Month: December 2007

Black but funny flick

People have called Tim Burton quirky, inventive, weird, and a lot of other things. I call him one sick puppy. A sick puppy who has flashes of genius, but a sick puppy nonetheless. “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” I really enjoyed; they were black but funny and beautifully done, for the most part. But then, “The Corpse Bride” and “Nightmare before Christmas” were. . . well. . . sigh. The man needs professional help.

Johnny Depp seems to have some magnetic quality that attracts the bizarre, too. His list of credits includes a rather astonishing range of parts, many of them downright peculiar; and he and Burton have often paired up to compound their weirdnesses. Depp, however, has been pretty uniformly good in everything I’ve seen him in, even when the scripts were, shall we say, somewhat lacking . He’s a fascinating young actor and always worth watching.

So it was with a little trepidation that I agreed to see “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” on Christmas Day. “Oh, c’mon,” my friend cajoled. “It’ll be a good antidote to all that treacly Christmas crap.” Well, he’s been working at a Christmas-gift store and been force-fed Christmas music for six weeks, so I guess I could cut him some slack on that one.

The film is adapted from a stage play (more-than-musical, slightly-less-than-opera) based on what legend has is the true story of a serial killer in London in the 1800s. However, it may be that Sweeney Todd is primarily a larger-than-life urban legend, if I may be permitted a redundancy. A bit like Cut-me-own-throat (CMOT) Dibbler, whose sausages and “meat” pies are legendary for their. . . er. . . qualities.

My tolerance for on-screen blood and guts isn’t high. I think it’s a cheap trick, used to bolster bad scripts and sloppy directing. The Hitchcockian approach, which like a good artist’s suggests the lines and allows the viewer’s mind to fill in the details from his/her own fears and phobias, is much more powerful. (Hitchcock was also one sick puppy.) On the other hand, Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, who also seems to have an affinity for the bizarre, are in the movie. Tossing a coin, I figured what the hey? I could always put Kleenex in my pocket in case the blood splattered from the screen onto me.

I was surprised. Unpleasantly or pleasantly, whichever fits better in this context. In this film, Burton is spot-on and has some astonishing flashes of camera-work genius. I don’t know whether he stole it from the stage productions or not, but the use of the broken mirror is sheer unadulterated brilliance, as is the use of repeated reflections from the razor’s blade. The stylized, almost cartoon-like approach adds a great deal, too. Depp’s singing voice is a bit smooth for this gritty part, but he pulls it off well, and while I doubt that Carter could earn a living as a singer, she manages OK with this material. The vocal quality isn’t the raison d’etre for the film, anyway.

I will admit to closing my eyes a couple of times to avoid seeing too many prosthetic necks slit and too much fake blood splattering around (and it was annoying to see the spurt coming from the wrong anatomical places). The imagery would have been much more powerful had the first killing been shown in detail and subsequent ones by the flash of the razor blade or a reflection in Depp’s eyes—as I said, leaving it to the imagination makes it worse, while showing it in slaughterhouse detail numbs the viewer and actually reduces the scene’s power. But I’m sure I’m a minority voice on that issue.

The film is well worth seeing; maybe almost essential seeing. It’s definitely one of the best films I’ve seen in a few years. Don’t let the rivers of blood stop you.

Posted by wordsmith in Family, Movies, 0 comments

Gleeful mis-hearing

Went to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner, which this year consisted of turkey, prime rib, various kinds of potatoes, squash, corn, and several other good things as well as pecan pie. Walking through the buffet line, we had to choose—prime rib or turkey? mashed potatoes or baked? squash or corn?—before we got to the cranberry sauce, fruit salad, and pie.

Rob and I were entertaining Grandma with stories and tales when I heard something truly bizarre, but in an everyday voice, coming from the buffet line:


My eyes rounded. No, can’t be! I thought. No WAY! and I went back to the story, which involved Grandma, as a child, butchering and plucking chickens. Soon, I heard it again.


What? I thought. It’s one of the servers, and nobody’s hitting her with a cane! What’s going on?!? And again:


I concentrated very, very hard. She has to be saying something that makes sense, I thought. Then suddenly, I realized what it was: poor enunciation of mashed or baked? I burst out laughing, which of course meant I had to explain to Rob and Grandma.

“I was thinking the same thing!” Rob said. “I knew I had to be wrong!” Grandma laughed so hard I thought she’d spit out prime rib. Then Rob said something that made her laugh even harder:

“Good thing she doesn’t have to say anything about plucking the turkey!”

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The Verruca Gnome

You gotta love the Internet. I Googled “verruca,” because “The Hogfather,” from the eponymous book by Terry Pratchett (whom everyone should read), mentioned the precipitous appearance of a Verruca Gnome and I couldn’t remember what a verruca was; a rather horrid and disgusting, pustulant boil kept coming to mind, but didn’t seem quite right. On Google, not only does the definition come up, but also do ads for verrucas: “Get verrucas cheaper here!”, “Lowest prices on verruca!”, and “Compare prices on verrucas!” I’m still chuckling. And not going to buy any verrucas.

Posted by wordsmith in Family

Harried holidays

I miss Christmas as it was 20 years ago. It’s not much fun anymore and I haven’t much Christmas (or any other kind of) spirit to buoy me through the requirements. Anyway.

I’ve spent the last two weeks working madly on a manuscript for SPIE, which had a Dec. 21 deadline. The editor gave me a 20-hour estimate, but it took more than 40 hours, so my eyeballs were hanging as if they were on springs. It’s helpful in the no-pay-during-December period, though. But it meant I was even behinder with Christmas preparations than I usually am, although I did get Christmas cards in the mail, um, yesterday, I think. So there! (Yeah, they count for two years.) Christmas shopping got done today. Everybody has to settle for what they get this year. So there!

Cleaned off Grandma’s dresser the other day and set up her picture frame for her. Made sure it’s see-able and at a reasonably comfortable angle for her. She enjoyed it, but I don’t think she “gets” that she can turn it on anytime, without any hassle, unlike a slide show that’s a pain in the hiney to set up and show. She’d actually be better off to leave it on permanently, since there are 500-some photos on it and every time she turns it off/on, it starts over. The computer age has way-beyond passed her by. Speaking of computer age and by-passing, my MP3 player has locked up and won’t let me in. I’ll try downloading software or something later today.

Picked up a turkey breast to cook so I’ll at least be able to have some turkey sandwiches post-holiday. Still lots of blowing and tree-shaking around here, and a few bits of snow here and there. I have the “Bah! Humbug!” door knocker out and he pretty well encapsulates my attitude.

Merry Christmas to you all, anyway. Enjoy!

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The matriarch

Grandma’s truly the family matriarch now. My oldest cousin’s husband, who was Grandma’s age (he was 20 years older than my cousin, who’s about 20 years older than I), died yesterday, so there’s nobody of her generation left now but her. She said tonight that when she’s thinking about people and I come to mind, she’s sometimes not sure whether I’m her daughter or her niece. She knows me when I’m there, but her mind isn’t always clear when I’m not. (Or else she’s had a more interesting life than she’s telling me about.)

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Day of laughter

Dunno if it’s the full moon or the weather, but people have been wildly entertaining today.

Guy ordered what’s called a follow-up letter this a.m., which is sent following a job interview to remind a company that you’re wonderful. Only he doesn’t want a follow-up letter for himself—he’s sent three full pages of copy about a school and his son. He wants an application letter for his 3-year-old, written to a kindergarten!

Second guy’s been an HR recruiter for a long time, pretty senior-level manager who’s listed lots of ethics training in his history. He wants to be a salesperson. He sends a resume belonging to some poor kid who used to work for him—obviously without the kid’s knowledge or permission—and wants me to use it to beef up his own information! What are they teaching in ethics classes these days, how to have worse morals than dung beetles?!?

Finally, I go over to Grandma’s for dinner, since I didn’t get to take Chinese over Saturday, and one of the old ladies (a very very tall one who always dresses elegantly) walks into the dining room and says hi before sitting at her table (next to Grandma’s).

“She had a bad fall this weekend,” says Old Lady 1.

“She was at her gentleman friend’s cabin,” said OL2. “She fell there.”

“Serves her right,” says OL1.

“I can’t figure why anybody’d be interested in having a gentleman friend,” says Grandma.

“Lydia has a boyfriend, too,” says OL2. “I think it’s great they enjoy each other’s company so much.”

“Well, that’s OK,” says OL1. “It’s this one here (pointing to the empty chair at the table) who makes me sick!”

“Heavens, what on earth for?” I ask (foolishly).

“She’s nothing but a disgusting, dirty slut!!” says OL1.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, wondering how on earth an 85-year-old woman can be even remotely slutty (I never learn).

“She has a boyfriend, it’s just disgusting. And she sat here and flirted shamelessly with Nasty Norman!” she intones, scandalized. “She knows he’s a married man!”

Now, Nasty Norman is exactly that—a vile, foul-mouthed nasty piece of work who screams at everyone at the place except his wife, and I have no doubt he screams at her in private. He shouted at Grandma once to get off the elevator, he didn’t want her there. Why anyone would flirt with him is far beyond me; you’d need a leaded baseball bat to protect yourself just to say hello to him.

By this time, I’m choking to try not to laugh my head off. Then I figured what the hey, go ahead and laugh. Days like this are made for it.

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TWO finished objects and a puzzle!

Wowza, wowza! I finished two whole knitting projects that resulted in three finished objects! (One project was a pair of felted socks, so I got twoferone). And since it’s a snowy day and it’s better for my health if I don’t go anywhere, because all the idiots in SUVs who think they’re immune to the laws of physics are out (there’s already been one multi-car pile-up just down the street), I’m doing things that are more entertaining. To wit:

This qualifies as two firsts. It’s the first pair of socks I’ve ever knitted and the first actually to-be-worn thing I’ve felted (purses and stuff don’t count). The pattern is Knitty’s Fuzzy Feet. I was extremely surprised at the ease with which this knitted up. I’ve avoided trying socks, though a lot of people rave about them, because the whole heel thing (as opposed to the heel hole thing) was a little intimidating. This pattern made it go so quickly you hardly knew you were turning a heel until you were finished, then surprise! Very cool.

You can see little indentations in the felted version (which I put over my feet so they dried to fit exactly) where the straps of my sandals have been. Yep, I’m wearing them all the time, and I think I’m going to make some for some long-suffering family, too, whether they like it or not.

The yarn came from my Canadian friend and knitting teacher Richard, who said he didn’t like working with it. It’s 100% wool, White Buffalo by brand (a Canadian outfit), and comes as six individual strands of what’s basically roving all wound together. The destructions say that if you twist the six strands a few times before you start, it’ll behave beautifully. Since I only wanted to use two strands, it involved a lot of winding and separating, and it did most emphatically not behave beautifully, or even attractively. It is quite a pain to work with, and the strands of roving tend to pull apart at the least breath of air. But it felts beautifully, I’ll give it that.

Then we have the sweater I’ve been working on for what seems like six months, though I think. . . well, golly, I did do the first bits in July, though I had to start over three or four times and took a good-sized hiatus to build snaotheus’s Fibonacci sweater. This was just cheapo acrylic yarn whose colors I loved and I wanted the variegations to make vertical rather than horizontal bits, so I knitted both sweater and sleeves side to side. It’s also the first thing I’ve knitted for myself. And quite heavy, so I may need to put some reinforcing tape here and there to help stabilize it. Not a very good photo, but I couldn’t figure a good way to shoot it. The foreshortening makes it look really funny. At the end, it turned into a hoodie:

If your monitor is about like mine, you can sort of see the V lines on the front where I put in short rows. The ones on the left, where I used the Japanese method, are a lot less visible than those on the right. I cleverly forgot to allow for the pulling-in-ness that the seed stitch (cuffs and borders) causes, so wound up having to kill the acrylic in a couple of areas, but it drapes better after having done so. And those are pocketses in the front—I can’t live without pocketses.
It fits pretty well—not perfectly, but well enough that I won’t be embarrassed to wear it in public—and is toasty warm. The hood should keep the rain (or today’s snow) off, which is often welcome around here. I did sew the buttons on in the wrong direction, completely ignoring my own earlier determination; major Duh moment. So they slip out of the buttonholes, but I’ll take them off and re-sew them one of these days.

Overall, I’d call it a success, though my measuring and computations and adaptations were so far from accurate and I made so many changes as I went along, and would still make so many changes if I did it again, that I might as well not even bother to try to make sense out of the notes because, like a bad science experiment, it’s not replicable. 🙂 However, it was quite a Learning Experience!

And here we have the Puzzle for the Day: What is this? Winner gets. . . something extremely valuable!


Posted by wordsmith in Family, Knitting, 0 comments