Hamlet 2 (***)

Posted on August 30th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Rock Me, Rock Me, Rock Me Sexy Jesus!

Hamlet 2 is one of those movies that you simply don’t (and can’t) expect, and I mean that in a good way.  Is it a satire on inspirational teacher movies?  Yes.  Is it a parody of great-but-misunderstood-artist movies?  Yes.  Does it mock innocent-white-girl-falls-for-tough-chicano-gang-banger?  Yes.

Does it insult Tucson?  Yes.  Does David Arquette’s character say less than 10 words in his running cameo?  Yes (approximately).  Does Elisabeth Shue have a small part?  Yes.  Who does she play?  Herself, working as a nurse at a Tucson hospital after burning out and leaving Hollywood behind. 

Does the inspirational teacher go on an acid trip?  Yes.  Is Catherine Keener both a) looking her age and b) still damn sexy?  Yes (pay attention, Hollywood and actresses).

Is there a song in the play-within-the-film called Rock Me, Sexy Jesus?  Yes (see photo, above).  Is it funny in spite of the fact that it sounds like it would be stupid?  Yes.  Is there a song in the play-within-the-film called Raped in the Face?  Uh, yes.  Is it as bad as it sounds?  Uh, yes…and no.

So, if I were reading this review, this is the point where I would probably tune out and go look for some other movie to watch.  However, I would end up missing out on a very original and funny film.  However, the description above sounds like it could be describing a painfully juvenile, unfunny schlock-fest.  Well, this film has all of those elements, but it *knows* it has those elements, and it mocks those elements before turning them on their head and…well…er…raping them in the face, I guess?

Anyway, the basic storyline centers on a high school theater teacher named Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) – the last name is pronounced “marsh-z”, like the word marsh, but with a tiny, quick little zzz sound tacked onto the end.  Coogan plays Marschz as a sort of bastard love child of Tiny Tim, Eric Idle, Pee Wee Herman, and Weird Al Yankovich (try not to visualize).  His story is that from the time he was a young boy in Canada he wanted to act on the stage, and he pursued his dream in spite of the objections (and molestations) of his father.  However, he has come to the latter half of his life and has realized that while he has a pure and perfect love for acting on the stage, he doesn’t have any talent for it.  So, he now finds himself teaching high school theater in Tucson for gas money.

The highlight of each semester is, of course, the staging of a big play.  Marschz typically stages plays based on recent popular movies (Erin Brockovich, for example), and he’s as good of a director as he is an actor, which is that he isn’t.  His nemesis is a young boy who writes for the school paper and gives his plays scathingly bad reviews.  His cohorts are the two (and only two)

Tropic Thunder (***)

Posted on August 25th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Tropic Thunder is flat out hilarious.  I’m not a huge fan of Ben Stiller’s ouevre (or his movies), and I can’t recall one of his films I really liked or wanted to see more than once.  Zoolander and There’s Something About Mary were okay, but nothing to write home about.  I barely chuckled at either Parents movie.  I couldn’t watch all of the Museum movie.  Can’t really remember any others.

Suffice it to say I’m not a Stiller fanboy.  I’m still not, but I’m a big fan of Tropic Thunder.  The film is the story of the making of the film-within-a-film Tropic Thunder, based on the book by a Vietnam war vet (played pitch-perfectly by Nick Nolte).  The production is struggling, so the director (Steve Coogan) opts to go for a more cinema verite approach, by taking his actors into the deep jungle and filming them with hidden cameras, while the maniacal effects supervisor (Danny McBride) shell-shocks them with explosions, incoming fire, and other nastiness.

Hilarity ensues, as they say.

First of all, Jack Black’s performance is spectacular – he looks like Brian Dennehy from 20 years ago, if Dennehy had been in the middle of a roller-coaster, hyper-manic, drug-raged, flame-out-spiral.  I can’t think of another actor today who could have pulled of Black’s role with such…conviction?  Robert Downey Jr. plays a dude who’s playing a dude who’s playing another dude, and puts on an acting tour de farce.  And Ben Stiller manages not to upset the balance – his character is the himbo fading action star desperately hanging on the bottom rung of stardom (and apparently doing a metric buttload of pull-ups, judging from his ripped arms).

Things go off the rail for the production when the actors stumble across actual bad guys – a jungle-dwelling drug kingpin and his village of minions.  The storyline follows the expected path from there, with at least some of the actors thinking that they’re still being tormented by the director in order to give better performances, while others have an inkling that they might be in real trouble.

