The Life Aquatic with Jack Holwerda


I mentioned recently that bathtime at our house comes with its own set of challenges, something that I really should take the chance to remind myself of as often as possible.  In the comments section of that entry, my friend Will came up with a solution that I've been using with some success on nights when Courtney is gone at work.

Tonight, well... Tonight I decided to mix it up a little bit and see if Blake could be trusted both to get himself clean and not to soak the entire bathroom in the process.  That part of the gamble paid off.  I bathed the little two first, dried them, got Jack into jammies, and was helping Ava into hers when...

Blake's voice: "Daddy!"

And then I saw this.  You can see that his hair is still wet and neatly combed from when I took him out of the bath about five minutes earlier.

I don't know who's the slower learner, me or him, because five minutes after that, when I was combing Ava's hair, and Blake had finished in the tub and drained it, I heard another sound.  This time, since the water was gone, it was more of a THUNK than a SPLASH.  Yep, headfirst into the empty tub.  Clearly, he's going to be the thinker of my brood.

Yellow Peril


I'm kind of feeling like I've failed in my fatherly duties, since Blake clearly does not know to avoid the yellow snow.  In my defense, there's only snow on the ground a few days each year in Lubbock.


Everything you know about Santa is wrong


I had another blog post lined up for today, but then Ava dropped this one on me, and sometimes you've just got to go with what life gives you.

Context: there really is no context, just that Ava was carrying on and on about Santa, and then told me something that I honestly did not know before... Click Play to hear the conversation (or just scroll down for the transcript if you are multimedia challenged):

Danny: Ava, say that again...
Ava: Santa has a vagina!
Danny: What does Santa not have?
Ava: Um, not have a penises.
Both: *Laughter*

Monday wrap-up


Blake's cast came off today.  He's glad to have it off, but is still really protective of the arm.  We played Beyblade together for a while before his bedtime.  He gloated over every victory, and blamed every loss on the arm.  (SIDENOTE TO DADS:  Beyblade is actually a really awesome toy that you will enjoy playing with your children.  Seriously!  If you have boys who you are uncertain what to get for Christmas, get them some Beyblade.  The cartoon is awful, so you can continue hating that.)

Jack is unable to reach light switches to turn the lights off all at once, so instead he prefers to kill the light in his parents' eyes a little bit at a time by pulling everything off of tables and shelves and destroying it.  We have maybe a quarter of our Christmas decorations out this year, and no ornaments on the bottom section of the tree, because he is at that delightful "JACKIE SMASH" stage of toddlerhood.

Courtney is working tonight, so after dinner I was rounding up the kids for their baths.  Jack had to have a little pre-bath wipedown of some things, and Ava decided she was unhappy with me about something.  When I went into the backyard to throw away Jack's diaper in the trash can out there, she Fred Flintstoned me and locked the door.  Blake came to my aid a few minutes later.  Ava is getting coal in her stocking this year.

Fake Santas and Real Victories


Although Lubbock doesn't get buried in snow like other parts of the country, it's still cold enough outside that going to the park on the weekends isn't always an option.  Unfortunately, on days when Courtney is sleeping before or after a night shift, that's always one of my standby places to take the kids so they can be out of the house for a while.  That doesn't always end well. Last weekend, I bought a year of membership to the Science Spectrum, a kid's science museum which seems to be one of the few places that my kids don't get bored with going to.

Today was the museum's Christmas event, and since Courtney is working tonight I took the kids.  The main goal of this outing?  Seeing Santa (and getting that out of the way, Daddy thought).  We got there and headed straight for Claus Corner, where we stopped.

Blake: "Daddy.  What's with this guy?"
Me:  "What do you mean?  It's Santa, right?"
Blake:  "Santa wears red, not a black coat and jeans.  Santa's hat isn't a cowboy hat.  Santa has reindeer, not a horse."
Me:  "Man, I dunno.  Just take your sister and brother over there so I can get a picture."
Blake:  "OK, but I'm hanging on to my letter to Santa until we go see a real one."

Luckily, other activities, such as decorating and eating gingerbread men, were better received.

Jack looks like he's upset here, but he's actually just in the middle of a really enthusiastic "Cheese!"  This is his photo face lately, which I kind of love.

After we got home, Blake was really eager to put ornaments on the tree, since we just got it put up last night.  This is where I have to give you a history of our two separate sets of ornaments.  There's the lovely set of colored glass balls that Courtney bought our first Christmas as newlyweds, and there's the box full of my childhood ornaments which I've never been allowed to hang on the tree because they don't fit her vision.  Blake and I hung all of hers, and then he asked if there were more.  Opportunity!

"Well, there's one of mine that was my very favorite when I was growing up, but we can't put it on the tree."
"Why not?"
"Remember in Rudolph when he goes to the Island of Misfit Toys, the ones that nobody wants?"
"Mommy wants to send my favorite ornament to the Island of Misfit Toys, just because it's old and not fancy."
"<gasp> Mommy!!!"

And that's how my favorite childhood ornament ended up on our Christmas tree.

Wish upon a star


There are two things that I never intended to do when I started a blog.  First, I never wanted a week to pass between entries.  Second, I never wanted to be the dude who opens a new entry by apologizing for the length of time since the last one.  And yet, here we are...

Blake, who has been my most reliable source of material ever since he came along, is on very, very thin ice at the moment.  I may write more about that once we get through the other side of some things, but right now he is awfully close to making me play the Grinch and take away his Christmas.

Poor sweet Ava has been sick this week with croup, but in one of those examples of life providing unexpected joys, this led to one of the sweetest moments of fatherhood so far.  One of the symptoms of croup is a horrible, barking cough, and one of the treatments recommended is exposure to cold night air.  Seriously!  So when Ava woke in tears at around 11 last night, I decided to let her breathe some night air into those tiny lungs.  We laughed together as I rolled her inside of two blankets like a little burrito, with only her face showing.  Then I picked her up and carried her to the porch with me.

Stepping outside was something I really needed.  The temperature was in the 30s, and something about the cold, crisp, clean air really made my mind peaceful.  We sat there together, Ava in my arms, bundled tightly, and just enjoyed the silence for a few moments before she started asking me about the stars.  It's been over twenty years since I took astronomy merit badge, but somehow I remembered each of the stars and constellations she asked me about.  Each time I answered, she rewarded me with one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen.  I know that every daddy is biased, and believes that his daughter is the prettiest girl in the world, but each time she smiled and said my name my heart would skip a beat.  And instead of the prettiest girl laughing at you for being a nerd, she loves you for being her daddy, and thinks you're the smartest guy in the world.

Here's the part that I know will sound like I'm making it up just to give the story a good finish, but I promise this did happen.  As I looked up from her porcelain face for a moment to answer her question about a broadcast tower's lights, we both saw a shooting star arc across the sky.

"Make a wish, daddy!"

I've already got it.

Fox, Goose, Grain


Let us examine two logic puzzles.  The first is a classic puzzle known as Fox, Goose, Grain.
SCENARIO: A farmer is traveling with a fox, a goose, and a sack of grain.  He approaches a river which he must cross.

  1. If the goose is left alone with the grain, the grain will be eaten.
  2. If the fox is left alone with the goose, the goose will be eaten.
  3. The boat has room for the farmer and one other item, nothing more.
PUZZLE:  How does the farmer transport himself and all of his belongings across the river without anything being eaten?
SOLUTION:  Can be found at the link above.  (HINT - the farmer can also be by himself in the boat)

Once you've got it worked out, here's a tougher one.
SCENARIO:  Danny's wife works nights, meaning that he must bathe the couple's three darling children by himself.

  1. The tub is big enough for two darling children, no more.
  2. For the duration of bath time, Danny is essentially stuck in the bathroom, as CPS looks suspiciously on bathtub drownings.
  3. If Blake is left alone with either of the other two darling children, he will torment them into tears.
  4. If Ava is left alone in the tub, she will play "Mermaid," which is a game where she puts her face in the water and kicks both of her legs together as though they are one great fin, splashing water everywhere.
  5. If Jack is put in his room (right next door to the bathroom) with the baby gate in front of the door, he will scream loudly and without cease until you yearn for deafness.
  6. If Jack is left to roam free, he will grab any loose item he can find and stash it in his little hidey-hole in the linen closet.  Please see the picture below, which is all the items I pulled out of there this morning.
    Not pictured - Ava's shoes, which I searched for this morning for over 30 minutes

PUZZLE:  How does Danny bathe all three darling children without going deaf, getting soaked, drying tears, or frantically searching for items of clothing that the darling children can't leave the house without?
SOLUTION:  Dude, I don't know...

What I Like About You, Rebecca Pidgeon


This is the first installment in what will be an occasional series called "What I Like About You."  The point of What I Like About You is to examine something that I do not like and find that one good thing about it.

Today I went and saw the movie RED with my dad.  I'd heard mixed reviews, but we both really enjoyed it!  Imagine a Bourne movie with a lot more humor and more sympathetic adversaries.  Great action sequences, good character interplay, clever script, and injected right into the middle of it all... Rebecca Pidgeon.

Rebecca Goddamn Pidgeon.  Rebecca who delivers every line in the same clipped, precise manner regardless of whether she's playing a romantic interest or a CIA boss Pidgeon.

But then I realized what I like about movies with Rebecca Pidgeon in them.  As soon as she shows up onscreen, you know that what you are watching at that moment will be the worst part of the movie, and that every other scene will be better.  Thank you, Rebecca Pidgeon!

This Has Been a Test


As you might have guessed when I was running my Project Horror series, I really enjoy movies.  I don't get to watch as many as I did back when I was a childless bachelor, but that's probably for the best - it's good to leave the darkened room every now and then, right?  Whenever I'm asked what my favorite movies are, after listing off two or three of my all-time tops, I usually add, "But really I just enjoy any movie that can show me something new."

I can forgive a lot if you can just put something different on the screen.  I know people who will beg to differ (wassup, Scott?), but I think that Kevin Smith is just a terrible writer.  I still like Dogma, though, because it's a really interesting premise.  The low budget effects in the first Evil Dead and Dead Alive don't take away from the fact that they're still really great and fun horror movies.  Harrison Ford, star of Blade Runner (my very favorite movie) hates that movie, and calls it "a detective movie in which no actual detective work happens."  I don't agree with him, but even if I did I wouldn't care, because I don't think that anybody has ever presented a more breathtaking and believable look at a futuristic dystopia than Ridley Scott did in that film.

I was thinking of my "just show me something new" rule earlier this week while I watched a movie that I'd been kind of interested in, The Box.  You may remember the commercials from last year - a strange box is left on a family's doorstep, and a man visits them to tell them that if they push the button in the box two things will happen.  First, a person who they do not know will die.  Second, they will receive one million dollars, free of taxes.  I hear that this was also the plot of an old Twilight Zone episode, called "Button, Button," though I've never seen that episode.

What interested me going into this was the thought of watching the characters make and deal with their decision.  Let's be honest, you know that they aren't going to push the button and live happily ever after - there's bound to be some kind of monkey's paw twist.  (Also, I find Cameron Diaz pretty easy on the eyes, and kind of enjoy her in dramatic roles, even if she's not exactly Streeping it out there.)

Here's what was disappointing, though.  It really barely touched on that aspect of the story at all.  It turned into a mystery-thriller as they tried to discover the backstory of the guy who brought the box and the money, and it turned into a muddled mess that falls apart if you examine it too closely.  SPOILERS FOLLOW  Worst of all, the big twist is that the box and whether people push the button is actually a test given to humans by an advanced alien race to see if we are deserving of continued existence.  Seriously?

Do you know why nobody cared about The Others, even though it was a pretty good movie?  Because all of us had already seen The Sixth Sense.  Some twists are so bold that they can work only once, and as soon as The Box revealed that holier-than-thou aliens were testing us I immediately thought of all the other movies that had beaten it to that punch - The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Forgotten, and Dark City all come to mind, and that's without even thinking too hard about it.  Dark City is the only one on that list that really nails it, IMHO.

Thanks for indulging my trip into movie snobbery.

It was just a matter of time


Blake lives hard, y'all.  Of all my children, he is the one who will least surprise me someday when he calls to say that he's been up for four days straight, and he's got a final exam that afternoon, and by the way he's also in Mexico.  So I pretty much knew that it was just going to be a matter of time until something got broken.  This weekend proved me right!

While we were at the park on Saturday, I was pushing Ava in the swing, watching Jack find new things to put in his mouth, when all of a sudden I heard a scream from behind me and turned around to see Blake with his arm hanging all crazy at his side.  He'd been climbing something and fell off; when he landed, it was hand-first with his arm locked at the elbow.

Here's where my brain went into awesome crisis management mode.  I couldn't be sure if the arm was broken, but I was pretty sure from how it was hanging.  Instead of driving to the hospital (which was only like a mile and a half from the park we were at) and calling Courtney from there, I drove home with all the kids first so that my wife the nurse could give her professional opinion.  What made this even more exciting is that my nephew was going to spend the night with us on Saturday to celebrate Blake's birthday, and he was already at the house when we got there.  Courtney took Blake to the ER, I took the wee two to their godparents house, and drove Carter to the hospital with me.  (Carter, who had been silent in the car until Ava got out: "Boy, she sure is a talker.")

Having Carter at the hospital was actually a positive thing - the boys kept each other entertained and happy.  In the part of my brain where hope springs eternal, I honestly thought that they'd get Blake casted up, release us, and the boys would still have a fun evening at home.  Well...  Courtney's shift started at 7 and she had to leave.  The cartoons on the hospital room TV eventually dried up, and the boys began to get restless.  At around 7:45 my sister texted to see how Carter was doing, and that's when I told her where we were and that I hadn't even fed her son dinner yet.  She was very cool about it - my brother in law was up there in the next 15 minutes to take Carter back home.

The orthopedist was stuck in surgery, so he finally came to see us at about 10 PM.  Here's Blake getting his cast.  I think his face pretty much says it all about how he was feeling by that point.

So... That was my weekend, how was yours?  Oh, also Jack had an ear infection with yellow gunk running down his face, and Ava had strep.  I have never been happier to walk into my office than I was this morning.

But here's the worst part!  A little over a year ago, Ava broke her arm.  Ever since then, whenever I needed a tiebreaker in a parenting argument discussion, I could always just play the "what do I know, I'm just the parent who's never had a kid break a bone on my watch" card.  And now that's gone!  GONE!

So that I don't leave you on a bummer, here's a picture from happier times, when we picked Blake up and took him to lunch at Chuck E. Cheese on his birthday.  That place is weird when it's empty, Chuck and the band singing to an empty showroom like Spinal Tap at a state fair...


Heroes & Villains (and Jack)


Last weekend, Netflix delivered The Fantastic Mr. Fox to our house, and it's been a huge hit with the kids.  I think we may end up buying a copy of this one, because even I love it.

One of the opening scenes is set to the Beach Boys song, "Heroes and Villains."  Blake, never having heard that song before, just thought it was some new song, and told me he liked it.  I told him it was even older than I am, found it on my computer, and played it for the kids.

But here's where it gets great.  Ava and Blake both kind of bopped along to it in their own ways, but Jack rocked out.  You know the scene in Flashdance where she does that dance where she just kind of tucks her head down and runs in place?  Kind of like that, but with the unmistakable sound of crinkling diaper in the background.

Later, when I was getting Jack ready for bed, I sang just a little bit of the part where all the Beach Boys come in at once ("Bom bom bom bom...").  Play the clip below for his reaction, which I love.

Greater love hath no man than this


During college, and shortly after, I went through a stretch of spiritual uncertainty.  I'm far from unique in this; many people face similar times in their lives, and find many ways to come to terms with it.  There are two things that eventually brought me back into a good relationship with God.  One is my friend Chad Haught, whose capacity for love is boundless, and who witnessed to me in exactly the way I needed.  The other is the Gospel of John.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that when he speaks with people who are going through their own uncertain times, he always encourages them to read the Gospel of John.  It is, I believe, the most beautiful book of the Bible, maybe even one of the most beautiful pieces of writing ever.  I'm leading a year-long Bible study right now, in fact, that spends eight weeks in John during the spring, and I can't wait.

The passage I'm always reminded of on Veterans Day is John 15:13:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Of course, when Jesus spoke these words, he went on to let his followers know that He is our most true and devoted friend, and they would only fully understand later just how sincerely He meant these words.  I saw these words almost every day in college, as they are engraved in a plaque at Texas A&M's Memorial Student Center, which is dedicated to the memory of Aggies who have fallen in war.  I think they apply in an even broader sense than just to those who died, though.  Anybody who has served has taken an oath to protect our freedoms, even at the cost of their own life, if need be.  Just to take that oath is to lay down your life for your friends.

All of this, I guess, is a long intro for me to tell you a little about my Grandpa Jack.  If the name Jack Holwerda sounds familiar to you, here's why:

My boy, my own, my precious youngest son - Jack.

One of my dearest wishes is that I could have met my grandfather.  Sadly, he passed just a short time before my parents were married.  He was one of eight children, born to parents who emigrated to Michigan from Holland.  He played football at Stanford for Pop Warner (!), and was a member of the famous Vow Boys, the Stanford squad who swore they would never lose to USC, and were true to their word.  While he was a student, he met my grandmother, who was the daughter of a Stanford law professor.  I'll write some more about him sometime, but what I want to talk about today is that when his country was in a time of need he, like so many others of his generation, answered the call.

I wish I'd known him to hear his stories.  I wish I'd known him to ask about our family's past.  I wish I'd known him to hear his voice, to know if it was deep and resonant like mine and my dad's.  I wish I could ask him what the banking and business world was like when he was working in it, now that I'm in the same field.

I don't know exactly what year this photo was taken, only that it was during World War 2.  Grandpa Jack was born in 1910, which means that he was almost exactly the same age in this picture as I am now.  I look at it, and I wonder if I could be brave enough to do what he did.  He spent the rest of his life with trouble hearing out of one ear because a deck gun misfired near his head.  At the time this picture was taken, my dad and uncle hadn't even been born yet - he was a man with a life still before him.

I don't want to try and make Jack out to be a saint, because like all men he had his weaknesses, but he was a strong man and a brave man, and he left behind a proud legacy for our family.  I'm proud of him.  I love him.  A day does not pass that my children don't reap the blessings of freedom that he and so, so many others strove to ensure.

Today, I think of him, and I think of all my friends who have answered the call.  I don't have words strong enough to thank you, so I rely on the words of the Apostle John, and say that you have shown the greatest love there is, and I love you in return.

(Click on the newspaper clipping at left for a bigger version.  It's from a Ford advertisement that ran in August 1947, about a month before my dad's birth.  Grandpa worked in labor relations until the mob moved in on things, and he had to leave Michigan for California when they threatened the life of my newborn dad.)

Threat Level Holwerda


I'm working on an entry about my trip this weekend.  Short version - it was AWESOME.  Time with good friends, catching up with my cousin, amazing food, fun music...  The weekend was just fantastic.

Until I have that finished, though, I thought I'd give you a little look at the Danny of yesteryear.  I thought of this story yesterday when I was going through airport security, musing on how different it is now than it was ten years ago.  Here we are in 2010, taking off our shoes, and watching the lady in front of us being told that she'll be subjected to a thorough patdown if she doesn't remove her sweater.

But I also remember going to visit a friend in NYC for New Years 1997-98.  At the time, he couldn't get Shiner Bock up there, so I took a twelve pack of it as my carry-on luggage.  Just to reiterate that, I decided to forgo having something to read on the plane, or bringing on my bag instead of checking it, just so I could carry beer on the plane.  Can you even imagine how many TSA rules that would break now?  I watched a supervisor get called over yesterday because a dude was carrying a half-empty bottle of V8.

At least beer can be stowed under the seat in front of you and made inconspicuous.  The summer after my junior year of high school, I had the chance to take part in a month-long study program in Kuwait and Oman.  It was one of the best, most eye-opening experiences of my life.  Here's a picture of me in my parents' backyard on the night that I returned.
I didn't change into that outfit once I got home.  No, for it to get the laugh that I wanted when they saw me, it had to be on when I left the plane.  My itinerary was JFK to Washington National, then to DFW, and lastly back to Lubbock.  There wouldn't be much time to connect in DFW, so I put the outfit on in a bathroom in Washington.  Our nation's capital has a pretty diverse crowd traveling through it, so I didn't get too many second looks.  Reactions were much more uncomfortable once I got back to Texas, but you know what's important to me?  Committing to the bit, that's what.

So I found myself thinking of that in the security line yesterday, wondering how much I'd still commit to that bit now, almost 15 years later.  Is wearing a dishdasha worth a full pat down?  The little voice inside says that my answer would probably be yes.


One from the road


I'm testing out blog-by-text from the baggage claim in San Diego. Why? Because I can. Can't wait for Brian to come and get the evening started!

I've flown my whole life, and it's still bonkers to me that I can leave Lubbock at 4 PM and be in San Diego at 6:45.

"San Diego, which of course in German means..."

I'm going to shamelessly name drop for a second, and tell you that I never miss an entry at my friend Ali's blog.  She's funny, and she's hot, so you don't really need a third reason to go, but here's what keeps her awesome - Ali posts almost every single day.  I'm going to admit it - I'm struggling to make this a daily thing.  Having Project Horror gave me something to do each day but now that it's over, I'm floundering a little bit!  I don't imagine I can keep watching a movie every day, and my kids can only do many hilarious things in any given day.  Most of my day is spent at the office, and I'm wary of posting too much about work.  My goal is to get to that daily entry place, I'm just working out what to fill it with.

There's some ideas for future viewing and other projects that I'm kicking around.  If there's something you'd like to see in the pages of Look What Danny Made! feel free to pass a note and let me know.

Now, having said that I'd like to post every day, I'm going to tell you that my posts over the next couple of days will be infrequent to nonexistent.  I'm leaving in about an hour to spend the weekend in San Diego for my friend Eric's wedding.  Even more exciting, I'm staying with my cousin Brian, who I haven't seen in several years.  Most exciting of all, I am travelling with no children, after four straight nights of being Night Shift Dad!

I've already name dropped, now here's a plug.  Brian is in a band called Blackout Party, and they are awesome.  They aren't performing this weekend, but he's taking me to see some other shows, which should be fun.  Here's a picture of Blackout Party.  I won't tell you which one is Brian, but consider that he is a Holwerda, and that I am 6'6", and I think you'll be able to pick him out quickly.
He is from the much swarthier California branch of the Holwerdas.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

She probably already meets the academic requirements


Click Play to hear the conversation I had with Ava in the car this morning (or just scroll down for the transcript if you are multimedia challenged):

Danny:  "Ava, where do you want to go today?"
Ava:  "Um, to Texas Tech."
Danny:  "But you go to school at Westminster Preschool, right?"
Ava:  (firmly) "No!  I want to go to Texas Tech."
Jack:  "<sound>"
Danny:  "Why do you want to go to Texas Tech?"
Ava:  "Because I want to!"
Danny:  "Don't you think that Texas A&M is better?"
Ava:  "Yeah..."
Danny:  "Yeah?  But you wanna go to Texas Tech today?"
Ava:  "Yes."
Danny:  "You know that's a school for big boys and girls.  I don't know if they'll let you into class there."
Ava:  (pause, sad) "Nooo."
Danny:  "Well, let's go to Westminster Preschool, and maybe they can tell us how you can go to Texas Tech, OK?"
Ava:  "OK."
Danny:  "OK."

All Saints Day: A Look Back at Project Horror


I made it!  One month and 34 movies later, I feel like I actually accomplished something.  I mean, I didn't cure cancer or anything, but I set a goal for myself and I stuck to it.  Here, for the interested, is a final scorecard of the month's movies (all ratings are on a 5-point scale):
10/2ClassicThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
10/3ClassicThe Fly
10/4ClassicWerewolf of London
10/6ZombieDead Snow
10/7ZombieThe Burrowers
10/8ZombieCity of the Living Dead
10/11ForeignA Tale of Two Sisters
10/12ForeignVisions of Suffering
10/13ForeignCannibal Holocaust
10/14ForeignMondo Cane
10/15ForeignLet Me In/Let the Right One In
10/16Occult & SupernaturalThe House of the Devil
10/17Occult & SupernaturalBubba Ho-Tep
10/18Occult & SupernaturalThe Dunwich Horror
10/19Occult & SupernaturalParanormal Activity
10/20Occult & SupernaturalThe Amityville Horror
10/21Creepy CreaturesThe Thing
10/22Creepy CreaturesAn American Werewolf in London
10/23Creepy CreaturesIt's Alive
10/24Creepy CreaturesMonkey Shines
10/25Creepy CreaturesThe Host
10/26The Evil Men DoBorderland
10/27The Evil Men DoCrawlspace
10/28The Evil Men DoDread
10/29The Evil Men DoThe Virgin Spring/
The Last House on the Left
 (1972 & 2009)
10/30The Evil Men DoThe Human Centipede
10/31Danny's ChoiceTrick 'r Treat

Because this is a Danny Production, now you get some statistical analysis.  Sometimes during this month, it felt like I was giving out way more negative reviews than positive ones, so I was surprised to see that the mean score is 3.4, and the mode is 5!  That seems about right, if you take 3 as a middle of the road score, and I did see several movies that I really liked.  The block with the highest average score was Creepy Creatures, with a 3.8; The Evil Men Do was lowest, with a 3.00.

If you are looking for a horror recommendation, and want to take one from my list this month, I cannot say enough good things about Bubba Ho-Tep.  Even the non-horror fans in your house will like it.  It is so good that if you watch it and don't like it, I will write a blog entry right here on Look What Danny Made! and apologize to you by name.  After that, I would heartily recommend either Let the Right One In or Let Me In, or both.

Watching this many movies in a row makes it impossible not to draw comparisons and find trends.  One thing I especially noticed is how horror reflects the fears of the time in which it was made.  It seems that whatever we used to be scared of, these days we're mostly scared of each other.  There's still stuff about the supernatural coming out, but it's not a ghost coming for you, it's your possessed wife.  A lab accident isn't going to transform you into a horrible creature, but a crazed kidnapper might.  Even the monsters that emerge from the sewers are ultimately monsters of our own making.

One of the questions I heard most often this month is, "Are you having crazy dreams from watching all of these?"  I really didn't.  There was one night about two-thirds of the way through the month where I had a pretty intense nightmare; in the light of day, I could see that it was very clearly inspired by a certain scene in Paranormal Activity.  Congratulations to PA, for being the one movie to truly invade my subconscious this month!

I'd like to bring Project Horror to a close with a huge thanks to everybody who took part in this with me.  To everybody who recommended movies when I announced the project, thank you so much!  I wouldn't have made some of these selections unless they'd been suggested to me.  For those of you who commented either on the blog or on Facebook, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and making this an interactive experience.  And for everybody who talked to me in person, via e-mail, or on the phone and let me know that you were enjoying what I wrote, thank you most of all.  It has been incredibly rewarding and fun getting to have these conversations with all of you.  (Hi, Marcy's mom!  I see now why Marcy is such a cutie!)

I'm kicking around a few ideas for future viewing projects, but I'd be interested to get input from all of you, too.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a month's worth of DVR to catch up on.  I just reread that last sentence and realized how completely lucky I am that Courtney has not divorced me yet.

Project Horror, Day 31: Trick 'r Treat


I added this movie to the list at the recommendation of my friends Scott and Rachel, and decided to save it for last.  When I started Project Horror, I decided that the final movie would either have to be a cathartic full-out frightfest or something that would end the month on a fun note.  This movie looked like a fun one, and also one that I wouldn't necessarily get to watch if I stuck rigidly to my categories.

I really enjoyed this movie.  Remember in the '80s when horror anthology movies like Creepshow and Cat's Eye came out?  This is like a throwback to those, with five different stories that intersect together.  Tying all of the stories together is the presence of Sam, a mysterious costumed child who makes sure that people are respecting the traditions of Halloween, or else.  I'm not going to say too much about the individual stories, because it's more fun if you don't know too much about what's coming, but there's poisoned candy, dead children, and hot chicks being followed into the woods...

After an opening scene, the credits play over a comic book styled introduction.  This reminded me of another great show from the '80s, Amazing Stories, and how they adapted old pulp stories for the screen.  It also gives you some idea of what's ahead in the rest of the movie - I actually rewound to this once I'd watched the whole thing, just to see which comic panels fit into which stories.

Somehow this movie played the festival rounds and then went straight to video without a theatrical release.  I really don't understand that decision.  I mean, it's not the Citizen Kane of horror movies or anything, but it's an enjoyable Halloween movie that isn't filled with wall-to-wall torture or yawningly predictable plot twists.  It's got a strong cast, including Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Leslie Bibb, so it's not exactly full of no-names.  I'd recommend it to any horror fan.

I give it five Jack-o'-lanterns out of five!

That brings Project Horror to a close.  Please stay tuned tomorrow for my wrap up and final thoughts!

Project Horror, Day 30: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Real life offers so few chances to use the word "penultimate," that I just have to seize the opportunity to do it here.  It's the penultimate day of Project Horror!  It's also the final day of The Evil Men Do block, so I decided to end it with a movie that was just outrageously over the top - The Human Centipede.  Have you heard of this one?  It's gained a lot of infamy this year, including lots of reviewers claiming it's one of the most grueling viewing experiences they've had.

I can't really describe the plot in gentle terms, so just be forewarned that if you are squeamish, you may not want to know about this one.  Two American girls are taking a roadtrip through Europe, and have a flat tire one night during a rainstorm.  (And really, right there, you know that whatever happens next ain't gonna be good, right?)  They find a nearby house (you know, like you do) to try and call for a tow.  Sadly, our two heroines do not read German, or they'd have seen that the homeowner is a Registered Mad Scientist.  His specialty before he retired was separating conjoined twins, and he's come up with a plan to go the other direction and join three people into a human centipede, stitched mouth to anus.  Of course, there's only two of them, so the third spot is filled by a Japanese dude.

Let's get the movie's reputation out of the way up front.  Yes, there are some unpleasant scenes, mostly during the surgery, but it's really not as bad as you may have heard.  As is often the case with horror, hearing the premise is more horrifying than the experience of watching it.  The surgery actually happens about halfway through the movie, and the first time that you see the completed centipede it's pretty shocking, but there's still half a movie to go.  It tips its hand way too early, and seriously, by the time you've heard 45 minutes of, um, muffled sobs, you're pretty much ready for it to end.

A few good things... The actor playing the evil doctor was born to play an evil doctor, and his real-life name is Dieter Laser.  Dieter FREAKING LASER!  I also liked the very last scene, which I won't spoil for you, but will spoil another movie in describing.  You know at the end of The Descent when the last woman is sitting there in the cave with certain death slowly closing in on her?  (And yes, I know that she ultimately ends up showing up in the sequel, but forget about that for a second.)  Anyway, the end of this one had that same feel.  One of the girls isn't dead, but things don't look too good for her.

I don't know if I've just watched too much horror this month or what, but this was not as hard to watch as I'd anticipated.  Maybe you notice that this movie's title has "(First Sequence)" in its name.  There's an upcoming sequel, the Second Sequence, that is supposed to have a 12-person centipede.  There's no way I'll be watching it.  (Yes, I probably will, especially if I do Project Horror next year!)

This was a pretty decent movie to end The Evil Men Do with.  I'd give it three centipedes out of five.

Project Horror, Day 29: The Virgin Spring/The Last House on the Left (1972 & 2009)


The final Friday night of Project Horror - the perfect opportunity for a marathon.  A triple header!  With plenty of Diet Dr. Pepper to keep me fueled, I set out to watch three in a row.

Three different films, all with the same story - a young, innocent girl who is loved and doted on by her parents leaves home with a more worldly friend.  On their trip, she is raped, brutalized, and murdered by men who then take some unique possession of hers and later seek shelter at her parents' home.  The parents either find or are offered the item that the killers took, recognize it, and take their vengeance.

Hoo boy...  When I had the idea to do a triple feature, it seemed like a great idea, a way to finish out the month with a bang.  I sort of wish now that I hadn't done it.  Today was a little bit of an emotional day for me anyway, and although I'd never seen any of these, I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with their contents.

Here's the thing - I hate watching filmed depictions of rape.  I know that it's a situation that happens far, far too often in real life, and that in a dramatic movie it can add to the drama or serve as the action that the movie centers around.  I don't have some moral objection to including rape in the plot of a movie.  I just am sickened by watching it more than I have words to tell you.  The Accused is supposed to be one of Jodie Foster's best roles, one that she won Best Actress for, and she's an actress who I really like, but I don't ever want to see that movie.  I don't know if I thought that maybe it would feel different if it was in a horror movie, where the entire point is to be shocking, but it really wasn't.  This was the hardest night yet of Project Horror.

That said, how were the movies?  ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?")

The Virgin Spring was very good.  I mean, it's directed by Ingmar Bergman, and the guy just didn't make bad movies.  To be fair, it is definitely not a horror movie, it's a drama and a morality play.  I included it mainly so I could compare it with the other two movies.  The parents in this version are very devout Christians, and they have genuine turmoil about what to do once they know the identity of the men staying with them.  The rape scene, though not explicit, goes a little farther than most films made in 1960 would have; aside from that scene, this was a great movie, and interesting to watch.  It does not treat the crime against the girl lightly, but it also doesn't minimize the ethical weight of the parents' vengeance.  I give this one five flowing springs out of five.

At this point in the evening, I was still feeling OK.  Then I watched Wes Craven's 1972 movie The Last House on the Left.  Look, I don't expect horror movies to be setting the standard when it comes to gender equality, but when the second line in the movie is a pervy old mailman saying that the girl who lives in the house he's delivering to is a hot little piece of ass, you had best be prepared to watch 90 minutes of misogyny, and that's pretty much what this was.

Craven has gone on to make many great and influential horror movies, but this one... ugh.  He not only dwells lasciviously on the torture heaped onto the girls, there are parts where it seems like he's playing it for laughs.  I don't know what kind of stylistic choice Craven was making when he chose the soundtrack for this movie, but just click this link and listen to one of the musical selections.  It's some kind of honky-tonk jug band corniness that belongs in something like a Muppet movie or a buddy film about guys driving fast cars away from Southern cops, not played over a scene of women's bodies being stuffed into the trunk of a car.  Forget appropriateness and everything else - this is just sloppy directing.

The parents' vengeance in this one is more incidental.  It seemed sort of tacked on to the end so that the movie has some kind of redemption at the last.  There's no real gravity to it.

I don't want to come up with clever icons for this movie, so I'm just using the international symbol for "DON'T," a red circle and slash.  I give it one out of five.

And finally, the last feature of the night, the 2009 remake of Last House, produced by Wes Craven but directed by somebody else.  After my experience with the last one, I was dreading starting this one, but it was a little better.  I'll get the bad out of the way right up front: the rape scene is the most graphic and realistic of all three movies.  It upset me.

But now the good - I thought the rest of the movie worked better.  The girls still meet a bad fate, but it doesn't linger over that.  There's far more focus on what happens once the killers reach her parents' house.  Although it's violent, it isn't gratuitously so.  It's kind of a look at what average people do in extreme circumstances, like in Straw Dogs.  I won't spoil the end, but the filmmakers introduced an element that also added a ticking clock on top of the revenge scenes, and it made this play much more like a thriller.

I'll give this one three microwave ovens out of five (microwaves, because of one of the most memorable death scenes this side of Scanners).

Fathers, sons, and Nesquick


Today was a difficult day.

I learned on Sunday that somebody who I used to be in Boy Scouts with had passed away.  Trey was about four years younger than me, so although I thought he was a good guy, we had never been especially close, and it had been years since I'd seen or spoken with him.  I think the last time I saw him may have been when I sat on his Eagle Scout board of review, and was first to shake his hand when we awarded him his Eagle.

In the time since then, though, I've had the chance to get to know Trey's dad Bill through our church.  When there was a Daddy And Me Campout this summer, he hosted it at his ranch.  Every time I've seen him since then, he asks me about Blake.  Every time.  He knows what a gift a son is, and he cares about mine, just like he loved (and will always love) Trey, and Trey's little brother Dennis, who died in an accident several years ago.

That's what made today difficult, seeing Bill, another father, hurting so badly over his loss.  I wished I knew what to say.  I had no idea what to say.  There's nothing to say.  And I promise I'm not trolling for sympathy here, and I'm not trying to co-opt somebody else's tragedy as my own, but this day hit me much harder than I imagined it would.

Courtney worked last night, and as I was getting the kids ready this morning, I realized that I hadn't seen or heard Jack in a while.  Then I rounded the kitchen corner and saw that he had decided to help himself to a breakfast of Nesquick powder.  That's a little pile of it by his foot:
I was already dressed, in a suit no less, and had to take off my shirt and tie to clean it up, wash all the powder off Jack, and change his clothes.  At the end of that, I found out that Ava had wet herself while wearing the Halloween costume she'd be wearing to preschool that day.  While I cleaned and changed her, and fumed at how late I was going to be, Blake approached me to ask something and I just took his head off.  He completely didn't deserve it.

At dinner, I apologized to Blake.  "I'm so sorry for how I shouted at you this morning, Blake.  I feel really awful about it."

"It's OK, Daddy.  I'll always forgive you and love you."

I don't even want to try and say something funny or deep after that, just that I hope I will never, ever take that love for granted.  And I have to admit that Jack is pretty cute, even with Nesquick all over him.  Heck, especially with Nesquick all over him.

Project Horror, Day 28: Dread


It wasn't enough for me to take Steve's idea to do a month of horror, I also had to lift one of the movies that he chose for his lineup.  Tonight I watched Dread, which he also watched and blogged about.  The movie's based on a story by Clive Barker, so it's automatically got at least a little bit of horror cred.

The story centers around three college film students who decide to do their thesis project about fear, interviewing other students about their innermost terrors.  Through the course of the movie, we also learn about what has left marks on the filmmakers' psyches, and the extent to which it has damaged them.  At the conclusion of their project, one of them decides that he hasn't yet seen the results he wants, and that the project needs to be taken to another, much more extreme level.

The first two-thirds of the movie are pretty heavy on exposition, and don't move too quickly, but when the final third comes, the setup pays off.  For the first time this month, I truly did not see the ending coming before it happened.  I thought I knew where it was leading, so it was a nice feeling to get outsmarted by one of these movies for a change.

My one complaint is with the character Quaid, who decides to push the project further.  His motivation for this becomes clearer as the movie progresses, but the way he interacts with the other characters rings false.  You know in some movies (not just horror, any genre) how there's that one character who thinks that the other characters aren't living life to the fullest/giving their all to a project/truly getting the lessons out of life that they should/etc.  The character who deeply, earnestly, annoyingly believes in something and just can't rest until they have shown the world how deeply, earnestly, and annoyingly they believe in it?  The character who says stupid crap like, "Open your eyes!  Embrace the fear/love/lesson/whatever!"  Like Natalie Portman in Garden State, except that she falls more into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl category.  Anyway, that's this guy in Dread, except that he's pushing them towards their fears instead of their quirks.

That aside, though, this movie was pretty solid, and caught me off guard.  Although it's in The Evil Men Do category, it's escapist enough that I still enjoyed watching it.  I give it four fireman's axes out of five.

Project Horror, Day 27: Crawlspace


I went into this movie really wanting to like it.  Klaus Kinski is a fantastic actor, so I was looking forward to seeing something of his that I hadn't seen before.  This is one of his few English-language films, but his collaborations with director Werner Herzog are the stuff of movie legend, as are the sometimes fiery behind the scenes stories.  When he tried to walk off the set of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Herzog held him at gunpoint and forced him to continue with the film.  He's got a wild-eyed intensity that I thought would play well in horror.

Unfortunately, the movie didn't really bear this out.  Kinski plays the landlord of a small apartment building, where he rents only to attractive young women.  He crawls through the air ducts to spy on them and occasionally kill one of them.  There's also a subplot where a man who suspects Kinski's character of killing his brother via medical euthanasia a few years earlier shows back up on his doorstep.

Kinski is usually so good at projecting menace, but for some reason he chose to play this role in a very subdued, muttering way.  Also, the years between 1986 and the present have not been kind to Crawlspace; it looks very dated.  For most of the movie, the landlord is more annoying than frightening.  It just doesn't really work.

Now, the pros:
  1. Even when he's not great, Kinski can still act more with his eyes than most actors do with their entire body.  His Russian Roulette scenes are the most interesting parts of the movie.
  2. Only 80 minutes long!
  3. The motion picture debut of Tane McClure, who went on to a rich career in late night cable movies.
I dunno - the movie's description made me think I'd be getting something along the lines of H.H. Holmes, but I got something much sillier instead.  I give it two Newton's Cradles out of five (because in this one scene... aw, forget it).

Project Horror, Day 26: Borderland


Tonight we begin the final block of movies in Project Horror, The Evil Men Do.  If there's one group of movies that I fully expect will  unsettle me, this is probably it.  The great Del Close is far more closely associated with comedy than with horror (though he was in the remake of The Blob), but he's got a quote that I really like about the comparison of art and life.

"It's a grim business, this being funny. Every time you come up with a strong satiric idea, the world tops it. None of our reactionary military characters in the past decade could top the real-life line that came out of Vietnam: 'We had to destroy the village in order to save it.'"

It's easy to write off spook films about vampires or zombies, because as frightening as they may be, we all know that the things in them can't touch us in real life.  Depending on where you come down on spiritual matters, movies about the occult and supernatural may have more impact, which is why I think The Exorcist still tops so many lists of the scariest movies ever made.  But when you think about the actual horrors that people visit upon each other every day, right now...  At best it makes the movies pale in comparison, at worst it means that our movies are aestheticizing the violence around us to the point that we don't notice it anymore.  I'm rambling a little bit here, and I know that a lot of it has to do with context and my own hypocrisy - the same stuff that I cover my eyes for in a Pasolini film, I cheer for in a Tarantino film.

