The Spy Next Door

Movie Title: The Spy Next Door (2010)
Spoilers: No

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The Spy Next Door stars Jackie Chan and Amber Villetta (“Paula” from The Family Man, 2000) in a James Bond-meets-Uncle Buck-meets-The Pacifier-style movie about Bob Ho, a Chinese spy on loan to the CIA, who wants to retire and become an ordinary family man. Ho (Chan) lives next door to Gillian (Villetta). The two want to take their relationship to the next level, if only her kids would permit it.

Bob brings down his last power-hungry dictator, and now it’s time to win over next door’s kids and settle down. Surely, it will be easier than bringing down the corrupt? Not so…especially not if the dictator you thought was down escapes prison and is coming back to get you and the family you want to settle down with. But the predictable challenge of a bad guy coming back for revenge isn’t the only challenge. Despite his training in 007-style weaponry, Ho can’t put out grease fires or even make oatmeal without mishaps.

The kids are a handful. There’s Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley), and Nora (Alina Foley). Farren is withdrawn, Ian is a chronic liar that bullies use for a punching bad, and Nora is the little one who gets lost in crowds as soon as you turn your head. But I say hats off to having kids that at least look like the next door neighbor’s kids.

There is something inherently cool about a film with the term “spy” in the title, or so you would think. But lest you worry about confusing The Spy Next Door with The Spy Who Loved Me, let me remind you that you won’t. This spy movie begins with a pig running across the house, the alarm clock “snooze” button being slapped down, kids dancing on their mothers bed near her head to wake her up, and kids that talk about cyborgs sent from the future to save humanity (like only kids in movies are taught to talk).

Let no cliché remain unturned. The bad guys give each other "high fives" when they are successful, kids complain about cats stuck on rooftops, and they don’t complain when the Russians charge into their backyards to fight them, and on many occasions, can outfight their much bigger Russian attackers.

Ho and his right-hand man, Colton James (Billy Ray Cyrus), are an odd team. Why the government needs to rent a Chinese Secret Service Agent is…puzzling…and Cyrus’ character Colton? Well, if anyone like him is running a country, that country is soon to go down the tubes. You play darts with Colton. You drive to the lake and bring your ice chest with Colton. You pound down brewskies at the local Honky Tonk hall with Colton, but you don’t share classified files with him.

Despite it all, The Spy Next Door was hard to fully dislike. The disarming likeableness of Jackie Chan is the life of any party. One Chan character is the same as any other, like our favorite Austrian Oak-turned-governor of California, Arnie. But it remains true that Chan was way cooler punching and kicking thugs to the accompanying sound of boards being slapped together in the 1970s and 80s than he is here.

Among the movie’s more disturbing scenes is one of Chan wrestling down a four-year-old Nora to put pants on her. If that’s not creepy enough, he puts the same girl to sleep in 30 seconds by singing a Chinese lullaby.

The bad guys are the Russians. Their leader, Poldark (Magnus Scheving, deduct one point for using one of the worst villain names ever), wants to destroy all the oil in the world (not resell it, just destroy it). He finds the formula for a chemical which makes that possible. His style-challenged goons look more like Americans posing as Russians than Russians, and in such a way as to stand out from any crowd they’re in. It appears that Russian mobsters don’t have a word for “mingle.” They also send 17-year-old recruits to America to do some of their dirty work.

If the free-flowing, fast-footed energy of Jackie Chan can't save this, how about George Lopez or Billy Ray Cyrus? Nobody can act, and nobody acts...like this, not the stars, and not the bullies at school. Well, Lopez can play a good bad guy. I’ll give him that. He has the adversarial personality for it.

The Spy Next Door is an endearing story wrapped in an awfully-packaged movie. It will take a very young audience to appreciate it even a little. The only thing the parents will appreciate is Ho using his secret agent gadgets to keep the kids from sneaking out and getting cans of soda from the kitchen into their bedrooms. But for the record, the best part of the movie is the opening credits where Chan is waxing cool to the tune of “Secret Agent Man,” that irresistible song by Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, performed by Johnny Rivers.