The film represents a pointy stick right in the eye of Big Hollywood, and it lampoons all facets of the movie business.  Keep your eyes peeled for all the cameos, they come fast and furious, with some celebs playing themselves and other playing thinly-disguised self-parodies (and in some cases both at the same time). 

So, if you like movies, and the movie business, and movies about the movie business, and movies about making movies, then Tropic Thunder may be the movie for you.

Oh, and through the course of the film try to keep a running estimate of the budget for the soundtrack – it had to be monstrous…

CleverDonkey’s Final 2008 Beijing Olympic Power Rankings

Posted on August 24th, 2008 in Commentary,Politics,Sports,Television by EngineerBoy

To see the Power Rankings for the 2012 Games, click here!

Forget medal count – who cares if countries with hundreds of millions (or even billions) of people win a lot of medals?  They should win a lot of medals, right?  The big question is, which country is kicking ass in their weight class?  The answer is in the table below.

This table creates a weighted medal score by giving each country three points for each gold medal, two points for each silver, and one point for each bronze.  The country’s Power Rating is calculated by determining how many weighted medal points each country wins per 10,000,000 in population.  And to factor in economics, the population only includes those living above the poverty level (according to CIA poverty estimates).

As of this final update (Sunday, 8/24/2008, 10:00am CDT), the Jamaicans have maintained their position and taken first place in the Power Rankings – all fruits ripe, mon!  The Bahamians held on for second place, and Iceland snuck into third place in the last day of competition.  Mongolia and Slovenia rounded out the top five.

Congratulations to all, and we’ll see you again in four years!

To see the Power Rankings for the 2012 Games, click here!

CleverDonkey’s Final 2008 Olympic Power Rankings
click column headers to sort up/down

