5 Stoopid Things About Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity”

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George Clooney charms his way out of low earth orbit in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity”

I recently took another look at Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 film, Gravity, curious as to whether I’d been too hard on it with my original movie review. With a second viewing, I wanted first to see how well the special effects held up on the small screen. Second, I wanted to see if all the nit-picky nerd-anger I’d directed toward the film was warranted. I remembered finding a lot of little things wrong with the Gravity, which, in my opinion, prevented the film from being the peerless triumph many claim it is. For Cuarón to accomplish such a landmark technical achievement, only to queer the pitch through subpar dialogue and occasional gaps in logic, felt, to me, like a missed-opportunity for the ages. I was pissed. For me, a good movie that could have easily been great, is far more infuriating than a crappy movie that never had a real chance anyway. Hence the anger in my first Gravity review.

Upon second viewing, I came to the conclusion that maybe I was a bit unfair to Gravity the first time around. The thing’s entertaining. It’s very very hard to take your eyes off the screen. The special effects take the cake as the most effective and well-incorporated computer generated imagery since the original Jurassic Park. And then there’s the run-time. Having recently endured Martin Scorsese’s catastrophically long The Wolf of Wall Street, I was shocked to re-discover that Gravity ran a mere hour-and-a-half. I was like: Ohmigod, could this really be so? What big name director has the balls and artistic integrity to dare put out such an appropriately lean, polished movie? I mean, where’s all the endless half-funny improv scenes, and the redundant motivational speeches?

In fact, so infuriated was I with the revelation that Scorsese all of a sudden thinks our love for him is blind and unconditional, I actually sort of fell in love with Gravity’s mercifully reasonable run-time. Thank you, Alfonso, for being considerate of your audience, even if the most probable reason you kept your movie so short was because you didn’t have the budget to make it any longer. As for you, Scorsese—I think you should be the first director ever to release, on DVD, an “Editor’s Cut” of your latest film. Tell your long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker to have a field day. Because you’re supposed to kill your darlings, Martin, not have them over for a party.

But I digress. Fact of the matter is, though I enjoyed Gravity much more on second viewing, a few things still bothered me. Stupid little things that could have been so easily rectified with just a little extra TLC (or THC), and these things are what keep this great movie from being a masterpiece. I’ve consolidated them into five separate grievances.

Gravity Review: My 5 Film-Snob Gripes with the Movie

1.) Everybody in the “spacewalk” section of the movie—Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (as the sober voice of mission control)—sound like they recorded their dialogue in a small soundproofed room with a microphone. Which, of course, is exactly what they did. George Clooney, in particular, sounds way too crisp, clean, and Dolby Surround Sound for a man who’s essentially hurdling thousands of miles a second around the Earth, facing his own impending death. I would have loved if Alfonso Cuarón had made an effort to mimic that uniquely messy audio transmission style you hear whenever a real-life astronauts communicating with someone down on Earth. In real life (or at least on NASA TV) you actually hear the crackly transmitter clicking on and off, almost like a Walkie Talkie. I think this effect would have added a whole new layer of realism to the film. This also would have helped take the edge off of some of that cliche dialogue.

2.) This one might seem mega nit-picky, but I found it annoying that Sandra Bullock’s character’s name was Ryan Stone. Seriously? Besides the fact that Ryan Stone is the most cliche name possible for a character who “doesn’t let anyone in,” there’s the additional lameness that she has a boy’s name. And why was she named Ryan? Because her dad had really wanted a son. Real original, Fignuts! I’ve never seen that one before! Hate to break this to Alfonso, but giving female characters boy’s name feels like a rookie screenwriting gimmick meant to charge your character with some quick “uniqueness” without having to do any real work for it. As an occasional (wannabe) screenwriter myself, I fully understand the temptation to NOT name your female character something like Sally or Jen or Barbara—it just looks lame and unoriginal on the page, and makes you feel like you suck. But choosing to give your character a boy’s name is a tired gimmick that a movie with Gravity’s ambition and scope and budget shouldn’t have bothered with. Unless, of course, the fact that Ryan’s dad had really wanted a boy has at least some thematic bearing on the plot, which it most certainly did not.

3.) While I’m willing to overlook quite of few of Gravity’s hard-to-swallow science (like George Clooney’s inexhaustible jet-pack fuel reserves, or the fact that the explosion of a single Russian satellite can cause so catastrophic a chain reaction of cascading space junk in MINUTES), I really didn’t like how the International Space Station had a direct line-of-sight to the Chinese Space Station. As if the two stations are part of some kind of low-earth-orbit industrial business park. I mean, is there a Sandwich N’ Coffee Capsule flying around nearby too? I understand the storytelling need to have these stations so close to each other, but, in real life, there’s no way two full-sized space stations would be that close to each other, not with all the “space” readily available up there. What is this, the buddy system? There’s at least as much real estate up there as there is surface area on Earth. Spread out boys! I think it would have been appropriate that the writers include at least one line of dialogue explaining—or even just hinting at—why these two stations were so close together. They could have said it had something to do with cooperation between space agencies. They could have even freakin said the words “buddy system”, I don’t care. But as it stands, I wonder if the writers realize that space is kinda large. This reminds me of the dollar-store idiots who wrote the new Star Trek reboot, who had Spock say asinine things like “The supernova threatens the entire galaxy!” Space is a lot bigger than the diagrams in your 5th grade text books might imply, fellas. And, just so you know: in space, the planets aren’t even labeled.

4.) Here’s another Clooney-centric complaint. As much as I like him, I just didn’t buy how outrageously composed his character was for ALL of his scenes. Cracking jokes. Smirking. Twinkle in his eye even as he sacrifices his own life. I mean, I get it: his character is a long time space veteran; this is just another walk in the park for him, yadda yadda yadda. But, c’mon, really? I would have liked at least one moment where he looked a bit freaked. I’m not saying I needed to see him crying with 3D space tears wobbling toward camera, but why not a quick shot of the Cloon taking, like, a deep nervous breath? It wouldn’t have killed the movie. Though it may have taxed Clooney’s acting range.

