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The Angry Czeck
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I have no interests outside of subjecting my will upon others, reveling in your failure and bathing in your shame. I also enjoy Scrabble®.

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    The Fury Files

    Posted on 2 Dec 2011
    In: Uncategorized

    The Conversation That Kills 2

    WIFE: “What time do you want to leave your parent’s house?”

    ME: “I dunno. Five?”

    WIFE:FIVE!?!?

    ME: “Uh, four?”

    WIFE:  “FOUR?!?!

    ME: “…three?”

    WIFE:THREE?!?!?

    ME: “Maybe you should tell me what time we’re leaving.”

    WIFE: “God, I was just asking!”

     

    FINIS

     


    Posted on 3 Oct 2011
    In: Uncategorized

    The 13 Best Horror Movies Ever. (Because I Say So)

    Full disclosure: I hate horror movies.

    From my perspective, horror movies are like really spicy food: I don’t know why people enjoy the pain and suffering. I want to eat a taco and watch a movie without flinching or hollering.

    My wife loves horror movies, and when we first started dating, I told her that I loved horror movies too. (That’s something we call “pillow talk” baby.) But I hate them. Can’t stand them. Mrs. Angry took me to see The Grudge, and I spent the film’s entire run time with my eyes closed.

    That’s not to say that some horror movies are some of my favorite movies.

    How can this be? That’s like saying you hate Shakespeare but like Hamlet. But I speak the truth. I’m drawn to horror movie trailers. The idea of the horror movie is something I find intriguing. How did that guy become a werewolf? What if zombies could run fast? What compels a man to dismember good-looking strangers? These are questions I want answered, but I would rather not see how that answer is derived.

    But like I said, some horror movies are simply too good to dismiss. I made a list of what I consider to be great horror movies. You won’t find highbrow cop-outs like Schindler’s List or Passion of the Christ. I’m talking movies with ghouls and guts in them. Them’s the rules. I also excluded the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man because these movies transcend the genre.

    The Angry Czeck’s 13 best horror movies are presented here in no particular order.

     

