It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Besting Loose at the Oscars

Well, it's that time of year again, when people cut loose their inhibitions and unearth the seething core of their innermost fleshly desires. No, I'm not referring to Mardi Gras. Rather, I'm talking about the fans along the red carpet at the Oscars.

The Oscars are this evening and the producers are promising that this show is going to be different. For one thing, Jack Nicholson will be seated in the second row. I, for one, can't wait for the hilarity of Nicholson trying to squeeze down the aisle past Denzel Washington, Kate Beckensdale, Matt Damon, and Cheech Marin, on the way to his seat. Hang on to those shades, Jack!

However, some traditions are worth continuing, and so, here is our annual roundup of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences' nominees for Best Picture:

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - The curious film about a man who was named Benjamin Button and lived to tell the tale. Benjamin's story begin with his conception, in the backseat of a Vaught Corsair that Howard Hughes and Katherine Hepburn are flying. Kate gives the little tyke up for adoption on the grounds that Howard is as daft as gooseberry jelly and Benjamin begins to make his way through a weary and troubled world ...walking backwards.

Benjamin's backwards walking begins to draw stares, disapproving tongue clicks, and outright derisive expletives - from the local naval base and at least one "progressive" schoolmarm. He sees several specialists about the problem but is unable to hear a word they are saying because his ears are pointed in the wrong direction. Finally, someone points out that his shoes are on backwards. This not only explains Benjamin's poor sense of direction but also why his feet hurt so much.

Cured of his aching feet and his tendency to walk into shop windows, Benjamin changes his name to "Sunny" and falls in love with a beautiful, foul-mouthed schoolmarm who believes in giving vultures the vote and is convinced that Charlie Chaplin is a six-armed satyr from Saturn. They have a passionately alliterative romance, which lasts through twelve scenes and fourteen censors.

Finally, they are parted when Benjamin accidentally slips on a pair of loafers that are pointing in the wrong direction. This triggers a relapse of his condition and he promptly walks off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Luckily, he is saved when he lands on Thelma and Louise's automobile as it plummets to the canyon floor below. He immediate falls in love with Geena Davis, setting off a passionate romance that lasts the remaining three seconds before the car crashes at the bottom of the canyon.

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Frost/Nixon - Terror strikes America in the late 1970's when a brash young English television personality accidentally fuses himself to the disgraced ex-President. Subtitled "The Thing with Two Noggins and One Foul Mouth" this film brings a new meaning to the words "terror, " horror," and "bipartizan."

The film opens with David Frost flying into the US in a Vaught Corsair (that was simple enough). Unfortunately, his flight path coincides with that of Richard Nixon's old Jenny biplane, flown by Charles Lindbergh (Jimmy Stewart). While Nixon is wingwalking, Frost's Corsair clips him in the "upper thigh," provoking a stream of high-pitched expletives that would make Jack Nicholson's character in the The Last Detail swoon like a dowager.

Just by chance, an eerie beam of gamma radiation is being directed at the Earth by a hyperintelligent extraterrestial species with way too much time on their hands. The beam strikes Frost and Nixon, fusing them into one being, Frost/Nixon (Frost demanded top billing) with two heads, four legs, heat vision, super strength, and ego and paranoia complexes the size of Ron Howard's bald spot.

The two face up to their terrible dilemma and decide that there is only one thing they can do. They immediately hit the chat-show circuit in the States. They juggle chainsaws on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, severely injuring Ed MacMahon's drinking hand. They quote Kierkegaard on Dick Cavett's show until co-guest Jerry Lewis's ears hemorrhage. Finally, they physically savage David Hartman, on Good Morning America, just because of his quaint amiability.

America's chat hosts are saved though, at the last minute, when British chat legend Alan Whicker flies over and tricks Frost/Nixon into interviewing himself (to avoid Whicker doing it). This causes a massive, fiery explosion, and the best Nielsen ratings since Roots.

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Milk - The tragic, inspiring, confusing story of a San Francisco city supervisor with such a passion for lactated beverages that he changes his name, this film begins with a young milkman's (Rip Taylor) morning journey to City Hall (Ethel Merman). There he discovers a group of callous politicians (Eminem) making "homo" jokes. Thinking that they are referring to homogenized milk (Ethel Barrymore), the young man sets off on a crusade to change the attitudes of the lactose-intolerant (Rudolf Hess).