5.) At the end, after Sandra Bullock crash-lands in the lake, swims to shore, climbs to her feet, and takes her first few steps as a reborn woman finally at peace with the death of her child (who we never see, but whose death we are supposed to buy as the cause of Sandra Bullock’s general loneliness in life), I would have liked to see at least two apes show up on horseback, rifles in hand, arguing with each other in English accents about how the Lawgiver foresaw such a day as this, a day when, deep in the Forbidden zone, a human female fell from the sky, a female who could speak (!) the language of the apes.

Click the link for unaffiliated Gravity reviews




5 Better Reasons Not to Stick a Knife in a Toaster


Forget about electrocution—there are better reasons to abstain from sticking a knife in a toaster.

Yeah yeah yeah. Everybody knows what happens when you stick a knife in a toaster—you could totally electrocute yourself. Yet for some folks the possibility of electric shock is still not reason enough to abandon their knife-in-toaster lifestyles. For some people, the remedy for a stubbornly slow-cooking Eggo waffle (besides waiting) is to stubbornly jab at said Eggo with a knife until it toasts faster. Big mistake. Valued reader/toaster stabber—it’s time to repent! If you’ve ever even considered sticking a knife into a toaster, for any reason, this article is sure to electrify.

5 Better Reasons Not to Stick Knife in Toaster

1.) Don’t stick a knife in your toaster because there may very well be a small mammal living in there. Maybe a runaway hamster. If you violently jab a knife in there you could impale and kill said hamster. Obviously, impaling a toaster-dwelling rodent is bad news. A bloody, murdered baby rat is much harder to evict from your toaster than a live one would be. You’d have to sort of fish its body out with chopsticks or salad prongs. There’d be blood everywhere. Disease. Plague. You’d have to totally rinse the toaster out with water before it’s safe to cook with again.

2.) Don’t stick a knife your toaster because there could be a piece of toast inside that, thanks to a chance pattern in its partially burnt surface, features the unmistakable profile of Joel Osteen. Do you know how much something like that could be worth? Holy crap! And if you jab a knife in there and hack the Olsteen toast to an unrecognizable mess, the bottom sort of drops out vis a vi it’s ultimate value to collectors. Joel Olsteen Toast can happen at ANY TIME. Don’t throw away your lottery ticket before you check the winning numbers.

3.) You shouldn’t jab a knife into your toaster because you should jab a knife into the home intruder who is coming at you with a blackjack. It makes NO SENSE! The guy’s coming at you with a blackjack so you turn around and start stabbing the toaster? I mean come ON!

4.) Don’t stick a knife in a toaster because there’s always the off chance you’re in the Twilight Zone. Perhaps Rod Serling has decided to inflict some poetic justice on your ass. After a lifetime of callously stabbing innocent kitchen appliances, you are about to reap what you sew. Suddenly: abracadabra. Now you ARE the toaster and, up above in the world of the kitchen, you see a big human approaching you with a sharp knife in hand. It’s clear what he’s about to do. And then, right before he plunges his knife into your toast-slots, you realize that big mean man is YOU.

5.) You shouldn’t stick a knife in an electric toaster if the toaster in question happens to be located in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson’s historic Monticello home in Virginia. Such an appliance in question would be protected under the Federal Historical Olmstead Act of 1996. You would likely be accosted by members of the Royal Jeffersonian Guard, and expelled from the property forthwith.


Click the link if you’re still planning on putting a knife in a toaster. It may just save your life!

And don’t be like this numbnuts:



Short Story: “Get Highpants – Part 5″

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In today’s episode, Death Squad 7 member R.C. Nutmeg confronts a small but heavily armed foe.

Saturday Short Stories: “Get Highpants” Part 5

R.C. Nutmeg tip-toed Hamburglar-style down the hallway toward the bedroom, but stopped short. There was something there. Whoa, he could feel his heart racing like mad. We’re talking a potential Culkin trap on the floor just outside the ajar bedroom door. Nutmeg looked over his shoulder hoping his boss, Styles, would be there to tell him what to do. No such luck. On his own. Nutmeg took a long breath to steady his thoughts. Okay, this is all me. I can handle this. I trained for this.

The potential Culkin trap in question? It was a He-Man action figure, circa 1987, standing in the open doorway. Huge knotty pecs, washboard abs, Hollwood tan. It stood there as if guarding the room behind it. Playing to this point, the figure militantly brandished a grey, slightly bent plastic He-Man sword. The whole effect was as if mini Prince Adam had only moments before done his He-Man chant and FLASH! turned into He-Man. R.C. Nutmeg grimaced. No way is this a bonafide Jason Bourne death trap, thought Nutmeg. He noticed how the He-Man was not even connected to any wires or gadgets or anything.

Big breath. Then he delicately love-tapped the He-Man with the toe of his military-style boot. The plastic toy fell backwards with an impotent twip. No explosions. No Temple of Doom spikes. Holy crap, that was intense. Without exception, it was the longest two seconds of Nutmeg’s life. In fact, so caught up was he in the anticlimax of the He-Man figure, he failed to notice the wild-eyed old man rushing toward him from deep inside the bedroom. Before Nutmeg could properly react, Agent Edgar Plome (ret.), was repeatedly whapping him in the side of the head with a leather loafer. Whap whap whap. Plome was baring his wet greenish teeth, making cat-on-cat noises. His eyes were the eyes of a great-grandfather fighting off his first Civil War ghost.

It was a scary moment, no doubt, but once the initial shock wore off R.C. Nutmeg was able to see the situation for what it was: an uncomfortable but harmless loafer assault by a senile old man. Though the whapping continued, Nutmag calmly reached down for his sidearm (his carbine had fallen to the floor during the initial whapping). It was Nutmeg’s plan to slowly and cockily raise the pistol to belly-level and then give Plome two in the gut, one in the head.

But it didn’t pan out like that, and here’s why: all of this strenuous loafer whapping really got Plome’s heart pumping fast; loafer whapping, it turns out, is pretty awesome aerobic exercise. Really gets the blood circulating. Like jogging. And with the resulting swoosh of oxygen to the brain, Plome, right in the nick of time, became mega lucid. Again he had access to his particular set of skills. A half-second before R.C. Nutmeg pulled the trigger, Plome did a lightning-quick ninja hand grab and wrist snap and Nutmeg’s hand flopped limp and his pistol fell to the ground. And Oh, how he shrieked! Sounded like when you step on a cat’s tail. And the only reason he stopped was because Plome karate chopped him in the side of the neck. He crumbled to the ground, out cold.

