Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Surf & Turf

Oranges optional
Well, it's pouring outside and my nose is doing the same in here. I dunno, I hit it with Afrin and Claritin and it still pretends like it's Hoover Dam bursting. Think I'll give Ol' Doc Sudafed a shot.

It's been three days since returning from out Long Beach road trip, Becky, Gage and myself. I now feel I have enough distance from it to look back with a clear mind. I thus come to the same
conclusion I did last time we did this:

Next time, we fly.
Lemme 'splain. It's nothing to do with the fact that it was a fun trip, even with the grandson along. Nor it has nothing to do with the fact that the scenery and places we stopped at weren't fun. It's just grueling, that's all. And this is aside from the fact that Gage behaved a lot better then I thought he would. But 2-3 days in a small car with nothing but the radio to keep you company wears me out, plain and simple. I'm gettin' too old for this.
That said, we had a pretty good trip. We got to see my Mom and my brother Mike, went to the Aquarium of The Pacific in Long Beach (IMO, probably the best aquarium I've ever been to - yes, that includes Monterey's) and, best of all, I got to give Gage his first ever experience at Disneyland. he didn't quite get it at first, but after Star Tours he got into it. I've never seen a happier little boy. His favorites were Star Tours and the Jungle Cruise, but he loved every minute of it (even the lines - plus he got a lightsaber out of it). I was one proud grandpa.

He also had his first experience with the ocean. We took him to Laguna Beach and let him frolic in the surf (a mighty cold surf, I might add). He went in up to his ankles but Grandpa went out deeper and entertained him by getting knocked down by waves (something that even happened to him).

My Mom loved him and he bonded well with Mike (they were buds by the time it was over). Even Becky had a good time at the ocean and
Disneyland (which was kinda crowded - typical). After a nice Thanksgiving dinner, we headed home the next day.
Looking back from Pudunk-Land, I find myself cracking a smile when I think of the trip. Yeah, I hope we fly next time but, truthfully, I'd do it again the same way. Why? Check out that last picture. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We'll Always Have Greedo

A useless debate
This last week I picked up The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition at Best Buy (they have all 3 films in an exclusive cool-looking metal tin). For those unaware, this is the recent 2-disc releases with Disc 1 being the current Lucas-revamped release and Disc 2 being the original release of the corresponding film, warts and all. I never had a burning desire to own them for my collection, but I felt it was time for Grandson Gage to be exposed to one of the most influental film series of all time. Yes, he's 3, but he loves action films (within reason, although I'm slightly more leinient in this respect than Becky is).

Before I let him watch 'em, I watched the originals. Pretty much what I remembered. No rapture, no geeking out, Nostalgia didn't smack me down, just a great, well-made hunk of storytelling that engaged me.
Then I watched to recent Lucas-doctored releases. First thing I noticed is that the films were cleaned up. A lot. The originals (expecially Part IV) had a kind of grime that was characteristic of films of that period (I chalk it up to the film stock used at the time). I could really see stuff in these versions, especially shots in the Milennium Falcon cockpit. I also appreciated the cleaned-up mattework. No longer did some of the shots of TIE fighters have what looks like this piece of black cardboard following them. So, let's break it down; here's my impressions (in raw form) of the revamps:

A New Hope:
I see the Imperial troops "went native" looking for the driods, riding some kind of lizard-beast...hey, new creatures in Tatooine...cool, cool...they do blend in nice...hmm, Greedo shot first (more on that later)...Interesting scene with Jabba, but they ended up repeating lot of what Greedo said to Han....get to see a scene with Luke and Biggs, nice...the final trench-fight looks tightened up, really flows...say, now the Death Star blows up reeal good...

The Empire Strikes Back:
Bespin looks the same...basically looks cleaned up, didn't notice any more tweaks outside of a few more aliens in Cloud City...

Return Of The Jedi:
Now this is interesting...more aliens in Jabba's Palace...I like the new number the band does, especially the new singer, plus the other singer can actually move now...good cleanup on the Rancor...funky new mouth on the sand creature...

All in all, a good time. I also listened to the commentaries on these films and I understand what Lucas was trying to do. I don't damn him for it, although previously stating that the original theatrical versions will never again see the light of day was probably not a good PR move. Glad he backtracked here.
I have to say that, while the originals are good, the cleaned-up ones are better. My take is that Lucas wanted to add stuff he always wanted to put in but couldn't at the time, due to budget, current technology, etc. It's also an effort on his part to bring the original trilogy up to match the polish of Parts I-III, so the whole story flows better.

So where does that leave us? With the "Han Shot First" debate. I heard all the arguments pro and con (and I can add one of my own, but it's more like a technical goof - I didn't see any laser scorching on the wall behind Han when he got up) and as far as it goes, it ranks as the Second Stupidest Fan Argument Of All Time. No, let's make that the Stupidest. It ranks right up there with the gamer's "do female dwarves have beards" argument (BTW, they don't, and if you don't like it, bite me
). Ya got both versions now, so watch the one that floats yer Pleasure Barge, okay?
Anyway, Gage loves 'em, no matter which version it is, which is all that matters around here. Lucas, I salute you for your noble effort, even if some want to burn you in effigy. You're aces in my book... ...unless you come out with something like Star Wars VII: Ewoks vs. Gungans. Don't jump that shark, man.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Spooky And The Goofy

Glad I never got braces...
Like Agatha Christie, I disappear and return with no reason or excuse. Well, maybe a small one: the usual ennui. BUT, I return to bring you DVD recommendations for the Halloween season.

Like a lot of my film bretheren and sisteren (cistern?), I'll be viewing horror films sporadically in the days to come, to top it off with a marathon (how long remains to be seen - it depends on how well I can pretend not to be home Halloween night). With me, it's Classic Horrors all the way. Aside from The Count, The Monster and Hairy Talbot, I enjoy other not-so-well-known frights. With that in mind, I stocked up this year on such fare. My recent aquisitions being Universal's The Boris Karloff Collection (a bit thin - I bought it because it included Tower of London, one of my favorites, but managed to find another good one, The Strange Door), Icons of Horror Collection: Boris Karloff (four Columbia pictures he did in the day - faves out of that set: The Black Room and Karloff and Peter Lorre in a great Arsenic and Old Lace variant The Boogie Man Will Get You). More on them another time. The best buy (which, ironically enough, I got at Best Buy) was Warner's Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection. Four MGM and two Warners fright-fests which run the gamut from inspired to silly, all with at least a slight air of preposterousness. But that's part of the fun. Allow me to walk (shuffle, shamble, ooze, whatever floats yer boat) you through the set:

Mark Of The Vampire - The set kicks off with one of the best of Tod Browning's efforts, a great satire on 30's horror movies in general and his own Dracula in particular. Bela Lugosi's back in the cape to threaten Elizabeth Allen, Lionel Atwill, Jean Hersholt (he of the Humanitarian Award) and Loinel Barrymore (pre-wheelchair, one-upping Edward Van Sloan in the Van Helsing department). Is the nearby abbey infested with vampires and did one of them kill Sir Karell Borotyn and turn him into a vampire? A bit implausable, but a lot of fun.

