Introducing Two Buck Schmuck


Today I start a hopefully somewhat regular feature.

Late last millenia I had quite the lovely time reporting on the dregs of Hollywood after it had dripped from the first-run moviehouses on to the sticky floors of the Davis Theater.

A few things have happened since my Davis Theater days.

1. The Davis, while still cheaper than many moviehouses, cannot really be called a “cheap theater” any more.
2. I live nowhere close to the Davis any more. I live really, really freaking far away “nowhere close”.
3. I got wall-to-wall freaking kids.

In a crazy mixed-up way, rather than having my blog report on my idiosyncratic behavior, my blog is now working its own influence on my behavior.

I’m going to try and visit my new neighborhood cheap theater, the LaGrange, for the occasional 9:00pm weeknight shows, after the kids have gone to bed. The LaGrange is $2.00 per show. I’ll go see a movie and then review it, most likely being entirely too snarky. Hence, the title “Two Buck Schmuck”.

There’s something I really enjoy about going to Le Cinema to see a shoddy piece of work for a low price, and afterwards taking pot shots at it. And, hey, if the movie turns out to not suck so bad, then I saw a good movie on the cheap.

Initial Impressions of the LaGrange
The LaGrange’s lobby is kinda grungy, with dirty, threadbare carpet, similar to the Davis I fondly remember. The soda on tap is Royal Crown, the faithful, cheaper alternative to Coke and Pepsi.

I can’t really give a good impression of the theater where I saw the movie, as it was dark when I arrived. It was Theater 1, which I’ll call the Curvy Theater. It’s narrow (though not *too* narrow) and the seats all form a curve, as this theater was probably the right side of a larger theater which at some point was split into smaller rooms.

A Snack Dilemma
I had considered sneaking in a bag of plain M&M’s into the movie, while still buying a soda at the LaGrange like a good, proper theatergoer. However, since this was the start of a potentially long and beautiful relationship, I decided that I should just go ahead and purchase my M&M’s there.

To my dismay, the LaGrange only carried the reviled Peanut M&M’s. I told the youngish concessionaire, “Hey, I really want plain M&M’s, so I’m gonna go buy some, then come back, but don’t worry, I’ll buy a soda.” — I figured the assurance that I would buy *some* kind of concession would mitigate the fact that I would be bringing in something from the outside — and, hey I was being straight with him. He paused, shrugged and said, “Okay.” I know what you’re thinking — “wow, that was Joe Camel smooooth.”

The Movie
Okay, so I had three choices — Premonition, 300, and Shooter.

The 9:10 showing of the Sandra Bullock film Premonition was thankfully canceled due to “technical difficulties” according to a posted note. So between 300 and Shooter I opted for Shooter, because I didn’t want some muscular dudes screaming at me for an hour and a half.

I have seen one movie by Shooter’s director Antoine Fuqua, the overrated Training Day, where Denzel Washington grabs the viewer and shakes them until he receives an Oscar (it worked!).

I like this director’s name, if only for the fact that I can say for his new movie, “What the Fuqua were you thinking, Antoine?”

This is an action movie which feels very similar to a 1980’s action movie (particularly the 1985 movie Commando) but tries to play it somber instead of playing up the cartoonish elements that made the 1980’s action movies cheesily enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some freaking cheesy moments here. The name of the protagonist (Mark Wahlberg) is Bob Lee Swagger. OH MY GOD. Why couldn’t his middle name have been “BigBalls”? There are some choice scenes with Bob and his dog, where his dog opens a refrigerator and retrieves a beer for him. No, it didn’t then proceed to pull out a bottle opener, pop the top and pour the contents into a frosty mug. That lame, good-for-nothing dog.

Bob’s love interest is played by an actress who is introduced with nipples in a white tank top. Later on, she is held captive in bra and panties. Now that’s something exploitative they didn’t do to Alyssa Milano in Commando. Granted, she was only twelve.

A couple character actors pop up in this movie that I generally like, but didn’t like in this movie. Ned Beatty is wasted as a Snidely Whiplash-ish senator. Near the end of the movie he’s crawling away from Bob Swagger on his stomach. No, there was no anal rape involved.