Experience this spy story  from the very beginning.

Click for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Had enough of me? Me too! Let’s click the link for some awesome and free online short stories.

Flash Fiction: “Get Highpants – Part 4″

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Today’s spy fiction features an empty terrarium and a nasty surprise.

LIVING ROOM—DAY: B. Styles heard the gunshot and the resulting high-pitched “Sonofa!” Whole thing kicked him into a much higher gear. Damnit that’s right, he remembered now, This is the ex-agent that kept himself in tip-top shape by jogging jogging jogging. Scouting report implied he still had windows of lucidity, i.e. this ain’t no fish in a barrel job. Styles winced at his own carelessness. Yes, some of these “traps” were clearly the work of a wildly senile man—the boot hanging from string in the middle of the living room being a prime example—but others might be actual “Jason Bourne” deathtraps brilliantly disguised to look like senile old man traps. Telling the two apart could be tricky.

“Some of these traps are live,” he hollered over his shoulder to the other men. “Tread with caution.” He moved deeper into the house, following the muzzle of his rock steady Georgia B2 carbine.

Squad member M. Klutz—the same guy that had, seconds before, put his own head through the sheetrock—approached the hanging boot and started flicking at it. Flick flick. Boot seemed empty. Whilst flicking it, M. Klutz noticed a glass terrarium sitting on a small table next to the couch. The bottom of the tank was carpeted with pine shavings. There was a mini hollowed-out log in there too. The mesh metal lid had been removed and was on the floor propped up sideways against the table leg. M. Klutz raised an eyebrow. A hamster tank sans hamsters? An iguana habitat sans iguana? While he was staring at the empty tank sparring with these thoughts, a grotesque tiger-striped tarantula galloped out of the throat of the hanging boot, down the toe, and onto M. Klutz’s hand. It wasted no time. It dracula’d him hard right through the thin fabric of his glove. M. Klutz could feel two distinct streams of hot liquid plunge into his arm blood and it felt like two mini Super Soaker 500s plugged directly into his hand veins, spraying until no more pressure. The room started spinning. “Stop,” he said to the tarantula. But it came out more like Slllopp. And then he collapsed to the floor with a smiled plastered on his blue, twitching lips.


B. Styles, followed close behind by his safety buddy, R.C. Nutmeg, lunged pantherlike into the kitchen. His rifle went up down left right. “Clear!” he barked. Clear of senile ex-agents, that is. Not clear of Holy Crap discoveries. During his 1 millisecond eyeball scan Styles had made no less than two such discoveries. One, the refrigerator door featured one of those blue “Men’s” bathroom plaques you often see on the doors in public buildings, complete with man silhouette. It had been (probably) crazy-glued in place, slightly out of level, right there on the face of the door, and there was half-a-roll of toilet paper right there on the floor too. The second Holy Crap thing B. Styles noticed in the kitchen was that his beloved protege, T. Bennet, was down there on the floor earthworming in a pool of blood.

“Clear the bedrooms,” said Styles to his safety buddy. “Treat all Culkin traps as hot, got it?”

“That’s affirm,” and R.C. Nutmeg disappeared down the hallway.

Styles squatted down to T. Bennet. He noticed now that the pool of blood wasn’t just a pool of blood—there were these weird orange chunks in it too. And some penne pasta?

T. Bennet stopped grimacing long enough to raise his head, look at Styles, and, without a trace of emotion on his face or in his tone, say, “I threw up.” There were chunks still on his chin.

Initially taken aback by the sheer intimacy of Bennet’s revelation, Styles mustered up a friendly smile and said, “Oh. Well, that’s, that’s okay. I won’t tell anyone you threw up.” And then he thought about it for a second and said, “Hey, what just happened exactly reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park 1 right after the first T-Rex encounter. You know, when little Tim is in the car up in the tree and Dr. Grant climbed up and—“

But T. Bennet was already laughing, because he totally knew the obscure movie moment Styles was talking about. It was things like this that made these dudes such good friends.


Click the link to read one of the silliest spy short stories online, from the very beginning!

Click here for part 2 or Part 3.

If you’d like to try elsewhere, check out this link for an endless supply of funny short stories. (Hint: McSweeney’s!)

Funny Spy Fiction: “Get Highpants – Part 3″

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Part 3 of our (senile) spy thriller!

When we last left our hero, the elderly, ocassionally-senile secret agent Edgar Plome (ret.), he was busy preparing his home for the arrival of a death squad tasked with his extermination. Let’s see how said Death Squad fares against his wacky “boobytraps”…

“Let’s rock.” Death Squad 7 team leader B. Styles bared his teeth and kicked. As the splintering door swung inward, the eagle-eyed assassin spied a flash of fishing line up there at the top corner of the door frame. Boobytrap! He dived sideways into the crispy dead rose bushes. The men took his lead and dropped to the ground like satchels of horse feed. For a moment or two it was nothing but quiet. Then Styles climbed back up to his feet and carefully peeped into the open doorway. Frown. So the fishing line was connected to nothing other than a simple push broom handle, which, now that we’re on the subject, was, by way of door-yanking, lodged in the bottom of the door frame like a chin-up bar for cats.

Not another one of these senile Macaulay Culkin routines, thought Styles. He turned to T. Bennet, his right-hand man. “We got a Culkin scenario. No danger here. Go round back—Pattern Riker Delta.”

Styles watched as T. Bennet launched into the bramble at the side of the house. The resulting waft of Axe Body spray elbowed B. Styles in the nose. He sighed. With a little luck, T. Bennet will be a team leader himself one day—good man, hard worker, likes the first two seasons of “Battlestar Galactica.” Giddy, B. Styles gracefully hopped over the broom handle and entered the living room. The next man in line, M. Klutz, tried to replicate the trajectory of Style’s dainty hop, but somehow managed to catch his foot on the broom handle anyway. Arms flailing, rifle airborne, M. Klutz sailed headfirst through the sheetrock by the family portraits. There was a drizzle of sheetrock dust and it took M. Klutz a minute to free his head from between the studs in the wall. The men behind him absolutely lost their sh-t. They were slapping their knees and everything.