(JH)

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Grade: D- (one star)
Rated: PG (for mild perilous situations)
Director: Brian Levant
Summary: Former CIA spy Bob Ho (Chan) takes on his toughest assignment to date--looking after his girlfriend's three kids.
Starring: Jackie Chan “Bob Ho,” Amber Valletta “Gillian,” Madeline Carroll “Farren,” Will Shadley “Ian,“ Alina Foley “Nora,” George Lopez "Glaze," Billy Ray Cyrus "Colton James," Catherine Boecher "Creel"
Genre: Action / Romance / Comedy
Trailer

One Small Leap From Disaster

Movie Title: Leap Year (2010)
Spoilers: No

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Leap Year stars Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in a reaching romantic comedy that comes a day late and a dollar short of looking as good as the scenes we get of a pleasant Irish countryside. Jeremy (Adam Scott) is a cardiologist with a jam-packed schedule. Anna Brady (Adams) is a stager, someone who helps realtors sell houses by making them more presentable. Together, they deem themselves the couple made for each other, ready to live the life everyone wants to live.

But they aren’t quite the match made in heaven--and you knew that even before your eyes finished the previous sentence. There’s something missing in the relationship, something missing from one of their lives. Can you guess which one? Of course, you can. And if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the movie.

Jeremy is taking too long to ask her to marry him, and based on an old Irish tradition that goes back hundreds of years, which allows a woman to ask a man to marry her on a Leap Year, Anna gets it in her head to fly to Ireland where her boyfriend is on business and pop the question to him (you already know where this is heading). There, she meets Declan (Matthew Goode), an obstinate outspoken charmer not unlike herself.

That is all you need to know to see that Anna is yet another yawn-worthy creation of an attractive, tasteful, fashion-obsessed, smart chick who is still, in some small way, waiting to be swept off her feet by a ridiculously clichéd “knight in shining armor.” Anna very closely resembles Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fischer) from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Apparently, women the world over really do connect with this type of classy chick--always wanting to be surprised by their man while claiming not to like surprises.

Adams’ character may not be unique, but she and The Fabulously Fierce Fashionista would have much to talk about…so would all women. Ok, fine! Keep looking for your damn knight in shining armor, ladies! You’re not going to stop because I say so.

The problem is, Leap Year doesn’t generate that much good gab. It’s not novel, and it’s definitely not funny. The painfully improbable predicaments that Anna finds herself in are as set up as a mall kiosk. Declan and Anna are both brainy and headstrong, but neither know what they want. As in every robbed-by-time romance flick, they have to find it out by a sucky series of circumstances, and we have to watch as things crawl toward their inevitably contrived conclusion. As when at the dentist, that makes some of us gag. On the positive side, the film has one thing going for it--it’s admirable star leads.

An all-too-brief appearance by John Lithgow as Anna’s father at the film’s beginning is one of the high points (and proof that Lithgow - all by himself - can brighten up any set, no matter how bleak things look due to the writing). And things do look bleak for Leap Year. The cruddy slapstick and non-screen-friendly cast of supporting role performers take their toll as they follow a script that makes time go by like the dripping of molasses.

Delivering it from total value annihilation is a faint glimmer of touching grace. Buried deep beneath the surface lies some small hope. Goode and Adams can act and have a physical on-screen connection that staves off the downpour of a tsunami’s worth of plain writing and unoriginal source material. But be ye warned; braving the elements of a too long romance is a gamble to which you may or may not find a payoff! Despite the rains, the aquifer of emotional depth is not filled to capacity. Only hopeless romantics, please.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG
Director: Anand Tucker
Summary: A woman prepares to propose to her boyfriend on a Leap Year in keeping with an Irish tradition.
Starring: Amy Adams “Anna Brady,” Matthew Goode “Declan,” Adam Scott “Jeremy,” John Lithgow “Jack Brady,” Noel O'Donovan “Seamus,” Tony Rohr “Frank,” Pat Laffan “Donal”
Genre: Romance / Comedy
Trailer

God Was There

I am God. I know your pain.
I was there for every trial you’ve ever faced.

