Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 - The Year the Music Died

About once a month I comb Amazon's bestseller lists (music and books) to look for new stuff.

Today's perusal ended in dismay over the state of the charts. Since Amazon represents only that company's sales (and I've noticed they are skewed towards web people's tastes), I hopped over to Billboard and ran the numbers on types of music selling (for the first 100).

Christmas - 25
Rock - 13
Country - 8
Hip-hop - 10
Pop - 21
Christian - 3
American Idol - 4
Dunno - 16

A solid fourth of the list is Christmas albums - old ones even. 8 of them are catalogue (meaning old) albums or greatest hits compilations - and that's not including the Christmas albums that are ancient. Even Christian albums are charting (most Christian music gives me the dry heaves, even though I am a Christian).

That many Christmas albums shouldn't even be charting if the industry were healthy, let alone a showing by Christian music at all.

Note that there are 16 albums I couldn't identify genre by sight. These days, my wife and daughters listen to a station that plays a mix of the old and the new, so I knew who Lady Gaga was before she started showing up nekkid everywhere. Yet, for almost a fifth of the albums, I've never heard of the artist.

So, I think the evidence is pretty solid. The music biz, and I knew it and loved it up until American Idol came on the air, is pretty much dead.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Music These Days

Gad, another month (or so) without a post. I sure know how to keep a blog lively, don't I?

Happed across this oddity: "The Beatles Never Broke Up"

The story is this guy passes out in the desert somewhere and is rescued by an inter-dimensional explorer who happens to come from a parallel world where the Beatles never broke up, so before the guy is dropped back in our dimension, he lifts a mixtape the traveler's college girlfriend made.


That (mildly clever) bullshit aside, the site has a free (and surely illegal) mashup of Beatles and Wings tunes. It's a cute diversion, and intriguing attempt to sound like what it claims to be. Frinstance, it changes the Wings song "Jet" to "Jen" and is edited just enough to sound like it's calling out "Jen" rather than "'jet".

TLD: This reminds me of a site I can no longer find (I have it on an archive but don't care to search for it now) that was ostensibly a blog (before they were known as blogs) about this woman who was dying in Alaska of some mysterious disease that gave her migraine headaches so profound she was unable to function or remember what she did when they hit. Oh, and her eyes would go completely red like a vampire, so she would often frighten children if she was out and about when one hit.

The other story-line was how much she loved to screw, and her fetish for guys who were kielbasa-sized - teeny peenies need not apply.

The weird mix of tragedy and erotica was, well just that: weird, and it was fun to guess if the author was a real person relating true events or someone just having a lark. I came down on the side of "lark" because the final two posts were made by her friend who found her out dead on the top of a mountain. Topless.

Since most women wouldn't put so much emphasis on the state of a dead friend's relative state of dress, or linger on that fact so pruriently, it tipped the scale for me. I also remember the new author waxing on about her vision of the woman's soul lifting up out of her body and looking down on her bare form, and noticing how beautiful she was, even in death.

It was interesting purple fiction when it was out there. More than a few newsgroups debated whether or not she was real.

I don't think there will be all that much debate on the alternate reality Beatles tape though. Pure boy bovine shite. Someone put a lot of work into it, though.

In the world of real music, I recently spun up the new Flaming Lips, Embryonic. Both myself and my eldest daughter, who love all the FL stuff we've heard so far (essentially the trilogy - Bulletin, Yoshimi, and War), were less than impressed. My daughter didn't even recognize it was the same band.

I heard snippets of stuff I liked, but not one whole song. I'll probably carve it up and place the interesting stuff between other Lips cuts on some future anthology, but I doubt I'll put it on again to listen on purpose.

You can never really know, but it felt like they had a lot of good half ideas, but just couldn't get any of them to gel into a couple of complete good tunes. Kinda like Abbey Road's second side - except the Beatles realized all they had were interesting partial songs and rather than try to make them stand alone, they mashed them into one big medley.

Still, I will check out all future Flaming Lips efforts. They're on my "always check it out" short list with Dwight Yoakam, Joe Jackson, Jeff Lynne, Rickie Lee Jones, U2, Everclear, Ween, Steve Miller, Elvis Costello, Maria McKee, Marshall Crenshaw, and Donald Fagen.

(Quickie: the brand-new Rickie Lee Jones is OK; fans should give it a spin.)

The album I've been putting back in the machine the most is Moby's latest, Wait for Me. It's one of those things he does best: a wall of oddly pleasant melancholia.