T. Bennet moved like a wet ferret around the weeds and branches and fronds that had, long ago, transformed the quaint walkway into a sort of unkempt bower. He emerged into the gone-to-pot backyard: lawn lumpy and dead and littered with candy wrappers; patio furnishings upended and sun-bleached; a impeccably curated cactus garden (?) with a pair of skid-marked underwear sitting like a beret on top of one of the best cactuses (?). “That’s a oh oh seven Victor,” whispered T. Bennet into his wireless radio headset (which had been out of batteries for two weeks and still was). Whipping his rifle left right up down left right, per hellish 12-week training bootcamp, his eyes circuited from the bushes to the windows to the roof to the bushes—everywhere but where he was actually walking. Twice he stepped in crusty old petrified dog poop and once he stepped on a crusty old petrified dog. T. Bennet grunted to himself—Damn, this guy’s whack! We’ll be doing him a favor exterminating him.

He got to the back door and turned the knob and pushed gently inward, eyes peeled for more tell-tale fishing wire. And, yep, there it was, in the upper corner of the doorframe, tugging tighter as the door eased inward. T. Bennet grinned and shook his head, thinking: Yep, more Culkin tomfoolery. He wondered what manner of wacky senile “Home Alone” trap lay ahead of him. Suddenly impatient with the door, he shoved it the rest of the way open. He heard the gunshot a split-second before he noticed the 1955 Luger—now issuing a silky band of blue smoke—propped up expertly on a birch shoe rack and pointed generally at the door. Bennet felt a warm sharp pain. He looked down at himself and saw that the bullet had struck his leg in the seams between the Kevlar patches. “Sonofa!” He collapsed to the floor clutching his thigh.

Click the links for:

Part 1

Part 2

“Riddick” Review

Vin Diesel Riddick

Vin Diesel eats Space Pistachios in David Twohy’s clumsy-but-entertaining “Riddick.”

It’s official. By muscling through to a third movie, the “Riddick” franchise survived a messy suicide attempt. After the surprise success and lasting popularity of Pitch Black, writer/director David Twohy did something naughty: he decided to shift the genre for his new Riddick movie, from sci-fi/monster to the very different sci-fi/fantasy. A strange decision, considering that Pitch Black feels more like a happy accident than a premeditated success. You’d think Twohy would have desperately stuck to his winning formula. Instead, for The Chronicles of Riddick, he chose to do a “Conan the Barbarian in Space” sort of thing. Turns out the inscrutable fugitive Riddick is now the last survivor of some revered alien race. And he must save the universe.

Maybe this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but Twohy’s giving backstory to a character who was cool largely he had no backstory doesn’t feel like it was the best approach. Totally spoils the mystique. That’s like Ridley Scott explaining that the Space Jockey in the original Alien was actually an albino bodybuilder in space diapers. I’ll admit, there are some things in Chronicles that I enjoyed, but ultimately I feel the film did catastrophic damage to the mystique of what was a refreshingly unique anti-hero. After COR, the Riddick franchise (which at that point included a video game and animated movie, both voiced by Diesel) seemed down for the count.

So I was intrigued by the possibility of yet another Riddick movie. Especially when considering Director Twohy, due to limited budget and/or a sudden rush of common sense, was going to take the series back to basics. Clean the slate of all that Necromonger ghost lady stuff. The idea was to lose the fantasy edge and reroute the series back to Pitch Black’s original vibe. Simple and with plenty of monsters.

I was like, cool, but just how small a budget were we talking? A glimpse at a very-earlier trailer for the film had me thinking that the new film, Riddick, was going to be a few chromosomes shy of a direct-to-DVD release. On top of that, quick images of a nocturnal army of wet slithery monsters—plus a gaggle of tough-looking mercenaries—pretty much told me we’d be getting a dollar store scene-for-scene remake of Pitch Black. How’s that for “back to formula”? I had a feeling it was going to be a phoned-in endeavor through and through. Certainly it would be the last nail in the coffin of what was once—at least to me—a fun sci-fi property.

I was in for a pleasant surprise.

When the new film opens we find Riddick apparently marooned on a deserted, violent alien landscape. There’s no dialogue at first, just Riddick doing his damnedest to keep from being eaten by alien wolf-dogs or poisoned to death by amphibious scorpion creatures (distant cousins to the cobra-like swamp creatures from the 1987 film Enemy Mine). Before very long we get a flashback sequence to address the elephant in the room—what happened to Riddick being the new Lord Marshall of the nefarious Necromongers? Turns out Riddick was betrayed and left for dead on this planet by Karl Urban’s Vaako, who believed—like us—that Riddick had no business being Lord Marshall of an army of undead palefaces. Too bad Karl didn’t mention this to David Twohy before he wrote The Chronicles of Riddick.

The flashback is wisely kept brief, and once it’s over David Twohy makes it clear to us that this film is not going to be about Riddick seeking revenge on his betrayers. It’s all water under the bridge—Riddick deserved it for allowing himself to get soft. His only goal now is to find a way off this rock, and to regain that “animal edge” he feels he’s lost. Riddick as narrator even uses the delightful phrase: “We’re zeroing the clock.” In other words, Twohy wants us to pretty much forget The Chronicles of Riddick ever happened and get back into a Pitch Black frame of mind. And though there’s no way to fully repair the damage done by COR (short of saying it was all a dream), I thought Twohy did as good as job as one can hope for vis a vis bad-sequel damage control.

So far so good. Back to the plot. After befriending a cute puppy alien wolf-dog, and developing a sort of immunity to the Enemy Mine scorpion beasts, Riddick pushes onwards through the desert. Eventually he finds an abandoned laboratory/refueling station sorta place, where he promptly activates an emergency beacon. He figures if he can get a starship to land on the planet, he’ll go ahead and borrow it. But of course it’s not AAA that shows up—it’s bounty hunters hungry for some sweet Riddick cash. Riddick, now hiding in the hills and caves that surround the station, must essentially “Home Alone” this irreverent batch of bad guys via his particular set of skills. Soon a second batch of mercenaries arrive, more civilized and professional than the first. They too want Riddick, for altogether different reasons. The two groups start butting heads right from the get-go, each with a different opinion as to who gets to go home with the prize, and how best to snag him.