I was there when you fell and hurt your knee at the age of three.
I was there when you were shunned on the playground more recently.
I was there when your mother was in the hospital. I stood by and watched as the doctors worked to save her life. I appreciated the prayers you sent Me to spare her.

I was there when mother died, as her immortal spirit drifted back to Me.
I was there when your family mourned her loss and cried with unceasing tears.
I was there when your father passed, when he forgot who you were, when you closed the lid to his casket.

I was there when dear Aunt Olga was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I was there when she bravely went through test after test until her condition was finally confirmed.
I was there when she lost her will to live. I watched as the family pleaded with her to continue treatment and not to give up; I waited where her tears fell.

I was there when your Uncle Hank died.
I was there when you told your first lie.
I was around the first time you touched yourself; on that day, all the angels cried; on that day, you lost your innocence.

I was there, in the corner of your room, watching you sin. I testified to your inner-man that you fell short of My Glory, as a sinner, an impure and fallen man, another of Adam’s reproachful sons, wicked from birth.

I was there when young Ben, your childhood friend, was killed in the car wreck.
I was in the driver’s seat of the other car, watching, looking on as a drunken man fell asleep at the wheel. I did not wake him, but said: “Sleep, you foolish man. Sleep.”

I was there when your best friend from high school decided to take his own life. My holy eyes saw the blood from his slit wrists run down through the cracks of the hard wood floor.
I was there when you wept at his funeral. Jesus wept too.
I was there when you sobbed uncontrollably, leaning on the casket of your bosom friend, pushing away the comforts of your spouse.

I was there when your youngest child was born, when it was said of the doctors: “Your son’s spine did not form correctly. He will never walk and will need surgery to live.”
I was there when the doctors performed the operation.
I was there as their hands took the scalpels, as every incision, every cut into his newborn flesh was made.

I was there, and I am here. I am God: “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20)

(JH)

Racism: What it Is, What it Isn’t, and Why America’s Racial Paranoia Sucks Ass

To get the full affect of this article, you’ll need to be familiar with the old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). If you are too young (or too old) to remember it, just search the web for “Mike Tyson’s Punch-out NES” and you’ll be able, with a mere few clicks of a mouse, to know all you need to know. But I dare say, most of us are familiar with the classic boxing video game.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-out was re-released some years later as just “Punch Out,” and the top guy, “Mr. Dream” (still with Iron Mike’s moves, body, and strengths), was the guy to beat. The re-release happened due to the expiration of Nintendo's appearance license with Tyson had expired. This was just before Tyson’s reputation fell right off the balcony of decency in late 1991 and has just recently started to recover (or be forgotten).

Now These Are Some Good Friends!

Movie Title: 44-inch Chest (2009/2010, U.S. release)
Spoilers: No

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Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) has some very good friends. When his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), confesses that she’s done with the marriage and wants out, his loyal friends kidnap the “other” guy to help their friend feel better and have the opportunity for a most excruciating, skin-pealing revenge.

It has been said that if you have five good friends in your lifetime, then you should count yourself lucky because you are doing well. Colin has at least four good friends, but I still say he’s gosh-darn ahead of the most of us. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is an honest man who seems normal enough. He cooks dinner and he spends a great deal of time with mom, or “Mum.” (Edna Doré).

Meredith (Ian McShane) is a man who can gamble, and he has tremendous class. He loves his men that way, too. And, he looks good going anywhere. Hal (Stephen Dillane), well, he’s a little harder to describe. He’s just a friend helping out another friend. You get the impression that he can be an annoying gnat of a human being some of the time, but he’s still a friend.

Old Man Peanut (John Hurt) is the most brazen character among them. You don’t want to get him riled up. He may wear dentures, but he can verbally bite. And with the exception of Liz, everyone in this misogynistic make of a movie can curse up a storm—with a cult-like love for that word that women just love to hear used to describe their feminine region, the “c” word.

The English are just as big on hard drinks and cigarettes as any, especially in grief. Colin and the gang are drinking down bottles of hooch. The main man does so with an apparent-but-not-actual disregard for the strength of the substance that is supposed to kill his pain. In the end, only one thing will kill his pain. He has his mind set on that.

