Tag Archives: Humor

A Bollywood Blunder for the Ages

I went to the cinema tonight to watch my second Bollywood film at the theater. It was showing at the beautiful Raj Mandir in Jaipur, a “heritage” theater that simultaneously looked like an old classic opera house and a giant pink birthday cake.

The movie (there’s only one) was Department, a Bollywood take on an action film about a police department fighting crime in the most completely implausible ways.

Bad guys were getting kicked twenty feet through the air, smashing through brick walls, and then conveniently landing on the upturned spikes of a pitchfork. When punched, they would inevitably defy gravity (and physics) and fly into a wooden or glass table with theatrically appropriate (read: poor) structural integrity.

Add to this the hackneyed cliches of the bad guys (toting automatic weapons that fire a jillion rounds per second) who couldn’t hit the ocean if they fired at the waves, and the one-shot-with-a-pistol-while-
flying-through-the-air sharpshooting of the cops, and you have yourself a “drama” completely devoid of it, as the cops are never seriously challenged, and merely respond to every crisis by rolling in and instantly kicking ass, leaving scores of bloodied baddies in their wake.

Not that I’m complaining, however. With Hindi dialogue and no subtitles, I had plenty of attention to spare to watch the incredible atmosphere going on around me. It’s a heck of an experience to be there in the theater with Indian people who let out a raucous cheer any time that:

1) A famous actor makes a cameo (which, in Bollywood movies, is constantly)

2) A woman’s lips/legs/stomach are shown in close up

3) Someone kicks someone else’s ass

4) An actor, during an action scene, performs a death-defying feat like jumping over a moving car or sliding across a floor under a hail of bullets to punch someone in the stomach (and then naturally through a glass table)

As if the horrendous plot and rowdy fans weren’t enough, there are the camera angles. The movie is filmed from a variety of perspectives, designed specifically to prevent you from having any idea of what’s actually going on.

Characters are filmed rom under a glass table (that will inevitably be smashed), from the hand of someone carrying a mug of tea or some important document, from a bird’s eye view, from across a room and through the wine glass held by another character, from a super close up showing only eyes or lips (eliciting a cheer if this is of a female), from far away before a dramatic zoom in, rotation, and then zoom out, all in freeze-frame, punctuate the suspenseful parts, since, as we already know the outcome will be a flawless ass-kicking by the good guys, camera tricks must be employed to fool the audience into enjoying the movie.

My favorite camera angle, though, was the fish-eye lens that filmed a five-minute-long normal conversation between the main character and his girlfriend, and all the while spun around them at high speed, dizzying even the most iron-stomached viewers.

And of course, no Bollywood film would be complete without the ridiculously long song and dance scenes. If you thought these were just for comedies, think again. Even when characters are getting bottles broken over their heads, they still must take time out to shake their booties in a club with impossibly scantily-clad women, men in far too many bright neon colors, and all in the rain because somehow it rains indoors inside a club but only the women get wet. I guess the guys need to stay dry for the post-song ass-kicking session.

This all added up to an incredible movie-going experience. The 60 cent popcorn didn’t hurt, either. One thing is for sure: if a Hollywood director ever tried to make a movie like this, he’d be fired by the studio immediately. Or maybe he’d be chucked through a glass table.

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Secret Food!

I found out something shocking today.  I was poking around the kitchen, looking for something to eat, when I opened a long-forgotten cabinet just above the refrigerator.  It opens from the bottom, upward and outward, so you have to hold it open with one hand (or your head) while fishing for food with the other one.  Really poorly and non-Swedishly designed.  As a result, we don’t use it.

But today, when I opened said cabinet, I saw a plastic bag filled with little individually-wrapped chocolates just sitting up there, calling my name.  I would have snagged one, but there was a little ribbon tied around it to keep it closed, so I figured I’d ask my girlfriend if it was ours.  If it belonged to our roommates, eating them wouldn’t be such a good move.

The answer I got was, “Don’t eat them!”

“Oh, are they not ours?” I asked, curious.

“They’re mine.  You can’t eat them!”

