Monday, November 28, 2011

My Favorite Sword Fight Scenes EVER

I'm an action movie junkie. If there's bullets, blood, and car chases, I'm so there. But my favorite kind of action movie always included a sword fight scene. I find sword fights much more artistic and personal. It's eye to eye, character vs character. Some sword fights are just absolutely brutal (Braveheart), some are gorgeous like ballet (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and others include some fun comedy (Pirates of the Caribbean).

I love them all. Here's my little list of my favorite sword fight scenes of all time in no particular order:

"Without Green Destiny you are nothing!"
Shu Lien vs Jen. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This sword fight scene has everything you'd ever want. Amazing acrobatics, lightning fast moves, and two gorgeous women (Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi). Jen has stolen the Green Sword of Destiny, an ancient and powerful blade. And she literally destroys every kind of weapon Shu Lien brings to the fight. When these two ladies clash in a battle for the sword, it's wuxia martial arts at its finest.

"Bitch, you don't have a future."
Beatrix Kiddo vs Elle Driver. Kill Bill vol 2. So many incredible sword fights to choose from in vol. 1 and 2. But I went with the grittiest of them all. The villain, Elle, is wearing a damn eye patch for goodnessakes! It gets downright catty in some parts, but you can just taste the hate between these two assassins. When Elle reveals that she's the one who killed their master, Beatrix goes absolutely postal. And in the end, she rips Elle's only good eye, leaving her completely blind in the trailer. Oh, and there's a freaking black mamba snack in there too.

"There are no pacts between lions and men."
Achilles vs Hector. Troy. Just to prove that I don't only love hot women kicking each other's ass, I give you Troy. Lots of beefcake here for the ladies: Brad Pitt and Eric Bana.  For the men - jaw-dropping ancient butt whoopin'. Achilles is pissed off that Hector has killed his cousin, and seeks revenge. It's Greek vs Troy, each nation's very best in a fight to the death. The speed and brutality that these two champions go at it is mind boggling. But in the end, we all know that Achilles wins and drags Hector's dead body all over the beach, which is the ultimate insult.

"What are you gonna do, bleed on me?"
King Arthur vs The Black Knight. Monty Python's The Quest for the Holy Grail. Okay, I'm not all about serious killing here. This scene is gory, sure. But it's so damn funny. The Black Knight doesn't allow King Arthur to pass, so they engage in old fashioned sword fighting. But The Black Knight refuses to yield, even after losing all his limbs. If you're in a crowded area and say, "Tis but a scratch," there's bound to be several people who will chuckle and know exactly what you're referencing.

"Get used to disappointments."
Dread Pirate Roberts vs Inigo Montoya. The Princess Bride. One of my favorite movies all time, and an equally wonderful book. This fight scene really comes to life on the big screen. It's got the action, suspense, a little light-heartedness, and pithy dialogue. In the beginning, the two masters are both fighting left-handed. And when Inigo switches to fighting right-handed, he begins to gain the upper hand. But then we learn that the Dread Pirate Roberts is also not left-handed, and the fighting concludes with Roberts knocking Inigo out.  Best lines of dialogue:

Inigo: I do not mean to pry, but you don't happen to have six fingers on your right hand?

Roberts: Do you always begin conversations this way?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's Lurkin' in your Turken'

This is a post from 2005 on my now defunct Phoenix Blog - Where science is stranger than fiction. It's a perfect Thanksgiving post, and it's also nostalgic to look back and see stuff I wrote SIX years ago on my old blog. Enjoy!

The American Thanksgiving Tradition: gather family and friends, cook a giant turkey along with all the other wonderful dishes, eat until you can't eat no more, head over to the family room and turn on football, and finally fall into the abyss known as the 'turkey coma.'

It's really a wonderful tradition, and one I look forward to every year. Question is, is there really something in the turkey that makes giants fall? Is there some type of chemical compound in a turkey that makes Uncle Tony begin snoring and drooling on your couch? The media has been talking about this for years, but how much truth is in their hype?

There is an amino acid called tryptophan that's found in turkey. Tryptophan is a known sedative, and at one time was a common sleeping aid. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is needed for the body to create serotonin, melatonin, and niacin. Serotonin is a calming neurotrasmitter while melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep. Tryptophan was being used in pill form to treat insomnia, but there was a rash of contaminated tryptophan that caused serious illness and some deaths in patients.

So is it the tryptophan that makes everyone groggy after stuffing their faces? Probably not. Tryptophan isn't able to affect the brain inside a stomach full of other foods and protein. There isn't enough tryptophan in turkey to affect you whatsoever anyway.

It's really all the food you eat that makes you sleepy - the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, pie, sweet potatoes. Lots of carbs means you will certainly crash a few moments after dinner. The insulin effect from all those starchy carbohydrates will certain trigger sleepiness. Plus, alcohol will certainly lay you out for the count. 