The Devil-Doll - Speaking of Barrymore, he's back here (again before he was debilitated) as Paul Lamond, a convicted French banker, framed and sent to Devil's Island, now escaped and wanting revenge. He finds the means through his partner-in-escape and his wife, who have been working on minitiurizing animals and people. After Dr. and Mrs. Cyclops show their handiwork to him, the male half of the team drops dead. Now he moves to Paris with the crippled Mrs. Shrinker and sets up in a toy shop, disguised as an old woman. While dodging police and exacting his revenge, Lamond tries to reach out to his estranged daughter (Maureen O' Sullivan, one of the Most Irritating Heroines In Film History). Works out as more melodrama than fright (whaddya expect, it's MGM) and probably the weakest of the bunch. Still it's interesting watching Barrymore drag it up and seeing Rafaelo Ottiano as the Most Demented Female Mad Scientist In Film. Tod Browning directs again.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu - Rohmer and Karloff - how can ya lose? Straight outta Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, Boris dons the Occidental duds as the Big Ol' Yellow Peril. This time, he's after the mask and sword of Genghis Kahn. Ol' Fu is convinced he's the next in line and, with these artifacts he can (dare he say it?) Rule The World!! Needless to say it's up to Nayland Smith (Judge Hard- eh, Lewis Stone) to stop him. He'd better hurry: Fu has already tortured Nayland's friend, noted archeologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) to death (tortured by bell - what a novel concept). Sir Lionel's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) has something to worry about, too: Fu's seductive and somewhat kinky daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) who has her sights set on Shiela's beau Terrence (Charles Starrett). This one's good in an Saturday Serial/Indiana Jones way. The makeup department laid it on a bit heavy on Karloff (looks like they plastered over his eyes) but he relishes every minute of screen time in this, his first speaking role. The man is totally evil. In all, pure 30's excitement, with a Parade of Deathtraps you'll really get a kick out of.

Doctor X - Here's something different, a film in two-strip Technicolor (wich means everything tends to be on the red/green side) directed by no less than Michael Curtiz. Lionel Atwill stars (no, that's not him in the picture) as the crusading Doctor Xavier, trying to find out who's the serial killer plaguing New York. Pre-Kong Fay Wray is his daughter and Lee Tracy is the annoying reporter who falls for her (this is the first time I've seen the male ingenue double as the "comic relief"). If you dig scientific equipment, you be agog at Dr. X's "lie detector". The damn thing takes up a whole room and has enough buzzing, sparking and gurgling stuff to make Dr. Frankenstein jealous. No wonder lie detector tests aren't admissable in court. By the time the killer shows up, all semblence of reality is thrown out the window and you disbelief will be suspended to the breaking point. But you won't care. And I bet if you watch this with friends or loved ones you'll come away with a great "inside joke" that will last a looooong time. Just remember: synthetic flesh...SYNTHETIC FLESH....

The Return Of Dr. X - Okay, let me clear this up right now: this is no more a sequel than Star Wars is to The Sound Of Music. The only thing in common with the previous film is the title. Here we're dealing with a scientific vampire story. Doctor Xavier (Humprey Bogart) was convicted and hung quite a while ago for experimenting on young kids. So how come Dr. Flegg (John Litel) has a doctor assisting him who's a dead ringer for the late Dr. X (except he's real pale and has a shock of white hair)? Well, Dr. Dennis Morgan and reporter Wayne Morris is gonna get to the bottom of it. Yes, this is the infamous horror film that Bogie made before he hit it big (he's really more of a supporting player here). Aside from that, he does the creepy bit well (his part was written for Karloff and the Flegg character for Lugosi, neither of which Jack Warner was able to get) and the picture comes off more as a buddy picture with horror overtones. Still, some good snappy dialogue and Bogie Taking One For The Team makes it a real jaunt.

Mad Love - Ah, the jewel of the collection. Karl Freund directs a tale of Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), famous pianist and husband of singer Yvonne (Francis Drake), who suffers a terrible accident which permanently damages his hands. Enter brilliant (and obsessive) surgeon Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) who, in an effort to find favor with Yvonne (whom is object of said obsession), grafts the hands of a knife-thrower recently hung for murder onto Stephen's stumps. While the operation is a success, no dice with the wife, Doc. But maybe he can convince Stephen that his new hands are possessing him and causing him to commit murder...
Say what you want about M (and practically all of it is justified), this is the film that cemented Peter Lorre in the Crazed Homicidal Manic pantheon, and he delivers in spades. Even before he goes completely off the deep end in the final reel, his intensity and subtlety combine to give the audience a bad case of the jibblies. Even some misplaced comedy relief (mostly supplied by Ted Healy as a - what else - wisecracking reporter) can't hurt this film. Plus, there's Dr. Frankenstein himself doing his tourtured scientist/artist bit, a small part by Ed Brophy as the condemmed man and a cameo by Billy Gilbert. Watch it - you won't be sorry.

Okay, this set runs about 40 bucks American, which works out to about 6.75 per film, so it's not a bad bargain. Go forth and enjoy. Me, I'm gonna hole up in my living room, ignore the front door and try to get that phrase out of my head...synthetic flesh...

It's gonna be a long week.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Out, Out Damn Thoughts!