Olympic Power Rank Country Power Rating (Weighted Medals per 10 Million Pop.) Gold Silver Bronze Total Medals Weighted Medals (G*3 + S*2 + B*1) Population (above poverty line)
1 JAM - Jamaica 112.44 6 3 2 11 26 2,312,328
2 BAH - Bahamas 99.93 0 1 1 2 3 300,217
3 ISL - Iceland 63.24 0 1 0 1 2 316,252
4 MGL - Mongolia 59.53 2 2 0 4 10 1,679,931
5 SLO - Slovenia 50.93 1 2 2 5 9 1,767,259
6 BLR - Belarus 45.30 4 5 10 19 32 7,064,010
7 NOR - Norway 43.96 3 5 2 10 21 4,777,000
8 AUS - Australia 41.61 14 15 17 46 89 21,388,000
9 GEO - Georgia 39.57 3 0 3 6 12 3,032,550
10 BRN - Bahrain 39.47 1 0 0 1 3 760,000
11 EST - Estonia 39.26 1 1 0 2 5 1,273,570
12 NZL - New Zealand 37.43 3 1 5 9 16 4,274,400
13 CUB - Cuba 34.61 2 11 11 24 39 11,268,000
14 SVK - Slovakia 32.81 3 2 1 6 14 4,267,580
15 TRI - Trinidad/Tobago 30.01 0 2 0 2 4 1,333,000
16 ARM - Armenia 27.19 0 0 6 6 6 2,206,470
17 LAT - Latvia 26.46 1 1 1 3 6 2,268,000
18 NED - Netherlands 23.78 7 5 4 16 35 14,717,380
19 DEN - Denmark 23.68 2 2 3 7 13 5,489,000
20 HUN - Hungary 22.88 3 5 2 10 21 9,179,302
21 LTU - Lithuania 21.69 0 2 3 5 7 3,226,560
22 ZIM - Zimbabwe 21.07 1 3 0 4 9 4,271,680
23 GBR - Great Britain 18.81 19 13 15 47 98 52,104,820
24 CRO - Croatia 17.27 0 2 3 5 7 4,053,950
25 AZE - Azerbaijan 17.09 1 2 4 7 11 6,434,920
26 KOR - Korea 16.35 13 10 8 31 67 40,990,400
27 UKR - Ukraine 16.03 7 5 15 27 46 28,694,757
28 KAZ - Kazakhstan 15.80 2 4 7 13 21 13,293,764
29 KEN - Kenya 15.43 5 5 4 14 29 18,789,000
30 CZE - Czech Republic 14.42 3 3 0 6 15 10,403,000
31 PAN - Panama 14.24 1 0 0 1 3 2,106,090
32 FIN - Finland 13.17 1 1 2 4 7 5,317,000
33 SUI - Switzerland 13.09 2 0 4 6 10 7,637,000
34 BUL - Bulgaria 12.19 1 1 3 5 8 6,562,760
35 RUS - Russian Fed. 11.63 23 21 28 72 139 119,469,696
36 FRA - France 11.57 7 16 17 40 70 60,475,674
37 GER - Germany 11.34 16 10 15 41 83 73,173,130
38 TJK - Tajikistan 11.13 0 1 1 2 3 2,694,400
40 CAN - Canada 11.09 3 9 6 18 33 29,747,397
41 ROU - Romania 10.57 4 1 3 8 17 16,078,500
42 ESP - Spain 10.29 5 10 3 18 38 36,942,526
43 SWE - Sweden 9.77 0 4 1 5 9 9,215,000
44 IRL - Ireland 9.73 0 1 2 3 4 4,112,460
45 KGZ - Kyrgyzstan 9.40 0 1 1 2 3 3,190,200
46 ITA - Italy 9.06 8 10 10 28 54 59,619,000
47 DOM - Dominican Rep. 8.86 1 1 0 2 5 5,641,280
48 MRI - Mauritius 8.61 0 0 1 1 1 1,161,040
49 USA - United States 8.20 36 38 36 110 220 268,275,040
50 POL - Poland 6.95 3 6 1 10 22 31,636,253
51 BEL - Belgium 5.53 1 1 0 2 5 9,035,440
52 UZB - Uzbekistan 5.45 1 2 3 6 10 18,339,240
53 GRE - Greece 5.38 0 2 2 4 6 11,147,000
54 AUT - Austria 5.10 0 1 2 3 4 7,847,940
55 POR - Portugal 4.71 1 1 0 2 5 10,623,000
56 PRK - DPR Korea 4.62 2 1 3 6 11 23,790,000
57 SIN - Singapore 4.36 0 1 0 1 2 4,588,600
58 SRB - Serbia 4.34 0 1 2 3 4 9,217,230
59 JPN - Japan 3.84 9 6 10 25 49 127,690,000
60 MDA - Rep. of Moldova 3.74 0 0 1 1 1 2,674,770
61 ETH - Ethiopia 3.29 4 1 2 7 16 48,562,473
62 ARG - Argentina 3.24 2 0 4 6 10 30,870,566
63 TUN - Tunisia 3.14 1 0 0 1 3 9,562,802
64 CMR - Cameroon 3.11 1 0 0 1 3 9,645,480
65 TUR - Turkey 2.48 1 4 3 8 14 56,468,800
66 ECU - Ecuador 2.43 0 1 0 1 2 8,231,397
67 TOG - Togo 2.23 0 0 1 1 1 4,477,800
69 BRA - Brazil 1.99 3 4 8 15 25 125,598,870
70 CHN - China 1.83 51 21 28 100 223 1,219,466,440
71 THA - Thailand 1.76 2 2 0 4 10 56,734,200
72 TPE - Chinese Taipei 1.76 0 0 4 4 4 22,771,595
73 ISR - Israel 1.75 0 0 1 1 1 5,725,552
74 CHI - Chile 1.46 0 1 0 1 2 13,712,518
75 COL - Colombia 1.33 0 1 1 2 3 22,612,604
76 ALG - Algeria 1.18 0 1 1 2 3 25,393,500
77 MAR - Morocco 1.13 0 1 1 2 3 26,540,400
78 NGR - Nigeria 1.13 0 1 3 4 5 44,427,900
79 SUD - Sudan 0.86 0 1 0 1 2 23,136,000
80 RSA - South Africa 0.84 0 1 0 1 2 23,925,000
81 AFG - Afghanistan 0.78 0 0 1 1 1 12,758,150
82 MAS - Malaysia 0.78 0 1 0 1 2 25,784,330
83 MEX - Mexico 0.76 2 0 1 3 7 91,959,884
84 IRI - Iran 0.69 1 0 1 2 4 57,805,900
85 VEN - Venezuela 0.58 0 0 1 1 1 17,358,813
86 INA - Indonesia 0.42 1 1 3 5 8 191,219,394
87 VIE - Vietnam 0.27 0 1 0 1 2 74,487,188
88 EGY - Egypt 0.17 0 0 1 1 1 60,036,800
89 IND - India 0.06 1 0 2 3 5 852,498,750

Don’t forget to come back in four years – we’ll be tracking the medal races again!!

Mo’s BBQ – Excellent!

Posted on August 18th, 2008 in Brenham,Restaurant Reviews by EngineerBoy

If you live in, visit, or travel through Brenham, TX, be sure to put Mo’s BBQ on your itinerary.  Mo cooks up some of the tenderest, juiciest, tastiest barbeque I’ve ever had, and, brother, I’ve had a LOT of barbeque.  Click here for a map, phone number, and directions. 

Mo’s is tucked in back from the street in a cedar shingled building with a front porch, between a carniceria and a gas station.  Most days Mo will greet you herself, and she and her friendly, efficient staff are always a pleasure to interact with.  The restaurant is always spotlessly clean, and the food is always, ALWAYS excellent, with generous portions.

And, oh baby, the barbeque is to die for.  Tender, juicy, tasty, hot, fresh…perfect.  It doesn’t even need sauce, but if you choose to use it Mo’s sauce is tangy and sweet, not vinegary and harsh.

Our only complaint is actually a compliment – we wish that Mo’s would stay open later and be open on Sundays, too.  Monday-Thursday she closes at 3pm, Friday-Saturday she closes at 5pm, and she’s not open on Sundays.  Now, I understand completely – she’s a sole proprietess and can’t work 7×365 – but there are times in the evenings or on Sundays when we get a big old craving for her food and we simply have to wait.  Hmph.

So do us a favor and go to Mo’s – if enough of us become regulars maybe she’ll be able to stay open more so we can always get her great BBQ!!

48 Laws of Happiness

Posted on August 16th, 2008 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
Don't Worry, Be Happy

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Through my web meanderings recently I came across The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.  I read them and laughed, thinking they were a joke, as the 48 laws seem to describe virtually everything that one should not be or do in order to have a happy life.  However, I did a bit more research and found that this guy appears to be serious about these “laws”. 

I cannot speak to whether or not following them will result in the attainment of power, however I can state unequivocally that unless one is truly a megalomaniac, the attainment of power does not lead to happiness.  This is the same truth that holds that the attainment of money does not lead to happiness.  One can have money and power and happiness, but happiness derives from who you are and what you do, not from what you have.

So, for any of you who have read the 48 Laws of Power and found them to be…misguided?…here is a counterpoint:

The 48 Laws of Happiness

Law #1:  Always Do Your Best

Law #2:  Develop Friends You Know You Can Trust

Law #3:  Keep Your Own Counsel, But if You Share Your Intentions, Be Honest and Forthright

Law #4:  Strive For An Economy of Words, But Always Say Enough

Law #5:  Always Do What You Know Is Right and Fair, and Your Reputation Will Remain Untarnished

Law #6:  Unless You Are An Entertainer, Do Not Seek the Limelight

Law #7:  Always Work Your Hardest, and Share Credit Where Credit Is Due

Law #8:  Only A Coward Is Afraid To Lose Home Field Advantage

Law #9:  Know When a Consensus Is Necessary

Law #10:  Helping Those Who Need Help Is Mankind’s Highest Aspiration

Law #11:  Teach People To Fish and They Eat Forever

Law #12:  Fake Sincerity Poisons Your Soul

Law #13:  If A Win/Win Scenario Is Possible, Go For It; If Not, Be Honest

Law #14:  If You Fake Friendship To Gain Advantage You Are, At Best, A Hooter’s Waitress and At Worst, A Prostitute

Law #15:  Show Mercy, But Do Not Ask For It

Law #16:  If Your Absence Makes People Happy Then You’re Doing It Wrong

Law #17:  Terrorism In Any Form Is Reprehensible

Law #18:  Make Your Home A Sanctuary From Trouble For All Who Dwell There Or Who Visit In Good Faith

Law #19:  If You Intimidate the Weak While Hiding from the Strong, You Are a Bully and a Coward

Law #20:  Love Your Family Unconditionally

Law #21:  Only the Fool Plays the Fool Expecting Profit

Law #22:  If You Surrender Freedom to Achieve Safety, You Deserve Neither

Law #23:  All Who Wander Are Not Lost

Law #24:  The Sycophant Dies A Thousand Deaths

Law #25:  Attention Does Not Equal Respect, Particularly For the Clown

Law #26:  Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions

Law #27:  If You Are Worthy to Lead It Will Happen Naturally

Law #28:  Never Dive Head First Into Dark Waters

Law #29:  Luck Favors the Prepared

Law #30:  A Stage Magician Fools No One But Fools

Law #31:  In A Crooked Card Game, It’s the

EngineerBoy’s Review of the Litter-Robot

Posted on August 13th, 2008 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Health and Fitness,Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy
Open the pod bay doors, Mittens

Open the pod bay door, Mittens

We are a pet-intensive household.  Currently we have three dogs and a cat, but we used to have two dogs and three cats.  Having three cats teaches you that maintaining a litter box is an endless, thankless, hopeless, gross, stinky, unhealthy, unending chore.  We used to use the LitterMaid, and went through three of them over the course of five years.  They worked…okay.  However, they had some significant engineering flaws, such as the fact that the rakes became caked with kitty poo, the receptacle filled up super quick when three cats were on the job, and they simply wore out after a year or so.