I could hardly believe my ears.  Here she was, stashing chocolate away for months as some kind of secret food project.  After some prodding, though, I found out why.  She said (and this is a totally bogus claim, by the way) that if she put all the chocolates out that she received around Christmas time, that I’d just eat them all, and they wouldn’t last for very long, and she wouldn’t get any.

The problem, she said, was that she’s okay with taking a break, and not eating chocolates every day.  But when I see that she’s stopped eating chocolates, I assume that she’s done with them, so I eat them all.

Now, I won’t disagree with the second statement.  I do love chocolate, and I do like to finish things that aren’t being done.  Example: if there’s a piece of paper on the ground, and no one’s picking it up, I’ll do it.  If the floor is dirty, I’ll mop it.  If someone says “we really should finish that cheese in the fridge,” I’ll finish it.

Likewise, when I see that she is not eating chocolates anymore, I assume that she’s had it.  Then, I take it upon myself to do the laborious duty of finishing all the chocolates in the house, so they don’t take up shelf space.  After all, if she’s not eating chocolates, she must want something else in their place.  She could never change her mind and want chocolate again, could she?

So, the theory that I’d eat all the chocolates if she put them out at the same time  is wrong.  I would, however, if left to my own devices, eat my share in about a week.  So, if after a week, there are still chocolates left, to me, that means they’re leftover, and up for grabs.  I realize that I may play by different rules, but… secret food!  How devious!  (And ok, I’ll admit, I deserve it.)  What are your thoughts on this chocolate-sharing problem?

Ahmadinejad vs. Steinbrenner

Recently, a leaked Wikileaks document revealed that an American diplomat had called Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “The George Steinbrenner of Iran,” referring, of course, to the late owner of the New York Yankees.

This raised quite a ruckus within the Yankees’ front office, and offended new Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner.  Yankees fans were also displeased, since any negative reference to the owner who brought them worldwide fame and five World Series titles in their recent mini-dynasty surely would seem inappropriate.

However, I’m not so sure the two men are so different.  One is an iron-fisted dictator, ruling over his subjects with absolute power, using boatloads of cash to pay off middle men to do his dirty work and assure his success, and using bull-headed defiance of logic and disregard for the common people to remain in unquestionable totalitarian control over every detail of his reign.

And the other is Ahmadinejad.

Russian Mountain Climbing

If somebody says to you, “Take a hike!”, and you’re not a native English speaker, you might wonder why this person, who only recently seemed on the verge of throttling you, is now hoping that you take in the natural landscapes of the countryside on a walking path.  It would seem that his tone of voice and the intended message do not match.

Indeed, idioms are fantastic pieces of language that don’t translate at all, and can make for some rather humorous situations.  Recently, I learned three Spanish idioms, which I’ll share with you now for your viewing pleasure.

1) “Mom!  She’s taking my hair!” – To take someone’s hair (or, tomar el pelo) is the Spanish way of saying “to make fun of someone.”  Being an elementary school teacher, I hear “he was taking my hair” a lot, and I always have to stifle a laugh.  If you think about it though, “making fun of” doesn’t really make sense either.  Isn’t making fun a good thing?  Shouldn’t we make fun all the time?  These are questions that keep me up at night.

2) “I hope they give you the blood sausage!” – This partially creepy, partially out-of-left-field expression came from a Spanish-dubbed version of Fresh Prince, when Will got mad at Carlton.  I looked it up online, and “Que te den la morcilla!” roughly translates to “I wish you’d drop dead” or “Leave me alone.”  In the late 1800s, it was believed that stray dogs spread disease.  Blood sausage (similar to the Scotch/Irish black pudding), was poisoned and then fed to stray dogs to kill them.  This was before the existence of kennels.  It has a grisly origin, and still remains as a saying, although nowadays, morcilla is a delicacy in many parts of Spain.

