Thursday, August 19, 1999

'Twas the Night Before Finals

Twas the night before finals,
And all through the college,
The students were praying
For last minute knowledge.

Most were quite sleepy,
But none touched their beds,
While visions of essays
danced in their heads.

Out in the taverns,
A few were still drinking,
And hoping that liquor
would loosen up their thinking.

In my own apartment,
I had been pacing,
And dreading exams
I soon would be facing.

My roommate was speechless,
His nose in his books,
And my comments to him
Drew unfriendly looks.

I drained all the coffee,
And brewed a new pot,
No longer caring
That my nerves were shot.

I stared at my notes,
But my thoughts were muddy,
My eyes went ablur,
I just couldn't study.

"Some pizza might help,"
I said with a shiver,
But each place I called
Refused to deliver.

I'd nearly concluded
That life was too cruel,
With futures depending
On grades had in school.

When all of a sudden,
Our door opened wide,
And Patron Saint Put It Off
Ambled inside.

Her spirit was careless,
Her manner was mellow,
She started to bellow:

"What kind of student
Would make such a fuss,
To toss back at teachers
What they tossed at us?"

"On Cliff Notes! On Crib Notes!
On Last Year's Exams!
On Wingit and Slingit,
And Last Minute Crams!"

Her message delivered,
She vanished from sight,
But we heard her laughing
Outside in the night.

"Your teachers have pegged you,
So just do your best.
Happy Finals to All,
And to All, a good test."

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

College Academic Structure

THE DEAN

Leaps tall buildings in a single bound
Is more powerful than a locomotive
Is faster than a speeding bullet
Walks on water
Gives policy to God

THE DEPARTMENT HEAD

Leaps short buildings with a single bound
Is more powerful than a switch engine
Is just as fast as a speeding bullet
Takes a few steps on water
Talks with God

PROFESSOR

Leaps short buildings with a running start and favorable winds
Is almost as powerful as a switch engine
Is faster than a speeding BB
Walks on water in an indoor swimming pool
Talks with God if a special request is honored

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

Barely clears a quonset hut
Loses tug of war with a locomotive
Can fire a speeding bullet
Swims well
Is occasionally addressed by God

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR

Makes high marks on the walls when trying to leap tall buildings
Is run over by locomotives
Can sometimes handle a gun without inflicting self-injury
Treads water

INSTRUCTOR/POSTDOC

Climbs walls continually
Rides the rails
Plays Russian Roulette
Walks on thin ice
Prays alot

GRADUATE STUDENT

Runs into buildings
Recognizes locomotives two out of three times
Is not issued ammunition
Can stay afloat with a life jacket
Talks to walls

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT

Falls over doorstep when trying to enter buildings
Says "Look at the choo-choo"
Wets himself with a water pistol
Plays in mud puddles
Mumbles to himself

DEPARTMENT/GROUP SECRETARY

Lifts buildings and walks under them
Kicks locomotives off the tracks
Catches speeding bullets in her teeth and eats them
Freezes water with a single glance
She IS God

Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Movie Review: The Sixth Sense

I'm 24 years old. I'm college educated. I was raised by a family that was never too strict, but never too lenient either. Somehow between their gentle instruction, school, and general common sense, I became a well-mannered and conscientious young adult. Really. Which brings me to the question: what the fuck is wrong with everyone else? When I go to a movie theater, I expect to sit in a quiet dark room with a hundred or more other people in the mass collective experience that is movie-watching. The key word in that previous sentence is "quiet." Which means: no cell phones, no talking, and no, repeat: NO, babies.

Now don't get me wrong: I love babies just as much as the next guy, provided that guy is not a cannibal or a freaky pedophile. But a movie theater is no place for one. You can see what I'm getting at and I'm sure you all have baby/theater stories of your own. Why does this happen? I think that it should be theater policy to not allow babies. If someone shows up with a baby, they should not be sold a ticket. If they already have a ticket, the ticket-taker should not allow them in. This is why God invented babysitters.

By now you realize that there was a baby in the theater when I went to see The Sixth Sense. The little bundle of joy blessed us movie-goers with a constant screaming and crying, but luckily its parents brought along a music-making toy(!!!) to placate their spawn. It got so bad at one point that a man (at wit's end) yelled, "GET THAT BABY OUT OF HERE!!" which was echoed by several other frazzled audience members. The father (I assume) yelled back, "Yeah, wait until you have children!!" (Like that was an excuse to bring his screaming child to a movie and never once take it out to the lobby when it started screaming). The wit's-end guy screamed back, "I've got three kids - and I had the good sense to leave them AT HOME!" The altercation ended there, but the baby stayed. And cried. Some people got up and left, mumbling about getting a refund as they shuffled up the aisle.