Elias Koteas, who has perhaps the most wondrous name ever (say it with me — E-li-as Ko-te-as) plays a reptilian crony of the big bad guys, but not an interesting one. I feel that directors should let this guy improvise in whatever roles he plays. He’d probably come up with something interesting. Aside from having his arm shot off, he doesn’t have a lot to do here.

Danny Glover has a horribly stinky part as an ex-Colonel evil guy, but I don’t like him that much as an actor (two words — Predator 2).

My main problem with this movie wasn’t the cheese, the predicatable plot, or the bad characterization. I realized I find it hard to root for a character that routinely shoots people in the head from a long ways away. You can try to portray the target of a sniper as deserving his or her fate, but still, the sniper is picking people off, literally blowing chunks of their brains out.

Seeing this movie made me think of soldiers getting killed in Iraq, and the sniper shootings in the D.C. area from a few years back.

There is something really cowardly, non-action-movie-heroic about picking people off while you’re hiding. I’m sure it’s a very valuable military strategy, but I didn’t really root for Mr. Swagger as he amassed an impressive body count.

And don’t get me even started on the ending. It’s too late! I’ve already started! During most of the run of the movie, Bob Swagger is the suspected attempted assassin of the President of the U.S.

He gives himself up and is granted a five minute discussion with the US Attorney General. His sniper rifle (which was supposedly used to attempt to kill the President) is in the room where he is meeting with the Attorney General. An FBI agent who he hooks up with during the course of the movie is also present.

To prove his gun was not the gun used in the assassination attempt (he had removed some sort of firing pin from it making it inoperable), Bob has the FBI agent secretly gives him a bullet for the rifle, which he then uses to aim, point and shoot at his FBI buddy. In the office of the Attorney General. Well, he sure as hell would be tackled down to the ground for that, right?

Nope. The Attorney General, then convinced of Bob’s innocence, lets him go. Not only that, the AG basically implies to Bob Swagger that he should kill the people responsible for framing him because justice does not always work. THIS IS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYING THIS.


This review will be too late for most theatergoers, perhaps even too late for DVD-renters.

If it’s not too late, I’d say you’d be better served by Commando.

Are Other Illinoisans Finally Getting Bugs?

I saw some news reports on the teevee last night which indicated parts of Chicago and its outlying suburbs are finally starting to see cicadas emerging.

You may want to consider checking out some online maps devoted to showing cicada hotspots.

Chicago Tribune map

Lake County Forest Preserves map

Unfortunately, these maps are reporting just on stuff entered by people online.

What would be really cool is if cicadas excreted some unique set of chemicals that could then be sensed by some satellite and then there could be detailed, accurate maps of the bugs, and, and, and, and we could all be wearing hoverpacks, flying over the cicada parks and then, and then cicadas would launch at you but you’d have your anti-bug laser pistol handy and…. oh well.

A Dorky And Dangerous Meme

Okay, this has been brewing in my head a bit.

I don’t know that this classifies as a “meme” (I actually have no idea *what* makes a meme a meme, honestly).

I would like you to share your favorite Dungeons and Dragons story. Ideally, the story should involve a character of yours, and will entail you describing events in the game you were playing. If it makes a better story also talking about the “real world” that your D&D game is transpiring in, that’s fine.

You can provide helpful informative details in your story, but try to write under the assumption that your readers have memorized the Player’s Manual, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide. If they don’t know what a vorpal blade is, that’s their problem, not yours.

Assuming you have a story to share, here are some things to consider.

Why You Might Consider Posting Your Story
1. D&D adventures are, after all, ripping adventure yarns. Who doesn’t love a ripping yarn?
2. Chances are there will be no one else with your exact story. This is a unique life experience that can brighten someone’s day.
3. Share your exploits — did you take on a Beholder? Damn!

Why You Might Consider Not Posting Your Story
1. You play(ed) D&D? Ewwwwww.

Okay, here’s mine.

First off, I haven’t put in tons of active duty in D&D campaigns. Most of my D&D experience has been through computer games, particularly the wonderful game Pool of Radiance.

