Objective: fix the sprinkler system!

Problem: no idea what I’m doing!

Main thorny issue: the reason the sprinkler system doesn’t come on seems to be a pipe labeled “sprinkler” with a valve that’s closed. I know, I know - I’m on to something here, if I just think. What might the solution be? But the handle doesn’t turn. At all. Inside the valve I see a strange brass thing with threads inside, and wonder if this requires some special tool. After all, I used to have a guy come by and blow the pipes out at the end of the year and start it up again, until I realized “he’s just turning things on and off. Can’t I do that?” So I didn’t call him this year.

It rained a lot. No sprinkler needed! Then it stopped raining. Lawn browns. New grass falters. So I investigate the sprinkler system, and that’s where the fun begins. I take a picture of this strange little brass thing, and go to the hardware store. Talk to Paul, who’s been putting up with my amateur half-arsed home-repair schtick for years. He peers at the picture, gets out some other valves, and shows how all valves have these.

“Maybe it’s stuck,” he says. Gah. My wife will kill me. I was supposed to come back with a solution.

I leave. As I’m standing outside waiting to cross the street, the Giant Swede pulls up in a silver convertible.

“Obi Wan,” I say. “You’re my only hope.”

“What do you mean,” he says.

“My wife is going to kill me.”

As a married man, he takes this for granted, and is simply amused to learn the cause. Later he comes over, and tests the balky valve. It does not move. Hmm. We stand back, consider our options, and then he tries again. Not the Giant Swede for nothing: BRUTE FORCE moves the valve, and the water flows! I turn on the system, and run outside to see if there’s water sprinkling.

There is a gurgle from a hole in the lawn, which brings to mind Jed Clampett shootin’ for some food, and up from the ground comes the bubblin’ crude. Black gold. Texas tea. Except it’s water. Busted head. Well, try the next zone. Huzzah: the sprinklers pop up. All is well. Success! We sit down and have cigars and chat for an hour. When he leaves he goes by the side gate, and that’s when something else comes to our attention: two enormous spouts of water shooting out of a pipe on the side of the house.

Huh. Well. A valve is found; the water cuts off. He leaves. Thanks!

Then I notice that the sprinklers don’t work. So, research: turn on the valves, water shoots out, sprinkler works. Turn off the valves, sprinkler doesn’t.


Except. I see slots in the pipes, and think they might be amenable to a screwdriver; I turn them until the water stops fountaining out, and the sprinklers still work.

I fixed something! Me! On my own! With a tool!

The day is a complete and total success, and now it’s 3 PM so I gather daughter for the annual summer Pixar movie.

When the lights went up on “Brave” the mom turned to the little boy sitting next to me, and asked him if he liked it.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. I knew what he meant: there wasn’t anything in there for me, Mom. Of all the guys there was only one that wasn’t the butt of a joke, and he didn’t get to be the hero in the end, and he was also kinda stupid.

When I sat down with my daughter for supper at the California Pizza Kitchen, where I had tacos, I asked her if she liked it.

“Yeah,” she said. “But it kinda didn’t feel like a Pixar movie.” I knew what she meant, and I couldn’t quite say why. It was exquisitely animated, and there was a moment or two when I forced myself out of the experience just to imagine the huge server farms, with row upon row of computers, fans whirring madly to cool the room as the vast array conjured up the heroine’s marvelous hair.

When the narration started, I was listening, but when it was over, I had no idea what she’d just said. It was that generic. But it was incredible to behold, and the moment it got going I enjoyed the characters, especially the King. Ah! A big strong father, a man of cheer and bravery and love, a good King. More about him in a bit. The relationship between mother and daughter struck home; I am beginning to see some of those mannerism in my own daughter

When the three clans arrived for the betrothal competition, it got loopy and loose and broad and physical, and very funny; every time I looked at the stumpy two-toothed fellow with three chins and that addled glare, I laughed.

The sense of place was indistinct. I can draw Gaston’s. I can lay out Radiator Springs in my mind. Everyone can imagine Andy’s house, and Sid’s next door. The Scare Factory, the lobby of the Monsters Inc company, its hallways. You always felt as these were fully-rendered worlds, and behind that door was something. The castle never felt like a place beyond the sets we saw.

