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Nicholas Thurkettle
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Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

Someone just put a big smile on my face.

You know who you are. Thanks.

Now get your money's worth and drag that brood of yours out to Ponyo.

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Featuring the vocal talents of: Frankie Jonas, Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin

Ponyo is a movie that you not only can take your children to, it’s a movie you should take your children to. Many child-aimed products (and believe me, they are more product than story) are actually just regular dull grown-up plots disguised by animation or talking animals, and move at the hyper-kinetic pace of a birthday-party clown. But this a true fairy tale, and enchanting from frame one. It doesn’t want you just to look at it, but to watch it; to see its color and artistry, and the pure and kindly spirit inside it.

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki, arguably history’s greatest animation storyteller, might see this as a minor work, less daring in theme and spectacle than previous triumphs like the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. But is that a fair criticism? He has served his story as perfectly as a filmmaker can, and created a work of incredible joy. How can we fault a 68-year-old man whose work remembers childhood so well?
…all the extreme passions and odd fixations of little people experimenting with the world.Collapse )

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
: Stephen Sommers
Writers: Story by Michael Gordon and Stuart Beattie & Stephen Sommers, Screenplay by Stuart Beattie and David Elliot & Paul Lovett, based on the toys by Hasbro
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Stephen Sommers, Bob Ducsay, Brian Goldner
Stars: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nichols, Byung-hun Lee, Saïd Taghmaoui, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ray Park, Arnold Vosloo

The F-22 Raptor Stealth Air Superiority Fighter comes at a modest price tag of $137.5 Million, when purchased in bulk. Using that as a baseline, my back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me that G.I. Joe – the deadliest, secretest multinational army of top-secret deadly super-soldiers ever – has an operating budget of around $750 Trillion. I don’t know from where they get the off-the-books funding for their invisibility fatigues, muscle-enhancing robot combat suits, and multi-story underground base complete with full-sized submarine training battlefield, except that the Pentagon must have bought a lot of $3,000 hammers lately.

There is a point in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, where unit commander General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) orders “Deploy the sharks!”, and I was so punch-drunk from hyperbole that I was very disappointed that actual sharks were not launched into battle. This big-screen playset for Hasbro’s 45-year-old toy line is – whether you will want to admit it or not – a soap opera about dolls. It’s a dollar-burning showcase for people waving toys around and going “Pew, pew, pew, BOOM!” But director Stephen Sommers, who helmed the first two Mummy pictures as well as Van Helsing, understands that this is exactly the movie he is supposed to make; and he demonstrates refreshing clarity and confidence in the ridiculousness of the whole affair.
Let that be a lesson to every non-blonde girl in the world.Collapse )

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

I feel weird about this, but what the hell?

I thought about this idea long ago but never had the confidence to implement it. But somebody asked, and that's enough reason to stop messing around. So I've created a "Donate" button that leads to my Paypal account. It should be visible in this entry, and is also located in my bio on my User Info page. Call it a tip jar. I guess I am not the first blogger to set one up.

I have never done this before, so I don't know if I'll get notifications, if it will be anonymous, or whatever. This is only important to me to the extent that I know where to direct gratitude. And it is also worth saying - I vastly prefer earning money to taking money. So if there are any little creative writing jobs you need or would like to see done, consider asking me to do them. Or if there's anything in particular about my blog that has entertained you over the years, consider letting me know when you give. It will go a long way towards making me feel like less of a charity case.

We're all in the thick of it right now; so believe me when I say that if this leads to exactly zero change in my account, I will write on just as before, and be just as glad for the chance to talk with you all.

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

That now makes 300 movie reviews I have published to this Livejournal.

So once again:

Anyone want to pay me yet?