My brother, who is several years my senior, would occasionally get together with some of his buddies and play D&D. At age nine, I’m sure I was a drag to a group of teenagers rolling the 20-sided. Still, one time they let me play with them.

My name was Hydrox the Cookie. I was a Gnome thief. And I was terrible.

I believe the DM of this particular game was of the “asshole” variety. At one point I was talking to members in my party, and I said something along the lines of, “We should kill that guy.” Of course, since I was saying this, the DM interpreted this as my character saying this. And since my character was in a crowded street, some NPC heard me say it. Call the constables!

I think I was the only person that got caught in the ensuing scuffle with the law. I did put up a fight, but I was quickly knocked unconscious, and woke up in jail.

When I woke up in my cell, which was barren, except for a bench hanging off the wall, there was a mean rat staring at me. I didn’t have a weapon and I didn’t have any armor. So, what the hell was I supposed to do? It moved toward me and I kicked at it. It bit me for a couple hit points of damage.

I proceeded to get into a very uncool hissy fit. I tried kicking it again and missed. My brother was starting to get very angry at me. The rat bit me again and I went to zero hitpoints. Bang! I was out of the game. I believe at this point tears might have been welling up in my eyes.

My brother shouted, “Why didn’t you just jump on the bench?!”

I said, “I don’t know!”

And then I had to go to bed.

The next day, my brother informed me that I had not died, but had merely been knocked unconscious by the rat. He said that I later rejoined the party. At this point my character was played by the aforementioned “asshole” DM. Apparently, I was wounded again in an encounter with a displacer beast. But, our party prevailed and we defeated the monster, getting a generous amount of treasure in the process.

My take? A +1 dagger that extended to a +1 short sword when a button on the handle was pressed. A goddamned magic switchblade.

1989 The Number Another Summer!

So, I’m tapping myself on the shoulder for a music meme I have not been tagged for.

I’ll say Bubs tagged me because I’m always bothering him with my own memes. Okay, Bubs, take a chill pill, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.

Using the songs listed by Pop Culture Madness during the year of my 18th birthday (1989), I haveta pick out five and get all misty about them.

I’m limiting myself to the songs listed on the website for 1989. One or two is no problem, but picking five may end up causing me some permanent glandular damage.

1) She Drives Me Crazy – The Fine Young Cannibals
I looove this song. Rolands Gift’s voice is sooo high. The drums on this are so trebly and tinny. The song seems so simple, yet it’s just damned wonderful. I liked the video a lot, too, for what it’s worth. I just searched for the director, whose name is apparently “Philippe de Coufle”. I remember a New Order video he did (“True Faith”) fondly, as well. From the site I found, it indicates he only did these two.

2) My Prerogative – Bobby Brown
Hell, I like this song, too. I love the cheesy synth horns. I love the refrain, “Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live.” I know he’s seen as kind of a running joke to many, but every time he’s reported as being in trouble, in my mind I hear this song. I love the snotty way he says, “I can do what I wanna do.” I love that he’s using the word “prerogative” in a dance song. I am downloading this now, goddammit.

3) Baby Don’t Forget My Number – Milli Vanilli
I don’t unequivocally like this song, but I find it hard resisting singing along with the lines “I have been looking high, I have been looking low.” I also like it when the “Bah-bah-bah-bah-baby’s” are being thrown down.

Okay, I’m starting to panic now. I barely got out the Milli Vanilli, and I HAVE TWO MORE LEFT TO GO.

4) If You Don’t Know Me By Now – Simply Red
I didn’t really know this song too well when it came out, but I did like that “Holding Back The Years” song. I really enjoyed singing it in my own uniquely bad soulful manner. But, I have really enjoyed this “If You Don’t Know Me” song in another context.

5) Jesus, what, I haveta do a freaking Roxette song? Or a Paula Abdul song? Or Michael Damian with that “Rock On” song? Richard Marx? Mike and the Mechanics? How about I pick the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start The Fire”? I think the song is about how #1 hits have always been terrible, and it didn’t just start in 1989. Thanks, Mr. Joel!