The idea of the circle of plinths as some sort of gateway only arose when they went to the ruined castle; the first time the characters went from the circle to the Dark Forest, you just thought they were continuing on through Regular Forest. (The Dark Forest itself wasn’t particularly foreboding, either.) When they used the circle to get to the ruined castle, we spend just enough time there to realize that the witch, who apparently has a thing about bears, hands out bear-spells to everyone who has some literal manifestation of a family argument back at the castle, and this relates to an old story about four brothers who split the kingdom, which is not the kingdom we’re in now, although it may be the same land, with three different clans taking the place of the three brothers who - oh, never mind.

The witch - that’s the moment when the film tilts, and your expectations start to fall away. Which would be good . . . if they went someplace better than where you thought it might go. (When I saw the witch, I thought hey, it’s Carl Frederickson’s sister.) I felt my interest slightly deflate; I was no longer running alongside the movie, but tagging along.

The rebellious teen / controlling mother dynamic can be described as an archetype; it can also be described as a cliche. I bought it, but the reconciliation at the end happened because the movie said it was happening. The idea of people abandoning tradition - in the 10th century! - because people should really follow their hearts was an easy path out of the set-up, and I wanted a solution that didn’t require self-congratulatory anachronisms grafted on a historical period.

Can we stop pretending there’s something, well, brave about making a movie about a princess who doesn’t want to be a princess? You’d think that “little girls should grow up to be dependent baubles” was the dominant social message of our times, and movies that suggested otherwise were bizarre outliers of some fringe cultural belief.

There was no reason the end battle couldn’t have involved the father. It made no sense that he watched. To make the struggle between parents and the threat, instead of Brave Matriarch against the threat while useless Father stands by open-mouthed, is tiresome. Because we can’t have strong female characters if we don’t have weak male characters.

Thought there’d be a bit more archery as a plot device towards the end. Something about all the archery in the first part may have planted that expectation, particularly when it was a metaphor for the character’s desire to shoot far beyond the narrow room she thought her mother had planned for her.

What would I have done different? The spell kills her mother. Merida flees in horror and self-denial, blaming the witch; goes to the magic circle, is lead to the ruined castle, which appears to be restored; falls in love with the charismatic king who rules alone from the mountaintop; he is revealed to be evil, and her attempts to escape coincide with the three clans banding together again to storm the castle and save her. She rescues herself, realizes her mother wasn’t dead, lesson learned, and so on. As for archery to tie it up? Father is wounded during battle with the evil lord, but tosses to his daughter the one thing he brought up to the fight that reminded him of her, the bow and arrow she left behind in her room. He throws it to her and she puts an arrow straight through the bad guy’s heart.

There. I think everyone’s respected and empowered.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked it all. I thought it was very good over all, brilliant in spots, and infuriating in others - but that’s mostly in retrospect. You can always say “I wish it had been this” later, but when if you buy it when it’s happening, then it works.

I also think I liked “Tangled” better.

On the opposite side of the genre there’s a 1990s Joel-Silver produced action film, which I watched because I was too tired to think. “Executive Decision.” Oliver Platt and Steven Seagal, together at last! It’s quite an original idea, which is why people kept saying things like “Let’s do ‘Executive Decision’ on a boat,” or “Let’s do ‘Executive Decision’ on a train.” (Eventually they did “Executive Decision” in an office tower, and called it “Die Hard.”) Kurt Russell plays Alec Baldwin, the hero from “Hunt For Red October,” and does a credible job of a man who is wearing a tux while he crouches in the bowels of a 747 and whispers instructions to a SpecOps team (please don’t tell me you think I was serious about that “Die Hard” line) so they can take down the terrorists. It’s quite the period piece:

Military = good! Straight-ahead, competent, grim, all duty.

Islamic terrorists = bad! I know, I know - a different age, a lesser time, benighted by prejudice; the idea of a mastermind terrorist who wants to use an airplane to spread chemical weapons and kill a lot of people and quotes the Quran is one of those preposterous cliches that makes you wonder what nonsense was floating around the culture of the 90s. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed, and they wrote in a speech about how such things were perversions of the Quran, and added it in post-production - you can tell, because the person who makes the speech isn’t shown, and the camera holds on the Mastermind, who shoots the apostate, I think. There’s also a suicide bomber at the start who takes out a London cafe with an explosives vest.

Hollywood! Where do they get this stuff?


No updates today! There's a reason - which will be explained tomorrow. See you around.







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