Loverboy (Melvil Poupaud) has been kidnapped and taken to a somewhat run-down building, to some place you’d expect to see in a 70s presentation of an old-style, once-fancy pad in New York City. It’s a bad day for Colin, but an especially bad day awaits one good-looking kid who foolishly crossed into the city limits of Payback-opolis.

Today’s a big day for Loverboy. Today he will learn more than he cared to know about intimacy. It takes much less than love to “get you off,” but love itself is what can get you killed (or make you wish you were deader than dead). One of the most memorable lines in the film begins with Colin’s one-on-one interrogation: “I bet she’s never farted in front of you, has she? Has she? No. That’s not romantic.”

44 Inch Chest is a broadside description for this chesty and well-acted English drama with its carefully constructed conclaves of comedy that are just strong enough to lighten the mood without damaging the suspense. The brief moments with the disorienting quality of a late-1980s cologne commercial are not as much flaws as they are bonus additions in the name of comic relief.

The coming and going drop-offs of eerie music and the riveting moments of tension that give way to lighthearted humor give this 90+ minute film of anger, imagery, and dry English comedy an unexpected – if profane – appeal.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for violence and language)
Director: Malcomb Venville
Summary: A jealous husband and his friends kidnap his wife's lover and plot to extract revenge.
Starring: Ray Winstone “Colin Diamond,” John Hurt “Old Man Peanut,” Ian McShane “Meredith,” Tom Wilkinson “Archie,” Joanne Whalley “Liz,” Dave Legeno “Brighton Billy”
Genre: Drama
Trailer

The Soft and The Hard (Part II of II)

There are a few who have emailed me and asked privately if the stories I share in my journal are true or made up, or else embellished for affect. My response to them is always the same as it is for all to read here. The stories are true down to every last recollectable detail. In those instances when I choose not to share information on a person’s identity, I change only a small portion of a last or first name, but never more than that. These are real events from my (largely inglorious) past.



In March of 1993, my former “friend” Paul Urios stood trial for third degree felony theft and grand theft auto. I remember waking up to a cool day with the sun out brighter than ever. It was a normal day, but when I got home from school, I learned that dad went to the court house that morning to testify against him and to claim ownership of some of the things stolen from us that we learned were later recovered in a storage shed. Paul stole from us and from our neighbors. The amount of loot was valued at $88,000 in total. Little did I know when I met Paul that he and his cohorts would have my entire neighborhood in an uproar like I couldn’t have imagined.

But unlike my other former (poorly chosen) friends, Paul was never my friend. He was just the friend of a friend whom I chose to put up with—one I shouldn’t have put up with. I put up with him for a time, which means I was still to blame for all the grief we suffered from the guy. Paul had the distinction of being one of the people in my life that I really and truly hated.

Paul had just turned 18 when I met him through my friend Travis, an almost equally big failure of a human being. Paul was very skinny and tall, about 6’1 in height. He was a mixed race kid, half-white and half-Hispanic. He had the hairiest skinny arms of any skinny guy I knew (I don’t know why that detail stuck with me, but it has). Paul’s father was reputed to be a serious drug dealer. I doubted that.

One of the scariest moments of my life came right after I met Paul. It was then that I met his dad. A friend and I were waiting in his car. Paul was taking so long inside his house. Said he would get something from dad and then be back out. He took so long that I proposed my friend and I go in there and see what was up. We walked in not knowing that behind that cracked door were two bad men.

The door floated open and an older man that looked like Paul was sitting down doing something at his kitchen table. He was talking with Travis, who had gone into the room with Paul. The man looked up and saw us, and in a flash of movement, knocked some newspapers and other things off his table and grabbed a large gun and pointed it at us. Travis jumped up and said: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, not them! They are okay!”

I almost pissed my pants right then and there, and so did Tim, the friend I was with. “I almost fucking killed you, Homes.” the man said, who turned out to be Paul’s dad (no surprise there). What was a surprise was the kind of funny-looking gun that was pulled on us when we got close enough to see it; it was an Uzi 9mm! Where the fuck…no, how the fuck…do you get an uzi??? It was real, no question about it. It was the same type of gun Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) used to kill the lizard aliens with on V The Final Battle years earlier.