3) “Let’s ride the Russian mountain together” – Although this may sound like some weird, kinky expression, the Spanish word montaña rusa (literally, Russian mountain) means “roller coaster.”  So, to ask someone to “ride the Russian mountain” is really a family-friendly invitation to ride a roller coaster together.  Why it’s a Russian mountain, I couldn’t tell you.  I do know, however, that saying its English translation to a girl you picked up at the carnival in the States is likely to get you slapped.

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

In Spain, you can never just go to the store to pick up some juice.  Each shopping escapade is likely to be fraught with peril.  And by peril, I mean annoying delays that easily could be avoided.

The most recent trip I took was to Dia, the low end of supermarkets around here.  Think Food City, Fry’s, or I don’t know, something called The Foodway.  I got in the checkout line (of which, of course, there are only two) with a tube of toothpaste and two tomatoes in my hand.  That’s right, no bag, so my small amount of items is clearly visible to all around me.  Of course, who am I behind?  An elderly couple who, bless them, are dragging items up out of their cart as though gravity was literally crushing the items into the ground.

I wait, wait some more, assume that they’d let me go ahead of them since they are going to take at least two or three more minutes to pull all of the items out of the cart, and then, when they predictably don’t, I switch to the other line.  I’m further back now, but this line is full of young people, and it should go quicker.

How wrong I was.  As soon as I got to the new line, the cashier held up an item in her hand and stared over all our heads.  She shouted something like, “Hey, Juan, how much are gluten-free Slim Jims?  They’re not coming up on the register!”  Juan just shrugged his shoulders, so the cashier, using the very obvious best-available option, left the register and walked back into the aisles of the store, searching for the gluten-free Slim Jims.

Now… I understand I’m in a different place with different customs, but where I come from, the cashier does not leave to go do the dirty work.  Juan really should have been the one to go check.  But, as I’ve come to expect, the easy way is rarely taken around here.  The cashier left and came back five minutes later, by which time the old couple from Line Number One were long gone, as were several people who had been behind me.

The Slim Jim problem has now been taken care of, and the person in front of me hands the cashier some money.  Then, the strangest thing happened: the cashier turns to the line, and asks us, “Does anyone have a five?  I need some change.”

Amazingly, one guy behind me hands her a five, she proceeds to give it to the person in front of me, and then she starts scanning my items.  How the guy behind me will get his five back, I have no idea.  But that’s just the way things go around here.  Informality is the rule, and efficiency is tossed out the window.

Five Videos for Valentine’s Day

I can’t imagine a more polarizing day than Valentine’s Day – on one hand, you’ve got the day of love, roses, hearts, and romance.  On the other, the aptly named SAD: Singles Awareness Day.  Instead of writing a “How to Survive” column or anything like that, I’ll leave it to those who say it far better than I ever could.  Some happy, some rip-snortingly hilarious, here are five of my favorite Valentine’s Day videos.

1) Ah, L’Amour: This one’s for all the cynical high schoolers (and let’s face it, the cynical human) out there wearing black.  Also, for anyone with a sense of humor.  Quite possibly the best video ever made.

2) This ad goes out to all the sappy romantics in the audience.  Really, though, it’s quite clever:

3) I love this one.  Leave it to the Simpsons to outwit everyone else.  “And there’s a picture of a train.”

4) Take this informational how-to video.  The impersonal narration is perfect. Anyone ever use these?

5) For anyone who has half an hour to spare, this is a classic for old time’s sake, in three parts:    

Dear Mr. Dog Crap Man

Dear Mr. Dog Crap Man,

We are not acquainted, but I walk past your dog’s pile of crap every day on my walk to school.  Without fail, you conveniently place your dog’s load on the corner of the T intersection, so it’s visible from all three directions.  For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

No one likes to be surprised by a hidden pile of dog crap.  It would result in, at best, an awkward, off-balance hop over or around the dog crap, creating disastrous potential for a torn knee ligament or a sprained ankle, and at worst, a smushed pile of dog crap attached to the bottom of the shoe, and possibly creeping up the sides in the case of a sandal.  The placement on the corner is really, then, the ideal spot for your dog’s crap to sit, fermenting in the midday sun, its stench wafting up the air currents into my third floor window.