Of course, in keeping with the spirit of Pitch Black, all three parties are eventually forced to work together against an even greater foe. In the first movie it was the “hammer heads.” This time it’s those same scorpion creatures we met at the beginning of the movie. Turns out these things are kinda like earthworms; all they need is a nice big puddle of rain and suddenly there they are slithering around. Just so happens there’s a massive rainstorm heading this way.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with this film. Despite some hare-brained logic and a marathon of juvenile dialogue, I think this movie turns out to be a fun low budget sci-fi actioner. That is, as long as you’re willing to toggle your brain activity down to “simmer.” I was. I’m a card-carrying fan of Vin Diesel. I think he’s the best next generation action hero we’ve got. Duane “The Rock” Johnson is okay, but if you ask me he’s way too articulate. Action heroes need a sort of caveman mumbling quality a la Arnold and Stallone. Deisel delivers the marble mouth every time.

The story in Riddick wasn’t particularly inventive, but it’s not like Pitch Black is some great sci-fi masterpiece. I appreciated that Riddick managed to recapture the ultimate simplicity of Pitch Black without having to cut and paste that movie’s main story beats (as I was sure would be the case). Yes, there’s plenty of similarities between the two movies, but this latest sequel really doesn’t feel like the carbon copy I had braced myself for.

The writing is a step down (!) from the first two Riddick movies. I could quote all kinds of clumsy lines that went above and beyond my tolerance levels, but let me sum it all up with just one example. Remember how I said that Riddick, early in the movie, uses the phrase “zero the clock” to let us know we’re starting this new movie with a clean slate? Well, later on, one of the scruffy evil mercenaries casually uses this same phrase in a completely unrelated way. And it clearly wasn’t meant as a sort of clever echo to the whole franchise reboot theme (I’m pretty sure he was talking about literally “zeroing” some actual clock). Just sloppy writing. As if the phrase “zero the clock” is like all the rage in the fictional Riddick universe. It’s like saying “Netflix binge” in our own universe.

There’s at least one laugh-out-loud “really?” moment. At one point Riddick breaks open a box of emergency space rations, and there’s a little vacu-sealed packet of pistachio nuts in there. Shells ‘n everything. And he just starts dutifully eating them as if they’re standard issue field rations. Riiight. I don’t know about you, but when I think emergency survival food my first thought isn’t salty, messy, not-very-nutritious pistachio nuts. Almonds? Maybe. Fine. But pistachios? I honestly couldn’t tell if this was supposed to a joke, or if the writers actually project that pistachios will accompany humanity as it boldly ventures out into the galaxy. Judging by the rest of the script, smart money’s on the latter. What surely happened was that the script called for “nuts,” and the producers made the mistake of asking Vin Diesel what he preference was. Space Pistachios. Available at your local star base.

Nevertheless, despite the cornball writing, Riddick somehow manages to keep afloat. Largely due to clever casting. Vin Diesel, as Richard B. Riddick, is as charismatic as he was in the previous two movies. He does his “Riddick” thing, and that’s all we ask. Jordi Mollà, who plays Santana, the bumbling leader of the first team of mercs, is quite entertaining in the role. He’s tasked with delivering the lion’s share of corny dialogue, but, thanks in no small part to his heavy Spanish accent, he makes plenty of lemonade with those lemons. Then there’s Katee Sackhoff, who plays Dahl, a tough-as-nails bounty hunter working with the more streamlined team of mercenaries. Seems like with Sackhoff you sort of know what you’re gonna get: the ol’ Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica routine. But this isn’t a bad thing, as she’s got plenty of magnetism and helps add a solid dose of genre credibility to a movie populated almost exclusively by jacked, grunting meathead types. Then there’s her boss, played by Matt Nable. Turns out Nable’s character has an interesting connection to a major character in Pitch Black. I appreciated the connection, though the casting didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Nable is decent in the role, but he seems a little young for the part, considering said connection. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll see what I’m talking about when you get to the reveal.

No, it’s not a modern science fiction classic, but in the end “zeroing the clock” was just what this would-be franchise needed. Twohy cut out the fat and put together a surprisingly entertaining second sequel to Pitch Black. As a keen observer and devoted fan of so many science fiction franchises—all of which eventually nuke the fridge at some point—I will say that Riddick is a rare example of a low budget sequel successfully mopping up the worst of the mess left by its bigger budget predecessor. Riddick ends much like Pitch Black did, leaving us curious and wanting more, not less. Ball’s in Twohy’s court.

Click on the link for an unaffiliated Riddick review.

Click on the link for a Riddick movie trailer.

They Laughed When I Told Them I’d Create a Humor Blog, But When They Started to Read!—

humor blog

Bill Carson writes humor posts the old fashioned way: by being silly.

The Funniest Blog You’ll Read This Year Was Conceived in a Cranberry Bog

By Bill Carson, CEO practicallyserious.com

I admit. I was a little nervous about starting a humor blog so many years ago. Who would want to read it? What did I even have to say? I was scared the whole thing would be an exercise in stupidity. Thought it would be a big ol’ waste of time. Boy was I wrong! Now my blog, practicallyserious, is one of the most popular humor websites in the territories because it gives its readers exactly what they crave. So who’s laughing now?

100% Free Entertainment

Part of the appeal of practicallyserious is that each of its blog posts are absolutely free to read. No expensive subscriptions or complicated sign-ups required. Readers just show up, read whatever the heck they want, and leave. Lickety split. No commitments necessary. Complete strangers can show up at any moment of the night, binge of the blog’s unique brand of humor, and then high tail it out of here. All humor transactions are as discrete and anonymous as you want them to be. No paper trail. No nosey neighbors. That’s the practicallyserious way.