Is this what American society is coming to? Is everyone so self-absorbed that they have ceased entirely in having regard for others? Have we become so wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to notice that other people also inhabit the world? It's not just movie theaters either. I ride the subway to and from work every day, and on the subway are poles that people can hold on to so they don't topple over when the train turns or stops or goes. Quite often, someone will lean their entire body up against the pole, effectively preventing anyone else from utilizing it for balance. What is that? Doesn't the thought ever cross their minds that maybe, just maybe, the pole is for more people than just them? Somewhere - everywhere - behavior like this is occurring, unabated. And it will only get worse as people become more and more oblivious to others.

Oh yeah, The Sixth Sense was pretty good. A creepy, moody, slow-moving, ambient thriller about a boy who claims to see dead people and a child psychologist who tries to help him. Wonderfully subdued acting, directing, photography. I really miss slow-paced movies in today's cinematic world of MTV editing and instant-gratification action and horror movies. Slow pacing allows you to build to something, instead of being at a constantly frenetic speed. The action is a pay-off when you build to it, instead of just being action for action's sake. You get more character development, more mood establishment, more thoughtfulness, more thematic content. Maybe this is why audiences have become the way they are: they are expecting instant eye (and ear) candy, as opposed to a thoughtful examination of characters and story. Whatever. If that describes you, don't see The Sixth Sense; it's too intelligent for you. Go see Wild Wild West or re-rent Armageddon. But for those of you who miss good movies, see this one.

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Movie Review: The Iron Giant

It's a shame about The Iron Giant. The movie's opening weekend box office was dismal (9th place... one above The Phantom Menace). Really, I am not surprised. The TV ads and theatrical trailers for this film, to use the colloquial, sucked ass! When I first started to see previews for the Iron Giant, I laughed and thought "How LAME!" Rotten, rotten, rotten advertising from those folks at Warner Bros. Marketing. So why'd I see the movie, you ask? Well, because of all the glowing, superb, excellent, splendiferous reviews on Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News web site, that's why! As I read through all the reviews there, I thought to myself, "Geez, this movie must be alright. Maybe I should check it out." After all, it wouldn't be the first time that a film was completely mis-advertised - although usually, the trailers make the movie look approximately 8 gazillion times better than it is.

Anyhow, Friday night I was intent on dragging my poor girlfriend to see South Park. I had already seen it twice, but she hadn't and, despite her lack of enthusiasm, I needed to take her. But, lo and behold, it was sold out! Two hours before show time! What to do, what to do? Well, The Iron Giant starts in ten minutes and that ain't sold out! I figured, since I'm forcing my better half to see one animated movie, what the hell! Her protests were far bigger than they were for South Park, but I was paying so I got her in. I know, I'm a lousy boyfriend... like your relationship is perfect, if you have one, that is.

So the movie: young Hogarth Hughes, who lives with his divorced, overworked mom, befriends an alien and has to protect it from the sinister US government. E.T., right? Wrong. This movie has many more themes, all - like E.T. - conveyed with heart and a richness that so many movies today lack. The characters - including the giant, Hogarth, his mother, local beatnik Dean, and paranoid government agent Manley - are so much more human than most non-animated characters in films today. The style and animation are beautifully nostalgic, well-suited to the 50's era in which the story takes place. The writing is flawless, from the dialog to the film's broad themes. The laughs are genuine, the tears are genuine, everything about this film is, well, genuine.

Please ignore all the commercials that make you want to avoid this movie. Please ignore the fact that "it's just a cartoon" (a sentiment that I hear all too much). Please ignore the fact that it's tanking at the box office. Just see this movie. It deserves to be seen. And you deserve to be treated to such a great movie after tolerating all the crap that's been coming out recently. And drag your girlfriend, too.

Thursday, August 5, 1999

Movie Review: October Sky

So I recently got a DVD player, and I have to say that it makes a huge difference - even on my 19" TV - when I hook it up to my stereo. The picture and sound quality are phenomenal. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Anyway, I rented the DVD version of October Sky with high hopes, having read the book during my vacation in May. Homer Hickam's book, a nostalgic autobiographical story that is more coming-of-age than rocket-building, is excellent, and made me regret not catching this in the theater.

Despite some changes, the movie does not disappoint. In fact, it enhances and builds upon the key theme in the book, Homer's squaring-off with his father in regards to his future, and his desperate need to win the old man's approval.

Following the Russian's successful launch of Sputnik, teenager Homer Hickam decides that he wants to build rockets. So he and his friends do just that, starting off badly and then slowly excelling in what they do. Homer dreams of one day working for the famous rocket-building scientist, Dr. Werner von Braun, which is at direct odds with his father's expectations that Homer follow in his footsteps to work in the coal mines. Needless to say, father-son disputes ensue.

Anyway, I dug it. The film's production design, direction and photography capture the nostalgic feel of the book, and the actors all do a superb job, especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper, as Homer and his father, respectively. Lewis Colick's screenplay takes the best of the book and hones it down into a great, two-hour story.

My one major problem with the film versus the book: the name change of the father from Homer, Sr., to "John." It suggests that the audience is stupid and can't follow a story with two characters named Homer, and, worse, de-emphasizes the sharp similarities between the father and the son, despite their being opposed to one another. Oh well. It's still a very good movie.