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

District 9
: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Producer: Peter Jackson
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Louis Minnaar, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Vanessa Haywood

Aliens landed on Earth in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and offered hope for mutual understanding and utopian transcendence. In Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s Independence Day, they arrived to participate in rah-rah genocidal sport. But I think that if extraterrestrials really did drop into our atmosphere in hovering saucers, the most plausible outcome I have seen is the one depicted in District 9, a thrillingly original science-fiction film, one of the best movies of 2009, and the feature debut of Neil Blomkamp, a filmmaker with the facility and promise that calls to mind the film brat generation that produced that young Spielberg.

The film is produced by Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson, a senior member of the modern passionate film nerd fraternity that would loosely also include names like Sam Raimi, Alfonso Cuaron, and Guillermo Del Toro. Taken together, these writer/directors share fiendish imagination and humor, a love for the science fiction and fantasy genres that enriches them with seriousness and heft, and the kind of hands-on technical proficiency that allows special effects to disappear behind true artistry.

Jackson and Blomkamp were originally set to collaborate on an adaptation of the video game franchise HALO. When that collapsed under the weight of its own budget, they turned to this, a feature-length expansion of his short film Alive in Joburg. If the scrappy and audacious result stands as Blomkamp’s application for that fraternity, I cannot imagine the response being anything but enthusiastically unanimous.
… something that would have been horrible to the imagination twenty years before has, by force of practice, become a chim-chiminy chore.Collapse )

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

Aneurysms may result from congenital defects, preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries), or head trauma.

The problem started when I was jerking off; and I think that’s just mean of the universe. We were T-Minus a very small number to blastoff and the wrong thing started to throb – my brain. We’re talking unbearable, shoot-me-now agony; someone was inside my skull with a bicycle pump, timing each crush of pressure to my heartbeat. I imagined I could feel the blood rushing out of my heart, up my neck, and into the back of my head; and the swelling, GOD, the swelling. Every thought was gone but “NO ESCAPE”.

I calmed down, the pain subsided, and so did my erection. For the next couple of days, any masturbatory activities became a cautious tango with the pain; trying to keep my heart rate down and hope a few sweet unprintable thoughts could sneak me over the border before we got to active skull volcano status.

Why masturbate at all with such a violently-established disincentive? Because FUCK Pavlov; that’s why. I’ve got a reproductive urge.

A common location of cerebral aneurysms is on the arteries at the base of the brain, known as the Circle of Willis.

By the third day of this the pain wasn’t waiting around for horny thoughts. Now it was there all the time; pulsing in the background even in my calmest state. I tried a few minutes on the exercise bike, just to confirm that it was ANY pulse increase that worsened it; not just you-know-what. That would be one for the textbooks.

WebMD’s on-line self-diagnostic symptom checker actually has an option you can select labeled “Headache (worst ever)”. Its number one suggestion for that was brain aneurysm.

Since I am broke and uninsured, going to a doctor is an absolute last resort for a problem I cannot tough out with a cool cloth and over-the-counter drugs. I rationalize this as strength of character and aversion to panic. If I had money I might be weaker, and panic more regularly.

Risk Factors for brain aneurysm:
* Family history. People who have a family history of brain aneurysms are twice as likely to have an aneurysm as those who don't.
* Previous aneurysm. About 20% of patients with brain aneurysms have more than one.
* Gender. Women are twice as likely to develop a brain aneurysm or to suffer a subarachnoid hemorrhage as men.
* Race. African Americans have twice as many subarachnoid hemorrhages as whites.
* Hypertension. The risk of subarachnoid hemorrhage is greater in people with a history of high blood pressure (hypertension).
* Smoking. In addition to being a cause of hypertension, the use of cigarettes may greatly increase the chances of a brain aneurysm rupturing.

I am a white male who doesn’t smoke, has solid 120/80 blood pressure, and no prior history of aneurysm in myself or my family. Wouldn’t that be just my luck? It’s inspirational, depending on your perspective. The aneurysm that Beat the Odds. Heart of a Champion, that one.