Human pyramids never last
Hey, two Marx Brothers pics in a row. Wonder what Freud would make of that...
Okay, boredom and frustration setting in. Things have turned dull around here, so time for a recap:

Due to the way my supervisor is doing the work schedules because of OU sports (I still have weekends, but she's assigning specific board-ops to specific sports - I drew OU Women's Basketball, which doesn't start for another 1 1/2 months), my hours fluctuate wildly, prompting Becky to commence with a fresh round of quit-this-place-it's-not-worth-your-time. This time though, I'm starting to agree with her. OTOH, I don't want to quit without having something else lined up, preferably in radio. So, I commence with the Looking. I'm whipping my resume into shape while at the same time trying to hook up with at least one temp agency in the meantime.

The younger of my two stepsons is moving to Florida, to live in a trailer with one of his buddies and see if he can make it as a tiler in the Katrina-ravaged area. I wish him much success. Of course, this leaves a room unoccupied so, since Nature and my wife's family abhor a vacuum, my oldest stepson wants to move in on us, leaving his girl and two kids. I don't want him to, as it will just encourage him to not work and stay out all night, not to mention leaving my daughter-in-law and us to pick up the slack in regards to caring for our grandsons. Becky says she has some Expectations that must be met in order for him to be here, but I have my doubts. More as I get it...

I'm stalling, creatively. I got artwork for a Wanderer's Guild D20 supplement due and I can't seem to get it started. Too many distractions (like this blog). Also doesn't help that Gage is here a lot of the time, which means my time is limited. Guess I'll have to lock myself up in the bedroom naked with just a pad and pencils and pens. Hell, if those monkeys can write Hamlet, I can do the damn art.

Whew, good to get all that out. Had a story about Gage, but now this is sounding like a friggin' blog entry, fer cripe sakes. Guess it happens sometimes. Sorry, folks. Just so this isn't a total loss, here's some upside stuff that happened lately:

Got some good recordings done for Librivox. The best one was The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft. I sent it to a few web friends and they loved it.

We got to take Gage to the Oklahoma State Fair again this year. I dunno who has a better time, him or me watching him have a blast. I tell ya, if it was just Becky and I, we probably wouldn't go every year but with grandkids, we gotta go. Fantastic memories.

Recent DVDs: Since we're tight on money, I opted to fill in the holes in my collection with used discs. Got Corpse Bride, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow and Narnia. Corpse Bride is fantastic, of course, Sky Captain is pretty good, but a little of it goes a long way and I saw Narnia in the theater, so I know Gage will like it.

Movie catch up: finally saw Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest a couple weeks ago. I liked it, but I wasn't too crazy about some of the character development, especially Will Turner's (I thought he turned on Jack a little too quick). On the plus side, the entire cast was back (with a whopper of a cameo at the end, leaving the audience with a great Han-Solo-In-Carbonite cliffhanger for the next film), the story was fun, the SFX outstanding and of course, there's Captain Jack Sparrow.

Our next sojourn into the darkened multiplex will be to see Hollywoodland. Promises to be good.

Well, let's see if I can get this ship righted and back on course next time. Till then, smooth sailn' mates.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Open Mic, Insert Foot

Is this thing on?
Well, that was a nice little speech in the last entry, wasn't it? It's been a while now and Reality has set in for a long stay. Right now I'm hovering around 300, having lost about 5 pounds due to backsliding. Seems like I need to jump back on the wagon. Time to regroup and give my commitment more "oomph."

In Other News, I found a happenin' place on the web (for me, anyway). For quite a while now I've been wanting to do books-on-tape/CD/whatever. I'm not acting all that much, so this is a good outlet for me. Besides, I haven't been on the air and I thought it'd be a good way to keep my voice sharp.

I stumbled on to Librivox while looking up something on Wikipedia, and I love it. It's a bunch of volunteers reading Public Domain literature and offering it for download as MP3's, podcasts, etc. The readings range from okay to professional quality (belive me, there's quite a few readers on there I wish I could be as good as). They've got a big selection which is growing all the time. I've done a couple of stories and poems for them (click here if ya wanna find out what ol' Smokestack did for 'em so far, under his real moniker, Glen Hallstrom - I got more short stories to come) and I'm having a ball. BTW, they're always looking for volunteers, so if you like to read, come on by and check out their messageboards. There's a lot of great people there who love what they're doing.

As for me, back to the diet. Becky's off this week, so she can help me toe the line.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Damn The Doritos, Full Stevi-Ahead

I had orcs for you guys to fight
but I ate 'em
Another week. Seems like I was doing this just a couple of weeks ago. Waitaminute...

There's a part of my life I've not been talking about here, and that's my interest in role-playing games. The fact is, I've been playing D&D and other games of that stripe since the mid-80's, but this blog seems to be dedicated to (besides the joke that is my life) more, shall we say, cinematic pursuits.

Alright, I'll say it: I've been ignoring my RPG hobby in favor of my film/DVD collecting
.

There's a few reasons for this. For one, when I started this my head was more into my video pursuits because that's what I was doing. I felt my fellow film buddies would be the main audience, so that's what I was leaning towards. Another is that I wasn't gaming at the time I started TMJ. I was going through a looooong dry-spell due to my work schedule. Lastly, I just felt none of my homies over at the gaming boards would be interested in what I had to say if it wasn't RPG-oriented (something that may be partially true).

Well, that's gonna change.

While I'm not gonna drop film, DVDs or chit-chatting, I'm gonna talk more about my other pursuits, too. I hope this don't cheese-off some of my film-folk (all 1 1/2 of them), but rest assured it'll all be balanced out Fair and maybe balanced. :-)

I know, I know, you say "Smokestack - wha' hoppen? What's with the change?" Actually, it's not really a change, more like an addition.

Okay, in other news, I've established a Goal. Something I think is attainable. Something to give my damn life a bit of meaning - and have some fun along the way, by gum.

Okay, here's the deal: GenCon just finished up this last week and again I didn't go (what's GenCon you say - the first and grandaddy of all gamer conventions, that's all). While I've been to some rather big cons, I've never been to The Big One. I think it's time to change that.

This coincides with one of my funks, a rather serious one, where I don't feel like I have direction in my life. Oh yeah, I've survived lo these 49-50 years, but it's more like existing. I have a piddly-ass job and that's about it. Add to that I'm not in the best of health and my eating habits suck like a Hoover. Besides, I feel like crap.

After reading my RPG boards about what fun everyone had this year at GenCon, I really want to go. Then I find out next year is GenCon's 40th Anniversary. That was the straw that broke this gamer's back. I want to go. I want to have fun. Not just have fun, but I want to feel younger than my years. I want to really enjoy myself and there's no conceivable reason why I can't get off my tookus and make it happen.