The story takes an odd turn when Rock Hudson (Ben Stiller) and Doris Day (Owen Wilson) appear to the young man in a dream. Rock is flying a Vaught Corsair (Joan Rivers) and Doris is his wingman (Rod Serling). Together they do several elabaorate aerobatic manoeuvres (The Village People). However, Rock clearly doesn't have his heart in the work and when the young milkman asks why, he is startled to realize that Rock always wanted to be a helicopter pilot (Harrison Ford).

The young milkman's driving passion for milk (Julius Ceasar), helicopters (Frank Sinatra), 1950's era romantic farces (Julia Roberts), and bodybuilding exhibitions (Torgo) leads him to run for city supervisor. After several political triumphs, including the passage of a law permitting cottage cheese to be sold on the same shelves as buttermilk(Teddy Roosevelt), the young milkman, now in his late 40's, life ends in a tragedy too sad and depressing to be satirized on a silly web site like this (Tommy Smothers).

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The Reader - An incredibly boring tale about a young woman who does nothing but read and read and read and then read again is finally rescued in the final thirty minutes when a galactic battle-cruiser lands in her back garden, and the occupants therein demand her to tell them the end of the new John Grisham novel. She refuses on the grounds that they should read the bloody thing themselves, and anyway, she's in the middle of a Nora Roberts "epic."

This leads to a massive battle in which the young literary geek puts her years of reading kung-fu novels and judo manuals (amongst her other pursuits, such as how-to tomes about knitting with bacon, Zhou-dynasty romances, automotive air filter manuals, Oprah's book-of-the-month scam, and the Zurppo series) to good use. She viciously beats the alien invaders to a meaty pulp, using only her page-turning finger (which, given her obsession with reading, happens to be the size of one of Popeye's forearms).

The aliens retreat but are soon replaced by an even worse foe: Alien Nazis. The Reader attacks them with even more gusto, remembering what a crap read Mein Kampf is, and dispatches them into swastika-covered knockwurst with several well-placed flicks of her page-turning fingernail.

The Nazis are replaced, predictably, with pirates and ninjas, who immediately declare the Reader their queen. This all goes horribly wrong when she discovers that the pirates are illiterate and the ninjas refuse to read anything that isn't in scroll-form. She annihilates both groups and finally settles down for a long tussle with Stephen King's latest magnum opus. Unfortunately, she is felled by the mother of all paper cuts when the 17,984 page book falls on her head, slicing her cranium in half like a Vaught Corsair through warm air.

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Slumdog Millionaire - This Bollywood extravaganza begins with a young Mumbai boy who grows up thinking he is a Rottweiler. After he is cured from this delusion by extensive hypnosis and a single visit to a local "spay and neuter" lab, he falls in love with the attractive young hypnotist and neuter-girl.

To impress her, he enters a national game show contest to see who can be the first person to try up to fifty varieties of curry in a single hour without an antacid. He messily loses this contest and enters another non-food related game show in order to afford a new suit.

While competing in this second show, he is dressed as Shirley Temple, thrown into a large tank with live lobsters and commanded to locate the manifold on a Vaught Corsair. He realises that the programme is a Japanese game show on tour in Mumbai and, after prying lobster claws off of his bum, departs, having only reached the fifth round. He then enters a final game show to demonstrate to his beloved that he is not a hopeless shmuck, and also to afford plastic surgery for his botty.

Amazingly, he advances to the final round of the programme where he is required to answer ten questions about lobster curry. The psychological shock of this causes him to relapse into thinking he is a dog, only this time a Komondor, to make the whole neutering business quite difficult. The young hypnotist devotedly looks after him, feeding her beloved kibbles and the occasional lamb shank. She eventually enters him in the Westminster Dog Show, where he takes Best of Show with a thrillingly perfect performance, except for the brief and unfortunate tumble whilst the judge is checking his hindquarters.

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You Can't Judge a Book by Its Title

Friday, the finalists for the annual Diagram Prize were announced. This prestigious award goes to Britain's oddest book title of the year. The nominees for this year are:

  • Baboon Metaphysics
  • The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais
  • Curbside Consultation of the Colon
  • The Large Sieve and its Applications
  • Strip and Knit with Style
  • Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring

After reading the list my first thought was, "I'm terribly sorry, but is this the best they could do?"

