Friday, December 18, 2015

Manly Holiday Movies: If it's Christmas, it must be bloody

"Rocky IV:" What says "Christmas" more than Rocky Balboa single-handedly 
ending the Cold War? 
     In the American tradition of ignoring everything non-football related after Halloween as we bully our way toward Christmas, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on one of the great American holiday traditions – movies. But not just any movies, Christmas movies.
     “It’s a Wonderful Life”? “A Christmas Story”? “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”?
     Blech.
     There’s a misunderstanding made by the casual movie fan that a Christmas movie has to be about Christmas. The film needs a message of love, hope, redemption and sappiness. Not at all. A Christmas movie is simply a movie that happens at Christmastime, and for a guy, the bloodier the better.
     So to enhance your yuletide movie watching experience, here is A Guy’s Top10 Christmas Movies of All Time:*
     10. “Psycho” (1960): What? You didn’t know the Alfred Hitchcock classic is a Christmas movie? There are Christmas decorations in the B-roll of Phoenix. That counts.
"American Psycho:" Serial killer Patrick Bateman wondering if those felt 
antlers could eviscerate that woman.
     9. “American Psycho” (2000): This wholly disturbing movie features a scene at an office Christmas party.
     8. “Batman Returns” (1992): A movie that begins with Pee Wee Herman and his co-star from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” Diane Salinger tossing their newborn in the sewer on Christmas, it has to be a Christmas movie. It’s OK, folks. The baby survives and grows up to terrorize Gotham as The Penguin.
     7. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969): Yes, Telly Savalas tries to take over the world using germ warfare, but he does so during the holidays. Ho, ho, ho. Hope you got your shopping done early, 007.
     6. “Iron Man 3” (2013): Tony Stark battles not only the Mandarin and those super freaky heat-spewing villains, but during the fight scene in Tennessee, my, oh, my, would you look at all those pretty lights.
"Gremlins:" Oh, dear God, it's cute. You hungry little fella?
     5. “Gremlins” (1984): When inventor Randall Peltzer realizes he’s nearly blown Christmas for his family, he buys a Furby-like creature from Chinatown, complete with cryptic rules. When those rules are broken, little green murderous monsters overrun his town and it’s up to two teens and a drunken snowplow operator to save them all. Now that’s Christmas.
     4. “First Blood” (1982): When ex-Green Beret John Rambo gets run out of town by a redneck sheriff, he escapes into the mountains and picks off his pursuers one-by-one – at Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.
"Lethal Weapon:" It oozes holiday spirit. 
     3. “Lethal Weapon” (1987): A suicidal cop partnered with a grumpy cop? The holidays? Violence? What could go wrong?
     2. “Rocky IV” (1985): Rocky Balboa fighting a Russian killing machine on Christmas Eve at the height of the Cold War. Not only is “Rocky IV” on this list, it’s the Number One Christmas Sports movie of all time.
     1. “Die Hard” (1988): Bruce Willis vs. Alan Rickman in a skyscraper owned by a Japanese company during a Christmas party. Gunfire, blood, explosions, quippy one-liners and Santa hats make “Die Hard” the ultimate guy Christmas movie.
     Yippee-ki-yay.
"Die Hard:" The greatest Christmas movie of all time.
*Honorable mention. “Jaws: The Revenge” (1987): Sure, “Jaws: The Revenge” has a ridiculous plot (a great white takes revenge on the Brody family), it rated zero on the Rotten Tomatoes review site (if it could have gotten worse, it would have) and the tagline “This time it’s personal” isn’t even close to the first movie’s “Don't go in the water,” but the “The Revenge” is not without its charm. Especially when a 25-foot shark starts its eating frenzy a few days before Christmas.

Jason’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available at amazon.com. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The light side of the Force is pretty dark