When we moved to our current house we decided to forego yet another LitterMaid and search for a newer, and hopefully better, solution.  The search led us to the Litter-Robot, pictured to the right.  It’s kind of space-age looking, and looks kind of big, and looks like it might freak out a cat or something, and maybe, just maybe, might refuse to open the pod bay doors.

The good news is that the Litter-Robot works, and it works extremely well.  It’s hard to describe the mechanics of it, but the large, round part on the top is simply sitting in place by virtue of gravity, it’s not attached or connected to the base in any way.  The orb has a couple of windows on the side (you can see one of them in the picture, it’s the black blotch on the side), and when in the normal position those windows are blocked by panels from the inside. 

The orb sits on the base, and the base beneath the orb is open to the drawer below.  Sensors in the unit determine when your cat has used the litter box, and seven minutes later little wheels (hidden from view underneath the orb) start turning and spin the orb counter-clockwise.  Inside the orb is a mesh grate and retaining pocket for the litter, and as the orb rotates the litter flows through the mesh grate and into the retaining pocket.  Anything a little bit bigger than a couple grains of litter can’t go through the mesh, so continue to roll along the inside of the orb as it rotates.

After the orb passes the rotation point where all the litter is contained in the pocket, the movement of the orb engages a lever that starts opening the panels that block the windows.  When the orb is fully rotated, the windows are completely unblocked allowing free access for any dropping droppings to fall into the drawer below.  After a short pause, the orb rotates back clockwise, the panels close the windows, and it eventually returns to the fully upright and locked position. 

Note that on this return turn, it over-rotates by about 15-20 degrees, then comes back to completely vertical.  This movement leaves the inside with perfectly

Skidoo (***)

Posted on August 11th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

There have been a handful of movies that have changed me, meaning that they were so impactful that after I watched them I was a different person.  Apocalypse Now, A Clockwork Orange, Eraserhead, Full Metal Jacket – films like that.  Now add to the list an unexpected entry – Skidoo.

Skidoo is not like the other films on the list – they are dark, brooding, and profound.  Skidoo is…well, it’s….kind of…hm…like…well…indescribable.  It’s not really dark or brooding.  Any profundity is tongue-in-cheek.  It’s funny, both intentionally and unintentionally.  It has a bizarre story line.

That’s the word for it – bizarre.  If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of this movie.  I hadn’t either until it popped up recently on Turner Classic Movies one late-night/early-morning.  I consider myself a sort of film dilletante – not really a student of film, but a bit more well-informed than the average American filmgoer.  And I didn’t have a glimmer about the existence of this film, which is surprising, in retrospect.

If you are of a certain age and someone were to describe to you a film that starred Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Michael Constantine, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Mickey Rooney, Cesar Romero, Slim Pickens, and George Raft, you might take that cast list, factor in the year it was made (1968), and think you could make an educated guess as to what the film would be like – maybe an undiscovered cousin of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, or something. 

Well, you’d be wrong. 

Skidoo is…overwhelmingly unexpected.  I hesitate to describe it because watching it without any preface is a delicious experience, but I’m more concerned with doing whatever I can to help get a broader audience for this soon-to-be-cult film.  If you don’t want to know the basic plot then blur your eyes and scroll down until the following indented purple text is off the screen:

The basic storyline is that Groucho Marx plays a gangster nicknamed “God”.  He heads up a nationwide protection racket that controls just about all the criminals in the country.  He is a germophobe and lives in hermitic seclusion aboard his yacht, sealed off behind steel doors, communicating with the outside world via teleconferencing (in 1968!!?!?), and spending his time playing bumper-pool with his scantily clad, Amazon-like, willowy, nubian-ish, right-hand girl.

Jackie Gleason is “Tough Tony”, a former hit-man for God who has long-since retired from the biz.  But God reaches out and strong-arms Tony into doing one last hit, or “kiss” as they call it in this film.  Tony is reformed and doesn’t want to “kiss” anybody for God, but he’s backed into a corner.

Carol Channing plays Tough Tony’s wife, and she spends the film sleeping her way up the chain of command to get to God and find out where her husband is and what he’s doing.

Frankie Avalon plays a mid-level mobster who