Yes, these are slightly peculiar titles. However, one could easily do much better (or worse, depending on your viewpoint) than this. For example, I'm sure many people are perplexed and bemused by The Large Sieve and its Applications, but the only thing I got out of the title is the reminder that I'm glad I'm not a mathematician.

It seems to me then that the only way to improve this contest is for those of us in the business* of writing odd and peculiar prose to offer a helping hand. So, for those of you potential authors wanted to get a leg up on next year's Diagram, please consult the following list for title ideas. All I ask is that if you choose one and it wins, be sure to sent me a cut of the prize money.** I'm also open to a bit of ghost writing, for a percentage of the advance and royalties, of course.

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  • Seven Bidets for Seven Brothers
  • Klingon for Lovers
  • Figeting Whilst Amongst the Capybara
  • My Pants Are Full of Noodles
  • So You Want to Be Oprah? -A Brief Guide to World Domination
  • Places Slim Whitman Has Flown Over
  • The Wit and Wisdom of Bigfoot
  • How to Skin a Jellyfish
  • In the Teeth of the Zipper
  • Effluence: Our Friend From Within
  • Zurppo, the Flying Burmese Boobolatch
  • A Young Person's Guide to Playing the Electric Slide Whistle
  • The Viscous Kitchen: Cooking with Slime
  • Elementary Quantum Hopscotch a Go Go
  • Solving Foriegn Energy Dependence with Flatulence
  • My Year Among the Beavers
  • Trampoline Hideaway
  • A Brief History of Thyme
  • Zurppo Goes Camping
  • Leapfrogging Through the Ages
  • Knickers on Parade
  • The Sumptuous Journey of Woopy the Platypus
  • Cardinal Richelieu's Beach Blanket Dance Party!
  • Knife Juggling for Beginners
  • Slurping Down the Mississippi
  • A Kerfuffle in Krakow
  • Binky: The Forgotten Pope
  • Zurppo Bowls a Perfect Game
  • Hypotonic Pnuemonical Trapezoidal Free for All
  • A Guide to Governmental Shoes
  • Gilded Cheese Sandwiches
  • Tank You Very Much: A George S. Patton Stickerbook
  • Zurppo Finds a Nickel
  • Modular Automobiles
  • Girls of the Antarctic: A Bikini Pictorial
  • Pele's Magic Pony
  • Alistair Bottoms Cheetos Drips Elongated Frankfurter Gaspipe Harridan Igloo Java Kettle Lester Mission Nettles Otters Pasteurised Quotient Riboflavin Samsonite Tarantula Undulating Vampire Winsome Xylophone Yak Zips: A Love Story
  • Zurppo Beomes Foreign Minister
  • The Sinister Ice Cream Cone
  • Obviating Your Destiny
  • The Ellipse of the Overalls
  • Zurppo Hugs a Tree Bat
  • Penguins in Power
  • How to Tickle a Warthog
  • Zurppo Goes to Kathmandu
  • Zurppo Cracks His Knuckles
  • Zurppo Triumphs
  • Zurppo Gets a Haircut
  • Zurppo Rides the Elevator
  • Zurppo Marries Joan Collins
  • Zurppo Loves Beans
  • Zurppo and the Magical Smell
  • Zurppo Fights Chuck Norris to a Draw
  • Zurppo Tastes Butter
  • Zurppo Has Elective Surgery
  • Zurppo Discovers Tungsten
  • Zurppo and the Angry Al Sharpton
  • Zurppo's Last Treehouse
  • Zurppo Gets a Massage
  • Zurppo Wins American Idol
  • Zurppo Steals Bob Dylan's Guitar Strap
  • Zurppo's Swollen Pustule
  • Zurppo Was Never Here
  • Zurppo Limps Across the Finish Line

Of course, there's always this list, as a backup.

*Or hobby, as this blog doesn't pay much at all. Nearly $4 U.S. from Google AdSense in the last two years doesn't buy much in the way of groceries.
** Stew and Nuffy, there's still time to get in on this with your own lists. Stew? Nuffy? Helllloooo?

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crawling Back to Fitness

It's quite ironic that even as Michael J. Nelson is eating his way into bacon glory this month, I am climbing back on the fitness wagon.

Climbing is perhaps the wrong word. A more accurate description would be, "being lifted by a rather large crane, kicking and screaming all the way." Come to think of it, the kicking is probably an exaggeration as well, as my legs don't move so well anymore.