I’ve noticed, however, that the situation has changed.  For the past three days, your pile of dog crap has moved from its generously conspicuous location on the corner to a far more inconveniently inconspicuous location: namely, my doorstep.  This has presented several unsightly (nay, unseemly) problems.

Firstly, the new location of your dog’s pile of crap makes it exceedingly difficult to, say, walk out the door, which I generally do each morning on my way to work. I have considered building a zip line from my window to the street in order to get from inside to outside, but think that it would cause too much of a neighborhood disturbance.  I have also considered leaving a note on a flag, sticking out of your dog’s crap, requesting you to remove said crap from said doorstep.  However, in the manner of not wishing for disturbances, I have declined to do so.  After all, I would not deign to begrudge your dog the ample space for its crap that it so requires.

Secondly, the pile of dog crap originally lasted for only one day before it became a smushed pile of dog crap, when some unwitting building tenant probably forgot to look down as he stepped outside.  Now, as any budding amateur physicist can tell you, an object’s dimensions will change if force is applied to said object.  So, your pile of dog crap, once flattened, decreased in height but increased in surface area.  This has likewise decreased the amount of un-dog-crapped sidewalk available for stepping-on.  Ergo, the process of walking out my door has transmogrified into the as-mentioned-before unenviable task of awkward hopping at the risk of personal injury to the lower leg or foot.

Thirdly, the corner, which I must agree (oh yes, I must) is the absolute ideal location for your dog’s crap to reside, sits only about thirty feet (roughly ten meters) from my doorstep.  Would it be too much of an imposition to request that you walk your dog all the way to the corner before letting it expel its fecal matter, or “drop its load” as the youth of today are wont to say?

I realize, good sir, that bending over and covering your hand with a plastic bag is an act so repugnant, so preposterous as to render one’s reputation utterly and irrevocably repudiated.  It is also likely that you have never heard of the wünder-product, the Shapoopie. Understanding both of these statements to be true, I respectfully request that your dog move its giant pile of crap back to its original location on the corner, for the safety of myself, my fellow building tenants, and the lower limbs of everyone in the vicinity.

Or, you could freakin’ pick up your dog’s crap just like everyone else.  Jackass.

Respectfully yours,

~Concerned (and really only slightly peeved) Citizen, Third Floor

If You Give a 7-Year-Old a Balloon…

Picture yourself in a small room, say about 20 feet by 30 feet.  This room is made of concrete and has terrible acoustics.  At each of the four tables is a pile of cut up newspaper strips.  Now, add 24 seven-year-olds.  Give each seven-year-old a paintbrush, a bowl of watery glue, and an inflated balloon.  Go.

This is how I spent my week.  It feels like I was in most people’s personal version of Armageddon for four days.  It ended up being only about two hours, but boy did those hours crawl by.  The decibel level pushed 100.  The stay-in-your-seat level was in a constant state of flux, hovering between nearly half and nearly 33% throughout.  The glue-on-table-or-floor to glue-on-balloon ratio was nearly 3 to 1, and if not for a herculean effort on my part to wrest control of certain children’s paintbrushes and apply the watery glue for them, would have climbed all the way to 4.5 to 1.  And of course, the balloon-used-as-art-project to balloon-used-as-weapon-to-batter-my-friend-across-the-face ratio was approximately 1 to 12.

Multiple times during the class, a beleaguered second-grader would toddle up to me, hold up a slobbery, wet balloon, and say, “Puedes inflar mi globo?” (Can you inflate my balloon?), a statement which high school kids would be certain to make into a double entendre.  I’d take one look at the puppy-dog eyes, start to bend down, and then notice once again the mouthpiece of the balloon, which looked like the kid had fed it to an alpaca.  Thinking quickly, I’d grab some other kid’s paint brush and say, “Estoy ocupado ahora, pregunta a él” (I’m busy right now, ask that kid) and point to a student happily flinging glue all over anywhere but his balloon.

The idea is that eventually, when the glue and newspaper strips harden around the balloon, we’ll pop the balloon and have a mask.  You can just imagine how that will go.  At that point, we’ll replace the watery glue with watery paint, and the process will roll on.

