A Mardi Gras Miracle: Part One

The day after Fat Tuesday (curse you, postal system! The Republicans were right!) the wife and I got a Mardi Gras gift from a friend in the mail. So did Stella. They were in two mysterious, yet mundane, cardboard boxes. The kind you’ve seen a million times before. Box-shaped. Brown. Made of cardboard. Not even the exuberant HAPPY MARDI GRAS! written in happy Sharpie® could betray the the mind-bendingly perplexing, wonderfully weird insanity contained within.

Should I go into the basement, retrieve the boxes, and stage a photo with them? No- I am far too tired, too lazy, and I hunger for authenticity. And explaining that is slightly more amusing than a photo of a cardboard box. I hope.

This post is about the contents of the first box: MY box.

Oh, baby.

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL! It’s Mardi Gras Imports Brand King Cake Babies! 6 Dozen of them, for only $2.75. Charmingly abbreviated with the snappy KG/CK BABY. I love that we are told the exact shade of pink: C203. This particular bag was made on August 11. Do plastic babies expire?

Apparently my friend had read this. Well played.

Bag O' Babies

Disturbing.

So many. So anonymous. So nude. Such weird legs. Such weird arms. Just enough of a face to make you wonder. It’s like a mannequin laid 10,000 eggs, and they just hatched. SHUDDER.

Got milk?

Stella wanted to handle them outside the bag. I couldn’t let them loose, because human babies will attempt to eat them with potentially disastrous results. So, I put them in a bowl. There was a surprising amount of mannequin spawn in the bag. 6 dozen of the little guys. That’s 72, which is a lot, it turns out. They filled the bowl to overflowing. Ew.

Delish.

Lighting is everything, isn’t it? These look like a completely different group of babies. Much more warm and appealing. And look- they have little FINGERS! Sort of.

Hold me.

Note that they have a hole straight through the gut and out the back. A perfect, clean, chaste, bullet hole. At least, that’s how it reads to me. I am a sick man.

Tomorrow: PART TWO!

Advertisements

Home Movie Tips: Olde Cape Cod

When I edit together a home video, I strive for something charming and watchable. A classic format of home movies- the super-8 looking, Wonder Years-esque style of the previous generation or two- is a fun and appealing choice. Creating a video like this will allow you to consolidate a bunch of little clips into something watchable which you can easily share with friends and relatives and save for your kids to watch as they get older. It’s also a great gift for your spouse (or the grandparents) which is affordable, personal and special.

Here are a few easily executed characteristics you can use to give your short film a bit of personality.

  • Good vintage music to fit the mood, and a mute on the original sound. A single, short song also limits you to a digestible and easily watchable length film. Luckily, older songs tend to clock in at shorter lengths
  • A super-8/ film grain effect, and film defect effects if you can manage them.
  • Cute, appealing, classic shots. Get people to wave at the camera, if you can. It adds a real smile factor. Once you edit one together, you will have a sense of what kinds of shots you need for your next home movie project.

In the example below, I allowed some priceless footage of Nana reading a story to kick things off. I thought it worth keeping for the kids. By the time we are 20 seconds in, we are in super 8 mode.

Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

Studio Ghibli is probably tied with Pixar for the title of Best Movie Studio for Kids in the World. My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke… the list of awesome movies goes on and on. Pom Poko kind of fell short, but it’s still about a billion times better than a Barbie Movie or Bee Story or something. The genius behind much of this greatness is a man named Hayao Miyazaki. If you don’t know who he is, click his name and educate yourself, son.

When you see this, you know it's going to be good.

Studio Ghibli is synonymous with quality, superb art, fantastic stories and writing, and sheer beauty. The stories are moving and mysterious and gorgeous and sincere as all get out. GUSH. So when I found out there was a new Studio Ghibli film out, based on the classic Mary Norton novel The Borrowers, I had to bring Stella to see it. A fresh, new Studio Ghibli film on the glory of the big screen is a rare and wonderful thing. Mastermind Miyazaki was not directing in this case, but he wrote the screenplay and oversaw production. And it’s not screening in 3-D, anywhere. Miyazaki is no greedy bandwagon-jumper.

So I huddled in the darkness, feeding Stella popcorn and surreptitiously taking bad photos of the screen, which I now present for your edification.

Dad! That's her!

OK, now here is the short version of the review, for those people who can’t deal with a good juicy spoiler. The movie is wicked, wicked good. In fact, it is awesome. Go see it at an HD/digital theatre if you can. Buy it on Blu-Ray, when it comes out. Spoiler haters can stop reading now.

We went to the charmingly named Regal Hollywood 24 @ North I-85 in Marietta, Georgia. It was quite nice. I wish I had taken pictures of the cinema itself. Sweet retro look from the outside, glass room fill of whirring hard drives with crispy-clear digital movies on em, great picture, great sound, not a lot of people at the Saturday matinee. The staff of friendly, efficient teenagers who work there stood in pleasantly stark contrast to the attitude laden, eye-rolling, sullen teens who seem to staff the cinemas of Boston. They also didn’t care that I was taking pictures. I am glad I moved for weird reasons.