"Star Wars" is nothing like you remembered.
I saw “Star Wars” in the theater. All six movies. Although I regret George Lucas’ blatant money grab with the prequels, the earliest three movies helped shape my childhood more than I should probably admit.
“Star Wars” showed me a simple farm boy (which I was) can be important.
“The Empire Strikes Back” helped me realize nothing is ever as it seems.
“Return of the Jedi” made me think Ewoks probably taste delicious. No, that’s not it. “Jedi” told me the good guys win in the end.
Complete dick.
Boy, did that trilogy set me up for disappointment later in life.
Here’s why:
1. Although a simple farm boy is the hero of the first trilogy, he’s not a nice guy. Luke Skywalker is, quite simply, a dick.
According to the “Luke Kill Count” at Polygon.com, during Episodes IV, V, and IV, Luke killed 369,740 people. Admittedly 342,953 were aboard the Death Star when he destroyed it to rid the galaxy of tyranny, but minus that he’s still personally responsible for enough deaths to depopulate a medium-sized city.
Given the same three movies, ultra-bad guy Darth Vader killed, oh, let’s see, 11 people. Eleven.
So, who is the real villain of “Star Wars?” What do you say, Magic 8 Ball? “Signs point to Luke Skywalker.” You might be right.
2. Although Obi Wan Kenobi plays the part of the compassionate, all-knowing mentor to Luke, he’s an asshole.
Early in the first film when Luke asks about his father, Kenobi quickly takes the stance of Blame Vader: “He betrayed and murdered your father.”
Huh? Wait. Kenobi also said he was Vader’s teacher, and Luke’s father’s friend. But Vader is Luke’s father, so maybe Kenobi isn’t actually the affable old fart he pretends to be. Kenobi is a treacherous liar who’s poisoning the mind of a young, naive farm boy simply to make him do Kenobi’s will. We'll never know where Luke pointed to on his action figure when the counselor asked, "where did he touch you?"
We're the good guys. Promise. Wanna ride in my space Camaro?
3. The only characters that care about anyone are Han and Chewbacca. Yes, the honest good guys in the entire original trilogy are a pirate and his pet Bigfoot. This includes the fact that Han Solo kills a bounty hunter and shrugs it off like he’s late for a bridge game.
The other heroes are much worse.
In “Star Wars,” Luke arrives at his home to find Stormtroopers have not only been there before him, but they murdered his uncle and aunt – the only family he’s ever known – and set them on fire on what was essentially their front porch. And he doesn’t care.
It gets darker.
When Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the destruction of the planet Alderaan, Princess Leia watched her home planet explode like a cheap firework and had all the reaction of a character from a “Twilight” movie (my wife forced them on me. I take no responsibility). She didn’t seem to care 2 billion people – including what she thinks is her family – just died.
Hopefully the upcoming “The Force Awakens” soothes the pain. My head hurts.

Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha. May I have a pudding cup now?
Jason’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available at amazon.com.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Coffee will either kill us, or turn us into superhumans

There were times when I thought my 17 years as a journalist would eventually take its toll on my health.
Missing? A bottle of scotch.
Before I go any further I must say every stereotype you’ve ever heard about journalists is true.
§  We eat horribly. Probably half a journalist’s meager paycheck goes into the vending machines in the break room, our freezer is filled with microwavable boxes and election night pizza is the greatest gift to mankind.
§  Our desks are examples of what not to do when company comes over. The only thing messier than a journalist’s desk is a town after a tornado. And there is food on that desk covered in notes from a months old city council meeting. It’s probably still good.
§  Given our penchant for correcting grammar, we’re not fun friends to have on social media. We publicly mock those we barely know for using the wrong form of “there,” and feel good about ourselves after, until we get punched in the nose.
There are plenty more correct stereotypes – don’t even get me started about hygiene. Please, don’t – but those are minor compared to the two most glaring stereotypes ever exhibited by journalists from the likes of Mike Royko to Hunter S. Thompson (if those names don’t ring a bell insert Perry White and Lou Grant).
I said that was my last beer. Back away.
The first is booze.
Many writers drink. Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, the list of whiskey-hounds is too long to finish, so I’ll skip to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wasn’t just a writer; he was a journalist and never met a bottle he didn’t empty, usually before noon.
But as romanticized as boozing journalists have become, journalists drink something a lot more often than alcohol ­– coffee.
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, 85 percent of 10,000 journalists surveyed claimed to drink at least three cups of coffee a day, and 70 percent of them “admitted that their working ability would be affected without a daily mug of coffee.” Journalists, the study found, drink more coffee than do cops.
That’s a lot. Enough to be dangerous?
Over the years coffee has been blamed for an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and schizophrenia-like symptoms. Although coffee has recently been removed from the list of Items that Cause Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Other Things Nature is Trying to Kill You With, it still messes with your brain.
According to livescience.com, people (journalists count as people) who drink three cups of coffee a day are “more likely to hallucinate.”
We all feel like that behind the keyboard.
Cool.
But that’s not the good news.
A recent study of 27,793 coffee drinkers over a 10-year period showed drinking three cups of coffee a day (enough to make you see things that aren’t there) protects your liver, the one thing many writers and journalists have been trying to destroy with booze all these years.
So coffee turns writers and journalists into some kind of supermen.
Did journalism give me bad heath? I think not.