    1. The Thing (1982 & 1951). The original The Thing starred Gunsmoke‘s James Arness as the title character, and it featured a no-name cast that delivered crisp and snappy banter like that of a Broadway show. The social commentary was thinly veiled to say the least: The Thing was communism, the scientists were effete pussies who failed to see the danger before them, and the military kicked ass. The classic scene in The Thing (’51) involves a number of men holed up in a room. The increasing frequency of beeps coming from a Geiger counter tracks the monster’s approach. Suddenly, The Thing bursts through the door! One of the best horror movie moments ever. The Thing (’82), directed by the legendary John Carpenter, eschewed the political editorials for weirdness and gore. Stan Winston’s effects still hold up after nearly 30 years. Watching spider-like legs burst out of a severed head is an image that stains the imagination forever. And you can’t beat a two-fisted cast that includes Kieth David, Kurt Russel, Wilfred Brimley and that guy from L.A. Law.
    2. The Exorcist (1973). The desperate pitch of William Friedken’s demon possession film is flawless. Instead of populating the movie with bland and happy characters that you just want to punch, everyone in the movie appears to be wrestling their own demons when they’re not too busy confronting Satan himself. Though the movie is 40 years old, the special effects are still frightening. And quite frankly, it’s an interesting switch to see Catholic priests as heroes rather than sinister and backwards buffoons. Perhaps one reason why The Exorcist works so well as a film is that Friedken chose to follow the source material, William Peter Blatty’s novel, nearly word for word.
    3. The Shining (1980). Stephen King reportedly hated Stanley Kubrick’s handing of The Shining, but then again, Stephen King is kind of a big cornball. Kubrick was able to strip to the essence exactly what makes The Shining scarey. It’s not that the hotel is haunted. It’s that the father – the traditional protector of the family – has been driven psychotically insane. Jack Nicholson waving an axe at his son is far more frightening than a hotel full of spooks, although a good argument can be made for the rotting elderly woman that Nicholson makes-out with. The film also delivers a number of images and quotes that have invaded the public lexicon, including “Heeere’s Johnny!” and the Creepy Sisters (“Come. Play with us. Play with us Danny. Forever. And ever. And ever.“).
    4. The Ring (2002). Blowharding purists will annoy you about the Japanese original, but the American version of The Ring fascinates me. If somebody told you that the villain of the film (Samara) crawls out of a TV to exact her terrible horror, you might have to stifle a chuckle. But on film, it’s positively creepy. Add that to the tense “time is running out” aspect of the plot and the frozen and distorted countenance that Samara’s gaze leaves upon its victims, and you have a something worth purchasing on the popular Blu Ray format (but not VHS!). Sadly, it’s one of the few movie roles that Naomi Watts doesn’t go topless for.
    5. Halloween (1978). Before the Halloween series became a confusing mess of supernatural rubbish, the original Halloween was a tight and well-told slasher from John Carpenter. This movie had just about everything: 70′s music, 70′s breasts, 70′s cars and Donald Pleasence all working in concert to bring us the right mixture of tension, gore and mystery. Yes, this is Jamie Lee Curtis’ film debut, but she’s mostly here to run around in a flannel shirt while occasionally punctuating the evening with her virginal screams. The real star is whoever is wearing the spray-painted William Shatner mask and the minimalist music score generated by Carpenter himself. The artless sequels to Halloween have really diminished the genius of Halloween, but at least they gave Donald Pleasence something to do.
    6. The Fly (1986). Grotesque physical transformation is a favorite David Cronenberg theme, and it’s employed to good fun with The Fly. While the original The Fly (1958) featured an actor wearing an unconvincing housefly mask, the modern version has the already strange-looking Jeff Goldblum slowly transmogrifying into an insect after a teleportation experiment goes awry.  While Goldblum’s physical mutation is scary enough, it’s the grim affects on his brilliant brain that become even scarier as his mind devolves to that of a lower life form. If you like Jeff Goldblum at his quirkiness and Geena Davis at her sexiest, then The Fly is your movie. Just don’t eat a big meal before viewing.
    7. An American Werewolf in London (1981). Often mistaken for a comedy, An American Werewolf in London is actually one of our more tragic and frightening films. The action centers around a young American back-packer named David Kessler, who is attacked by a werewolf and is subsequently cursed to become one himself. The clever twists that writer and director John Landis incorporates into the werewolf’s otherwise predictable legend is what sets AAWIL apart from other werewolf movies. It also helps that effects-master Rick Baker helms the wolf transformations, delivering film’s most memorable animal metamorphoses of all time. Like all good wolfman movies, this one ends with heartbreak, but not before we’re treated to some outrageous gore, nudity, violence and yes, laughs.
    8. The Grudge (2004). Yes! The movie that once compelled me to study the inside of my eyelids for two hours makes the list. While The Grudge will never be confused with classic movie making, it manages to break away from at least one “haunted house” convention. In most haunted house movies, the protagonists are safe beyond the confines of the accursed walls. The Grudge refuses to respect these boundaries, stalking its victims all over Tokyo to enact terrible and undeserved revenge. Because of this, there is no rest for the characters or the viewers, who are subjected to horror at any conceivable moment. The Grudge delivers the usual “jumping around the corner” scares and the obligatory young girl with her hair dangling in her face. (Yawn.) But you’ll shriek with fear when you hear the prolonged death rattle – horror’s most creepy sound effect ever!
    9. Fright Night (1985). Perhaps the most controversial entrant on this list, it can be argued that Fright Night is more a genre comedy or a satire rather than a true horror film. However, there are a number of scares and some spooky make-up in Fright Night that cannot be ignored. Gore and violence bookend the chuckles, and the plot is horror by the numbers, even if it is the comically smarmy Chris Sarandon supplying the spooks. Lead protagonist, William Ragsdale, plays his role in a constant state of hysteria which must have been exhausting for the actor. His over-the-top performance alone is worth the price of admission.
    10. 28 Days Later (2002). The word on zombies is that they are slow, stupid and that they eat brains. Thanks to Danny Boyle, only two-thirds of that is true anymore. (You’ll have to watch the movie to discover which third remains.) Today, a virus that transforms people into swift, zombie-like creatures is nothing new (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead), but Boyle’s rock star entry into the genre was a refreshing revision ten years ago. 28 Days Later explores the unique stresses of living in a post-apocalyptic society with Boyle’s trademark hand-held camera style and a deft use of a rocking musical score that only Boyle can get right. While nobody delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, both Cillian Murphy and Naomi Harris make for an intriguing couple bouncing across England in search of the last remnants of humanity.
    11. The Blair Witch Project (1999). Now that everyone is ripping off the format, The Blair Witch Project has become a bit of a punchline. But it was a phenomena in 1999 that had many people believing it was an actual documentary. Using unknown actors and some innovative guerrilla-style plotting techniques, The Blair Witch Project manages to produce genuine terror without showing us anything. Not one damned thing! Nearly all the horror is implied, only occasionally punctuated by Heather Donahue’s quivering screams or the doomed documentary-makers’ increasing hysteria. The movie’s final scene is fun to reenact at parties or on a dark and stormy evening alone with your wife.
    12. Poltergeist (1982). The credits claim that Poltergeist is directed by Tobe Hooper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Lifeforce fame), but this movie smells like its executive producer, Steven Spielberg. Set in a Spielberg-eque subdivision and featuring a Spielbergish family, Poltergeist employs Spielberg-like special effects and film making to produce a surprisingly emotional movie. Despite the ghostly specters and the things that go bump in the night, Poltergeist is just a story about two parents who want their little girl back. The lump that forms in your throat is doubly amazing considering that it’s  Craig T. Nelson and Jo Beth Williams who’s giving it to you.
    13. The Human Centipede (2009). It’s about a guy who sews three people together – ass to mouth – to create a human centipede. Who thinks of this shit? Tom Six, apparently, who takes a bizarre idea and stretches it to feature film length. Though the final execution of the centipede is a bit anticlimactic, no over-head projection presentation will ever produce more screams than the one seen in The Human Centipede. (Click the link for my full review)

     

    Horrible Mentions

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Vastly entertaining and beautifully art directed, I always considered Francis Ford Coppola’s rendering of Dracula to be more a comic book movie than a horror film. Still, the film is a lot of fun, and I even like Keanu Reeves as Johnathan Harker.

    Lifeforce (1985). I’ve never seen all of Lifeforce. I’ve just screened the first hour. In fact, no one in the world has seen the entire running of Lifeforce. Not even the film’s director, Tobe Hooper. However, if you’re interested in seeing a space girl shaped like Mathilda May walking around naked for an hour, then Lifeforce is the movie for you. It may be the only movie for you.

    Hostel (2005). I enjoyed Hostel as much as any movie listed above. The reason why it’s only a Horrible Mention is because I enjoyed Hostel as much as the movies listed above. There’s something unsettling about watching people get tortured to death for entertainment.

     

    Posted on 20 Sep 2011
    In: Uncategorized

    Arise, Zombie Ziggy

    I am a secret fan of Ziggy.

    One of my very first books was a paperback collection of Ziggy cartoons. The humor was elementary enough for even a child of my limited intelligence to grasp (TV Repair Man: “The tube appears fine, but your cabinet has Dutch Elm disease.”). Ziggy helped me learn to read. He helped me appreciate word play. He introduced me to puns.

    Ziggy was created in 1969 by Tom Wilson (who passed away September 19) and became an ubiquitous fixture on coffee mugs and greeting cards a decade later. Wilson’s minimalist illustration style was basic enough for me to plagiarize, which I often did. The huge nose, the blob feet, the sans pants legs and the enormous circular head were easy to duplicate. Every man was his own Ziggy cartoonist.

    There was a good-natured fatalistic quality to Ziggy that made him endearing. He seemed friendless, was incapable of securing dates, was out-of-shape, short in stature and had extraordinary bad luck with household appliances. His only companions were a smart-ass parrot and his dog, Fuzz, who bore a striking resemblance to his master.

    Through it all, Ziggy pressed on. He didn’t necessarily succeed or persevere, but he did endure. In fact, Ziggy survived even his creator’s retirement in 1987, when Tom Wilson II took over his father’s drafting table and inherited the lucrative Ziggy merchandising empire.

    At the height of his powers, Ziggy competed with Garfield and the Smurfs for cartoon supremacy. Because cat people are numerous and clearly insane, Garfield eventually bested Ziggy in this battle. But while Garfield the comic strip has dipped into insipid storytelling and cornball punchlines, Ziggy‘s silver-lined gloomy outlook has remained consistent and funny.

    It’s difficult to place Ziggy in the same category as The Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes or The Farside. But Ziggy clearly trumps Hagar the Horrible, B.C. and Luann.  We still have Ziggy to kick around, thanks to Tom Wilson’s son. Happily he found Ziggy to be just as easy to draw as I did.



    ***



    Posted on 14 Sep 2011
    In: Uncategorized

    The Love Triangle: Memphis, Little Rock and Me

    My pregnant wife was answering several questions posed by a middle-aged nurse, all health and baby related until the nurse discovered that we had arrived to Little Rock having recently lived in Memphis, Tennessee.

    “Oh, you must love it in Little Rock,” she said, squeezing the bulb on the blood pressure cuff attached to my wife’s arm.

    I shrugged. “Sure. I guess.”

    “It’s so much nicer here.” The nurse ripped off the cuff, creating an explosion of Velcro. “Isn’t it about 60% there?”

    I paused. I knew what she meant, but I wanted to hear it out loud.

    “Sixty percent what?” I asked.

    “You know? Black?”


    *


    The first time I heard the term “Memphrica” was during my year-long stint in Knoxville, a city that’s definitely not 60% black. I was getting my haircut by a young woman who was more attired for the trucking industry than hair care.

    “Where you from?”

    “Memphis.”

    “Memphrica.”

    “Huh?”

    She slid her scissors across my hair. “Memphrica. Because there’s so many blacks.”

    “Ah…” I answered, not sure how to proceed. “Clever.”

    And it was kind of clever, although one would never think to call Knoxville “Engville.” Later, I would learn that “Memphrica” was a commonly used term for Tennessee’s western-most city. I soon gathered that the nickname was less a nod to Memphis’ multi-cultural diversity and more a sneer on its perceived reputation for corruption and crime.

    When these topics are broached (both in Knoxville and in Little Rock), I find myself becoming Memphis’ lone champion. I remind people, thanks to a very misleading HBO documentary, that Little Rock has a reputation for gang violence. I point to the variety of activities that Memphis has to offer, including professional basketball, several fine theaters, a world-class symphony, and a number of excellent art museums. I also mention Memphis’ unique nightlife and its unmatched musical heritage.

    “Memphis is a hole,” I often hear.

    “I leave Memphis before the sun comes down!” several people have told me in all sincerity.

    On several occasions, I have wandered the streets in downtown Memphis deep into the night and survived the experience unmolested. But my personal anecdotes fail to punch the slightest dent into hardened mis-beliefs.

    “I keep a gun in my car when I drive through Memphis!”


    **


    I became a man in Memphis.

    Not in the biblical way, but in all ways nearly as important. For example, my first job in advertising was secured in Memphis. I met and married my wife in Memphis. We had our first child in Memphis. It was in Memphis where we purchased our first house and our first new car. I met Peter Frampton in Memphis. I fostered an appreciation for classical and jazz music in Memphis. I lowered my golf score in Memphis and learned to use chopsticks in Memphis. I experienced my first car wreck in Memphis (my fault).

    Because of this, I fully admit that I view Memphis through rose-colored glass. Your first city is like your first car or your first girlfriend: you remember it being much better than it actually was.

    Still, even stripped of my prejudices, I can defend Memphis with an unblemished conscious. Because there are qualities to Memphis that most surrounding cities sorely lack: character, moxie, grit, verve and sadly, suffering and strife.

    What defines Little Rock? Is it its capitol building, which is an unimaginative 1/4 scale replica our nation’s capitol building? Is it the food? And if so, what is the food, exactly? Is it a sports team? Perhaps you refer to the one shared (unevenly) with Fayetteville.

    Little Rock is known for a Civil Right’s battle for which too many people were on the wrong side and for churning out a surprising number of Presidential candidates. It was also mentioned in that Billy Joel song.

    I’m not trying to diminish Little Rock. I’m merely establishing some perspective. Memphis, despite its failures, has accomplished more as a city. You may debate this among yourselves, not with me.


    ***


    Much in the way I defend Memphis to the people of Little Rock, I have often found myself defending Little Rock to the people of Memphis.

    “Little Rock is a hick town,” I’ve heard it said.

    “What’s there to do in Little Rock?” is a question often posed.

    The city of Little Rock is slowly cultivating a number of cultural center points. The Little Rock Arts Center, for example, is a surprisingly enriching art museum. You can do far worse than an evening at the River Market or the Little Rock Symphony. The local university, UALR, routinely puts a competitive basketball team on the floor. As far as I know, Little Rock is the only city within a 300-mile radius boasting a Presidential museum. The local library system is a secret gem, and the local brewery (Diamond Bear Beer) is a city treasure.

    “I hear that Little Rock is full of gangs.”

    Garbage. A misconception invented by HBO. Like every urban landscape, there exists in Little Rock the chance for gang activity. However, I have yet to see a single gang sign during my five years here.

    However, I have had my lawnmower stolen from my garage. But when I reported the theft to police, I was reunited with my lawnmower within an hour. This type of crime fighting efficiency is non-existent in Memphis.


    ****


    Crime does occur in Memphis.

    I myself have fallen victim to it, whether it was the theft of a rake from my backyard, or the theft of my wallet from my office desk. The fact of the matter is, you cannot leave a car door unlocked or lower your guard in Memphis.

    But then, you should not leave doors unlocked or lower your guard in New York City, either. Yet the perception of Memphis is that it’s a city without law; that gangs of violent hobos rape and pillage once the sun goes down.

    Garbage. Truthfully, there are too many panhandlers prowling the busiest Memphis streets. But a little fortitude and heartlessness will get you to Beale Street unscathed.

    Apart from that, murders and robberies are not uncommon in Memphis, but like most metropolitan areas, it rarely touches the places people actually want to visit. And yet, the fear remains, often as a result of ignorance or “racial unfamiliarity.”*


    * “Racism” is a word that’s bandied about with reckless abandon. You can’t say “You hate Memphis because you’re racist!” because that’s unfair, extreme and probably not true. Except in the case where one non-Memphian friend of mine openly assumed I was moving to Knoxville to, “Get away from all these niggers.” That, I believe, can be safely categorized as “racist.”


    *****


    A couple years ago, a Playtime Pizza place opened in Little Rock. It’s one of those obnoxious rackets that drains your wallet with video games and thin slices of pizza. But I have children, and children lead to inquiries into those types of establishments.

    “We went a few times,” said a friend, “but we don’t go anymore. Too many Canadians.”

    I laughed. “Too many Canadians? What do you mean?”

    My friend flashed a crooked grin. “Canadians. You know? Blacks.”

    If you’re afraid of Canadians, then Memphis is not the city for you. The nurse I mentioned earlier was correct in assuming that Memphis is home to a large percentage of African Americans. This can be intimidating to my white brethren, especially if you’re not accustomed to interacting with people outside your own race or culture. I get that. I sometimes feel nervous around Hog fans and Republicans.

    But then, all cities can’t be Nashville. The rich color of Memphis’ culture is the result of the color of its people. Yes it’s not always tidy and G-rated, but the bricks that comprise Beale Street are as authentic as the music the pours from its windows and doors. There’s nothing organic or farm-fresh about the grease the burgers are dipped into, nor will you be treated to a cover band playing Bush’s greatest hits. Nothing pre-manufactured happens in Memphis, unless you count lunch at Hard Rock Café.

    You might acquire a layer of grit beneath your fingernails when living in Memphis. It’s quite possible that you’ll receive an exclusive peek beneath the poverty line, too. There’s nothing especially pretty about Memphis, but it draws your attention nonetheless. Isn’t it better to be interesting than pretty?


    *******


    Little Rock is pretty, so pretty has a good argument.

    The horizon line is broken by a range of small mountains that resemble a dragon’s spine. The Arkansas River winds through it, and for fairly modest coin, you can live on scenic riverfront property. The Capitol Hotel is a superb place to stay while visiting, and it features an excellent restaurant. Legend has it that General Grant once sipped whiskey at the bar.

    People keep their yards up in Little Rock. Nearly every automobile features at least one Hog’s related piece of flair. Traffic isn’t too bad. Everyone drives with an insurance card in the glove box. The public schools are good and the private schools are affordable. The airport is never crowded and it’s easy to park and find your gate.

    Little Rock residents love Little Rock. I once asked a long-time resident and frequent world traveler to name his favorite city.

    “Little Rock.”

    Exasperated, I prodded, “Other than Little Rock?”

    He shrugged. It was Little Rock or nothing for him. And why not? It had been good to him as it is to most people who live here. Bill Clinton still visits. The Traveler’s now play baseball in a new stadium across the river, but that’s okay. North Little Rock is Little Rock too, in our book. We still have our small zoo and a Civil Rights museum, just like Memphis.

    Me, I’m not sure that I love Little Rock. At least not yet. The relationship is evolving. My children love their school. I’m happily employed. My wife and I have made some good friends. We visit the countryside often, and I walk the urban streets with my guard only partially up. The pulse of the city is relaxed; a resting heartbeat.

    Yes, I think I love Little Rock. Sixty-percent of me does, at least.


    XOXOXO

    Posted on 9 Sep 2011
    In: Uncategorized

    I Was a September 11th Gas Bag

    I was blowharding the morning of September 11, 2001. The first airliner had made its infamous collision, and as we watched on television the black smoke bellowing like storm clouds, I confidently explained to my wife that while it was a rare occurrence, airplanes did, occasionally, crash into high-rise towers.

    “Oh yeah? When?”

    “Around World War 2,” I replied confidently. “An army bomber got lost in the fog and plowed into the Empire State building.”

    My wife examined the images unfolding on the news broadcast. An exasperated  reporter was at the scene, communicating to Matt Lauer. Like me, Matt Lauer wouldn’t shut up. He knew everything. Just like me.

    “I don’t see any fog,” said Mrs. Angry.

    That’s when we saw the second plane hit. Pow. Ka-Boom!  WHOH! Matt Lauer continued to talk. “A SMALL PLANE HAS JUST HIT THE SECOND TOWER!”*

    The reporter at the scene tried to correct him. “It wasn’t a small plane, Matt! It was a huge passenger jet!”

    “We saw it!” corrected Lauer, “It was a small plane!”

    It wasn’t a small plane, of course. But like Matt’s analysis, everything about the morning of 9/11 was conjecture at the time. I still believed it was an accident. As improbable as two passenger jets inadvertantly hitting the World Trade Center was, the idea that it could be deliberate was far more irrational.

    “Maybe the pilot was confused by the smoke,” I suggested, unwilling to surrender my counterfeit credentials as an aviation expert. By the time a third plan dove into the Pentagon and a fourth dropped onto the Pennsylvanian countryside, my fraudulence was exposed. But like everyone else in the Nation, I was about to be truly educated on some of this world’s more terrible truths.




    *Transcribed from memory, which is frequently at fault.