UPDATE: For the record, I thought I was limited to only Billboard #1 Hits. There apparently is another “Most Requested Hits” page at Pop Culture Madness which contained lots of songs I love — “Bust A Move” by Young MC, for example.

Goodbye Renée and Kenny

I love reading the odd magazine once in a while, as does my wife. I’ll sometimes pick up a copy of Entertainment Weekly or Premiere.

My wife prefers the more celebrity-oriented magazine.

The funny thing is, we don’t make these kinds of purchases that often. The magazines will lay around the house for a week, then they’ll be spirited to the readin’ basket in our upstairs bathroom.

Whatever moments that were captured in these disposable catalogs of celebrity have now become monumentally important, if only for the sheer fact that I read about them on a weekly basis.

So, today my wife comes home with some freshly-minted celebrity magazines.

To make room, I’ll need to bid fond farewell to the happy nuptials of Renée and Kenny. They’re still together, right?

Cicadas! Cicadas Everywhere!

The only reason why I continue posting about cicadas is because they have completely overwhelmed my life.

I’m home alone with the kids, so I decide to take them to a park a few blocks away. My daughter and my younger son ride in a wagon I’m pulling, and I’m pushing my older son in a tricycle that has a handle in the back for an adult to push.

All my other posts about cicadas were nothing, let me tell you. NOW they mean business. Now they are on the ground, on the trees, and flying around.

In the back of my mind I knew my daughter did not like these bugs, but it wasn’t until she started screaming, “Cicadas! Cicadas everywhere!” that I realized that, hey, she did not like these bugs.

I know all you bug-deprived northern Illinoisans just think I am posting fictitious cicada reports to boost my hits with entomologists, so here are some pictures taken in front of my house.

The light pole in front of my house.

Closer on the light pole.

Another view of the light pole.

Yet another view of the light pole.

One of them buggers close up.

Detail of a tree in front.

The base of the tree. Who wants pork cracklins?

Brookfield Zoo Animals Love Cicadas

Apologies to the cicada-challenged people reading this.

There was a rumor going around that people could bring in 1 pound of cicadas to the Brookfield Zoo and receive five(!) bucks.

Sadly, I have confirmed with someone at the zoo that this is not the case. They are not paying for cicadas, nor are they even taking them from an eager bug-toting public.

However, there is a grain of buggy truth in the rumor. Many zoo animals are eating the cicadas.

Hey, it even made the national news!

Islamic Greeting For A Wrong Number

There was a man named Mohammed who had the phone number I have now.

From time to time, we’ll get phone calls for him.

Lately, a woman has been calling us. I’m not sure if she is calling for him, or just dialing for someone with a similar number to ours.

Whenever she calls, since hers is a voice I don’t recognize, I automatically just say, “You have the wrong number.” I haven’t understood what she is saying — she was not asking for a person’s name.

Tonight, however, I think I understood.

She was saying, As-Salāmu `Alaykum. A common translation of this phrase is, “Peace be upon you.” Now, if I answered the phone, and the first thing someone said to me in English was “Peace be upon you,” I don’t know that I would so abruptly say they had the wrong number. I’d be kind of thrown off a bit. In my mind, that’s a powerful and loving thing to say to someone, especially a stranger.

According to the Wikipedia article I link to above:

“The traditional response is “wa `Alaykum As-Salām”, meaning “and on you be peace.”

Should I practice the pronunciation of this response?

I don’t know… I found a website, How to Greet Non-Muslims? which says that “As-Salāmu `Alaykum” should not be used as a greeting for non-Muslims. Is this website definitive? Is the exchange of these greetings between a Muslim and a non-Muslim seen as an egregious affront to Islam by a large group of Muslims? A small group of Muslims? Any?

Can I wish peace upon someone who wishes peace onto me?

What do I say?

Wrong number?

Cicada Emergence Lessening?

It might just be that it’s 15 degrees cooler today, but there weren’t nearly as many crunchy cicadas for me to step over on the one mile walk to my train this morning.

Could I be nearing the final stages of the cicada grief cycle?


Please note, this isn’t the cicada cycle used by everyone.

For example, here’s the one for Bubs: