176,248 miles

That's the mileage of our 1994 Subaru Impreza when we finally said goodbye to it a couple of months ago.  Flags flew at half mast, black crepe paper hung, dogs wailed at the moon. What cost $13,000 in the fall of 1994 depreciated to the point that it was worth maybe $300 if you squinted just right and said a silent prayer.

But the Subaru mostly got us where we needed to go and only in the last two or three years was it truly embarrassing to drive, due mostly to that weird ghetto sunlight oxidation disease that fades the paint in ugly splotches.  You can always tell who doesn't have a garage by driving around and seeing which old car has those faded stains.

Faced with the prospect of a swiftly failing transmission (i.e., the car would every so often just kind of, like, drop out of fourth gear into third while driving at 40mph, no big deal), the Cheese Fry was unwilling to spend another $3000 to eke out a few more months of life.
But the Subaru taught us some important lessons.

* Jamba Juice stains won't come out, especially not Banana Berry.  We had to look at the same purple seat stain every day since 1998.

* A papasan chair won't fit inside the back end.  You'll have to lash it to the roof and creep it home.

* Those little replacement bottles of exterior paint you get from the dealership... looks nothing like the factory exterior paint once you take it out of the bottle.  You might as well buy a set of poster paint from the corner Walgreens.

* Manual transmissions are a lot of fun at first.  Then it's not so fun.  Then you start to curse the person who invented it.  Stick shifts were not meant for gridlocked stop-and-go traffic in a community full of steep hills and curves.  You can get worn out just from working the clutch pedal.

* If a quarter falls between the seat and center console, it's gone forever.

* You'd be surprised how many people just assume every car out there has power locks and power windows.  Whenever someone pulled up on the passenger side to say something ("where's the freeway?" or "you have a flat"), we had to do that lame lean-over to stretch out and hand crank the window open.

* If you drive away from a gas station with the nozzle still shoved in your gas tank, turns out you can completely rip off your gas tank lid.  And scare the hell out of the other customers at the pump island who likely envisioned a blooming fireball consuming everything.

* There's something about the chemical properties of the door pocket that turns wooden pencils into something akin to stone.

* We still don't know what that white smoke was all about.  And always only at the top of hills.

* No matter how much we had to pay AAA each year, it was always a bargain.

* Those letter plastic letters that spell "Subaru" on the car hatchback cost about $85 each.  Rather than replace one that fell out, the dealership actually advised us to just peel off the others.  So we did, turning our car into an unidentifiable stealth vehicle.

* An AM-FM radio sometimes isn't enough.

So how far is 176,248 miles?  

That's 930 million feet, which translates to 310 million yards.  That's roughly 3.1 million football fields laid end to end.

176,248 miles would allow us to drive back and forth from Los Angeles to Tokyo 16 times.

On a more cosmic level, we drove our Subaru a little over seven times around the earth's equator or 26 times around the moon.  

And if our Subaru were a rocket, we would have made it almost 3/4 of the way to the moon from earth.  The Apollo astronauts surely didn't have Howard Stern on Sirius to help pass the time.

Goodbye, Subaru.  It's been... fun.


Knee-jerk review: "Cabin in the Woods"

1. Wow.
2. As you may have heard, it's hard to talk about Cabin in the Woods without spoiling the big third act secret.  But we will tell you the answer is right there in the opening credits if you know where to look.
3. We hate to use the word "genius"... but the conceit of this movie is audaciously original.  We've seen nothing else like it.  And it works.
4. In short, we pretty much loved it.
5. Stoner guy Marty, played by Fran Krantz, steals the movie with his metal thermos bong.
6. Writer-director Drew Goddard, part of the J.J. Abrams mafia, also wrote Cloverfield, one of our all-time favorites.  He's now officially on our radar.
7. There are scary "gotcha!" moments, sure, but it's really more of an academic deconstruction of the American slasher film - namely, those predictable and formulaic movies where good-looking 20-somethings visit an isolated lake, make dumb choices, and meet gruesome ends.  But because of the way the movie so openly upends the cliches of the genre (a distant cousin may be Scream), the horror is kept at arm's length.  That is, you'll spend more time working to understand why what's happening is happening and less time covering your eyes.
8. Honestly, the preceding trailer we saw of Chernobyl Diaries was way more chilling and creepy than this movie.
9. We'll say it again: the final 15 minutes here are so crazy that you won't believe they're actually committing to it.
10. Merman.
11. In addition to the smart post-modern breakdown of horror tropes and motifs (what are thee $10 words? is this a dumb blog or a pretentious film studies class?), the movie also has some interesting things to say about religion .  Note the scene where no one pays any attention to the suffering going on behind them.  Administrators and managers - like, say, God - may or may not care about your little problems.
12. Which are you: the scholar, the athlete, the fool, the whore, or the virgin?
13. Seriously, you could write a decent film theory paper about the way this movie examines the horror movie formula.
14. Okay, we give up - it is genius.  There, we said it.


Old vs young is the new red state vs blue state

We hate getting political on a blog that spends most of its time discussing 1980s radios hits and superhero movies.  And now we're going to get political.  Pundits like to talk about red states versus blue states, left versus right, or rich versus poor, but Esquire's Stephen Marche recently makes a compelling argument that the real division in this country is old versus young.  Specifically, Marche puts blame at the feet of the Baby Boomer generation.  To us, it's a new way of looking at the problems in Washington.


Knee-jerk review: "The Avengers"

1. $200 million opening weekend.  Millions of moviegoers can't be wrong, can they?
2. Hollywood marketing executives spend a lot of money to lure you into theaters on opening weekend, while Hollywood distribution executives make sure that their movie plays everywhere so there's zero chance you won't be able to see it when you want.  That is, first you make sure everyone wants to go and then you make sure everyone who wants to go gets in.  Unless you have a turkey on your hands, a la John Carter, this strategy of spending millions to make millions usually works.  Especially if your movie is a engineered to please crowds like this so clearly one is.
3. It is very entertaining.  We were pleasantly surprised.
4. It's a little slow to get started, but by the time the Avenger characters are all in the same room bickering and sniping, it really takes off.  The dialogue crackles and the actors share a nice chemistry.
5. The movie takes great pains to pair off as many different Avengers as possible for big special-effects fights and missions of derring-do.  You want Iron Man to fight Thor or Hulk to take orders from Captain America?  You got it.
6. Who would have thought that most of the laughs come not from Tony Stark, but from Bruce Banner and the Hulk?  Mark Ruffalo is pretty much perfect.
7. It's a lot more science-fiction/fantasy-based than you might expect, what with the aliens invading from another dimension.  Harder to suspend disbelief.
8. Scarlett Johansson makes a great redhead.  But her character pales in comparison to the other superheroes.  All she can do is pout and reload her gun.  Not much of a power.  It's almost laughable.
9. Hawkeye's pushing it as well.  He has good vision.  Neat!
9. Sam Jackson does... his usual impersonation of Sam Jackson.  It's getting a little old.
10. There's more fake-science technobabble here than in a typical episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
11. Don't worry about the plot.  It's barely there.  This is a movie of big moments and bigger set pieces.
12. And the third act climax (aliens attack New York City) is about as big a spectacle as we have ever witnessed.  Wow.  We also liked how the good guys started to really get their ass kicked, overwhelmed and exhausted by the sheer number of attacking villain aliens.  It creates a real sense of worry: can they pull this off?
13. Dig that flying aircraft carrier.
14. Who knew Robin Scherbatsky was such a bad ass?
15. And so the summer movie season has started.
16. You sort of have to see it, right?  Just to be able to be in on the water cooler talk.
17. Joss Whedon did it.  We didn't think he could.  But he did.

Cassette tape rewind: freshman summer

The summer of 1986 was a time of transition for the Cheese Fry, leaving the brutally awkward and dangerous halls of an inner city middle school, complete with a daily 20-minute round-trip ride on a yellow school bus and the regular roars of airplanes taking off and landing a hundred feet over the roof, and preparing to enter the brutally awkward and dangerous (for different reasons) halls of a suburban high school.  MTV was king, riding our bike was starting to get uncool, and a fun Friday night was touch football under the streetlights after dark.

Here's the top ten songs this week 26 years ago.

1. Robert Palmer, "Addicted to Love" - Played to death at the time, both on the radio and in double-super-heavy rotation on MTV, this song has become shorthand for mid-80s pop.  The lyrics can be repetitive, but the grinding guitars and whap-whap-whap of the drums make it imminently enjoyable.  And for a 14-year-old, that video of sleek, barely-dressed women wearing bright red wet lipstick was fascinating on a number of levels.

2. Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls" - We respect the artistry of this song and the lush Yamaha-keyboard mood, but it's rather dour.  And full of too many esoteric lyrics that likely only make sense if you know England.  It hasn't aged very well.

3. Prince and the Revolution, "Kiss" - Hated it then, hate it now.  Our pathetic school bus driver (she once decided not to drive her bus in the ice, but didn't tell anyone that was her plan so all of us kids were stranded in the freezing cold on our bus stop corners) always broadcast from her crap plastic Radio Shack transistor radio some local adult-contemporary station and, we kid you not, they played "Kiss" every single damn morning.

4. Van Halen, "Why Can't This Be Love" - 1984 was one of the first three cassette tapes we ever bought (other two: Huey Lewis and the News, Sports and The Police, Synchronicity - the more you know...).  We wore that thing out, playing it over and over.  While at the time we loved "Jump" now it's very clear to us the best song is "Panama."  So the departure of singer David Lee Roth was a worrisome development in the Cheese Fry's childhood home.  This single was the first one off the new Van Halen album 5150 featuring replacement singer Sammy Hagar.  It sounds like a Van Halen song, but then again it also sounds completely different.  Clearly, they had us with the opening weeee-eeee-ahhh bent guitar chord.
5. The Rolling Stones, "Harlem Shuffle" - We suspect this is rather humiliating for them, don't you think? "Sympathy for the Devil," it ain't.

6. Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done for Me Lately" - Remember when Janet - Ms. Jackson if you're nasty - was a legitimate music force cranking out these kinds of sexy, angry dance songs (unless they were slower, softer, more introspective ballads like "Let's Wait Awhile")?  This was one of several hits from her breakout album - remember when we called them albums? - Control.  It is definitely a time-travel song.  Hear it and you're instantly transported to the rundown 1981 hatchback you rode in during a secret lunch run, crowded full of fellow freshman.

7. Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love of All" - We're not afraid to admit that there are a great many Whitney Houston songs out there that we really like.  This is not one of them.  A textbook example of the kind of sappy, melodramatic cheese danish that was so very popular back before things like SoundScan started keeping track of what people actually liked and bought, not what record stores and music labels pushed on the public.  Gag us.

8. Outfield, "Your Love" - All together now: "Josie's on a vacation far away..."  One of the best pop songs ever recorded.  Seriously.  The end.

9. Phil Collins, "Take Me Home" - Another of the many hit singles from the Phil Collins juggernaut album No Jacket Required (we have a guilty-pleasure soft spot for the brassy "Sussudio").  We always liked the jingle-jangle synthesized background and the chorus has a nice soar to it.  But like so many Collins songs, it overstays its welcome by several minutes before that slow, slow fade-out.

10. The Bangles, "Manic Monday" - It's hard to fathom any 1980s teenage boy in American not having a crush on at least one of the Bangles.  Flirty singer Susanna Hoffs was the popular one, sure but we liked to go against the grain so our favorite was guitarist Vicki Peterson.  This is by far their biggest hit, imminently sing-a-long-able, and very much a child of the 80s, famously written by Prince (see #3 above).  It's sunny and peppy and wry, but we prefer the darker "Hazy Shade of Winter."

P.S. Will our kids think of the Bangles or Robert Palmer the same dusty, distant way we think of the Beatles and Elvis from our parents' generation?  Egad.


"Survivor: One World" odds

Kim, 2:1
Sabrina, 3:1
Chelsea, 4:1
Tarzan, 5:2
Alicia, 10:1
Christina, 20:1


If a jingle falls in the forest

An interesting debate raged at Cheese Fry headquarters regarding the Kelly Ripa commercial for Electrolux washer and dryer:

Do you recognize the music?  Is it important that you do?

It's the theme to the 1964-72 TV series "Bewitched."  The implication seems to be that if you use this product, you'll have the sort of supernatural ability to multi-task household chores that was so common to Elizabeth Montgomery's character on the show.

But who remembers that show?  Or its theme song?

And does it matter?

The key question: to whom is Electrolux selling its product?

One would might assume that it's young adults with small children who might be looking for new washers and dryers.  Kelly Ripa is a youthful 42 with three children, so this makes sense. But would anyone Ripa's age or younger get the "Bewitched" reference?  The Cheese Fry is almost 40.  We watched "Bewitched" in reruns as a kid and has vague memories of it, but it's certainly not filling TV schedules today and winning new fans.  Mrs. Cheese Fry (still comfortably in her 30s) didn't recognize the song until told, then she said she remembered it.  More important to her was the old-school retro mood it conveyed, harkening back to simpler days of nuclear families.

And then we looked at the price.