Don't believe the hype about the tryptophan in turkey. Other foods containing tryptophan include chicken, pork, and cheese. When you consume large amounts of food, the blood rushes to your gut to aid digestion, and there's the insulin/sugar effect from eating all those carbs.

What can be done to avoid the 'turkey coma?' Who cares? Why avoid it? It's tradition. I say embrace your Thanksgiving induced nap. Enjoy it. Gathering around a table, shoving lots of good food down your throat, and then sleeping to the sounds of football is your God-given-right!

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful that the human mind is capable of justifying the enormous consumption of food that will make you fat and lazy. Just remember that it's not the tryptophan in the turkey that triggers sleep. It's a combination of eating lots of carbohydrates and the all-too-familiar call from the kitchen that, "It's time to do the dishes."

I guess many of us men have the 'turkey coma' on a daily basis.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Battle of the Insurance Commercials

I enjoy watching insurance commercials. Why? Because they involve two cutthroat worlds - insurance and advertising. Sometimes, I wonder just what the hell some advertisers were thinking when they created certain insurance commercials and campaigns And there's those that I love.

Here is a sample of some notables:

The Aflac Duck: This is one of the first ones I remember. The duck made his debut in 1999, with the squinty-eyed, growling comedian/actor Gilbert Gottfried. I know the insurance company says it's a duck, but really, it looks like a goose. Whatever. It's a clever campaign, as it includes the repetitive "Aflac...Aflac...Aflac..." quacking, a cute duck, and even celebrities. Gottfried was fired earlier this year when he Tweeted some jokes about the Japanese earthquake/tsunami catastrophe.

Gottfried gets on my nerves, but the duck was OK. Aflac's logo now even incorporates the mascot.

Flo: Personally, I find this hairspray and too much make-up wearing woman annoying as hell. Flo debuted in 2008 for Progressive. I really don't get these commercials, as they star Flo - an insurance "cashier" selling boxes of insurance. I would think this is not very good advertising. I mean, who wants insurance out of a damn box?

Although I'm not a fan, I will say the commercials that include the two insurance agents from a rival company are pretty funny. The one where one of them jumps behind bushes and the other ducks in the bed of a truck is good for a chuckle.

The Gecko: GEICO sounds like Gecko. So why not make the lizard your mascot? He made his first appearance around the same time as the duck back in 1999. Kelsey Grammer was the original voice of this reptile. Although many think he speaks with an Australian accent, it's actually a British-Cockney accent. The accent of the working class. I don't find the Gecko as annoying as the Aflac duck, and I love the commercial where he runs into the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

Pedro Cerrano: Okay, had to make the Major League reference here. You also might know this guy from TV shows The Unit or 24. To me, the guy will always be baseball bashing Pedro Cerrano. Sorry. These commercials were pretty boring in the beginning, starting in 2003. He always says, "That's where Allstate stands." or  "Are you in good hands?" Maybe it's his cool demeanor and baritone voice, but the man commands respect. And if you don't buy Allstate insurance, he just might beat you with a baseball bat.

Mayhem: This is probably my favorite, as I love watching shit blow up. Allstate probably decided to balance the good with some bad in 2010. And Mayhem is REALLY bad. In these commercials, a badass villain in a suit is Mayhem personified, and he represents various dangerous like a deer on the road or an angry GPS unit. The best, in my opinion, is when he represents a hot girl jogging. He's still wearing his suit, but also donning pink weights and a pink headband. A teenage boy is distracted and slams his car into a pole. Classic.

The Cavemen: These guys just won't go extinct! They were funny at first, when they made their first appearance in 2004, but overexposure made them tiring. The fact that they tried to make a TV show with these cavemen is pretty pathetic. They are still using the cavemen in their advertising, and in fact, the mayor of Homer, Alaska gave a caveman a key to the city while filming a commercial on the famous boat, The Time Bandit.

Maxwell: I really like this one. It's where they do their own version of the "This Little Piggy" nursery rhyme where one of the pigs cried "wee wee wee" all the way home. The pig's name was Maxwell, and he annoyed the hell out of the soccer mom that drove him home.

The Nationwide Guy: Nationwide Insurance calls this campaign the World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World. I'm not joking. We all first saw him during the Olympics last year. I want nothing more in this world than Mayhem and Pedro Cerrano to kick the shit outta this idiot. Does Nationwide really think this moron makes me want to buy their insurance? The guy is beyond irritating. Nationwide might be on my side, but I still hate their spokesman. I wish Flo would kick him in the nuts while the duck and gecko eat him alive. Go away. Now.

State Farm Singing: Why do advertisers believe people singing this stupid jingle about State Farm being a good neighbor and being there completely out of tune and defying the laws of reality makes you want to buy? Although I don't particularly like most of these commercials, I do find the one where the guy and his girlfriend are making wishes about their ideal versions of each other pretty funny.