Now ask yourself: have you ever seen a friend who’s a teacher, or your student’s teacher, out on the town after knocking back a few?  Have you thought to yourself, “I don’t know about that person teaching my child.”  If so, please refer to the above story, and have a heart.

Cram It In The Boot!

Last night, millions of American families gathered around the television with plates full of fried, greasy snacks to watch the annual American rite that captivates a nation: the Super Bowl Ads.

Major companies, striving for mass consumption of their products, show off the work of their best and brightest ad whizzes, who no doubt have been working for months to prepare the best, most captivating, most relevant ad likely to capture our hearts, our sense of humor, and of course, our money.  After all, at $3 million for a 30-second spot, it had better pay off.

That being said, here are my votes for Top 5 and Bottom 5 Ads during the Super Bowl:

Top Five Super Bowl Ads From 2011

1) Chrysler, featuring Eminem: This seemingly movie-length commercial (in fact two minutes long) actually held my attention for its entirety.  The slow-motion montage of all things beautifully Detroit, set to the catchy rhythm of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, had a truly grassroots feel.  It spoke to the zeitgeist, and overtly claimed pride in our rebounding nation.  The tag line, “Imported from Detroit”, clearly sets Detroit apart from the rest of the nation, but in a positive light, while taking the newspapers to task for not understanding what it’s like to be from the Motor City.  It was an emphatic statement to the rest of the nation: Detroit is back.  (The truth of which remains to be seen.)

2) Volkswagen Darth Vader Kid: This was adorable.  Everyone either has known or has been that kid – trying fervently to use some kind of super power to crush a teddy bear, to run the washing machine, god, to do something! A humorous touch on the innocence of youth.  The only problem was that the feature advertised (a remote-starter) has been around for years.

3) Mini Cram it in the Boot: Who didn’t laugh at this one?  An energetic, slightly ridiculous Brit slyly asking, “Have you ever crammed it in the boot before?”, with the contestant’s stunningly appropriate answer, “Uh…” (that we ALL were thinking).  Yes, weird double-entendres might turn off some people, as might the sparkly game show atmosphere, but the commercial was fast-paced and slightly irreverent enough to keep me laughing the whole time at the ridiculousness of it.  And think about it: if a guy with an American accent asked if you’d ever “crammed it in the boot,” he’d seem like a giant tool of a frat boy.  But because the host had a British accent, it became funny.

4) Career Builder Chimps: On this one, the casting was perfect.  First of all, who doesn’t like monkeys?  Secondly, who doesn’t like monkeys in business suits carrying briefcases?  Most importantly, though, the guy in the car has this outstanding delivery, a clever mix of “Oh, come on!” and “Okay, seriously?” that you can’t help but laugh.

5) Cars.com Learning From Others: Amid the plethora of fantastic ads from Cars.com and CarMax, this one stands out.  Sure, there are only three examples, as opposed to the seven examples in the cute CarMax I Feel Like ad, but the cowboy’s blunt delivery in the third example won it for me.  Plain, dry humor always wins out, especially when Bud and Pepsi play ads of people getting hit in the crotch.  Seriously, guys?  That’s the best you can do?  Rip off America’s Funniest Home Videos?

Just missing the cut: the Bridgestone Reply All ad, and the Coca Cola Border Guard ad, a cute but not-as-good version of the classic Truck Stop Diner ad.

Bottom Five Super Bowl Ads From 2011

1) HomeAway.com Test Baby: I can just picture the conference room for HomeAway.com.  “Okay, boss, so it’s gonna be a baby smeared against a window.”  Who thinks that’s a good idea?  Have studies shown that baby violence increases customer sales?  Do people prefer companies that think it’s funny to beat up babies?  Who is in charge here!?

2) Brisk Eminem: Unfortunately, the juvenile theme of this Eminem ad pales in comparison to the power of the Detroit one above.  It’s tacky, irreverent, and just plain uninteresting.  The whole “That’s why I don’t do commercials!” is clever in theory, since he clearly is doing a commercial, but really isn’t funny.