The melodies and chord progressions that bang around in that man's bald head can be some of the most beautiful you've ever heard. If there's such a thing as reincarnation (and I don't think there it, at least how most people think of it), Mozart is back, living in New York, and running a vegan restaurant. (And is a Christian to boot.)

The other thing I'm enjoying the hell out of is Cheap Trick's Sgt. Pepper Live, which is a performance of the whole album, in order (with a little help from the New York Philharmonic), plus parts of the medley from side 2 of Abbey Road as the playout.

Listening creates that sorta fun cognitive dissonance you get when hearing a really good mashup of two songs you know really well, but without the betrayal of not hearing what you expect. This is a band in top form, sonically in the same place they were on the fantastic At Budokan, playing an album anyone my age knows by heart. Somehow it rocks just a bit more than the original.

Here's something I found via Attu Sees All (google that and you'll find Attu's site - NSFW, though):

EMBED-Ballon Bass And Box Jam - Watch more free videos
You can bet I'll be annoying some folks at the next party with that particular contraption.

Finally, this must've missed my radar due to the sad fact that no one has really broadcast videos in a long time. Bjork continues to floor me with some of the visuals (and songs, of course) that she's dreamed up. This tops them all, though. Growing a ribbon dress out of your nipples? Wonder what gave her that particular nightmare. NSFW, btw, due to nipples.
Some Excitement

I've recently gotten a bang out of these:

2012 in which John Cusack stars in the end of the world where stuff blows up real good. Just a popcorn movie, but one that has actual suspense to offer (as long as no one you know has given up some spoilers). My wife, a tough critic, liked it too. Date movie!

Dan Brown's The Lost Seal, in which Tom Hanks, I mean Robert Langdon is drafted to solve another mystery where signs and portents are hidden in paintings, pyramids and preposterously placed body parts.

Lovers of well-written fiction often claim they can't get past Brown's prose, and this tome will prove no different. Even I, who has a high tolerance for clumsy prose (I cut my teeth on sci-fi after all), rolled my eyes as one more character was rolled out who happed to be rich, good-looking, ethical to a fault, and beloved by all. Even the bad guys are uber-dudes.

And, of course, if you are a believer of any religion, you'll find plenty to annoy you. If you're a practicing Roman Catholic - someone who's beyond the show-up-and-kneel-stand-kneel-pray-go-out-to-breakfast stage - you'll again want to slash Brown's tires. However, in a small shocker, he reveals that Langdon is a practicing Catholic.

But, the man knows how to write breathless, labyrinth adventures with a satisfying twist ending. The dual in the dark (you'll know what I mean when you get there) was especially clever.

Finally saw the musical Wicked.

As constant readers know (assuming I have any anymore given my near absence from posting lately), I rilly rilly don't like most musicals, so they start out in the hole with me and have to claw to level ground before they impress me.

I liked it a lot.

I wasn't expecting the plot to move along so peppily, but damn, every 15 minutes you're completely somewhere else than you were before - kinda like Fight Club. The climaxes brought the requisite goosebumps that good theatre can.

As I suspected, the plot was unique to the play and borrowed only incidental details from the turgid (and somewhat wretched) book, thus it was a great story. And it fit nicely enough into the plot of the movie we've all seen, which was a brilliant choice. The novel takes the stance that the "Oz we know" was a rosey mythological retelling that left a lot of the gory details out. The play occurs "inside" the movie and doesn't betray it.

Both the movie and this play transcend their original material to be so much better that similarities feel incidental. I find that really compelling. I can't think of another example where the derivation outshines the source, and more than once.

Some would say the new "Star Trek" reboot is an example of that, and I would kinda agree. But a lot of the thrill is seeing how the new version of the character references the old. You have to have seen the original to get the full effect, which is not the case with The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.

See it if you can.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Since You've Been Gone

Sorry about the dearth of posts. Life and work got in the way for a while. As the holidays approach, and Colorado gets buried by a freak pre-Halloween snowstorm, I hope to find more time to find stuff to blather about here.

One of the things that happened while I wasn't posting was my wife won tickets to a Jason Mraz concert at Red Rocks, which is everything they say it is. If you ever get a chance to see a show there, do.

Since my eldest daughter and I are the main fans of Mraz, we got to go. A day before the concert, the radio station that gave us the tickets called and asked if we wanted to also do the meet and greet before the show.

So, here's my daughter and Mr. Mraz prior to the show.

He's a great guy. Here he is clowning around, giving my daughter a "blessing," lofty words and all, which was really sweet.