It's time.

This is the day I commit. The resolution is as follows:I, Smokestack Jones (and my real-life alter-ego Glen Hallstrom) resolve to go to GenCon 40 in 1997 and when I arrive at said convention be at least fifty (50) pounds lighter than I am at this moment (I currently weigh in at about 320 lb.). I will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal, be it regular exercise, good eating (including forgoing the regular ingestion of favorite foods) or any other means in the course of my normal life to achieve this goal. Furthermore, I resolve to maintain said lighter weight and healthier lifestyle until GenCon 2007 and as far beyond as I can manage it (preferably to the grave).

So there. It's up here so's all can see. It's another way to motivate me to do it. Besides, if I'm going to declare this to the whole of the Internet, it'll keep me from backsliding (in other words, you guys will keep me honest).

To achieve this goal, Becky and I will be sitting down this evening and outline some sort of battle-plan to make it happen (including drinking a lot more - shudder - WATER!) and make sure I don't go off half-cocked (there is the small issue of my high blood pressure and past CHF to consider). In addition, I'll be consulting my doctor. We're already going to be heading for the gym Wednesday, trying to get off to a good start.

I'm pumped for this. I've done it before in the short-term. Let's see how I do this time. I'll be posting my progress here. I'm hoping I can do more than 50 pounds.

Okay, sorry about the dramatics, but I feel that I have to shake myself up out of my complacency from time to time. In a way, it's kind of an oxy-moron. Who ever heard of a healthy gamer?

Oh well. More interesting stuff next time...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mainlining With A Laser Needle

He's a lot gutsier than I am
Well, after a deep funk followed by a head and chest cold that left me temporarily partially deaf, I'm back to pontificate. Haven't quite got over the illness (or my loss of hearing), but I got some industrial-strength prescription drugs on my side so let's see if I can work this lack of auditory stimuli to my advantage. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, blog on, you crazy diamond.

Among the recent purchases I've made is a book, The R. Crumb Handbook. Aside from a
mighty-lak-a-rose CD of Crumb music he's made with several bands over the years (which I am listening to while composing this) included with the tome, the book is a fascinating read on the life and times of (as he somewhat jokingly dubbed himself) America's Favorite Underground Cartoonist (Every Picture A Masterpiece!) and how he's adjusted living in this world he's stuck in.

One portion of this book that had intrigued me was how he has a compulsive need to collect old blues 78's (he has, arguably, one of the biggest private collections in the world). Between that, watching the Zigoff documentary Crumb and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor (another artist who feels compelled to collect, his drug of choice being jazz 78's), it got me thinking about my own collection of DVDs. While I don't begin to rival the core of DVD Verdict's members, it is a lot larger than the average layman's movies on disc assortment. Yet I always am on the lookout for more. I can now relate to the collecting bug. I insist it's a "hobby", as I do have a true love for film (I had about the same number of VHS tapes at one time, before that it was Super 8) and I do pride myself in my ability to find hard-to-find discs and/or getting something at a bargain, yet I wonder if there's ever gonna come the day where I'll say "enough is enough - I got all the film I'll ever want to watch, fer cripesakes!"

The thing that pushed it over the edge into Questioning Myself About This was when I started to think of my DVD collection as an "investment." Now before I started collecting DVDs I never had anything of real worth and when I started to collect I did so with one eye towards Handing Down The Collection To My Progeny (namely, my grandchildren). It's when I started tracking the collection on three different websites that it started to hit home that I had Something Of Value. I'd gleefully enter in my latest discs at DVD Spot, where you can (among other things) see what the MSRP Value of your collection vs. what you actually paid for those bits of plastic and shiny stuff. "lessee." I'd say to myself "hmmm...oh wow - my collection has jumped up $1500.00 in value! I'm hot taters now!"

And so it went, adding to the collection until last night, when I added my current haul and immediately checked the worth of the collection. That's when the Lil' Smokestack in my brain said "Oh Gawd! You're a speculator! You know, those guys that ruin any field of collecting they get their grubby paws into! Remember the Action Figure market? Good gravy, remember what they did to Magic: The Gathering? What are you thinking, man?"

Leave it to my lovely wife Becky to snap me back to reality. I asked her about it and she came back with "well, have you bought any movies you don't like?"
"Well," I stuttered, "I just sold a few I didn't care for anymore..."
"I mean ones that you didn't like when you bought them?"
"No, why would I do that?"
"Because," she went on in her infinite wisdom, "that's what speculators do. They don't care if they like what they buy, as long as it appreciates in value over time."
Boy, I love her. Once again, Becky performs the feat that makes her invaluable to me: telling me something I already know that I need to hear again. I gave her a big kiss and thanked her.

After we talked, I breathed a sigh of relief and went to look over my collection. I finally came to the conclusion that hobbies (the normal, legal kind) are just harmless, highly organized and motivated obsessions. If it floats yer boat and keeps you sane, that's good enough. I went to bed that night and before I drifted off, I realized that does my heart good to know that, in some corner of every person's life, they go a bit nuts over something.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bye George

Ghost reviewer in the sky
The fellow in the picture is George Hatch. I know him as a reviewer for DVD Verdict, probably one of the best they've had. George recently passed away and the DVD community is all the poorer for it. While at DVD Verdict he contributed some of the best, most insitghful reviews I've ever read. His specialty was Film Noir, and I have some wonderful Noir discs in my collection thanks to his reviews. I can't really do him justice, so I refer you to the links to Dan Mancini's blog and DVD Verdict for the full scope of the man.
Farewell, George. I'm sure you're up there spinning the discs. Damn, we're gonna miss you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One Noir For The Road

What?  Free beer?
Y'know, if you're a lover of classic film like I am, you have a bit of an advantage over the more current-release-minded folks out there. Sure you waited patiently for that Special Edition of The Adventures of Robin Hood to finally get a release or plunked down some serious do-re-mi for that Val Lewton Horror set but, pound for pound, between major studio series releases and good ol' Public Domain, if you know what to look for you will find riches beyond your wildest dreams at a low price (not to mention occasionally finding that Forgotten Classic you've heard of but never seen).
That said, if you like film noir, duplitious dames, wise-cracking heroes and all, you've recently had an embarrassment of riches. With WB releasing in one but two Noir box sets (with a third in the way), other studios have been bellying up to the bar with their offerings - None more thoroughly than Fox. I say "thoroughly" because about half the films in the Fox Noir line are borderline noir at best.