Jason Offutt’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available at amazon.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dear Young People, Look Up From Your Phones

Dear Telegraph. Why shouldn't I be vexed? (It's British. They
wouldn't stoop to the word "upset.")
The essay by the 16-year-old British girl was upsetting. No, it was more than that; it was as annoying as that obnoxious guy who uses a semi-colon in the right place.
Sorry.
The essay, that appeared in the London Telegraph, was entitled simply, “Dear old people: why should I turn off my phone?”
Excuse me?
Well, if you weren’t too busy taking selfies in the bathroom mirror (please close the lid) I’d tell you why. While you’re at it, get off my lawn. Wait she’s British. Get out of my garden.
Geez, I sound old.
"Dear old people" author Sally Parker in a
selfie. Stop making fun of me, Sally.
“I often hear,” the girl, Sally Parker, wrote, “that my generation is absorbed in our phones and unaware of what is going on in the world. These kinds of opinions come from, unsurprisingly, people aged 45 and above – that is, the people who were not born into the world of the Internet and are used to a life without it.”
OK, Sally, I’m with you so far. We old farts are out of touch. I get that. But do you really need to take pictures of everything? No one cares what you had for lunch. And really, are you going to watch that video of the rock concert you attended, or would you remember it better if you’d just watched it?
I don’t know. Let’s ask science.
Psychology professor Maryanne Garry from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand said in an NPR interview that seeing the world through a smartphone makes people pay less attention to what’s happening around them.
"I think that the problem is that people are giving away being in the moment," she said. "They've got a thousand photos and then they just dump the photos somewhere and don't really look at them very much."
Linda Henkel, a psychologist at Fairfield University in Connecticut, agrees. She discovered what she calls the Photo-Taking Impairment Effect.
"The objects that they had taken photos of – they actually remembered fewer of them and remembered fewer details about those objects…rather than if they had just looked at them,” she told NPR.
Then there’s the Internet.
“Another myth this pre-Internet generation has come up with,” Parker wrote, “is that we are just mindlessly scrolling on our phones. When you see a teenager with a friend, one on their phone and not talking to the other, you have no idea what they are doing. The one on their phone could be looking up an article they read on the Conservative party conference.”
Or they could just be playing Candy Crush.
Parker defends her generation’s use of the Internet on their phones because they use it for research. Problem is, they probably aren’t learning anything.
Hint: Not me, ever.
Adrian F. Ward, a researcher at the University of Colorado and Matthew Fisher of Yale University discovered in different studies that most people using the Internet to answer questions (59 percent of those studied) were only in it for an answer, not knowledge. Fisher found that students became overly confident of their understanding of a subject just because they’d looked it up on Google.
"In that Internet mindset, you think you know things," Fisher said. “People are more inclined to remember where the information is stored than the information itself.”
Although I am in Sally Parker’s “aged 45 and above” category, I do understand one thing. This world is one massive solar flare away from losing all our communication satellites. If that happens, I might just read a book, or take a walk. And if I take a walk, I’ll try not to step on anyone younger than me who’s curled into the fetal position because their phone doesn’t work.


Jason’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available as an e-book at amazon.com.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

FD&C Blue No. 1? Mmm, my favorite

Something evil lurks in your gastrointestinal tract.

When it comes to body parts, it’s easy to overlook our friend the colon – unless you’ve eaten Burger King’s Halloween burger, then you’ll start to worry about it. Seriously. Why hasn’t it written for so long, or even called?
The Halloween burger’s bun is black. The results are not.
Burger King already sells black burgers in its restaurants in Japan. The buns, colored by squid ink, are black, the cheese is black, the sauce is black and the result is as appetizing as pictures from a 1960s cookbook. You know, like the classic Pie Plate Salad. A can of mixed vegetables set in lemon gelatin and covered in tartar sauce. Yum.
The black burgers are popular in Japan (so, I can only assume, is Pie Plate Salad). So popular Burger King brought the burgers to America and marketed the item as a Halloween item. The outcome is scary.
Would you eat something that looked like it just lost a boxing match?
The burgers turn people’s poop bright green. I can see college students waking up with a headache wondering why they got drunk and ate a box of crayons.
The problem is the bun. Unlike the squid ink used in Japanese buns, in America – a relatively squid-free country – the bun is turned black by A.1. Steak Sauce, D&C Red No. 40, molasses powder and FD&C Blue No. 1.
Mmm. FD&C Blue No. 1.
According to an article on foxnews.com, New York City physician Dr. Robert Glatter said the human body can’t break down these dyes, which brings us back to our colon. Those dyes have to go somewhere, and when they do they make us take notice because strangely colored poop could mean anything from gallbladder disease, to celiac disease to cancer. So, thanks Burger King.
But Burger King wasn’t the first commercial food provider to scare us down under.
Sure, I trust this guy.
When it comes to Halloween food, General Mills was once king. With the likes of Count Chocula, Boo Berry, Yummy Mummy, Fruit Brute and Franken Berry cereals, children across the country could watch Scooby-Doo on Saturday mornings with their favorite bowl of terror in their lap.
The most frightening was Franken Berry. The box that featured a grinning Frankenstein-like affront to nature held pink, ghost-shaped cereal and marshmallows, which turned the milk pink. That’s not all.
Packed with FD&C No. 2 and No. 3, Franken Berry turned kid’s poop bright pink, according to Smithsonian.com (and probably mothers from the 1970s who are still screaming).
Doctors had a highly scientific term for this condition – “Franken Berry Stool.” I think it’s Latin.
A 1972 study on Franken Berry published in the journal “Pediatrics,” was prompted by parents who rushed their 12-year-old boy to the hospital because, well, here’s a description from the study. Remember, a doctor wrote these words: “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream.”
Great.
Flaming Hot Cheetos can turn stool red. A few pints of Guinness Extra Stout will make it black. Blue Velvet Cake makes you wonder if you’ve eaten a Smurf. And beets –
Never mind. Nobody eats beets.
This may turn my poop black. I'm OK with that.