Oh, and apparently Jesus has returned and is now selling t-shirts at Mraz shows.

(Forgive me Lord. I just couldn't resist.)
Scary Movie

I've nearly completely stopped enjoying horror movies - at least the ones that intend to scare the hell out of you, so the new release Zombieland doesn't count.

When this first dawned on me, I wondered if it was just another aspect of aging, like my once deep love for roller coasters (why is that two words?) morphing into dread once I passed the age of thirtysomething. Gallagher explains it here, just after the 3:00 mark.

After giving it some thought, I've concluded that not enjoying a good scare comes from my becoming a father. One of the gifts of parenthood, if you will, is a whole new and different relationship with fear. Before kids, most of your fear is, well, selfish and episodic: fear of yourself being hurt, embarrassed, wronged, etc. - all of which only come up on rare occasion.

After having kids, fear shifts to this constant background hum.

At the library I was fetching my returns from my trunk, which just slams when I let it go because the pneumatic system that holds it open failed long ago. A mom with her two little ones about two cars away did the parental jump, spin, and immediate scan of the environment to see if they had gotten hurt, followed by the scan to see if they had done anything to cause that sound. I immediately apologized and said I had kids, too, and often did the same thing.

Thus, getting an additional jolt - anything that tosses a stone into your rippled pool of parental fear - just isn't pleasant. At all.

My realization that getting scared for fun was no longer fun started with The Ring, which I went to alone, when I was feeling kinda crappy with chills and a headache. Since movies have always been a major source of succor and comfort for me, I didn't really think the movie would scare me - it'd been a long time since one had - and I would be entertained enough to get away from feeling icky for a couple hours.

Then, after the creepy opening, the parents opened their daughter's closet to find this (with the big cacophonous noise on the soundtrack, etc.):

I literally jumped out of my seat (luckily I was at the back of the balcony, so no one saw this), my chills tripled and my headache temporarily fled in panic, but slammed back into my skull the second I regained composure and sat back down.

"Shit," I thought to myself, "do I really want to go through this?" I seriously considered walking out of the movie, but it was so damn good, I felt like I was being a pussy for even considering leaving, so planted myself. After the next nasty shock, I debated leaving again, but again was embarrassed by being actually frightened by a movie for the first time in a long time. I stuck it out, but when I got into my car, I felt a hell of a lot worse than I had before I'd gone in. So much for comfort and succor. It just sucked.

The Ring was one of the new wave of horror movies inspired by Japanese horror flicks (or blatantly copied from, actually), which had found a way to be legitimately frightening, rather than just drop a "boo!" once in a while, or hack the hell out of a co-ed after a shower or screwing her BF, like most American horror flicks. Except The Exorcist, which if you know nothing about it and watch it in the dark, is still one of the more frightening film experiences, in my opinion.

Then, my wife and I watched The Grudge, which even got to my horror-film-loving wife who never really gets honestly frightened. She watched stuff as a child (with her father) that would've kept me awake for a solid month had I watched it at the same age.
TLD: The primary horror of my childhood was some mummy film where someone took a broach off of a mummy, which was then x-rayed, which brought it to life, and it pursued the possessor of the broach with this leaden, relentless plodding. The penultimate scene was the heroine staring intently at the jam of her bedroom door one night, thinking she'd heard something, and just as she was about to relax, a bandaged hand gripped the edge of it. That week at school our "Weekly Reader" featured a story about a mummy that had just been x-rayed, oh and there was a broach under the bandages. For the next year or so when I couldn't sleep, I would stare at the doorway of my bedroom convinced that I, too, would see a bandaged hand grasp the edge. If staring at something had the same effect as the sun does on color photos, I would've nearly blacked the edge of my doorway.

The Grudge really pinged my lovely wife. She jumped and yelled, got goosebumps, etc. (though not as much as I did - a grand source of entertainment for her). When the credits rolled, she announced that she didn't want to watch a movie like that again. What finally got her was [mild spoiler] when the thing crawled out from under the covers of the heroine's bed, which was violation of all that's good and true, because our beds are where we are supposed to be safe, as long as we don't let an arm drape over the side.

That was the last truly scary horror film either of us has seen since. Oh, we saw Saw, which was clever, but it wasn't scary so much as icky and gory. We never have been much of a fan of those, though.

So these wonderful new terrors like Paranormal Activity and The Fourth Kind will most likely go unseen by us. Which is too bad, because they look frightening as hell.

This one shot alone from the preview of The Fourth Kind gives me the willies (someone in the midst of being abducted), so I can't imagine being able to convince myself to stay seated, and then sleep well anytime soon. Though I don't believe alien abduction is real, it still gives me the fantods.

If you're up for it, go see them and report back. At least I can live vicariously.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This will be the death of us if we believe it.

Another great Ebert discovery from his blog is the following preview from the new George Clooney movie where he plays the guy corporations hire to come in an perform huge layoffs (what a career, eh?). This is his "backpack" speech.

Isn't that just pure evil in a nutshell? The corporation telling you that desiring or having a life is essentially wrong...

Like I said in the title of this post, this will be the death of us if we believe it.

(Can't wait to see the movie.)
Not that you didn't already know this

Roger Ebert's blog has become his latter-day opus. Since his recovery (and just barely at that) from cancer, some folks, including myself, view his movie reviews as different animals than his previous ones - after all this is a different man on this other side of his life. (A brush with mortality does that, they say.)

Ebert recently put his finger on what's really going on in the public/media healthcare reform debate:
I don't pretend to know if this information is available to the angry people who have shouted down their representatives at town hall meetings. I think I do know where their anger is fed. The drumbeat of far-right commentators fuels it. Their agenda is not health care, but opposition to the Obama administration. It takes the form of demonizing Obama. It uses the tactic of the Big Lie to defame him. An example of this is the fiction, "he wants to kill your grandmother." Another is the outrageous statement that he is a racist who hates white people. A person capable of saying that is clearly unhinged and in the grip of unconditional hatred.

My emphasis added.

In short, it's about nothing other than being anti-Obama.

I bring this up because one truly weird bit of fallout from the Kanye West episode - where he yanked the mic away from Taylor Swift in mid-thank-you-speech - is "legit" reporters (like Terry Moran) broke with a long-time precedent to Twitter that Obama called West a jackass during off-limits, pre-interview chatter, and criticized the pres for saying something that's demonstrably true (even by the offender: "But I need to, after this, just to take some time off and analyze how I'm going to, you know, make it through rest of this life, how I'm going to improve").

How's that for a case in point?
Speaking of movies

Haven't seen a stinker like this in a while: Duplicity with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts.


It amazes me when this much money is spent on stars and production value when the script has such an obvious flaw.

The premise is Owen and Roberts are super-spies who fall in love after she rolls him on an assignment, so they become corporate spies who are double-agents for each other so they can retire to a life of luxury and no more secrecy someday. You sit through over two hours of plot twists to arrive at an ending where they LOSE - one of the corporate heads had figured them out along the way and so set up a sting.

But it happens in such an anticlimactic way that when the credits rolled, I was still waiting for the real ending.

Avoid this one even on cable, if you're trapped in a bed, ill, without a remote and have to call a neighbor to change the channel just to avoid this turkey.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Graphic Content

This is a thing of beauty, a thing of joy: Information is Beautiful.

Graphs and charts of consequence and ephemera. You'll lose a couple hours here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fly in the Ghetto and The Hangover

Actually found time to see District 9 and The Hangover in the theatres.

The main story of District 9 is that a huge alien mothership slides to a stop over Johannesburg and when we finally manage to open the ship, the aliens inside are seemingly worker-bee types living in squalor, so we relocate them to a ghetto outside the city. A Monty-python-esque stumble-bunny gets the job of relocating them since they are too close to the city and tend to vandalize and kill a lot. While trying to do that, he gets sprayed with alien goo and begins to transform into one of them.

I enjoyed District 9 while I was watching it, because it's put together well, and uses fake news footage to tell part of the story, which somehow (and sometimes) adds a level of verisimilitude. However, upon reflection whilst egressing the parking lot, my final assessment was "meh." I kinda wished I'd seen it at home so I could've watch the DVD extras, but I have no interest in seeing it again, so that probably won't happen.

The one part that stays with me is the main alien character has a child, and we humans don't really believe that the aliens have parental instincts or that the children bond with the adults; we think of them as big land-dwelling shrimp - even calling them "prawns." The behavior of the child is well scripted so even though we know it's very alien, it's still a baby and has child-like thoughts and motivations. As a dad, that part of it got to me.

The Hangover was as funny as they say, but since EVERYONE had said that, my expectations were too high, so I liked it rather than loved it.

The primary strength of the flick was the three main guys are very believable archetypes. To merely label them as the cool guy, the geek, and the weirdo does no justice to the exact type of those each are. But, you have personally known every one of them, and that's what hooks you into the movie.

The baby-in-peril angle nearly threw my wife and I out of the movie, because even the baby is realistic in that he jumps and cries when something loud or scary happens. However, they use him just enough for the jokes, and then make it safe again.

And I love the fact they never explain the chicken.

Monday, September 07, 2009

An hour of lost sleep

After 8 years of being mildly pissed off all the time, it's been a relief to have Obama in office.

Every time I see the bumper sticker "How's that hope and change working out for ya?" I'm tempted to chase them down to their next stop and say "Just great! Thanks for asking!" But I don't want to get shot or arrested over some mere emotional fulfillment.

So, it's become rarer that I lose sleep over something terrible happening to America at the hands of the brain-dead wingnut cotillion. Some of my friends and relatives still send me those alarmist and usually illiterate neocon emails, even though I've requested politely that they stop; I've just taken to deleting them before I open them. (A rightie friend of mine even chastised his fellow neocons in a response to one of them: "They're not even funny.")

Yet, they got me pretty good on this long holiday weekend ("they" being the wingnut echo chamber).

There I was, sitting next to my wife reading as she watched the local evening news (which I tend to ignore as Denver local news is amazingly grating; my small midwestern hometown switched cable vendors when I was a kid from a Denver feed to a Minneapolis feed just to escape the Denver news). This report comes on that Obama is going to give a speech to students on the coming Tuesday after labor day, and these words actually came out of the talking head's mouth "Some critics say Obama is overstepping his bounds…"

I dropped my book, I did an unconscious Wile E. Coyote impression - you know where the roadrunner blasts off into the horizon so fast it causes Wile's teeth to literally fall out when his jaw drops - and my ears started ringing. I turned to my wife and pointed at the TV, not having to actually say the words "did I just hear what I think I heard?" She nodded. Two lost hours of sleep later, my wife offered me a leftover sleeping pill (she had insomnia last year for a bit, and they gave her that creepy glowing butterfly stuff after we had to fish her out of the garage during an Ambien sleepwalking incident).

I let it go for a couple days, but today I found the post-it I wrote the phrase on to remind me to search it up later. Here's what must officially be the wingnut talking point phrase, because if you plug it in to any search engine, you get so many hits you'd think you'd actually searched for "tits" or something:
Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.

There are so many troubling aspects to that sentence, I really don't want to bother deconstructing them; I leave that to you, dear reader.

The title of this article (the very one from whence I lifted the phrase) is something I honestly never thought I'd see: Ban lifted on speech by Obama

Ponder that.

Some fucktards - other Americans presumably - actually BANNED a speech by the President of the United States. In my opinion, every single American politician that had anything to do with banning a speech by the President should no longer hold office come Tuesday if they can't at least grasp the FUCKING FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Dear GOD. (Where's Strother Martin when you need him?)

Pardon whilst I chill a moment….

Better now.

File under "What liberal media?"
Best Biography Title Thus Far

My Booky Wook

Personally, I wouldn't spend a moment reading the book itself, but the title cracks me up. You can almost feel through The Force other biographers crying out in pain "DAMMIT! Why didn't I think of that?"
John Hughes Had One More

When John Huges died in August, out trotted the rote celebrations of his career, which was cool, because he did make some awesome films. The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles came out at the end of my college years, so I was still close enough to being a teen to really enjoy the films. Sixteen Candles was especially funny to me because of Anthony Michael Hall's character, which shows only credited as "The Geek" (whereas, oddly, John Cusack's relatively minor character gets a name "Bryce"). That was essentially me, but with less confidence.

Well, during all of that, no one mentioned my favorite Hughes flick: She's Having a Baby. Which is too bad, because it's a great one. It was about the only movie that gave me a glimpse into what being married and having a kid might actually feel like prior to actually experiencing it myself - a mark of great art, IYAM. The sequence where she goes into labor is one of the most effecting, I think. The cut from a tear falling from his face to a drop of blood hitting the delivery room floor is visceral.

When we were trying to have MPC1, we did a bit of the fertility dance stuff that's depicted in "She's Having..", and my wife once actually quoted (in fun, of course) the hilarious line she utters as they are getting ready to have baby-making sex: "You can watch TV if you get bored." (A lot of women (and I know this from story after story I've personally heard), who for years have done everything they could do to NOT get pregnant seem shocked that it often doesn't happen the first month she actually tries to get pregnant.)

If you've not seen She's Having a Baby, give it a spin.

Oh, and he also wrote National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which the fambly watches every year, along with the Grinch and Charlie Brown, to really bring on the feeling of Christmas.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Spectator’s 50 Essential Films

This entry shows how far behind I am in posting these days.

Way back in July, Roger Ebert blogged about the list created by Spectator magazine.

I diligently went through and noted which ones I've seen, and added some others to the "to see" list. The ones in bold I've seen. (List is "title, director". And I didn't have the energy to italicize the titles.)

1. The Night of the Hunter, Laughton
2. Apocalypse Now, Coppola
3. Sunrise, Murnau
4. Black Narcissus, Powell & Pressburger
5. L'avventura, Antonioni
6. The Searchers, Ford
7. The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles
8. The Seventh Seal , Bergman
9. L'atalante, Vigo
10. Rio Bravo, Hawks
11. The Godfather: Part I and Part II, Coppola
12. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer
13. La Grande Illusion, Renoir
14. Citizen Kane, Welles
15. The Scarlett Empress, von Sternberg
16. Tokyo Story, Ozu
17. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott
18. Rear Window, Hitchcock
19. Point Blank, Boorman
20. The Red Shoes, Powell & Pressburger
21. The Earrings of Madame de..., Ophuls
22. Shadows, Cassavetes
23. Pickpocket, Bresson
24. Viridiana, Bunuel
25. Barry Lyndon, Kubrick
26. City Lights, Chaplin
27. Pierrot le Fou, Godard
28. Sunset Boulevard, Wilder
29. Notorious, Hitchcock
30. M, Lang
31. The Roaring Twenties, Walsh
32. Singin' in the Rain, Donen and Kelly
33. The Long Day Closes, Davies
34. Killer of Sheep, Burnett
35. Gun Crazy, Lewis
36. Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky
37. Taxi Driver, Scorsese
38. The 400 Blows, Truffaut
39. Pulp Fiction, Tarantino
40. Kind Hearts and Coronets, Hamer
41. In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-Wai
42. Sullivan's Travels, Sturges
43. 8 1/2, Fellini
44. Pinocchio, Disney
45. Great Expectations, Lean
46. Rome, Open City, Rossellini
47. Duck Soup, McCarey
48. Jaws, Spielberg
49. Manhattan, Allen
50. Out of the Past, Tourneur

The first one I attempted was Rio Bravo and wasn't able to make it through. Yet.

Next I watched Point Blank and was amazed at how much I hated it. It was silly, pretentious and full of auteur-esque touches that I hope the director now deeply regrets. Reviewing the rest of Boorman's list, I realize I don't like anything he's directed. However, he wrote and produced Excalibur, so I have to be a bit thankful for him. (And I see he's filming The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, dear Lord.)

The only thing I came away with (from Point Blank) is that Angie Dickinson must've been the go-to actress for nudity back in the day before it was common. I've seen a few older films now where her main contribution was her boobs. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

So, I decided that whomever put that list together has very little in common with my tastes in film, even though there's a bunch I've seen. However, I posted it anyway in case you'd like to take advantage.

And here's an old, no longer complete list of movies I recommend, an another and another (near the end). Just off the top of my head, to be complete, I'd add:

- Star Trek (2009)
- Iron Man
- Unbreakable
- Monsters vs. Aliens (the 3D version - best evar thus far)
- The Emperor's New Groove (to me, it's in the pantheon with the funniest films ever)
- Jack's Back (which you can't get anymore, so this is sorta a tease)
- Bedazzled (original version)
- Just Like Heaven
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
- 50 First Dates
- Scooby Doo 2 (really, it's funny as hell)
- The "Up" series
- Dazed and Confused (an all-time-high favorite that I've mentioned before, but am bringing up again because it's one of Quentin Tarantino's, too.)
Like a fine wine

If you don't like cartoons, surf away now, save those precious minutes of your life for something else.

My beloved MPC2 (for those not familiar with the acronym, it's: "Most Precious Child" lifted from a good buddy who coined the term, "2" indicating child 2 in terms of birth order), who's 4, LOVES herself some loony tunes (though she requests "Bugs Bunny" like southerners request soda pop by asking for a "coke," which will prompt the server to ask which kind - cola, dr. pepper, sprite, orange, etc.).

So, I'm getting to watch them regularly (again) as I read next to her on the couch. Some of them still cause me to put the book down and watch.

I think among aficionados like myself, the funniest Warner Bros. classic cartoons of all time are perhaps these:

- Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century
- One Froggy Evening
- Robin Hood Daffy
- The Rabbit of Seville
- Rabbit Seasoning
- What's Opera Doc?
- Feed the Kitty -- I still chuckle at the line: "My, what a long face!"
- Little Red Riding Rabbit -- You just know that there was some chick who talked like that who annoyed the hell out of the animation crew.
- A Bear for Punishment -- A family favorite. We've adopted "I nudged him and I nudged him. He's awfully still." (around the 3:12 mark) and "But Henry." as family catch-phrases. The prior just for fun, but the latter because we have a cat that feels he needs to be petted at 2:13 A.M. and prowls around the bed purring the loudest purr I've ever heard on a cat, which is sometimes met with my launching him off the bed, and if my wife catches me, I get the standard lecture about how he's needy because he was taken away from his mother too early and so on. So I report to MPC1 that I got the "But Henry." speech again last night.
- The trilogy starring a clueless Porky Pig and a silent, scared out of his mind Sylvester: Scaredy Cat (1948), Claws for Alarm (1954) [my favorite, and sorry this version has a commentary running through it], and Jumpin' Jupiter (1955)

The look on Sylvester's face from "Claws for Alarm" is the perfect embodiment of sheer terror.

But "Little Boy Boo" has become my all-time favorite:

In particular, the hide-and-seek sequence just kills me every time, around the 4:44 to 5:40 mark. I love the brilliance and multi-layered meaning to Foghorn Leghorn's cautious, "No, I'd better not look. I just might be in there."

Philosophy fills me with inertia, but I'd love to know how many formal philosophies are touched upon by that one gag.

Note: Half of these links will disappear as Warner Bros. still combs Youtube for posts of cartoons and shuts them down. Which I think is stupid and futile given the age and ubiquity of these things. They had to have made their money from the DVDs by now, and people are still gonna buy them if they want a good copy or the ability to plant the kid in front of the TV for a while. Why doesn't WB just view these as commercials? Anyway, a hunt for the title on Youtube, Google, or Bing will find you a new copy usually.

This is especially useful if you are away from home, but visiting somewhere where there's a computer. You just fire these up for the kids, and you've got some time to talk.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

To Your Health

While Camille Paglia, a columnist I still enjoy and used to agree with for the most part, continues her slide into becoming a neocon replete with raging denial, others are doing a much better job at defining the issues and problems in regards to the current healthcare debate.

The first paragraph of "Can Obama give 'em hell before it's too late?" by Michael Lind gives me goosebumps:
"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering," President Franklin Roosevelt told an audience in Madison Square Garden in 1936. "They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred."

It's riveting and deeply tragic that this particular cycle of history had to repeat. The right has pretty much managed to undo most of the great things FDR did, and undo most of the gains of the labor movement of the early 1900s, and by that I mean if you work in a "Right to Work" state, the only protection you have as an employee is that you are legally due any pay for any documented hours worked. That's it. Yes, if you feel you were discriminated against, you can sue. But, if you're a white guy under the age of 50, well, fuck you.

(And you can tell it was a Republican effort by the very name "Right to Work." They have a particular love of Orwellian, opposite-meaning legislative monikers.)

Lind's whole article is good. He even thumps the left for the crap it did wrong - something very necessary when we're trying to accomplish something this historical that has this much importance. (And I say "even" because Salon is openly lefty.)

On a lighter note, Garrison Keillor's "We need a public pet option," brings perspective by pointing out that if this debate were about pets, it'd probably be over already.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Book

The opening sentence to this great article (linked to by reads: "It may be, as offline readership continues to decline, that the mere fact of a bound, printed book with a paper dust jacket is something to celebrate."

The article then veers of onto its real topic - book designs not chosen - but that sentence struck me because I don't agree with it at all. While newspapers may be in trouble, the printed paper book is here to stay (as is the magazine, but that's another story).

I know this is probably belaboring the obvious, so just a couple more points:

- Electronic devices need power, don't work well in the sun, and any moisture is toxic to their very being - and this will probably always be the case. I don't like the experience of reading something long on them. I often read in my driveway while the kids play on the block, and well over half the time they either run over my book, or knock my beverage into it. Books get funky if they get wet, too, but at least you can still finish the thing. And you've only lost the price of the book, not several hundreds of dollars of electronic device.