Top Quality Control & Assurance

Every blog post published on practicallyserious has gone through an extensive revision process to ensure the product is the best it can possibly be. Every post enjoys at least two dedicated revision sessions after the initial build, and at least one full day “cooling off” period before it’s ever “greenlit” for publication on the website.  But heck, quality control doesn’t stop there. Not by darn sight! Further after-the-fact revision continues long after a post’s initial publication date. Our small, familial staff here at practicallyserious routinely goes back and “touches up” posts published as far back as three years ago. We figure: as our humor-writing methods and technology get more advanced and our product gets better, why shouldn’t all of our posts benefit? Practicallyserious doesn’t forget the veterans. They’re the ones who got us here!

We’re For the Working Man

Practicallyserious is brought to you by a small-but-dedicated team of cranberry farmers based just outside of Baton Rogue, Louisiana. We’re not doing this “writing stuff” to get rich—we’re not one of those greedy humor corporations you keep hearing about. Huh? Why don’t we care about money? Because we’re already rich, in the sense that we lead fulfilling, productive lives. Wading in the bogs for much of the day, stirring cranberries, looking silly in our wacky waterproof pants, there’s a sense of accomplishment and usefulness you just don’t get working in Humor Cubicle Number 25. And our humor is 100% organic. We generate our ideas while we’re out there in the water with our cranberry nets. We think up jokes while we’re smiling fondly at our sons. This way our ideas are completely natural and organic. No stress and deadlines and caffeine. No preservatives.

Courteous Customer Service

When our customers have something to say, we listen. Whether it be a compliment/critique on one of our premium blog posts, or a technical question about how to read our product, we’ll reply quickly and courteously. We have someone available to respond to customer queries 24 hours, 7 days a week. Don’t be shy—we enjoy hearing from you.

See for Yourself. Read Us Today

We can go on and on about how our product has won all these blogging awards and a fan base that’s growing so fast it’s, quite frankly, scaring us. But there’s a much better way to convince you to give us a try. Read us. Try one of our free offerings. If our trademark brand of humor isn’t for you, we’ll courteously wish you a great day and that’s that. We lose a potential customer, which stinks, but you lose nothing at all. In fact, you gain something: the knowledge that you never want to read us again in the future. And that’s knowledge you get to keep, free of charge.

Click on this humor link to peruse some articles from our popular Humor line. You have nothing to lose.


“Blue Jasmine” Review


Cate Blanchett plays a disgraced New York socialite looking for redemption in Woody Allen’s very dark “Blue Jasmine.”

First thing’s first: this is another “serious” one. A lot of people went into Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest offering, with smiles already plastered to their faces. Just waiting to laugh. Those same people ended up leaving the theatre thoroughly confused and/or angry. Blue Jasmine isn’t a funny movie, and it certainly wasn’t meant to be. As he did with his non-comedies Interiors, Another Woman, and more recently with Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream, Woody Allen decided to take a break from his annual comedic offering in favor of scratching his occasional depresso itch. Though this time he benched Ingmar Bergman and gave Tennessee Williams some playing time. Woody managed to land Cate Blanchett—who recently won a Golden Globes Award for the role—and so this movie was bound to stand quite a bit taller than his work of the past decade or so (Midnight in Paris excluded). And it did. Blue Jasmine is a captivating, involving and even frightening movie.

The film starts off with Jasmine—Blanchett—en route to her sister’s apartment in San Francisco. In a conversation with the woman sitting next to her on the plane—a conversation we initially expect to stir up some classic Woody Allen one-liners, and which jarringly never does—we learn of Jasmine’s history as a New York socialite and wife of a now-disgraced businessman. Jasmine used to host dinner parties with New York City’s most wealthy and influential, but now it’s all gone bye bye. Her lousy husband’s criminal hijinx have have left her with absolutely nothing, and now she’s moving in with her half-forgotten sister, tail between legs.

Woody plays with flashback throughout the entire movie; even as we follow Jasmine’s journey across the country, we get to meet Jasmine in her glory days, when her relationship with Hal (Alec Baldwin) was still hot off the presses. Though even when things were good, there is always the foreshadowing that Hal is cutting a few too many corners with respect to his latest real estate endeavors, and that Jasmine is consciously turning a blind eye to fairly obvious criminal activity. We also learn pretty early on that Hal has a bit of a problem keeping his trousers waist-high when it comes to the various female lawyers/accountants/artists who cross his path. Turns out he’s just as adept at evading the suspicious eye of his loving wife as he is at ducking the IRS. For now, anyway.

Through Jasmine’s sister, Ginger, played by an adorable if ultimately misused Sally Hawkins, and her ex-husband Augey—an unsettlingly effective Andrew Dice Clay—we learn that Jasmine and Hal had once cheated them out of a large sum of money. It is only Ginger’s good heart and dedication to family that keeps her from telling Jasmine, in the woman’s moment of greatest need, to take a flying leap. We soon learn something else: Jasmine had suffered a severe “rave to yourself on a street corner” nervous breakdown shortly after her initial fall from grace. The guys in the white suits had to intervene with shock therapy. Hal’s undoing robbed Jasmine of more than just her financial security.

Once settled in to her sister’s untidy apartment, which the two women share with Ginger’s rambunctious two boys and, often, her brutish fiancee Chili, Jasmine sets to work trying to put together the framework for a brand new life. She’ll have to do it the hard way: “mundane” employment and night school. To Jasmine, working as a lowly receptionist in a dentist’s office consummates an embarrassing fall from grace. But, to her credit, she manages to swallow her great pride and muscle through.

After some initial setbacks—a smitten employer who won’t take “no” for an answer, as well as a series of “Streetcar”-esque arguments with Chili—things finally start looking up for Jasmine. At a dinner party she meets Dwight,  a young widower and politician hopeful (Peter Sarsgaard) and, thanks to a little bending-of-the-truth on Jasmine’s part, the two seem destined for each other. A fast-moving relationship develops and it’s looking like Jasmine might have a real shot at starting an all new high-class life.

Of course, the demons of Jasmine’s past rear their ugly heads at precisely the wrong moment. As we learn in flashback the full details of Hal’s discretions and fall from grace, present day Jasmine suffers a heartbreaking reversal of fortune, which ultimately sets her on a downward spiral.