The doctor at the urgent care center is my favorite of the few doctors I’ve ever spoken to more than once. He is thorough, sets me at ease, and treats me like a grown-up. He does the basics – the stethoscope, the light in the ears and eyes. He checks the muscles in my shoulders and neck for tension, takes my description of the pain to heart. If it’s a migraine, he says, it’s a weird one, and especially weird to be lasting for three days.

He sits down: “I have to respect the symptoms; and they tell me I need to get you an MRA right away to rule this out.” The “this” refers to a brain aneurysm.

He asks me what kind of insurance I have. My “insurance” is a credit card that will be deactivated in a few days (again) when I miss my payment (again). He sighs. “Now it gets complicated.” He scurries out of the room.

There’s a copy of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue nearby. Bono wrote the tribute to George Clooney.

A nurse comes back into the room. She has a map to an imaging center nearby. She says that I’m lucky; the technician hasn’t left for the day yet, and they’re going to cut me a deal on the price. $350. I haven’t had an MR-anything in over thirteen years, but that sounds like a deal and a half. I ask if that means I am meant to go there right now. She nods rapidly. The doctor has filled out a procedure request for them, and has written “STAT” on it. I feel very important.

Over at the imaging center, they do not even want me to fill out the first-time patient form. I will do that afterwards, they tell me. They hand me a form to take downstairs to the technician; on it they have placed a little orange sticker that says “STAT”.

I take the wrong staircase down and end up outside the building. I realize that the date I wrote on my release form is seven months off. The day they are scanning your brain is the wrong day to do these things.

The technician is named Glen and he’s got a very mellow attitude. He tells me that MRI’s are a lot quieter than they used to be, and asks if I’d like some music for the 20-30 minutes I will be laying in the tube. He says all they have is classical and I tell him that will do just fine. He clamps my head in a helmet-y shell and slides me in.

The music is Kenny G.

MRI’s involve a lot of thumping sounds. After awhile I categorized them. One’s like fingers drumming on an apple box; another’s like a muffled Tommy gun. There’s also the angry old modem, and the revving racing cycle motor. That last one goes on the longest.

Afterwards I finish my forms, pay the fee, and buy a Snickers bar. I had been craving a Whatchamacallit, but there were none at hand.

Before a larger aneurysm ruptures, the individual may experience such symptoms as a sudden and unusually severe headache…

I return to the Urgent Care Center. Despite that damned throb back there, I notice that I have been unusually calm all afternoon. Readier with a joke, even. When Glen had pulled me out of the tube I had even teased him: “You call that classical music?

The doctor tells me that all my arteries are fine. He seems more relieved than I am. He says that the highest probability now is an “atypical migraine”. He smirks even as he says it; it’s medical jargon for feck-if-we-know. But unlike aneurysms, migraines do run in the family.

He rummages through a closet for sample packets of pills; gives me a pair of Treximets. If it is a migraine, he says, it will work. If it is not, then we will try something else.

I drive home, take one. The pain dulls. I feel tired and a little dizzy. I have yet to try jerking off.

$430 total for two pills and the knowledge that I do not have an aneurysm. God, are they worth it. They are so worth it.

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

Paper Heart
: Nicholas Jasenovec
Writers: Nicholas Jasenovec & Charlyne Yi
Producers: Sandra Murillo, Elise Salomon
Stars: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake M. Johnson

Awkward love seems to be the reigning love in popular culture these days. Emo music has its odes to getting passed over at the dance, the almost-lovers of Once courted while almost never getting a complete, comprehensible sentence out, and in primetime Jim and Pam over at The Office are still communicating in mumbles and cute darting glances even after Jim has apparently succeeded in knocking her up. One can’t imagine him ever hoisting her up the grand staircase like Rhett Butler.