Those units go for $1600 each.  That could price most 30-something parents right out of the market.

So then maybe this spot really is for the Baby Boomers who know "Bewitched" very well, who have more disposable income, and who know Ripa best from her role in the older-skewing morning show with 70-something Regis Philbin.

What's this all mean?  How should we know?

But someone certainly chose that music for a specific reason.  Often it's very clear to us why recognizable pop-culture song cues are used.  Advertisers like to reference songs that appeal to the target demo, which is why Generation X gets TV spots with Motley Crue selling cars while Baby Boomers get Led Zeppelin selling cars.  They're creating a clear connection with the market, linking the song to the product.  This is opposed to music like in say, iPod spots, that are so obscure that they're more about conveying mood than making a specific pop culture reference.

So we're confused by the "Bewitched" theme because the reference is so specific, so perfectly in tune with the spot's content, yet could well go unrecognized by a good chunk of the viewer.

14 summer movies we want to see

It's already been established that 1984 was the greatest movie summer ever.  But what about 2012?  Here's the movies we're interested in seeing:

1. Prometheus (June 8) - Let everyone else clamor for the new Batman movie.  We're among the contrarians waiting for the new Alien movie.  Yeah yeah, it's not a sequel or a prequel.  Whatever, Ridley Scott.  If you've seen any of the half dozen trailers that 20th Century Fox has been doling out like free crack samples these last few months, then you know this looks like one extremely badass movie, sequel/prequel or not.  How eagerly you want to see it depends on whether the term "space jockey" means anything to you.

2. The Bourne Legacy (August 3) - Some complain that it'll be the same plot only with a different lead character (Jeremy Renner replaces Matt Damon).  To us, that's the only reason to go.  The first three Bourne movies, with their kinetic, loosely-framed, fists-flying, car-racing, psuedo-documetary realism, completely changed for the better how Hollywood envisions action movies (see also: Casino Royale and Taken).  We hope this one is as half as good as those.

3. Dark Shadows (May 11) - This has long been a dream project for Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.  When we'd hear updates about this from time to time, we'd sort of scratch our heads.  Why adapt into film some weirdo 1970s TV soap opera enjoyed by a tiny group of fans?  It'd be like turning Fox's "MANTIS" into a movie in 2022.  Odd.  But this is Johnny Depp and Tim Burton we're talking about here.  They do odd.  And then we saw the trailers with its screwball 1970s fashion and wry fish-out-of-water vibe for Depp's vampire character.  We think we get it now.

4. Rock of Ages (June 15) - We know this isn't an accurate representation of 1980s Sunset Strip's gritty dive clubs (it's not Whiskey-a-Go-Go, it's the Bourbon Room, get it?).  But who needs reality when you get this kind of sleek, bubble-gum gloss?  The Cheese Fry came of age during the height of hair bands, which means we really, really want to like this.  Tom Cruise is singing Bon Jovi, people.  If that doesn't attract the rubberneckers, what will?

5. Battleship (May 18) - We hate the Transformers movies.  And we recognize that this seems like Transformers on the water.  But there's also something Independence Day cool about a war between aliens and the U.S. military, don't you think?  So it could go either way.  But we'd follow director Peter Berg anywhere.  He gave the world the exemplary (aside from the 2nd season, if you what we mean) television show "Friday Night Lights" and for that deserves respect from all of us.  (We're also curious to know if anyone in the movie utters the immortal phrase "You sank my battleship!")

6. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20) - There are those who believe writer-director Christopher Nolan can do no wrong.  We are not among those.  We found both Inception (what a middle-finger of an ending) and The Dark Knight (way, way too much plot for one movie) stylish and cinematic but way overrated.  But there is no denying that Nolan is a master at infusing dumb pop culture archetypes like Batman with complex themes and somber mood.  We want to see this, but we'll do so with our arms crossed.

7. Men in Black 3 (May 25) - One of those sequels that no one really much wanted outside of the Sony accounting office.  Men in Black 2 came out ten years ago, during the second year of George W. Bush's first term.  In entertainment, ten years is an eternity.  Then you hear stories about production problems, how they started shooting without a script, then had to put everything on hold while they worked out the storyline.  These are not good signs.  These point to a train wreck of a movie.  But then we saw Josh Brolin doing a Tommy Lee Jones impression.  They got us.