3) Doritos Finger Licking: This one’s just creepy.  Why would I buy Doritos if it made other people run up to me and stick my fingers in their mouth?

4) Pepsi Zero Calories: There were tons of poorly-executed slapstick commercials from Bud and Pepsi, but this one is the worst.  I know, I know, some of the others feature people getting hit in the crotch, and others look like they were made in the backyard of a frat house.  But this one has the distinction of playing up the gender stereotypes of man-can’t-help-hitting-on-hot-girl-even-in-front-of-wife and wife-is-a-nagging-control-freak.  This, by the way, while carefully and representatively showing a black man hit on a white girl.  Because we don’t want to stereotype, now, do we?

5) Groupon Tibet: What was Groupon thinking?  Way to marginalize an entire culture.  But hey, I saved a few bucks!

It seems like the commercials get worse every year, but at least there are some companies who still know how to put out a good ad.  What were your favorites?

The Umlaut That Ate Manhattan, and Other Stories

Imagine you’re in a board meeting at an advertising firm, trying to decide just how to give your product that extra spark, that extra shine, that extra feeling of being just-ever-so-superior to your competition.  Should you give it some wavy silver lines?  How about a thin, French script font?  Well, more simply, you could just add an umlaut.

Forever the bütt of American jökes, the umlaut is in fact a type of diacritical mark more or less equivalent to the accents on résumé or café.  Strange as accents and umlauts (umlauten?) may seem to English speakers, English is actually the oddball language that doesn’t use many diacritical marks at all, while most other European languages do.  The handful of marks we are accustomed to are used in words like the ones above, foreign words that have been assimilated into English and have now been rendered accent-less, in the forms of “resume” and “cafe.”

English actually does have an umlaut in a fairly common word.  Not one that’s used every day, but one for which there really is no synonym, making its presence in our language strong.  Naïve.  Sure, it can be un-umlauted and seen as “naive,” but that doesn’t clarify the pronunciation, which could then be “nayve” or “nyve.”  And the closest synonym, “ignorant,” while similar, doesn’t mean the same as naïve in every case.

Strangely enough, the word “umlaut” doesn’t contain an umlaut.  Kind of like how “abbreviation” is such a long word.  Personally, I think it would look better if it were spelled “ümläüt.”  Now that is a more fitting name.

And what of that, anyway?  It looks föreign, and that gives it a feeling of süperiority, cläss, fünctiön, some kind of German- or Scandinavian-ness that makes us feel that an ümlauted pröduct is in some way süperior to an ün-ümlauted öne.

Take, for example, Häagen-Dazs ice cream.  Mmm, delicious Scandinavian ice cream made by färmers wearing lëdërhösen, süspënders, and eating only brätwürst.  It cönjures up images of green fiëlds, möuntain streams, and stränge languages.  Türns out, Häagen-Dazs is from the Bronx.  That’s right.  The Bronx.  Home of the New York Yankees, one of the most American symbols in the entire wörld.  Clever marketing ploy, and I bet it fooled you up until this very moment.

What is it about the umlaut that makes it feel more real, more authentic, more… better? It’s that same mysterious je ne sais quoi that attracts us unreasonably to homely women or men with foreign accents, foreign films whose plots and characters would be boring were the story in English, and Björk.

You can’t tell me that Björk, swan dress and all, would be famous if her name was Ruth Stevens.  Likewise, a Finnish-born basketball player enjoyed some fleeting fame in the late-90s with the Utah Utes, and then briefly in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks.  He is none other than the superbly triple-umlauted Hanno Möttölä. His track record (two seasons, 4 points per game) doesn’t suggest fame in the least, but the umlauts, of course, do.

I’ll leave you with a few more examples, changed from their original English to an incorrectly-umlauted version.  Look how mysterious and interesting they sound:

Pönd Scüm.  Dëntal Flöss.  Rööt Canäl.  Adültery.  Äirlïne Fööd.

Tell me that’s not interesting.  I dare you.