And this is a bad thing? Uh-uh. Where else are you gonna find the breadth of drama at the prices they're charging (MSRP $15 but you can easily find them for $10)? And every one of them includes a commentary, most of which are done by Eddie Muller (author of film noir books, president of the Film Noir Society and a damn fine raconteur) These films may not all be noir but most of 'em are still damn good dramas, a lot of which are new to DVD. Here's a few recent examples I picked up for a song:

Laura - One of the two seminal noirs (the other being Double Indemnity - which is due out on DVD soon), Otto Preminger directing noir staple Dana Andrews, cracking wise and getting obsessed over Gene Tierney while Vincent Price makes with the charm and Clifton Webb drinks while tossing barbs hither and yon. This was the one that launched the Fox Noir line, so they give it a little more oomph in the extras department - two commentaries, one by composer David Raskin and Film professor Jeanine Basinger and another by film historian/author Rudy Behlmer, a deleted scene, two A&E Biographies on Gene Tierney and Vincent Price and the theatrical trailer. A fine way to launch a series and, as the rest of the series, a real entertainment bargain.

Fallen Angel - Dana Andrews again, this time with the likes of Alice Faye and Linda Darnell. Darnell's a tough waitress whom everyone with a fly on their pants is trying to get to know. Andrews is a small-time grifter who falls under her spell and develops a cockeyed plan to marry the younger of two rich spinsters (that would be Ms. Faye) so's he can con her out of the dough and run off with Darnell. This one's jam-packed with great character actors (Percy Kilbride, Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot, Anne Revere and the Great John Carradine) plus Eddie Muller and Dana Andrews's daughter Susan doing the commentary chores.

Nightmare Alley - You heard me talk about this before. All about Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), a carny who wants something more. He has an affair with the carnival psychic (Joan Blondell) in order to learn the code she uses in order to move up in society as Mystic to The Rich And Famous - until he meets his match in a duplicitous psychiatrist (Helen Walker). A gripping ride down into the depths of noir with Stan ending up lower than he began. This one features commentary by film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver.

Somewhere In The Night - This was the first film Joseph Mankiewicz helmed. A John Hodiak starrer, he plays a returning war vet stricken with amnesia with nothing but a "Dear John" letter in his wallet and another from a guy named Larry Cravat. On his journey he meets a lot of folks (Harry Morgan, Sheldon Leonard, Whit Bissel, Fritz Kortner) who want to stop him from finding out about Mr. Cravat, and a few (Nancy Guild, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte) who want to help him. Eddie Muller goes solo with the commentary duties here. This one's a personal favorite, being a classic example of the "amnesia" noir.

I Wake Up Screaming - Okay, laugh at the title, but this is noir, straight-up. Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is a promoter who finds Vicky (Carole Landis), a hash-house waitress and decides to do a Henry Higgins on her for a lark. Too bad she gets bumped off, with all the evidence pointing to Frankie. Good thing he's got Vicky's sister (Betty Grable) on his side. He'll need all the help he can get because if he ain't careful, he's gonna be up the river, courtesy of a police detective (Laird Cregar) who's determined to pin it on him. The plot has more twists than a pretzel and the dialogue absolutely crackles. Add a deleted scene, an alternate opening, stills and Eddie Muller's commentary and this one is a great night at the movies

House of Strangers - This is one of the "barely noirs" I mentioned earlier, but boy is it fun. Noir with an Arthur Miller twist, Edward G. Robinson stars as Gino Monetti, the patriarch of an Italian banking family who is so concerned with business, he doesn't see the resentment and anger under his own house. Three of his sons, who work at the bank, hate his tyrannical rule while his fourth son (Richard Conte in, IMO, his best role), is a slick lawyer, wants nothing but to settle down with a nice Italian girl (Debra Paget) - until Susan Hayward waltzes into his life, that is. This is like taking one part Joseph And His Bretheren, one part King Lear, add a drop of noir (in the wonderfully-written scenes between Conte and Hayward), shake, and watch. Joseph Mankiewicz is in the director's chair again (some of the dialogue sounds like a warm up for All About Eve) with Robinson and Conte at the height of their talent. This time the commentary is by author/film hisorian Frasier Hirsch - a bit dry and spotty, but informative nevertheless. To paraphrase Nick Monetti, it's a great drama - period!

Those are just a half-dozen from a DVD series that looks like it's gonna go for at least 25 titles. If you like noir, or just a good ol' drama, you can't go wrong with these.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I Whip Out My 19 Inch...

Almost like being there
Time for some update. Took longer than usual but looking at the blogs of others I don't feel so bad (yeah I mean you Dunny, Sara and Manti - but I love yew guys anyway). Smokestack's Grindhouse seems to have given way to general film talk/recommendations so I'm gonna go with the flow on that.

It's slump-time at the station. Summer, no collegiate sports to broadcast so it's time for the Powers That Be to cut my hours back. And it's also for Becky to once again try to talk me into quitting (various reasons - gas, one car between the two of us, incompatible schedules, etc.). And, once again, I resist. This year, though, I'm going to see if I can broker a layoff for the summer, so's I can come back when the football-basketball season start up again. We shall see.

Got in a lively discussion over at DVD Verdict about how a lot of folks of a more current generation see films of an earlier era as "dated" and consequently harder to watch (if at all). I gave my 25 cents (usually just 2 cents but this one lit my rump on fire a bit) then yielded the floor to others who are making very good points. If ya wanna check it out, check the Links section on the right.

Friday was a milestone in my career as Grandpa - took Gage to his first movie in a theater. The film was Cars and he was great. No yelling, no crying, no restlessness and he loved it. Not bad for 2 1/2 years old. I'm proud of him.

Next on my Must See list is A Prarie Home Companion. I always meant to listen to the show (at least to get some background on it) but never did, so I'll go into it cold. Besides, Altman's directing it. Can't beat that.

One of the best things that happened recently is that I'm now blogging (and doing everything else PC-related) on a 19-inch monitor. A friend (thanks Don) gave it to me since he's got all he needs. It's old and the power switch is touchy (an easy work-around since my PC stuff is plugged into a main power unit) but it's great. I set it to 1280 x 1024 res and now I have enough real estate to really go to town with Paint Shop Pro. Now if I can only get my Graphire tablet to work with my Logitec Marble Mouse trackball...

Hmmm, I was working on a pretty good depression, looks like I've worked myself out of it. Thanks for listening. You're a great help. More interesting stuff later.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Stars Are Sooooo Right!

More eldritch beings than there are in heaven
I was handed a disc at my weekly gaming group by player who shares my love of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I asked him what it was. "It's a film of the story Call of Cthulhu by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I groaned a little. While I had heard of the group and visited the website (they do a series of LARPs - Live Action Role-Playing Games - inspired by Lovecraft), I've sat through my share of "fan films" and a lot of them were a waste of my lifetime at best, eyeball-stabbingly bad at worst. So I smiled, thanked him and promised him I'd return it ASAP.

The next day, in a deep funk over the lack of creativity, I popped it in the machine, figuring this stuff will make me feel better about my artistic fumbling, mumbling something like "oh boy, here we go..."

I was stunned. Pure and simple.

It is black and white, filmed in MythoScope and runs about 47 minutes. For that time I was riveted to the screen, following the story of a man in an asylum asking his friend to burn personal papers of his and his great-uncle, an archeologist, a tale of great evil, madness, degenerate swamp-folks, brave, doomed sailors, an unknown island which holds a dream-like city and the great cosmic being that it houses.

I was raptured by the look of the thing. Since the story takes place in 1927, it was filmed like a silent film, title-cards and all. The crisp,stark images (lovingly aged) are a wonder to behold. The performances are great, right down the line. The site of sunken R'lyeh is something right out of German Expressionism (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, anyone?) and Great Cthulhu himself is a fantastically Harryhausen-ish creation. Afterward, I was convinced that I had seen something extroardinary. This is probably the best adaption of a Lovecraft story I have ever seen, one of the greatest, truest literary adaptions I have ever seen. Not to mention a damn good tale.

I returned to the group's website and found out that this film was two years in the making and played at Sundance where it was well recieved. They have also planned more films, including a feature-length one with sound.

Even if you're not a Lovecraft fan, if you're a student of film (especially silent film), you owe it to yourself to see this film. So go, order the DVD, watch it and revel in a grand horror story made in a grand way.

Oh, and while you're at it, check out the HPLHS website. It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Let's Drink To Character... The Tale of Mr. Arkadin

Acapulco, it ain't...
You first hear what sounds like a harmonica, then the screen fades in on a female body on the beach







The screen then fades to black, only to be replaced by a quote, which reads:
"A certain great and powerful king once asked a poet 'What can I give you of all that I have?'
He wisely replied, 'Anything, sir...except your secret.'"


Then another fade-in on a small private airplane, flying high over Spain.
The inimitable voice of Orson Welles tells us that:
On December 25th, an aeroplane was sighted off the coast of Barcelona. It was flying empty. Investigation of this case reached into the highest circles, and the scandal was very nearly responsible for the fall of at least one European government. This motion picture is a fictionalized reconstruction of the event leading up to the murder, and to the appearance, last Christmas morning, of the empty plane.

Thus begins the “Comprehensive Version” of Mr. Arkadin, one of the most puzzling and intriguing films in the history of cinema.  You soon find yourself watching a tale of power and the past, a powerful man who is himself mysterious and takes great pains to keep it that way. The tale is of one Guy Van Stratten, globe-trotting “entrepreneur” a smuggler, adventurer, gigolo and wanna-be tough guy, someone who is more resourceful than bright, who is granted the gift of two names from a dying man.  The names, Van Stratten figures, will perhaps give him some leverage with the powerful and mysterious Mr. Gregory Arkadin, multi-millionaire and overprotective father to a strong-willed young girl. Arkadin soon hires Van Stratten to make a “confidential report” all about Gregory Arkadin for, with all his might and power, Gregory Arkadin does not know who he was prior to 1927. The resulting investigation and what happens next may prove the end for Mr. Van Stratten when he realizes, maybe too late, the lengths to which Arkadin will go to keep the past buried from his daughter.

There’s also another tale, one that has been told before, of a director, one of great creative power and perhaps an even greater reputation, having his work removed from his hands in the editing room only to watch as his work goes out into the world in several misshapen forms.
Both tales are told again, perhaps with more insight, for Criterion has released The Complete Mr. Arkadin, a 3-Disc DVD set which includes the two most complete versions and a “Comprehensive Version”, which was reconstructed using the best from all existing edits of the film, following, as close as can be determined, Orson Welles’s original editorial concept and wishes. Add to this stills, cut scenes, a full length commentary for the Corinth version, three radio broadcasts that formed the basis of the resulting movie and three short documentaries, plus a paperback copy of the novelization by Welles (which was, in all probability, ghostwritten by Maurice Bessy, based on Welles’s screenplay).

I first “met” Mr. Arkadin on VHS, under the title of Confidential Report which was included in a two-pack (along with The Third Man) of VHS tapes from Madacy, a public domain film distributor. Now I’ve always been a Welles fan, even though I have to still see some of his major works (The Magnificent Ambersons, Journey Into Fear and F For Fake are still on my “must watch sometime” list) and I remember seeing Criterion’s laserdisc edition (Confidential Report, which I learned later, was the European cut) so I plunked the 10-15 bucks for it. It was disjointed. It was very roughly dubbed. But I was hooked. The story was like something out of Eric Ambler (the plot has been compared to The Mask of Dimitrios) but it also seemed to get through it’s plot it’s own peculiar way. It is unmistakably an Orson Welles film and even in it’s reedited state (more on that later) I could follow it. The fantastically odd characters. The hero who doesn’t know when he’s getting in over his head (he seems to me like a slightly less bright, slightly more crude cousin of Jack Nicholson’s J. J. Gittes in Chinatown). The dense post-war Europe atmosphere. And at the center, a phenomenally rich, omnisciently powerful man-monster. An old-fashioned barbarian with the veneer of old-country charm and the soul of a poet. A man so adept at pulling the strings of someone as low-life as Van Stratten he can do it by memory. Van Stratten never had a chance. Unless…

You see, the Ogre (as his daughter Riana calls him), feels very protective of this progeny. So much so that it would devastate him for her to think anything but good of him. And that could be Arkadin's undoing, so Van Stratten better wise up - fast.

This is also the story of one Orson Welles, former wunderkind of Hollywood, working as he can in Europe, trying to make films with his own unique vision, destined to be tossed off of films and being recut ad infinitum.

