Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Christmas Tradition Continues

A few years ago I mentioned our family's annual tradition of going to the Hallmark Store and buying ornaments for the Christmas tree. This year, as usual, we put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving and went to buy the new ornaments on Saturday. Although this is our usual time to buy them, we were surprised to find that a couple ornaments we wanted were sold out. Fortunately, the store allowed us to buy the display models (they even had the boxes in their store room) and a crisis was averted.

In 2010 I bought Captain Kirk, who was the first in the series. The next year I got Spock and the year after that I bought Doctor McCoy. Predictably, this year's ornament ended up being Scotty. As fate would have it, Scotty was one of the ornaments that had been sold out. Our theory is that a) the original Star Trek series isn't popular enough to justify stocking a lot of them and/or b) the unusual number of engineers living in our area means that there are a lot of geeks around that want to have the Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise on their tree.

Having already hung Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on our tree the day before, and being one of those engineers that idolizes Starfleet's "Miracle Worker", I had to get Scotty even if it was the display model. Fortunately the model looked like it had just come out of the box and I went home a happy Trekkie.

Except for our youngest, who still thinks everything that falls into his hands is supposed to go into his mouth, each kid was allowed to choose his or her own ornament (while Bride of Atomic Spud decided that the youngest wanted Spider-Man). Our oldest daughter's choice received my enthusiastic approval:

Our daughter finished The Hobbit last year when I promised to take her to the movies if she read the novel first. She loved the book, loved An Unexpected Journey, and can't wait to see The Desolation of Smaug. When we reached the Hallmark Store there was absolutely no hesitation on her part; she walked directly to the display and immediately grabbed the first Bilbo Baggins ornament she saw.

My wife often worries that our daughter will have a hard time in junior high.

Friday, November 29, 2013

There's No Accounting for Taste (In Movies)

Talk about blog neglect. While the 40K blog has seen relatively regular updates, I've not touched the original Atomic Spud blog in nearly two months. I keep intending to post another May Day Movie Marathon review, but those darn things can take me hours, especially when I've not seen the film in months and have to refresh my memory.

So bad it's good
While on the subject of movie reviews, I started thinking about how irrational one's taste in movies can be. The idiom "there's no accounting for taste" (i.e., people's preferences are often inexplicable) best describes it. While looking over the movies I watched back in late April, it struck me that the films I liked the most varied wildly in tone and quality.

One of my favorites was The Manster (1959) (sometimes called The Split). This bizarre American/Japanese sci-fi film could not be called "good" by any objective standard: the movie is as exploitative as they could get away with in the late '50s, the acting is stiff, the costumes are goofy, and the science is absurd. The Manster seems to go out of its way to make the characters unlikeable while leaving us completely in the dark with regards to their motivations. Despite all this (or maybe because of it), I loved the film.

On the opposite end of the cinematic bell curve is Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946). The movie features Edward G. Robinson as Mr. Wilson; a member of the United Nations War Crimes Commission tasked with hunting down Franz Kindler. Kindler (played by Orson Welles) is a Nazi war criminal who had the presence of mind to ensure that no photographs or any other physical evidence remained behind to identify him. It turns out that Kindler has settled in a small Connecticut town and used his knowledge of history and the ability to perfectly mimic an American Accent to create a new identity as the popular prep school teacher Charles Rankin. Knowing what awaits him if he's caught, Kindler will go to any lengths to protect his secret, even if it means killing the woman he claims to love.

So good it's... also good
The acting is great (as you'd expect from Edward G. Robinson and Orson Welles) and the plot is engaging. Since The Stranger never shies away from the nature or magnitude of the Holocaust, and because Welles is in full cold, calculating sociopath mode, the audience immediately shares Wilson's urgency to bring Kindler to justice. In other words, The Stranger is a genuinely good movie.

So why in the world did I like both The Manster and The Stranger? The only way that I can put it is that the former is so bad that it's good and the latter is simply good. And while I enjoyed both, I'm sure there are plenty of people who wouldn't care for the silly sci-fi movie while having little patience for the pacing of a film from the mid-'40s.

Taste in movies is a funny thing. Every once in a while, a few members of our 40K gaming group get together before the game to watch an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. We've watched quite a few abysmal movies, but few have reached the depths that The Creeping Terror (1964) hits. Yet, as abysmal as this movie is, I've watched it three times. One of our fellow gamers has said that he would rather watch it again than re-watch Twilight (2008). Despite the hatred that my peers have for Twilight and its sequels, I've never had a problem with the two I've seen (at least they're better than The Creeping Terror).

The only way a squad of soldiers can be eaten by the
Creeping Terror is if their guns have a 5' range

Speaking of movies that people loathe, despite the common declaration that it's the "worst movie ever!", I found that Battlefield Earth (2000) didn't even fall into my list of 10 worst films. It was silly but it was fairly entertaining. In fact, my only complaint was that it wasn't nearly as bad as people had said it was.

Even stranger than my interest in b-movies is my disinterest in movies that enjoy a wide appeal. Of course there are exceptions (nearly all of them being sci-fi or fantasy films), but in general I avoid most action movies, comedies, and dramas. (Although if a film has a production date before 1970 I might give it a chance.) For example, a few years ago I finally saw the majority of The Bourne Identity (2002) and the first half of The Bourne Supremacy (2004). While they kept me reasonably entertained, it's unlikely that I'll ever watch either of these movies again, nor do I have any interest in seeing their sequels. Almost as soon as the movies were over, I could barely remember their plots and, other than Jason Bourne himself, I couldn't describe any of the characters. Compare that to the fact that I can recall the storyline of The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1959), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), or the ever-amusing Fiend Without a Face (1958) even though I've seen each movie only once.

I guess there's no accounting for taste.


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