Which is perhaps why Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera, whose maybe-it-really-happened relationship forms the possibly-staged spine of the otherwise-a-documentary/puppet show Paper Heart, always look so startled. They are constantly looking at the ground, speaking in nervous blurts, as if neither quite believes yet that they are grown-ups, and have permission to advance beyond sittin’ in a tree to K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

But when Charlyne is speaking with a romance novelist, the novelist describes what is known in her trade as a “H.E.A.” ending; a “Happily Ever After”. Charlyne unambiguously perks up at the mention of this, as if finding its existence very agreeable. Children learn by imitation, and she behaves as if she wants to carry this process on; and if learning about the heart means instigating a fumbling courtship in front of a film crew, one look at the network lineup of dating shows is all you need to tell yourself that everybody else is doing it.
…like a scientific examination conducted with Playskool equipment.Collapse )

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
: Carlos Saldanha, with co-director Mike Thurmeier
Writers: Story by Jason Carter Eaton, Screenplay by Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss, Yoni Brenner
Producers: John C. Donkin, Lori Forte
Featuring the Vocal Talents of: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Simon Pegg, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Chris Wedge

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs gets sucked inexorably into the unpleasant truth its cuddly characters have long avoided discussing – that nature designed many of them to feed on each other. Just as the wolf and the caribou in the documentary Earth are not playing a game of tag, these characters have sharp teeth for a reason. The truth about predators created some gripping danger and poignancy in 2002’s original adventure, but was treated more as a game in the inferior second picture.

In this third outing, Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) is prowling and chasing a gazelle (Bill Hader); and the way the gazelle taunts him it sure seems like a game of tag. Diego is losing his zest for the chase. He looks smoother and cuddlier with each adventure, like his fur is being brushed to a shine by pony-groomers. I think the franchise’s hesitancy about carnivorous instincts is entirely related to explaining why he has not given in to instinct and mauled one of his fellow protagonists by now.

But this animated franchise is the financial engine for Fox-based Blue Sky Studios, and given that its characters like Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), and perpetual victim of the laws of physics Scrat (Chris Wedge), still make for pleasant company, it is understandable that they invite themselves over to multiplexes for another outing. And once they reach the story there are some dandy sights to behold, and a fairly ripping second half that has some squeamish fun with the honest role of appetite in animal interaction. It is an improvement on its predecessor, but behind the lovely animation it feels plotted rather than invented, a work not born of inspiration but of brand-extension.
…the evolutionary debate just took a thumb to the eye.Collapse )

Nicholas Thurkettle [userpic]

On Thursday night, Adam and I took another shot at qualifying in the KaraokeFest competition; and so few people showed up at the location that we were qualified through to the venue Finals by default. That didn't feel like much of a victory.

Since you are allowed to qualify at multiple venues, we went out to Don Jose's Mexican Restaurant last night to cover our bases. Actually, I know he's not into the competition angle as much as I am, but he is happy to lend support and I'm grateful for it. This time, there were twenty people entered, and neither of us made the cut into the top six. It is not difficult to see why, there were some damned talented people, and unlike in later rounds we weren't divided by gender, so I was fighting for the same slots as those soul divas with the superhuman lungs.

I found myself thinking about the fact that I wanted one of those slots, but not by simple circumstance like on Thursday; I wanted it on the merits. Sure, I could have challenged them to a math-off and thus increased my chances of a top six finish, but this was the field of battle and I'm not going to be sour about it. I'm not the greatest singer - I can't do the R&B gymnastics and my natural voice is much lower than any rocker who is not the dude from the Crash Test Dummies. But I do some things very well, and I am proud of the development of my stage presence over the years.

Then I found myself thinking that this process has a lot in common with how I approach dating. I know I don't have the facial features, musculature, career success, or even social skills, of the competition, and yet I still aspire to be counted as having just as much merit, even if it means I have to work that much harder with what I've got. Maybe it's quixotic, but after the experiences of my youth I refuse to date someone solely because they're willing to date me. I will not celebrate victory by default.

On the positive self-assessment note, my competition performance ended up being the best rendition of Born to Run I've ever done; and, during the warm-up round, I added a new song to my repertoire that will be a joy to keep in the rotation:

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