The story of Mr. Arkadin starts in 1954. Welles has had been wildly successful portraying Harry Lime in Caroll Reed’s film The Third Man and has been approached by a radio producer to do a radio series with the character for the BBC. One of the scripts for the show was one titled Man of Mystery, about a multi-millionaire Gregory Arkadin, who hires Lime to do a “confidential report” on him. Welles, impressed by the story, decides to make it the basis of his next film, becoming partners with a somewhat shady and socialist-leaning man named Louis Dolivet. After shooting, Welles proceeds to edit the film but, furious at Welles for taking so long, Doliviet breaks up the partnership and bars Welles from the cutting room. Doliviet then proceeds to have it cut with others, and Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report goes out into the world. This means that there was never an “official director’s cut” of the film.

When I got this set I was ready for a great experience, but I didn’t realize the profound effect it would have on my film viewing. This film, to me, is the Dead Sea Scrolls of motion pictures. The pieces are there; what others have made with it is open to debate.
One thing I came away with was a new appreciation of the art (and it is an art) of film editing You truly can make or break a film in the editing room. Another thing that struck me is how, through all the permutations (the Corinth version, which is probably the truest version up until this set, Confidential Report, with it’s partial dismantling of the flashback structure), through all the cuts, the story still makes sense. From what I found out, Welles was constantly changing his mind, on set and in the editing room, partially as a ploy to keep others from trying to piece it together in any other way except his way. While he wasn’t completely successful in that regard, what he did give us is a story that doggedly tells it’s tale the way it wants to – the way Welles wanted to.

There are some that say that Welles tried to dazzle the audience with flash, mirrors and that Wellesian barnstorming, that what lies at the heart of this film is a third-rate pulp novel.
And what’s wrong with that? It didn’t stop him from taking another potboiler (Badge of Evil) and use the patented Welles Style to turn it into the first-rate noir Touch of Evil. It also never stopped Hitchcock to take a minor horror story and turn it into the classic Psycho. It was known that Welles loved pulp fiction and it probably amused him to take such mass-market material and try to turn it into Art.

Now as to the supplements, they’re surprisingly meaty, even for a Criterion set:

  • Three versions of the film, all in newly restored high-definition digital transfers; the Corinth Version (newly found by Peter Bogdonovich), Confidential Report and the “Comprehensive Version”. Aside from a few instances of dust (which looks like that was from the original negative) all three look pristine and in 1:33:1 aspect ratio.
  • Audio Commentary on the Corinth Version by Welles scholars Johnathon Rosenbaum and James Naremore. They know their stuff and provide a lively, in-depth look at the writing, direction and production, not to mention info about some of the (in)famous people in front of and behind the camera (they also make a great point that Welles saw himself as a failed Hollywood director when, in actuality, he was a successful independent director).
  • A half-hour interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow, featuring an audio interview conducted in 1980 with Robert Arden (Guy Van Stratten). Callow’s a bit cold, but it’s a good place to start for those unfamiliar with the story behind the film. The Arden interview gave a good insight on Welles working methods. He comes across as very warm and happy to be talking about this significant point in his career.
  • Three half-hour BBC radio episodes of The Lives of Harry Lime, the show which was the springboard for the film. The audio isn’t great on them, but they are a fun listen.
  • An interview with Harry Allen Towers, the man who produced The Lives Of Harry Lime for the BBC, on how that was conceived and how he got Welles involved. This was fun. The guy is getting on in years, but he’s still sharp and has some wonderful stories to tell about the BBC, Welles and The Third Man.
  • A new documentary about the Comprehensive Version featuring the two gents who put it together, Stefan Drössler and Claude Bertemes, with a few comments by Peter Bogdonovich. This (and commentaries) is why I love DVD extras – it was fascinating learning what they went through to keep it true to Welles. A bit of an odd way of doing it (they basically interview each other), but great nonetheless.
  • Still Gallery – a lot of shots on the set and elsewhere.
  • Outtakes – now this is great – among these are clips (with sound) of Welles directing Robert Arden and Paola Mori. How often do you get to see examples of a great director at work? Priceless.
This one could easily be the DVD of the Year. Only someone like Orson Welles could see the potential of a slightly cliché script and then have the cojones to treat it like Kane. A lot of films present us with a Director’s Cut; Welles gives us The Director’s Puzzle. And, like all good puzzles, half the fun is in putting it together.


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Friday, May 26, 2006

Powered By Dieselbilly

Old School don't get better than this
I just read Steve Powers's review of Kingdom Of Heaven: 4-Disc Director's Cut DVD and, humbled as I am by such a bodaciously awsome review, I think I'll put off my review of The Complete Mr. Arkadin: Criterion so's I can polish it up a bit (although I'll have to go a long way to beat Steve's KoH review - if ya don't believe me, check it out with the link above). In the meantime, lemme tell ya 'bout a kickin' CD I picked up.

I was out with Becky last night getting some grub and we ended up at Cracker Barrel. For those of you not familiar with this chain, the menu is good down-home cookin' with the plus of a general store/gift shop in the front selling all manner of gifts and munchies (some of which are recreations of treats of the past - Mary Janes, anyone?).

After some really good chicken and rice, we preused the general store and I found a really good CD by Bill Kircher.
The title: Dieselbilly Road Trip. Bill was a singer and lead guitarist for Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen (that's his axe on Hot Rod Lincoln). He's a Master of The Telecaster and boy howdy does this disc tell ya. From flat-out rockabilly to country and beyond, the guy's got some serious chops. Here's the layout:


  1. Hollywood City
  2. Pittsburgh Stealers
  3. Is Anybody Goin' To An Antone
  4. California Cotton Fields
  5. Streets Of Baltimore
  6. The Promised Land
  7. Buckaroo
  8. Detroit Diesel
  9. Midnight In Memphis
  10. Sleepwalk
  11. Eight More Miles To Louisville
  12. Guitar Boogie Shuffle
From the first track I was captivated and by the time Sleepwalk hit the speakers (hands down my favorite slow instrumental) I was a Believer. This disc becomes part of my permanent collection of Drivin' CD's. It's great for toolin' down the highway.