Fuck, I almost bit the big one! Takes a while to sink in, but it finally occurred to me that I could very well have died that day. His dad was used to the thought of cops busting in. After staring us down and putting down that huge, freaking cool-ass gun, he picked up his things and went back to doing what I suspected he was doing—making blunts and sorting drugs. His whole table was covered with pills of various colors and shapes, and weed (and who the fuck knows what else).

Paul’s dad wrapped up some tan “horse pills” in a paper bag and gave it to Paul, saying: “These go to Reyna. Noon, no later!” Paul didn’t say a word. He just took the pills and put them in his right-side pocket. Paul’s dad didn’t care about me knowing what went on in the house. Travis vouched for me, and besides, he figured that any friend of his son’s was a low enough drug-user just like he was. His son was given tons of drugs that he both sold and used. We dropped off the package, delivered it to a nice pink-bricked house on the north side of town and went on our way.

Paul had a gun too. It was some kind of semi-automatic pistol. He let me hold it. He always had it on him, with those baggy-ass white and gray sports jersey sort of “gangsta” clothes he wore. He could hide the gun well. He pulled it out quite often, which made me nervous as shit. It was not surprising to learn that one of the hits on his boastfully lengthy rap sheet was brandishing a firearm! I was afraid of the guy. I really was. I had good reason to be, too. I would soon find out just how good the reason was. I knew I was dealing with a “hard” character, but I had no idea just how hard…yet.

I remember our hanging out one afternoon. I decided to skip school to see what mischief we would get into. We hid behind a tall, grassy area behind a fence separating the Eden community of homes from Green Spring valley on the city’s northeast side where I lived. Had to be careful not to get spotted by dad on his way to work! It was foggy that day. We hung out doing nothing the whole day, and then a bus full of middle-schoolers drove by and dropped off some kids after school.

Those small kids – staring out the back window, giggling and pointing at things like kids are wont to do – were met with gang signs flashed back at them from Paul. And that wasn’t all he flashed them with. A couple of kids got off the bus and that shiny gun was shown the light of day as he pulled up his shirt to show them what would await them if they messed with him. They were threatened as a group, and of course, ran home crying and told their parents. The police were called and the area was combed. We were hiding out at Travis’ house by then and laid low for the night.

We three hoodlums then met up on a street a couple houses over from mine. As I approached, he and Travis were staring down at some kid, some grade-schooler. They were doing what I thought they were doing. The poor baby was scared to death as Paul lectured him. I remember walking up and hearing how much joy was in Paul’s ordinarily monotonous voice as he threatened this young kid: “That’s right, I could’ve fucking shot your bitch ass right back there for looking at me the way you did, but I didn’t. So get the fuck out of here and don’t ever cross me again!” The boy walked off, afraid as could be. He couldn’t even look down or around. He turned the corner and was gone. This made me so angry. I wanted to hit him, but my mind never left that gun he kept tucked in his pants.

You would think that with “hardness” comes “hard” judgment, but that wasn’t so. Paul wasn’t in any danger, and yet he flashed a deadly weapon at kids much smaller than him. That was weak, not the mark of a big time “gangsta.” Did that connect with me? No. Paul was a dangerous thug who took great pleasure from intimidating people, not a real gangster. He wasn’t smart enough to get ahead in the rough world of street crime. He was too stupid to be a good street junkie. His dad was always chewing him out for his stupid moves. I remember visiting his house for the final time. Paul’s stupid moves got us all scolded. “I will kill all three of you if you fuck me over.” Then he paused and pointed to his son and said: “I don’t give a fuck if you’re my son either! Don’t you ever fuck me over!” I had to find a way to disconnect from this crowd. I knew that now. I never went over there again.

The whole four months I knew and hung out with Paul were infuriating. I got home from school one day, kicked off my shoes, and went to the kitchen to eat. Ordinary enough of a day, right? Wrong. There was Paul, in my fucking kitchen, eating out of my fridge, from my family’s bowl of beans! He was dipping the spoon that went into his mouth back into the bowl—that is a mortal sin against me! I was fucking furious. He didn’t say anything, even when I said: “What are you doing here?” I wanted to say: “What the fuck are you doing uninvited in my house, you son of a bitch?” But I didn’t have the guts. Seeing that I was quiet and curious, he finally said: “I was hungry. Dad’s busy. Needed a place to hang for a while.”