Jason’s novel, “A Funeral Story,” is available at Amazon.com.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Parent Date Night. Yeah, that's funny

Please. For the love of God, call for help. She won't let us leave.
It was date night, the kind of night parents of young children think only happens in movies. That’s usually true. The genre? Fantasy.
The night didn’t come together easily. Much like readying a space launch, the preparation for parents to leave the house without the smaller versions of themselves takes months, a few hundred people, “Star Trek” technology and a minimum investment of $1 billion.
The idea for our date began with a startling statement.
Danilo Ilić (a fairly angry Bosinan Serb): “I’m bored. Hey, you want to go assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria?”
Gavrilo Princip (shrugging): “Sure.”
No, wait. That’s how World War I started. Our night began something like this:
“We should go on a date,” my wife said, catching me off guard because the words were as foreign as “je ne sais quoi,” which I totally do not have. Date? Dates are what the locals ate in old French Foreign Legion desert movies. I hardly knew how palm fruit applied to us.
“Sure,” I said. If I’ve learned anything about my wife it’s to agree with whatever she says, even if I don’t understand it, and tell her she looks nice. Otherwise I lay low.
A date night? Seriously? The science behinds date nights is simple. Parents have as much chance leaving the house alone as linear elements have adhering to Euclidean space – amiright?
… crickets …
… crickets …
Children saying good-bye. Before and after.
There are so many things parents have to take into consideration just to walk out the door it’s like mounting a military offensive every time we’re out of milk. Dates are a luxury. Parents aren’t like those crazy, devil-may-care singles that can step outside on a whim without a four-year-old clinging to their leg giggling, or screaming, or sobbing uncontrollably. Usually all of the above. Yes, all of the above can happen at the same time.
With that one statement (“We should go on a date”) in minutes the plans were set into motion. We were going to a place where we could hold hands without anyone smaller than us saying “eww” and we were going to enjoy ourselves if we still remembered how. My wife had spoken.
Date night checklist:
  Escape plan? Check.
  Restaurant that doesn’t serve French fries or include toys with a children’s meal? Check.
  Babysitter who doesn’t have a prison tattoo and is still brave enough to take care of our children? Check.
  At least intending not to run out the door laughing? Check.
Once the babysitter arrived we were out the door. And, yes, we were laughing.
It’s an interesting phenomena that when adults who’ve structured their entire communication system around explaining to their children “why,” once these adults are removed from the children they no longer know how to speak.
Sitting at the restaurant, smiling at each other over breadsticks, my wife produced a page she’d ripped from a magazine headlined, “Date Night Questions.” She’s always prepared. Good for her. If the night’s conversation were left to me I’d probably talk about something crazy like beer, or football. Or beer and football. Or order a beer at someplace where we could watch football.
“What country would you most like to visit?” she asked, leaning forward and looking at me in my eyes. My actual eyes. “And why?”
“England,” I said. “Because they speak English. It’s even in the title of the country.”
“Fine. Great effort,” she said. “How about this one? On a scale of one to 10, how cool are you?”
“Twenty-seven.”
Her eyes glanced back to me, then to the magazine page, then to me again.
“You know, if we have to ask how cool we are, especially from a date night article out of a parenting magazine, chances are we’re not cool at all,” she said.
I knew I married this woman for a reason. She’s smart.
Oh, shit. This is how we got the kids in the first place.
Everything went smoothly from that point. We had drinks, food, drinks, fought the urge to talk about our children, made fun of the young couple eating next to us who obviously didn’t have children (they were discussing a movie that didn’t involve super heroes) and had more drinks.
When we got home, we still remembered our children’s names, but didn’t say them because they were asleep. Excellent.
My wife paid the babysitter, who then got on her Harley (actually a Yamaha scooter with an “I ª Trees” sticker on the front) and drove into the night undamaged. I’d expected to come home to discover the kids had tied the sitter to a chair that was for some reason on fire.
Whew.
Maybe if my wife and I do this date thing enough we’ll eventually get good at it.

Jason's latest books, "A Funeral Story," and "How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items," are available at amazon.com.