Okay, I'd tell ya all to go out and get this great disc but here's the catch: it's part of a special series produced by Cracker Barrel and you can only find it in their stores - I checked their website and they don't sell it online. So if you have a CB in yer area, go pick this bad boy up. If not, try going to Amazon and finding Bill Kirchen's other albums (he's done about seven of his own, not to mention the ones he did with Commander Cody). You won't regret it.


LATEST DEVELOPMENT: For those of you wihtout a local CB you can order the CD from Kirchen's website. Just click on the "Order Stuff" button and yer on the road!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Loritab Monday

NOT on Auto-Pilot
Got just a few things on my mind so it's a grab-bag today.

To quote Dr. Smith, oh the pain. Yesterday at work, while trying to do two things at once (board-op a Sooner baseball game while trying to burn a couple of talk shows onto CD) I trip over a chair and manage to twist my right foot. I've done this before but it doesn't make it hurt any less. So it's a couple of days hobbling around and taking painkillers while trying to stay off it. A challenge when yer home alone.

Saturday I was also running board on Sooner baseball and women's softball games and I run across one of those "you can't make this stuff up"-type of names. Now the Lady Sooners were playing Kansas and the Kansas shortstop's name is (I kid you not) Destiny Frankenstein. Surely that's a stage name. Not that I don't believe that there isn't folks with the last name Frankenstein in this world, but I'm having a hard time believing that this poor girl's parents would make it even harder for her to get through childhood by christening her "Destiny."

Besides, I couldn't shake the image of a female Boris Karloff in a girl's softball uniform shouting "HEY BATTERBATTERBATTER!"

Also, I'm no sports fan but the girls lost to Kansas, not to mention the Sooner Men getting a royal ass-kicking by OSU in all three of the Bedlam games (two of which were played at the Brick - almost in OU's backyard). Boy that was ugly.

My mind is also turning back to my novel. Trevis, a good net friend, read it and loves it but thinks it's kinda short (as a Word document it comes up to about 104 pages). He suggested that I add about 50-150 more pages to it. I'm kind of hesitant, not because I think it's perfect, but I'm afraid of messing up the pace with a lot of padding. So if anyone wants to look at it and give me their opinion, email me at smokestackjones@gmail.com.

With luck, next entry will be my treatise on Mr. Arkadin. Gotta do something while waiting for my foot to stop swelling...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rooty-Hooty-Pile-O-Doody

Hooters
Hoot
Flapjerks
Plot - Produced by Jimmy Buffett (who also has a role in it), the story goes-a some-a-thing like-a this: Kid Roy Eberhardt and his family moves to Florida where he gets involved with a bunch of local kids who are trying to prevent the really stupid guy from O Brother Where Art Thou? from building a tropical IHOP in the middle of the wilderness, thus keeping the indigineus burrowing owls from ordering a short stack with a side of sausage while waiting for de volcano to blow, mon.
The Studio Sez - Packed with surprising plot twists, quirky characters and offbeat humor, HOOT is a classic story that's fun for all ages.
The Critics Sez - "Hoot" has its heart in the right place, but I have been unable to locate its brain. Here is a movie about three kids who begin by disliking or fearing one another, and end up as urban guerrillas sabotaging the construction of a pancake house that will destroy a nesting ground for burrowing owls. -Roger Ebert

Smokestack Sez - Let's see, Misfit Kid Who Moves To New Town? Check. Other Misfit Kids Who become His Best Friends? Check. Evil Adult Protagonist? Check. Clueless Law Enforcement? Check. Doesn't The Hallmark Channel have the corner on this kind of stuff? C.mon, Jimmy! You can do better than this!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Jerko de Offo

Meet the new boss, etc. etc...
Happy Cinco De Mayo, folks. Aside from the fact that I'm still kinda ticked off over the illegals trying to blackmail us U.S. citizens last Monday into keeping the borders open, letting them stay and get benefits, I'll still give 'em their due for this holiday. Even though nobody gets the day off for it, it's compensated by the fact that it's another excuse to get plastered at a bar somewhere with a lot of others doing the same thing. Sort of like an extra St. Patrick's Day with a pinata. So do what this Gringo do: raise a bottle of Corona, eat a chimichanga and think of the Frito Bandito. Arriba.

Anyway, I wanted to expand on the manifesto for Smokestack's Grindhouse. The Reviews of Films I Haven't Seen is just one facet of the feature. Due to my lack of attention span I'll also talk about Movies I Have Seen, DVD releases I've gotten and are looking forward to and other stuff like that. I just want to make sure that the RoFIHS will be front-and-center amongst all that stuff.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Have I Seen Me?

We're gonna need a bigger milk carton...
Bet ya never thought you'd hear from me again, didja? That makes two of us. So far, 2006 has turned into Interesting Times. Whether that is good or not, I haven't figured out yet.

Okay, recap: shortly before I left for the GAMA Trade Show, my daughter-in-law gave birth to Gavin, Grandson #2. GAMA in Vegas was a blast, got to meet a lot of interesting folks, talk shop RPG-wise and not lose my shirt at the slots. A week after I got back, I go into the hospital for an outpaitent procedure so my doctor can cut out polyps in my sinuses. Much gauze and blood later I'm fine and breathing somewhat normally (one upside is getting a nice large prescription for Loritab). In the meantime, after two months of waiting, COX finally gets me hooked up for phone, cable and (most importantly) high-speed internet.

Oh yeah, I also hit the 49 mark on April 26th. The highlight was receving a gift of money from my mother which was used to purchase The Complete Mr. Arkadin: The Criterion Collection. I'm still going through it and am once again being blown away by Mr. Welles. But more about that in another entry...

My current activities have been editing my novel and pushing myself towards doing more artwork. The book's on it's third draft so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment. The artwork, not so.

My problem is...well, I don't know what it is. Laziness, prhaps? If I was truly lazy I wouldn't want to do anything. Ambition? Ditto. The truth is, I have never had any kind of direction I wanted to go. My mind is a muddle of destinations without the slightest clue of how to get there. I've been forever looking for someone to look at where I want to get to and point me in that direction.

Part two of that is the lack of confidence in what I do. While in Vegas I had my friends say I was one of The Wanderer's Guild's "great artists." I replied that the only reason I'm an artist is because you guys say I'm an artist.

Now I'm talking about me enough to make me uncomfortable. Besides, I seem to be just dumping stuff out of my head and onto this blog, which is not really entertaining, informative or both. Tell ya what: next entry I'll give ya something worthwhile to read. Deal? Done and done.