He stayed around all goddamn evening and didn’t leave until nightfall. The rest of his (my) friends came over and we hung out. Paul was so spacey, so out of it, using his own “stuff” that he barely talked at all. LSD on paper patches were one of his favorite things to use. I remember him just laying there and laughing for about 45 minutes. He rolled a blunt in my upstairs bathroom before calling it a night and heading out. I was so mad at myself for not having the balls to man-up and kick them out of there, but there was still the matter of that gun. I felt so sullied just having him around, especially in my kitchen.

The times we were at Travis’ house were no less angering. We would be hanging out and Paul would get finicky. Like a three-year-old child giggling while hitting a cat with a tree branch, Paul would start jabbing people, punching and laughing lightly. It wasn’t funny for longer than ten seconds, but it lasted longer than that. I nearly hit the guy in the lip, I recall distinctly. He was no match for me without that gun. He finally backed off and went to listening to what seemed to be his favorite song, “No Sunshine” by Kid Frost from the 1992 album “East Side Story.” He put the CD player (brand new thing at the time) on repeat. The song was about a 21-year-old man spending life in prison for stabbing another man in the heart in a knife fight. The chorus went…

Ain't no sunshine.
 Ain't no sunshine.
 Ain't no sunshine.
 Ain't no sunshine.
 Ain't no sunshine…anytime.
"


Neither Paul, nor any of my friends appreciated this song for what it was intended to accomplish. A week later, Paul’s in jail, Travis tells me. What for? Second charge of brandishing a shotgun out in the front yard. He was out and hanging with us again in less than two weeks. Dad pulled some strings or something and got him out…and then beat the shit out of him. And, it was back to his old ways of flashing his shiny gun at young kids and graphitizing sidewalks.

The Paul era ended when he and a druggy friend named Corey got busted trying to steal a car five houses up from ours. The owner spotted the break lights and he called the police. The two were caught in the act. Down they went.

A day before the arrests, Paul had threatened a neighbor who was active in the homeowner’s association. The man made some calls and Paul’s name came up, as did mine. The police raided his dad’s rented storage facility and found the $88,000 worth of appliances and stolen goods. Paul’s dad went down on drug charges and receiving stolen property. I was in the clear, but a neighbor was so pissed about the whole ordeal that he went over to me, poked me in the chest in our own yard, and said: “YOU and your dipshit friends brought this on!” Dad didn’t say a thing, but looking back, I would have done the same thing my neighbor did. Kids are stupid as hell.

The neighborhood was again peaceful. Now we’re back to where we were when we first started the article. I hated Paul, but I was still at fault for letting a bad person into my life. A number of expensive items, including one kick-ass boom box that I miss to this day, were gone forever. It was all because of me.

Sometimes people can be worthless—not just rebellious or misguided, but worthless. Sometimes you have to give up on a person, and that can be hard. The toughest thing about giving up on someone is that you have trouble letting go of that childlike image of the way they used to be. Take the worst druggie in the world; those who love them look past their scars, their never-ending lies, their weathering looks, and their “jones-ing” fits of anger and see the baby who used to crawl around and coo so cutely in the playpen. They aren’t that person anymore. Some people can see that easier than others. Every mass-murdering dictator there ever has been once played and fell down and cried out innocently to mommy for help. Then they grew and became what their rasing and blueprints determined that they would be—evil.

You hear about the stories on the news all the time, about how some mother did the unthinkable to her child, or some quiet and “innocent” kid was guilty of such heinous bloodshed that words can’t capture it fully. But those things aren’t like a rape or a robbery. Those can happen to anybody. The one thing that just about all rape victims have in common is that they never thought it could happen to them. But with genetics, it’s unlikely that you know too many people who are morally defective because of bad genes. But look in the bad crowds and you’ll find them.