Travelers Dog: Cute and endearing. Traveler's got it right when they showcased a cute dog trying to protect his most prized possession (a bone) while the song Trouble plays in the background. He even rides a bus to put his bone in a safety deposit box, only to cutely toss and turn that night. Finally, he keeps it in his cute dog bowl with the Traveler's umbrella. Memorable and sentimental. One of my favorites. Cute.

Snoopy: The one that started it all. MetLife employed Snoopy in 1985. Maybe I love these commercials because I'm such a huge PEANUTS fan. Or maybe it's because MetLife named their three airships Snoopy One, Snoopy Two, and Snoopy Three. In a recent advertising/marketing poll, Snoopy topped the list of most appealing product spokesperson/mascot, beating out the talking M&Ms and even Dos Equis beer spokesman, The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Oxymoronical!

One of my most favorite figures of speech has to be the oxymoron. Nevermind that the word "oxymoron" looks like some new buzz-speak for a junkie that sniffs too much bleach.

An oxymoron is a literary device where you take a couple words that contradict each other, smash 'em up together to somehow make sense. Got it? It's the power of the paradox, not to be confused with the power of the pair-of-ducks.

Here are some of my favorite oxymora of all time:

Living In the Past (Really? Have a time machine do you?)

Rap Artist (Ouch. I do like some rap, but only maybe a handful I would consider an artist)

Sight Unseen (Steve Wonder I'm sure is offended)

Act Naturally (Which would you have me do?)

Ladies Man (One of my favorite SNL skits, but not enough to make a whole movie with)

Lovers' Quarrel (Hurts so good)

Amicable Divorce (Similar to a lovers' quarrel?)

Congressional Action (Don't even get me started!)

Live Recording (Is it Memorex?)

Anarchy Rules (Sounds a lot like Occupy Wall Street)

Criminal Justice (If the glove don't fit...well the syringe just might)

Extra Virgin [Olive Oil] (Sprinkled for the very first time)

Freezer Burn (I once attempted to eat a Hot Pocket in this state. I was a poor college kid)

The Odds are Even (this is why I don't gamble)

And my favorite oxymoron EVER:

We're going back to the future!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Hero, Robert Cormier

No other author has influenced me as much as Robert Cormier.

Cormier was WAY ahead of his time. And although he is categorized as a Young Adult author, I've enjoyed his work as an adult.  But during the 70s and early 80s, he dared to write books that were very unconventional. This was when all those anti-drug novels were born. I mean, this was the age of the "After School Special" to teach kids a lesson.

However, Robert Cormier's books were completely different in a number of ways:

1) Although sometimes drugs and sex were in his books, they weren't the focus.
2) Adults were not always to be trusted.
3) There are no such things as 'happy endings.'

When I was a high school English teacher and going over one of his best books, After the First Death, our class had a debate about the ending. Cormier was ambiguous about the death of a main character - and we argued whether it was intentional or an accident. I had heard a rumor that Cormier had actually put his REAL phone number in one of his books, I Am the Cheese.

So I gave it a whirl one day. I called the number. And what would you know, Robert Cormier answered the damn telephone! We talked about the ending of his book, and I found out that my original suspicions were correct. And then we talked about writing. I told him that I wanted to be a writer. And he said:

"Well, Jason. Just keep writing. Tell your story. And hopefully good things will come."

Mr. Cormier passed away a year later.

Here are my Top 3 Favorite books (in no particular order) by Robert Cormier.  If you haven't read any of these, give them a try.

1) After the First Death. Talk about prophetic. This book proceeded September 11th by 22 years, and it deals with a terrorist attack on a bus load of children. The novel tells the story from three main characters' points of view, and it a big puzzle at first. But man, when you put the pieces together, it WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.
Best line: And she saw her doom in the masks.

2) The Chocolate War. This is the book that put Cormier on the map. This novel won so many damn awards, yet is consistently in the top 10 most banned books in America. Before there was School Ties or Dead Poets Society, there was The Chocolate War. It's the story of a young boy who dares to "disturb the universe." He's tormented by a teacher at his all-boys private school and by a notorious secret society called The Vigils. I got in hot water for teaching this book. But I taught it anyway.
Best line: Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies or television?

3) Fade. This is reported to be one of Stephen King's favorite novels. What if you had the power of invisibility? This book centers around a young man that discovers that he's inherited the power of the Fade, and he begins to see things he wishes he had never witnessed. This power soon becomes a burden when he discovers a nephew has this power too, and has been killing people. How the hell do you fight when you AND your opponent are both invisible???  Read this book and find out. Masterful.
Best Line: This is what the fade made me. A monster.

Cormier said that he loved to write about ordinary teenagers put into extraordinary situations. They don't have super powers, nor have vampire or werewolf buddies to help them out

And unfortunately, we all can't be superheroes.