Anyway, tonight's movie is Borderland, which is based on true events of about twenty years ago.  Three friends head to a border town on a road trip, and one of them is abducted to be sacrificed by a drug smuggling cult.  His friends try to find and rescue him, only to find that the police are no help and that time is running out.

Here's where I run into the conflict I mentioned above.  This movie was brutal.  The scenes of sacrifice and murder were intense and graphic.  But I also remember when the actual cult killings in Matamoros came to light, and they were even worse and more terrifying.  Just this year in Mexico, police have been beheaded, schoolchildren killed in cold blood, and many other people have simply vanished.  I can't say that I liked this movie or was entertained by it, because even though it's a well made movie and a semi-fictionalized account, the reality is still happening around us and is even more awful.  Even as I found myself thinking that, though, I still caught myself thinking, "Ugh, this is just like Turistas" or "Please, this is so cliched" before I reminded myself that the events of this movie did happen.

Also, I have to admit a prejudice here.  I don't have any good reason for this, but I just really hate Sean Astin (who plays a cult member in this movie) and his stupid fat face.  Every good movie that he's been in, and there have been several (Goonies, Rudy, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), I have liked in spite of him.  I challenge you to look at his face in this picture and not imagine him saying, "Durrrrrr..."

 Like I mentioned, the violence in this movie is intense and played for full effect.  It does inject just enough of an element of suspense that you wonder how exactly it will play out.  Despite the conflicts I mentioned above, I'm still going to give it three Palo Mayombe cauldrons out of five.

Blake's Project Horror (or, A Breakfast Performance Piece)

Somehow we were all ready to go much earlier than usual this morning, so we decided to have a family breakfast at IHOP.  Blake and Ava got their usual, the Make-A-Face Pancake.  This isn't the Silly Face Pancake that comes with a pre-made face of whipped cream, chocolate chips, and cherries.  This is the one that comes with a banana smile, strawberry eyes, whipped cream nose, and a tube of yogurt for you to fill in any details.

Blake gave his some yogurt hair, eagerly reached for the strawberry syrup, and delivered a totally Bronson-esque "It's breakfast time!" before doing this to his pancake.
"Look, Daddy.  He's dead.  I'm gonna eat him."

Project Horror, Day 25: The Host


Before I begin tonight's review, I have to make a housekeeping note.  In my review for Mondo Cane a few days ago, I mentioned that only it and a movie coming later on the list had won Oscars.  It turns out that was wrong - An American Werewolf in London won the Oscar for Best Makeup, and rightly so.

Tonight's movie was The Host, a monster movie from South Korea.  The monster was kind of like an Asian Cloverfield, by which I mean smaller and more polite.

Actually, there are only some surface similarities to Cloverfield, but I just couldn't help making my awful, awful joke.

The movie starts with a scene inspired by a real-life event, where a Korean worker at a US Army base is instructed to poor a large amount of chemicals down the drain, eventually to end up in the Han River.  Time passes, and a few years later two fishermen notice a mutant fish in the river.  A few years after that, people relaxing by the river notice something strange hanging below a bridge, something which dives into the water, swims to shore, and goes on a rampage.  The rest of the story mainly centers around one family trying to find their teenage relative who was abducted by the creature, and believed dead until she is able to send them a signal.

This was a pretty effective movie.  I'd have liked if they'd ratcheted up the tension more in a few places, and if there had been more of the monster, but it keeps you off balance enough that it brings a few good scares.  Much like the monster is kind of incidental to The Thing, with the real story being the paranoia between the other characters, the monster in this movie ends up being sort of secondary to the story, with the family's search and the frustrations of government bureaucracy being the main threads.

I give this three Cup Noodles out of five.

In which the Holwerda boys take a Sunday constitutional

Blake's first report card came recently and told us what we already sort of knew, that he is a really sharp kid academically but needs to figure out how to get himself under control.  I probably could have saved them the printing costs by just pulling out one of my old report cards and Xeroxing it, since they said pretty much the same thing.  I'm finding that the hardest thing as a parent is to see your own weaknesses surface in your kids, and wishing that you could tell them how that particular path will end up, but knowing that they will still have to figure it out for themselves.

That said, one of the biggest delights of parenting is seeing your children's enthusiasms surfacing, and Blake both loves to learn and loves to share with Jack.  Yesterday after nap time, he told me that he wanted to go to the museum and then to the park.  I told him to pick one and, the nerd blood flowing strong among my family, he chose the museum.  The girls were still asleep, so I put on my best dad jorts, loaded up the boys, and went.

This was taken in the N.C. Wyeth Gallery, a permanent exhibit at the museum.  Many of his paintings were made as illustrations for great boyhood classics like Robinson Crusoe, Kidnapped, and The Last of the Mohicans.  Even though my sons haven't read those yet, the appeal of castaways, brigands, and Indians still looms large for any imaginative boy, right?  As you can see, Blake chose his favorite shirt that matches nothing, least of all camouflage shorts.  He's a pair of rectangular glasses frames away from looking like a little hipster.
Wyeth trivia:  Four of his children grew up to become successful artists in their own right.  His fifth child worked for DuPont and invented the plastic soda bottle.  I would kind of love to have eavesdropped on one of their Thanksgiving dinners.

And here is one of my favorite photos that I have ever taken of the boys.  Blake the performer, Jack the appreciative audience - about as good a summary of their relationship as I could ever hope to come up with.  In fact, I like this picture so much, that I have set up a CafePress store just so you, my devoted friends, can proudly wear it on your chest.  I am not kidding.  Christmas is two months away, and this would not only make the ideal gift for anybody you love, but will also help me buy presents for the people I love.  It's win-win.
We'll end this trip to the museum with a look at a piece of Native American art.  In the middle of a gallery of Kachinas and other symbolic dolls, Blake told me that he already knew what one of them was.  Like I said, the kid is pretty academically advanced.  He pointed to a doll and told me that it's from a Dr. Pepper commercial.  Bwuh?  I took a picture so I could show it to Courtney and see if she knew what he was talking about.  Halfway home, I realized he was talking about the Dr. Pepper commercial featuring KISS.