Life is such a miserably delicate balance. It takes just the right genetics to live a productive life, to feel emotional pain, to receive instruction, to be balanced chemically and emotionally so as to be productive. We take it for granted, but the conscience isn’t anything but a patchwork system of naturally queued reactions that work together to produce affection and remorse.

People – mostly the kids – wish for things like normalcy, but then they spend their young lives hating being normal. They want to believe they are exceptional, but when it becomes clear that they and their problems/challenges are normal, they aren’t satisfied. They’ve got to be more than that. Look at me and my friend Josh; we weren’t the bad-asses we wished we were. We weren’t “hardcore” when we thought we were. We were just observers, imitators who tried to reproduce what we saw. We were soft. Paul was hard, but look at what being “hard” gets you? It makes you a candidate for self-destruction.

You can spend your life wishing you had something that made you more than average…more strength, more courage, more intelligence, more abilities…but you may not want those after all. Those exceptional qualities will come with exceptional difficulties. It will average out in the end. Just live in fantasy and be content with the fact that you are not your hero idol. Let Jack Bauer be the one to confront terrorists. Let Atlas hold up the world while you stay at home in bed. It’s more fun to dream. That’s the only lesson I can get out of it.

The brightest and most remarkable stars in the sky are not the brightest, like the blue stars, the ones that are a million times larger than our sun. They are the medium-sized orange stars like our sun, the ones that live for billions of years. The big ones consume their fuel too fast and are too heavy. They explode into an array of colors, like the colors a druggie sees all around him when he gets his kicks. Is that a sick coincidence or just the thought of a blob of matter who happens to be onto something? I have no idea.

(JH)

Year-end Review: The Best and Worst Films of 2009

Looking back on 2009, one sees a very bland year. So much was not good. So much more was just ordinary at best.

On the stinker’s list are the following…

All About Steve (D-) An unlikably ditzy and undeserving romantic comedy that is fit for the dunghill.

Couples Retreat (D+) Wasn't quite as bad as it was made out to be by some, but you'll "retreat" from watching this soon enough!

Dragonball: Evolution (F) A miserable adaption of the corny Japanese Dragonball animated action show.

Gamer (F) Disgusting and repulsive to the core, Gamer doesn't play games when it comes to making you regret watching it.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (D-) An actionpacked and air-headed adventure of annoyance and a poor story.

Knowing (D-) A stereotypical Hollywood slandering of atheists with a hazy, end-times plot that deserves repudiating.

Land of the Lost (D-) Another really, really, really bad Will Ferrill movie.

Love Happens (F) Sappy, melodramatic, cliched, and repulsive all in one.

Old Dogs (F) (no review available) A movie so stupid, witless, and intelligence-insulting that it can only hope to successfully entertain three-year-olds.

The Final Destination IV (D-) More of the same hollow horror crap.

The Ugly Truth (D+) A dumb and trashy romantic comedy that is more insulting than anything else.

The Unborn (D-) A miserably weak and non-thought-out horror film that, well, just sucks.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (F) Noisy, clangy, stupid, and mindless, just like the 2007 Transformers, but worse.

Whiteout (D-) Nice Antarctic scenery, but nothing else.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (D+)An insult to the X-men series.

The Must-sees are…

Avatar (A-) An excellent and visually pleasing film from the brilliant mind of James Cameron.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+) Wonderfully creative and delightfully imaginative.

District 9 (A+) Very disturbing, but one of the best Sci-fi works in quite a while.

Extract (B+) Cute and funny in a relaxing way.

I Love You, Man! (A-) Dirty, but moving and funny.

Inglourious Basterds (A-) Clever Taurantino writing at it again!

Mr. Fantastic Fox (no review available) An excellent film on so many levels.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+) So moving and powerful that you've got to see it!

Public Enemies (B+) An incredible film with Johnny Depp as John Dilinger.

State of Play (A-) Russell Crowe plays a journalist who brings down corruption in this better-than-good movie.

The Blindside (B+) A wonderful family film.

The Invention of Lying (A-) A hilarious and funny (if humanist) take on a world wherein only one man can lie.

Up (A+) Pixar does it again!