Cate Blanchett’s performance in this movie is every bit deserving of the Golden Globe it earned her. Woody Allen doesn’t hide that Jasmine isn’t the kindest and most tolerant of human beings, Blanchett makes us feel nothing but sympathy for her. She is pretentious and patronizing, rolling her eyes at the silliness of her loudly middle-class sister and brother-in-law, yet, somehow, we still want to see her rebound from this low point in her life.

I can’t say the same for much of the rest of the cast. Alec Baldwin plays his role competently, but with no real originality. Watching him, it feels like he made a conscious decision to play the role “like in a Woody Allen movie,” as so many big name actors seem to do when they find themselves in such a position. In these films, many actors seem to switch right to “self-absorbed dinner-party-ish” line delivery, regardless of story or scenario. Baldwin does a lot of that here. The problem? Cate does not. Cate Blanchett so believably embodies the complicated character of Jasmine it almost felt at times like Baldwin belongs in an entirely different Woody Allen movie—one of those recent, painfully unambitious ones.

Not to single out Baldwin. I had a bone to pick with many of the other casting decisions. Sally Hawkins seems unsure of what emotion she’s supposed to convey in some of the key scenes between Ginger and Jasmine (though perhaps Woody, as director, is more to blame for this). And I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like, hate, dread, or root for Bobby Cannavale’s Chili. Where this character’s inspiration, Stanley Kowalski from Streetcar, is a brilliantly flesh-out “brute” and definite jerk, Chili comes through as, well, let’s say a nice guy having a bad week. There are times where Woody seems to want us to root for the sister to dump Chili and get with someone “good” for a change; but, really, this guy comes across as a sort of lovable knucklehead who has a slight propensity for drama. Ginger could do a lot worse.

This is not to say Cate Blanchett is the solitary bright spot in Blue Jasmine. Andrew Dice Clay was surprisingly spot-on in the role of Ginger’s ex-husband. In fact, I would have liked to see plenty more of him. He somehow brought to the film a much needed dose of regular. Peter Saarsgard did a fine job with Dwight, Jasmine’s love interest and politician hopeful. His affair with Jasmine springs up pretty fast and falls apart even faster, and Saarsgard manages to bob and weave in perfect sync with Blanchett. Then there’s the fairly brief appearance by Louie C.K., who does his regular but fun “Louie” shtick as if he’s part of some kind of innovative meta movie/television character exchange program. I could have done with a little more of him too.

Blue Jasmine suffers a bit from Woody Allen’s chronic case of “senioritis.” One gets the impression that Woody simply doesn’t care enough these days to really coach his films down to ideal fighting weight—too many rewrites and extra takes would keep him away from his Knicks. Which is a shame, because his movies these days aren’t all that far from being much better than what we’re ultimately presented with—the screenplays and production values always seem quite workable. Wouldn’t take much. But with this particular film Woody seems happy enough to have landed Blanchett as his lead. Just a little more elbow grease—smarter casting, mostly—and this film could have been truly special. And, really, the same goes for most of Woody’s recent movies.

Nevertheless, this is Woody’s best film since the excellent Midnight in Paris, which, itself, was his best movie in a very long time. Initially, my disappointment with some of the casting distracted me from the tragedy of Jasmine’s story. In the end, I really got caught up in Jasmine’s emotionally perilous attempt at a return to the high life. Honestly, I couldn’t pry my eyes from the screen. And the film’s chilling endcap stuck with me for days afterward. So few movies even come close to doing something like that anymore. As a brain-rest time diversion, I’ve since watched the film Pacific Rim. I nearly laughed myself into a coma. So I’ll put my nit-picky gripes aside this time. Woody earned it.

Click on the link for an unaffiliated Blue Jasmine review.

Click here for the Blue Jasmine movie trailer.

7 Unexpected Energy-Efficiency Tips for the Homeowner

Homeowners can save bundles of money each month with these simple, exclusive energy-saving tips.


Subtly optimizing your domestic energy usage can result in big-time savings come the end of the month.

Want to save some money on your next electric bill? Well, it’s not gonna happen by simply reading and re-reading all those generic “make your home more energy efficient” articles on the Internet. If you’ve read one you’ve read them all; they just regurgitate the same boring “tips” over and over again. Something along the lines of: remember to cook in bulk, unplug the spare refrigerator in the garage, and use energy efficient light bulbs. Uh huh, good stuff. Seriously. But where are you supposed to go for refreshingly original energy efficiency tips? Keep reading.

7 energy efficiency tips you won’t get anywhere else.

Savings on Cryogenic Head Cylinders

In the winter months, take the aluminum cylinder that houses your dad’s frozen head and place the whole unit close to a large window. The cool air from outside will gradually transfer through the double-glass and help to cool the metal chassis of the head cylinder. Since the vast majority of cryogenic head cylinders automatically regulate internal temperature via gold-plated Bressel sensors, the influx of cool air will signal the compressor to lower energy usage. “Hey, don’t work so hard, it’s already freeeeezzing in here!!!” This amounts to plenty of energy savings during those terrible winter months! [When repositioning your dad’s head cylinder, make sure to pick a level, empty space. Don’t set it on a can of tuna or anything stupid like that]


Your dad’s head probably won’t object to helping you save money during the harsh winter months.

“Legendary” Energy Savings

The U.S. Department of Energy says that most homeowners spend 19% of their electric bill on general lighting costs. Don’t take this one sitting down. Why not cut these costs out entirely? You can do it. Simply set up a series of round, mirror plates leading from your next-door neighbor’s kitchen window all the way to your own kitchen window. You know, like what they did at the end of the Tom Cruise movie Legend, when they bounced all that righteous sunlight down through the cave and directly into the Devil’s chamber? Just like that. Your neighbor’s kitchen light will ping pong off each mirror one-by-one and end up blasting like a spotlight directly through your kitchen window. After that, you need only set up a few additional mirrors inside your house to help spread that 100% free illumination around. And of course, when your neighbors decide to power down and go to bed, you have to go to bed too. Even if your neighbors are lettuce farmers and go to bed like sooo early. A bit inconvenient, maybe, but it’ll still add up to plenty of savings!