8. The Avengers (May 4) - This is our homework movie.  We feel an obligation to see it, even if we really don't care.  We're probably more DC than Marvel.  We loved Iron Man, hated Iron Man 2.  We liked Hulk better than most, but never saw The Incredible Hulk.  And with a toddler, Captain America and Thor last summer didn't make the cut like Super 8 and X Men First Class.  While we appreciate that fanboy director Joss Whedon will do a good job and there's no denying the powerhouse cast, there's something unseemly with the way Marvel has so carefully laid the groundwork for this movie starting way back in 2008.  This isn't so much a sequel as an inevitability, it seems.  The Avengers wasn't contingent on how we reacted to Iron Man and its Sam Jackson cameo in the tag.  This movie was going to happen.  In fact, we resent how the first round of stand-alone Avenger movies kind of feel like placeholders, obligatory teasers that existed solely to get us to this superhero-team movie.  We're also dubious of the logistics in cramming in so many big characters.  Too many villains is what killed the pre-reboot Batman and Spiderman franchises.  Could too many heroes kill this one?

9. Safety Not Guaranteed (June 8) - This is our kind of movie: a quirky little independent film with a hip cast of up-and-comers.  You know, the kind that hits big at Sundance and gets a lot of critical acclaim.  The kind that makes you feel oh-so-discerning and sophisticated when you pay money to see it in a half-empty theater.  It has a clever premise - what if the crazy person who claims he's from the future isn't really crazy? - and could be a sleeper hit.  But more than likely it'll come and go in theaters in just a couple of weekends, then get released on DVD in September.  And then one day you'll stumble onto it and really like it and ask your significant other, "Was this in theaters?"  Yes.  Yes, it was.

10. The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3) - 2007's Spiderman 3 sucked.  On that, we can all surely agree.  But the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi team did more good than harm overall.  Spiderman 2 ranks among the best movies ever, not just best among comic book movies.  That crew deserved another shot, a chance to wash the bad taste of Spiderman 3 out of our mouths.  But the budget for their proposed Spiderman 4 got too high, so Sony fired everyone and decided to reboot a franchise that was booted for the first time just ten years ago in 2002.  (What is it with Sony and its obsession with 2002 comic book movies?)  So now we have to sit through another origin story about Spiderman and again learn about "with great power comes great responsibility" and oh, but it's Gwen in this one, not Mary Jane.  Whatever, Peter Parker.  Whatever.  It'll probably be good, but it just seems so tedious going in.

11. Ted (July 13) - We may not watch the show as religiously as some, but we have enormous respect for underrated "Family Guy" which even today hasn't gotten its due thanks to the large shadow cast by the comparatively upscale satire on "The Simpsons."  Seth McFarlane's first feature film Ted is therefore worth a look, especially given the premise of a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear (voiced by McFarlane himself) causing trouble for his owner who's now a grown-up Mark Wahlberg.  Genius.

12. The Chernobyl Diaries (May 25) - The "found footage" phenomenon - in which a fictional horror film pretends that it's all a documentary to better goose the audience into suspending disbelief - fascinates us.  When done well, as in Paranormal Activity, the effect is terrifying in its simplicity because the real scares comes not from what you see but fron what you don't see or what you think you see or what you imagine the characters are seeing just out of the frame.  So we're always curious to see these kinds of movies (in this one, our hapless heroes find scares near the Chernobyl nuclear accident site) to find out how well they succeed.  Please note, however, that we never said we'd see it in theaters.  That'd be too scary.  We'll wait for home video.  
UPDATE: Okay, it looks this isn't a "found footage" movie, though it does seem to have a few sequences filmed from the POV of a video camera.  The Cheese Fry regrets the error.  But the movie still looks scary as hell.

13. GI Joe: Retaliation (June 29) - Look, we have to be honest here.  We have a crush on Adrianne Palicki.  She's in this.  We want to see it.  The end.  Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson are just icing on the cake.  The first GI Joe was good, not great.

14. Savages (July 6) - Oliver Stone hasn't had a slam-dunk mainstream success since probably 1999's Any Given Sunday.  As we all know, his movies tend to be political in story and inflammatory by design.  Admirable and noble, perhaps, but not always able to attract wide audiences.  But Savages would seem to be just what Stone needs, a sweaty, down-and-dirty thriller about Mexican cartels, marijuana growers, and kidnapping plots.  America also gets it's third Taylor Kitsch movie in three months, whether you want them or not.

For the record, we won't be seeing these two movies: another apparent comedic misfire from Adam Sandler called That's My Boy and the completely unnecessary (bordering on sacrilegious) sequel to Total Recall.