Watchmen (A+) The best comic book movie ever!

And, alas, my picks for the best and worst of 2009…

The Best: Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+) This powerfully moving film blows the socks off this year’s competition with it’s tear-jerking and terribly (and I do mean “terribly”) life-like portrayal of the sad life of an illiterate, obese inner-city girl named Precious whose father gives her two children by rape and whose mother blames her daughter for stealing her husband. Mon’ique, Mariah Carey, and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe star in a movie that is too much for most to handle—and what the rest of us don’t want to handle.

The Worst: Love Happens (F) This melodramatic flop is the bonafide worst of the worst movie this year, but I’m far from the only one to call it out as a terrible barf-fest of “blahhhhhhhh.” This waste of tape, starring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart, could be (no, it is) one of the worst films of recent years.

(JH)

Year-end Review: The Best and Worst Films of 2009

Looking back on 2009, one sees a very bland year. So much was not good. So much more was just ordinary at best.

On the stinker’s list are the following…

All About Steve (D-)

An unlikably ditzy and undeserving romantic comedy that is fit for the dunghill.


Couples Retreat (D+)

Wasn't quite as bad as it was made out to be by some, but you'll "retreat" from watching this soon enough!

Dragonball: Evolution (F)

A miserable adaption of the corny Japanese Dragonball animated action show.


Gamer (F)

Disgusting and repulsive to the core, Gamer doesn't play games when it comes to making you regret watching it.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (D-)

An actionpacked and air-headed adventure of annoyance and a poor story.


Knowing (D-)

A stereotypical Hollywood slandering of atheists with a hazy, end-times plot that deserves repudiating.


Land of the Lost (D-)

Another really, really, really bad Will Ferrill movie.


Love Happens (F)

Sappy, melodramatic, cliched, and repulsive all in one.


Old Dogs (F) (no review available)

A movie so stupid, witless, and intelligence-insulting that it can only hope to successfully entertain three-year-olds.


The Final Destination IV (D-)

More of the same hollow horror crap.


The Ugly Truth (D+)

A dumb and trashy romantic comedy that is more insulting than anything else.


The Unborn (D-)

A miserably weak and non-thought-out horror film that, well, just sucks.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (F)

Noisy, clangy, stupid, and mindless, just like the 2007 Transformers, but worse.


Whiteout (D-)

Nice Antarctic scenery, but nothing else.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (D+)

An insult to the X-men series.


The Must-sees are…

Avatar (A-)

An excellent and visually pleasing film from the brilliant mind of James Cameron.


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+)

Wonderfully creative and delightfully imaginative.


District 9 (A+)

Very disturbing, but one of the best Sci-fi works in quite a while.


Extract (B+)

Cute and funny in a relaxing way.


I Love You, Man! (A-)

Dirty, but moving and funny.


Inglourious Basterds (A-)

Clever Taurantino writing at it again!


Mr. Fantastic Fox (no review available)

An excellent film on so many levels.


Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+)

So moving and powerful that you've got to see it!


Public Enemies (B+)

An incredible film with Johnny Depp as John Dilinger.


State of Play (A-)

Russell Crowe plays a journalist who brings down corruption in this better-than-good movie.

The Blindside (B+) A wonderful family fillm.

The Invention of Lying (A-)

A hilarious and funny (if humanist) take on a world wherein only one man can lie.


Up (A+)

Pixar does it again!


Watchmen (A+)

The best comic movie ever!


And, alas, my picks for the best and worst of 2009…

The Best: Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (A+)

This powerfully moving film blows the socks off this year’s competition with it’s tear-jerking and terribly (and I do mean “terribly”) life-like portrayal of the sad life of an illiterate, obese inner-city girl named Precious whose father gives her two children by rape and whose mother blames her daughter for stealing her husband. Mon’ique, Mariah Carey, and Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe star in a movie that is too much for most to handle—and what the rest of us don’t want to handle.

The Worst: Love Happens (F)

This melodramatic flop is the bonafide worst of the worst movie this year, but I’m far from the only one to call it out as a terrible barf-fest of “blahhhhhhhh.” This could be (no, it is) one of the worst films of all time.

(JH)

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