So, a completely accurate description of my retun to the fitness road would be, "I am gradually being hauled onto the fitness wagon by a extraordinary long and sturdy conveyor belt, twitching and whingeing all the way, inbetwixt bouts of near-comatose sleep."

I'm probably not in as bad shape as all that, but after two days of two-and-a-half mile runs (the half-mile being the warm-up), I'm quickly realising just how much the years have thrashed out of my body.

The worst part about beginning any exercise program, especially running, is the first two weeks. That's the period when your body is gradually adjusting to the cheerful new torture you're inflicting upon it. You body handles this adjustment in a highly sophisticated way: by sadistically torturing you right back.

It's incredibly efficient, if you're body's utimate goal is to develop an overall porridge-like consistency. However, if your aims are abs of steel, machine-like cardiovascular-capacity, and rippling musculature, then the effect is similar to a European Union seminar on democracy-building.

Moreso, the body stupidly fails to register that the brain that tortured it by thinking up the need to get up for an early morning run is the same brain that will send back agonised squeals of misery when the overtaxed thigh and calf muscles tie up during a sit down. It's rather like trying to convince your brain to stop beating yourself over the head by shoving red-hot pokers into your legs. After awhile, your brain says, "what's the point," and beats your cranium twice as hard.

I used to be a cross-country runner, or "harrier1", in school, before university. I wasn't particularly fast but was good enough to be in the side and score for the team. Of course, in cross-country, all you have to do is finish in the top five for your team to score, so that meant staying ahead of two of the seven blokes in your own side. With the proper application of back-kicks and bony runner's elbows, this was a piece of cake.

Still, running seemed easy back then, mainly because at seventeen your body recovers almost as fast as Wolverine's does in the X-Men. Frequently, on days where our school had a meet, I would arrive home from the trip, have a quick sit down, and then hop on my bike for 5-10 miles just for a lark. This was usually after a massive meal at a restaurant on the journey back, most often a buffet or fast-food establishment well known for its infinite variety of cholesterol-themed dishes.

This week has been sort of a trip back through time to those halcyon days, only in extreme slow motion, and with live electrodes strapped all over my body. In fact, I definitively recalled the film Chariots of Fire during the experience. The film came out right before the beginning of my school running experience and was a constant source of motivation . The scenes of slow-motion running were exactly the sort of inspiring vision a young athlete could take to heart. This time however, my primary impression was the realisation that the actors running in slow-motion onscreen were going about twice as fast as I was.

It was of little help that I trained a bit with the Wii Fit in Janaury, mostly doing the jogging in place. A word of advice for those of you doing that exercise, who are starting to convince yourself that you could step out onto the track fly round it like a middle-aged Hicham El Guerrouj: A mile on the Wii Fit translates to about a quarter-mile on the track. Also, the Wii Fit doesn't account for wind resistance. The one similarity between the two expereinces is that a good, stiff wind can have you jogging in place again.

It's all different muscles too. Jogging in place seemed to be good enough cardio work; however, the moment I stepped out onto the track a completely different group of muscles than I had been using with the Wii Fit cropped up, as if to say, "Remember us?" It was rather like running into a group of old school bullies, who, instead of being impressed with your advanced degree, professional job, and nice salary, spent their time reminding you how easy it was to dump you headfirst into the cafeteria wastebins.2

So, I stepped onto the track Saturday morning and began to jog at a nice, easy pace. For a moment, I wanted to burst out in a Forrest Gump voice, shouting, "I was run-ning!" However, I quickly realised that I couldn't actually speak. My lungs and voicebox were too caught up in the desperate business of gathering oxygen to bother with communication, much less the sort that didn't involve the words, "Please... summon... an... ambulance."

Mind you, this was only the warm up jog. The actual two mile hike was far worse. The stretching between the two was nice though, in that I got to sit down for a moment.

So, memory lane on the track3 isn't all it's cracked up to be. However, after only a couple of days back in the running groove, I can safely say that I do remember exactly what the best and worst things about exercise are.

The best thing is finishing an early-morning workout, knowing that you're done for the day and that you've accomplished something that will build your body up towards health and divine service, strengthen your inner well-being, and improve your overall life experience.

The worst thing, of course, is the exercise.

1 Instead of being sleek and fast like the plane of the same name, most of us were scrawny and highly-excitable.
2 This actually never happened to me. None of the bullies were fellow harriers, so I could outrun them all.
3 The inside, shortest lane, of course.

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