Arrietty and her awesome hair clip.

The story revolves around a young Borrower named Arrietty, and her parents. Borrowers are miniature people who borrow items from humans – or ‘Beans’ – in order to survive. Thimbles, flashlight bulbs, pins, stuff like that. These little things, inconsequential to Beans, become essentially useful and prized items in the skilled little hands of The Borrowers. These little guys (and dolls) are like sweet, charming Navy Seal ninjas who are totally brave and resourceful as they rappel around the house in search of bits of food and these little items to borrow. They don’t have any evident magic, despite their magical-seeming stature. They are simply awesome enough to survive unseen on their wits, skills and ingenuity. But their survival is endangered by encroaching Bean curiosity and cynicism. They have knowledge of only a few other Borrowers, and they are isolated, living in fear of discovery.

Drops of water on a leaf umbrella.

Everything is writ large in this film- we fully inhabit the XL world from the Borrowers XS perspective. Sounds like rustling leaves or a crunch of gravel are  massive. A human hand brushing fabric is delightfully loud. Detail of things like wood grain or the texture of something like a broken flowerpot is huge with detail, just as a Borrower would see it. Drops of water are massive globs- one or two will fill a Borrower’s cup. The formidable cooking fire in Arrietty’s kitchen is a tiny pilot light. The physics and weight of bouncing leaves is perfect. Details are packed into the movie, and they are incredibly charming. The score enhances all this with a quaint, pretty, Celtic-esque sound, which fits perfectly with the homey vibe.

Sup, big guy?

A young man comes to the house where Arrietty’s family lives- it is his grandmother’s house, he’s there to relax before heart surgery, and eventually we find out he’s probably going to die from his condition. When he catches a glimpse of Arrietty, both their lives are changed. Her family will need undertake a dangerous relocation, to preserve their secrecy and safety. He learns lessons of bravery in the face of the certain extinction they both face.

Sweets for my sweet - a sugar cube.

In these films there is often a lovely, almost unspoken childlike romance present, and there is no exception here. I guess size doesn’t really matter. Earlier I mentioned Bee Movie, that horrid Seinfeld vehicle where the stupid bee falls in stupid love with a stupid human woman.  It makes you sick to watch it. This romance is just as unlikely, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. Watching the almost heartbreakingly sweet platonic love of Sean and Arrietty develop makes you kind of want to cry. In a good way.

I wanna hold your hand.

Of course, there is a bad guy- a mean nannny/servant/housekeeper is on the trail of the Little People and really wants to… I don’t know, exactly. Out them. Capture them. Sell them to The Carnival. She finally finds the hidden lair under the floorboards, captures Arrietty’s mom, locks Sean in his room, calls the exterminator, and acts like a total jerk in general. So, Arrietty must use her formidable Borrower talents, and also learn to trust a Bean, in order to rescue her moms.

She did put holes in the lid, in case you were wondering.

Also, there is this Aboriginal type little Borrower dude. He’s kinda cool. He eats grasshopper legs like drumsticks. And by the end, he’s hitting on Arrietty too, in his chill Aboriginal kind of way. That’s cool. It wouldn’t have worked out with Sean anyway.

Spiller.

I will freely admit, I am a convert already. But from the second this film began I was hooked. The sunshine drenched garden of the magical old house took my breath away from the start, and when I caught my own initial glimpse of Arrietty, my heart was in my throat. I had a tear in my eye and I was overwhelmed with emotion as I entered another one of Miyazaki’s beautiful and amazing worlds for the first time.

All in all, this is another grand slam home run for Ghibli and Miyazaki. Well worth the $10, and a worthy addition to a substantial canon. TAKE MY MONEY, STUDIO GHIBLI!

The Prodigal Squinky

Recently, I ranted about toy dolphins, Squinkies, and my 3 year-old daughter’s favorite Squinky, who happens to be a little blue dolphin named Dolphiny. Pink Rubber Dolphin is Dolphiny’s mom. Don’t ask me about toy dolphin genetics.

Nana sent a pack of Squinkies in the mail a couple days ago, and lo and behold, it contained a SECOND dolphin Squinky, this time in purple. This was a momentous occasion.  I should have instantly realized this would naturally play into the fact that Stella has twin siblings.  This arrangement was left on the table at bedtime last night.

Hush little dolphins, don't you cry...

Even with twin babies, Pink Rubber Dolphin always looks perfect.

Culture Review: Chipwrecked!

Me? I want a hula hoop.

I remember hearing that hula-hoop Chipmunk song for the first time- it was one Christmas Eve while driving in to a relative’s house in Boston. My Dad tuned it in on the radio and was like, “Hey- listen to this!” This is perhaps my earliest Christmas music memory. I was thoroughly charmed.

By the time a few years had passed, Christmas with the Chipmunks had become totally ubiquitous in my kid-world. By then, the marketing department had reinvented the Chipmunk look with a cuter album cover than the creepy 1958 original pictured above. And those freaking Chipmunk records were everywhere.  It wasn’t uncommon for otherwise bright, reasonable children to find themselves huddled over a battered Fisher Price record player in the heat of a July afternoon, listening to records of a man named Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. singing Christmas songs in sped up three part harmony.