In the film “Legend,” Tom Cruise not only defeats the Devil, but saves plenty of money with how he does it.

Savings That Are Truly Shocking

You want to save money on electricity? Try practicing some plain ol’ restraint. You can do that, can’t you? Turn the television off when you’re not using it. Turn the lights off in the bathroom when you’re not in there. And, when you torture Rambo in your basement, make sure you never turn the dial above 100,000 Ohms. The benefits of this are two-fold. One, Rambo will live longer, thus allowing you to go on torturing him until he’s finally ready to tell you why he tried to free all of the middle-aged Viet Nam War POWs you’ve been keeping locked up in your garage. And Two, those extra few giga watz of saved electricity will really add up by the end of the month. This means savings!


The trick with torturing Rambo is, basically, try not to kill him.

Bring Your Savings Account Back to Life

This one’s for all you night owl writer-types out there. Simple enough. When you’re in the cellar trying to reanimate those grey slabs of dead animal flesh, how ‘bout using ten-foot-tall steel lightning rods to help you to capture and harness naturally occurring lightning. Yes, you’ll have to wait for fairly epic storm systems to roll in before you can get on with your experiments, but hell, we’re talking serious savings here. Lightning rods. As opposed to plugging your nickel-plated reanimation prongs directly into a standard Edison outlet. Just use nature. This is really meant to protect you from you. Some cadavers take longer to “come back” than others, and you don’t want to be running up your electric bill all night.


When those cadavers really want to stay dead, you can burn through loads of money in continuous voltage costs. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Virtual Savings

If you’re trying to maintain an online, electronic virtual-reality universe meant to keep Jobe (the Lawnmower Man) alive and distracted, don’t make the mistake of plugging your machine into a standard Edison outlet. Most likely you’ll just trip your circuit breaker. Those virtual reality Reibstein-Johnson machines draw some heavy amps. And even if your home’s grid can handle it, you’ll just be throwing money away like a dummy. Why not simply have your too-skinny, wimpy son generate the requisite electricity via constant peddling on one of those energy-generating stationary bike things. Think about it. This’ll totally be a win-win: your son will develop his thigh muscles, and Jobe, inside his freeform virtual hell, will at least enjoy a feeling of constancy.


Never plug the Lawnmower Man’s virtual reality mainframe into a standard Edison outlet.

The Science of Saving Money

They say heat rises. This makes sense. I mean, like, why would it go down? It wouldn’t. So why not take full advantage of this probably correct scientific mumbo jumbo? If you want to save money on heating during the cold winter months, hang your family upside down from the ceiling (like the Lost Boys) when it’s time for them to go to sleep. Should be warmer up there, so you can turn your heat down accordingly. Your inverted, balloon-faced family won’t register a change in temperature. Believe me. House is nice and warm according to them. And this way you save some serious money. Just don’t forget to take them down in the morning, especially your significant other (well, somebody’s got to clean the dishes!)


The “Lost Boys” clearly knew how to get the most out of their cave’s natural heat distribution.

Cheating the System

reading in bed woman

Reading in bed every night can result in higher-than-normal electricity bills. Time to do something about it.

Check it out. You’ll wonder why you haven’t done this next one years ago—and to think of all those savings you could have enjoyed! But hey, you know what they say: better late than never. You ready? Here we go. Develop a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan to have each of your children sleep over at a friend’s house each and every night of the week. This way you can switch the lights off in their bedrooms. Basically permanently. It’ll be like you don’t have kids at all, and you know what they say about people who don’t have kids, right? They save so much freaking money. But the savings don’t stop with your kids. Have your wife start an affair with the principal of the school where she works. This way, there’ll be a few nights out of each week when she’s “out shopping with the girlfriends” even though it’s 2:15 in the morning and you’re crying. And on those glorious nights/mornings you can save on electricity because she won’t be there in bed reading with the lamp on while you’re trying to get some shut-eye. You can finally get some sleep. And savings!

For some of those “boring” energy saving tips, check out the link.

Or, if you want to save even more money, check out my article “5 Unorthodox Tips to Help You Save at the Pump.”

Saturday Stories: “Inch By Inch” Part 5

ant in grass

“He found himself face to face with a big brown ant…”

3D Printer Fiction: Inch By Inch (Part 5)

The whiteness and the blue popping things, which he knew, even in his emergency defcon 5 starvation state, were only a result of high starve-factor mixed with hotness, got worse and worse every second and centimeter gained. He found himself face to face with a big brown ant, which, itself, was surrounded by all these weird alien probes (really just more of those blue starvation poppers). The ant didn’t know what to do so it turned around and disappeared in the grass. It was well-fed. Not afraid. Today was a normal day for it.

As for life-saving food there’s just one hope, Linus thought now. The 3D Printer. His dad didn’t know it – nor did that piranha Beatrice – but Linus had successfully installed the printer driver and had even made a successful test print on a day when the rest of the family had gone to Angus Steak House for Beatrice’s mostly straight Bs (one C) on her report card. Linus had joked that the straight Bs stood for breakfast, bagels, and blueberry pie, and thus was told to stay home. Anyway, the test had been a whopping success. Out the slice of pepperoni came like the man at the beginning of a parade. One step two step. Linus’d clocked the print job at eight minutes (on super fast “draft” mode). Then he timed how fast he ate the slice: eight seconds (on super fast “hungry” mode).

Yes, it later gave him a sort of strange “pee diarrhea,” but he was too young be able to accurately trace back the causes of various diarrheas, and so, to him, the event was completed unrelated. He just thought that diarrhea was something you get every once in a while for no reason. For being alive. Hence, even while he was sitting there on the toilet being bored, he knew he’d happily do it all again in a heartbeat. The 3D pizza had tasted a little like Papa John’s, only better because there was the naughty James Bond thrill of not telling anybody about the unauthorized print test. At the time he thought, Next time everyone’s out of the house, Phase 2 of testing begins.

Except there never was such an opportunity. Until (hopefully hopefully) a few minutes from now…

Catch up on the whole epic saga (you won’t find exciting “3D Printer Fiction” anywhere else!)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

For non-3D Printer-related stories, check out this quirky fiction about a senile spy.