week to schedule babysitting jobs. This was before the days of cell phones and Skype, you see. The girls (and very rarely a boy or two) would watch a motley assortment of children in their town of Stoneybrook, CT. Along the way, they foiled robberies, solved mysteries, etc. Sort of “Nancy Drew with a diaper bag.”

“The Summer Before” prequel was told from the perspectives of the club’s four founding members: Kristy, the tomboy; Mary Anne, the repressed shy one; Stacey, the cosmopolitan diabetic; and Claudia, the learning-challenged artist. Lots of changes going on during that summer of their twelfth year, you see. Claudia’s starting to like boys. Mary Ann wants to be allowed to babysit by herself. Stacey doesn’t want to leave NYC for CT. Kristy’s very suspicious of her mom’s new boyfriend (they end up getting married a few books in).

This book takes the trees of the series and shows how the seeds were planted. If it hadn’t been over a decade (side note: good grief!) since I’d finished with the BSC, I’d be totally down with this concept, a la The Hobbit. As it is, I think I’m too far removed from being both a teenage girl and a fan of the BSC. All I have now are repressed memories. Honestly, I would have preferred a “where are they now” sort of book, if completely asexual.

Perhaps its best that all these series, whether Sleepover Friends, SVH, or BSC, remain in the past. When they updated Nancy Drew, I took some offense. Classics are classics are classics, people.

May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011

What an Assateague

In my sure-to-be-ultimately-futile quest to visit every national park, I stopped at Assateague Island on the way home from Ocean City, Maryland. In a stunning reflection of America’s bureaucracy, Assateague has parts governed by both the state of Maryland and the National Park Service. Just imagine what Manhattan would be like were it not for that dude with the $22 of beads.

So, anyway, your first stop when visiting Assateague should be the visitor center. First, to orient yourself and watch the video wherein you learn the horses are sterilized with dart guns. Second, to buy a junior ranger outfit.

Much of Assateague is covered with dunes, woods, and marshes.

Also, horses. Wild horses!

Now, you’re probably going to want to get out yo’ car and pet those things.


You will have been warned approximately 57 times not to approach the horses by this point. The visitor center runs a subliminal loop of “Keep a bus-length away from the horses.” Plus, they put stuff in the water, I think.

Fear not: there is plenty of funky stuff you can touch, some of came out of a horse.

May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011

Boardwalk Empire

I apologize for being so remiss in blogging lately. I could attribute it to work, personal obligations, or je ne sais pas. I will instead tell you about my excellent trip to Ocean City, Maryland.

In case you’re not familiar with the DC area, we are not actually that far from the ocean. Crazy, innit? As someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, I do so enjoy a large body of water. The crazy thing about the ocean, though: it’s salty. (I know. I tasted it.) If it weren’t a three hour drive, I’d go much more often than once every three years.

Ocean City was once envisioned as a sort of junior Atlantic City. Beach, boardwalk, brothels. Well, maybe not brothels. But definitely a place to have fun, especially if you were a lady:

Ocean City is best visited before tourist season. Things are cheaper and less crowded.

On the other hand, don’t plan on swimming in the ocean if you hope to have children someday. That puppy was colder than a mofo. Not to say that you can’t set up camp on the beach anyway.

And watch someone get married.

Make sure to spend some time driving the coastal highway. It’s chock full of theme restaurants, mini golf courses, and hotels that belong on a beach-themed episode of Mad Men.

Don’t forget the ferris wheel, either.

Ocean City strikes me as the sort of tourist town that has seen better days (see also: Wisconsin Dells). Still good, though. Still good.

May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011

Adding Insult to Injury, Royal Wedding Edition

Two of my magazines came yesterday.

Not. Okay.

I did get up at oh-dark-thirty last Friday to watch the nuptials, of course. Preceded by arrivals at Westminster Abbey of hats so monstrous I am not yet ready to discuss them (post traumatic stress).

Was it a beautiful ceremony? Twas. Did I cry? Twice. Was I hoping Wills wouldn’t be able to slip the ring on That Woman’s finger so they’d have to call it off? Absolutely.

However, in the spirit of the occasion, I must wish them the best of luck.

(Time to start birthin’ those babies, I reckon.)