Christmas with the Chipmunks fit right next to Sounds From A Haunted House and Disco Duck in many a budding record collection. I suspect this had more to do with the pitiful number of children’s records available at Sears than the quality of the releases themselves. Otherwise, how could you explain us sitting around listening to monster sound effects like they were groundbreaking Beatles singles? Oh yes. We listened to Halloween records in the middle of summer, too. It was pretty crazy when you think about it. But the Chipmunks stuff was actually quite catchy. Still is. Not bad for a guy performing all the parts in slow motion!

Editors note- I recently had someone knowingly and patiently explain to me that the guy who recorded the album, “Dave,” did all the voices. Dave is a fictional character. I hate to break it to you, but he is no more real than Darth Vader.

So cute, how Alvin messes with Dave (his… father?) and gets yelled at. That gag never gets old.

“AL-VIN!”

Dave is like a pissed-off Man In The Yellow Hat. What’s with all the bachelors adopting young, talented, mischievous animals?

Who would YOU rather live with?

I wanted to be Alvin. Alvin was the ‘cool’ one. And the other two were chubby/greedy (Theodore) and smart/nerdy (Simon). Who wants to be The Nerd? Or The Glutton? Plus, Alvin is the lead singer, and he dates the hottest Chipette, the oh-so ravishing Britney.

This all played out in greater detail in the TV shows and Christmas specials (there were at least three) which kicked into full gear in the 1980’s. They were a bunch of dumb kids’ shows, but the theme song was kind of cool, I guess. I loved it back in the day, and hey- I’m still singing it. Let’s pause and enjoy it.

Insipid and annoying as the cartoon was, it was still MILES better than the full-length 3-D tripe Hollywood has been foisting on our children, and us, as of late. Yes, I am speaking of CHIPWRECKED and the bastard siblings which preceded it. Probably the best thing that can be said about these horrible movies is that they bought David Cross a house. And introduced my daughter to the work of Lady Gaga (skip to 30 seconds in).

Or, for a sense of how truly annoying this entire movie is, watch this. Or, don’t. You can take my word for it. I saw the thing in the theater. I even paid for it. Trust me- this movie really sucks.

Jason Lee is an empty shell of a man, “acting” opposite these saccharine little monsters. It’s painfully obvious that he was delivering his lines to an empty space on top of a couch, and the effects wizards would later insert our stars with the press of a button. They cast big name celebs to be the Chipmunks- even though the voices are so sped up, you can’t tell who they are at all. I think Amy Poehler is a Chipmunk, for example. The plot is weak as water, the comedy is threadbare at best, and the blatant use of pop culture references and constant product placements are beyond shameless (Carnival Cruise, anyone?). After watching this, Stella was woozy as if she’d been force fed candy for two hours, and I felt I needed a shower. And a Carnival Cruise.

Alvin, Simon, Theodore! Doot, doot, doot doot doot doot!

But those Chipmunks STILL make a darn good McDonald’s toy. They are pictured above without accessories, since Stella could give a hoot about the leaves Simon is supposed to hold and Alvin’s surfboard won’t stick to his feet. Santa brought Stella the original three boys, and the Talking Tuxedo Alvin. Apparently Santa, like me, enjoys the occasional McDouble.

Stella was satisfied with four Chipmunks. I, however, am a completist. I am not going to settle for half the set, not when my daughter adores The Chipettes. Not even when any sane person would consider this insultingly vapid, insipid film 1000 times more repugnant than the most horrific filth the internet has to offer. I needed to be the hero. I needed to get my little princess her Britney, and her Chubby Theodore Counterpart, and her The Nerd Girl One. Isn’t it funny that I will spend hours writing this post and would rather not look up the real names of The Chipettes? Is it really that important? See- I’ll even link to the Wikipedia entry on them, and still not bother to find out! Take that, Chipettes!

So, I drove around. I went to different McDonald’s. They all told me the same thing. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE TOYS. In other words, NO. I was too late. And then, I wandered into my local Walmart Micky D’s. And there it was. THE DISPLAY. The Chipmunks Toys! However, the ladies working there patiently explained to me that they had no Chipmunks left, and would I like a Strawberry Shortcake one instead?

NO. I. WOULDN’T.

What I would LOVE, I gushed, batting my eyelashes and throwing my hair around seductively, was for us to all smash open that freaking case and get the farking GIRL CHIPMUNK TOYS out of there. Like, NOW. Please.

And they paused for a moment. And then they actually did it. They broke open the case and gave me The Chipettes display models!

Nerdy, Greedy, and Britney

Unfortunately the Chippettes have globs of glue in them in random spots, and they don’t talk or anything like they are supposed to. However, who cares! Stella’s game at this point is simple: Line up the Chipmunks on one side of the kitchen floor, and slide a Chipmunk at them at top speed, attempting to knock as many over as possible, as violently as possible.

“All that work for some concept novelty bowling!?” you ask. Beats using them to reenact musical scenes from Chipwrecked. And it’s actually rather theraputic.