- Those who provide the media for any electronic device - be it broadcast TV, Tivo, DVDs, music, or books - are of the mindset that you are always just borrowing their content and only they truly own it. So any device, like Kindle, that has a pipe to the provider will allow them to control what's on that device, as with the famous ironic "recall" of Orwell's 1984 from people's Kindles. Once you walk out of a store with a book, CD, or DVD, that puppy's yours, and there's not a lot they can do about it.

We all know that those who read tend to have children that read, and that is the case with my family.

Ergo, books have a solid future.

Since we're on the topics of books, I plowed through something recently that was thoroughly enjoyable and something I intend to buy a used copy of to send with my daughters when they go to college:

Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan.

The summaries, trivia and "what to skip" jive with my memories of the books I've read, and it totally assuaged my (admittedly very teeny tiny) bit of guilt at deciding I will never try to read James Joyce's Ulysses again. How cool is it that someone took the time to put something like this together?

My only gripe is the overemphasis on gay studies ephemera. I know that the Lit departments of many colleges had more or less ousted white, straight guys (and their "dead white male" canons), but even with that knowledge, it was slightly sorrowful to encounter blatant evidence of it.

To Murnighan's credit, though, he's brave enough to dispense with the "dead white male" silliness right out of the gate, so the book's actually a nice cross-section of good classic lit.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Been reading Bios like crazy lately. I'm a bit of an impulse shopper at the library (wonderful when it's free) and they've had this bio section by the front lately.

Tom Bergeron - the host of Hollywood Squares, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Dancing with the Stars (which I think of as "Dancing with the Scars") - has a rather amusing bio.

What's cool is that it as much about how to make it in the biz as it is about how he did it. Anyone who wants to be in broadcasting should read this book.

My favorite parts are when he gets food poisoning and when he announces on the air that the reason a popular puppet character was removed from his morning variety show was due to the Peter Principle, but it so happens some studio bigwigs were watching - one of them named Peter - who didn't know what the Peter Principle was and assumed it was a swipe at him - which of course is a deliciously ironic example of the Peter Principle.

Read the strokefest The Garth Factor: The Career Behind Country's Big Boom by Patsi Bale Cox out of morbid curiosity as to what eventually happened to Garth, as near the end of his career he was kind of getting that Scientology-melted-my-brain/eyes-too-wide glare (for the record he's not a Scientologist, but I've noted most of them eventually have this odd glare in common).

It had a lot of great stuff about executive battles in country music, which is why I ended up reading it to the end, but it sure handles Garth with kid gloves. Then at the end we find that he's gearing up to come out of retirement, so I realized I probably just read an infomercial.

Still, if you're a fan, there's enough stuff about the inspiration behind some of his songs that you might dig it.

Finally, I plowed through A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers. I picked it up to get the story on why my beloved TV show Pushing Daisies was cancelled (it being the ONLY new scripted show I've started watching in the past few years, only to get it yoinked out of my life); however, I kept reading because it was funny as hell.

Here are some excerpts I enjoyed:

The setup for this line is when she went on the "700 club" to promote her new CD (which had some Christian-themed songs on it) which pissed off her gay fans given the show's stance on being gay, so when she apologized to them, the Christian music tour she was supposed to join fired her.
"So apparently, though it's famously impossible to please all of the people all of the time, it is quite possible to simultaneously piss everyone off." - pp. 210

Here, Aaron Sorkin is lamenting the demise of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and Chenoweth makes it a life lesson.
"Look, I screwed up Studio 60 nine ways from Sunday," he [Aaron Sorkin] told her. "I made storytelling mistakes. I wrote angry. And anger is good fuel for the tank when you're writing, but not over the course of twenty-two episodes."

It occurred to me that the same is true of life in general. At times you have to get your Harriet up, but it's corrosive to be constantly embattled. Life requires peace. Peace requires balance. And balance requires a certain amount of get-over-yourself. - pp. 212

This one really needs no setup.
Jerry [Zaks] stuck a cigar in the side of his mouth and said, "So, kid, tell me about the Rapture."

"Well, it's when Jesus comes and takes all his followers up into Heaven."

"You mean, we'll be sitting here and you'll just disappear?"

"That's what I believe."

"What's left after you disappear?"

"I don't know. A pile of clothes, I guess."

He opndered that a moment. "Will your panties still be here?"

"Yes, Jerry," I said with the loving spirit of Jesus in my heart. "My panties will still be here. And you may have them." - pp.213

What I realized is that most bio writers these days realize the words have got to pop, so the Bergeron and the Chenowetch bios were just plain fun to read.

If you're looking for a nice, easy beach or airplane read, try a bio next time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

My current music crush

I have slowly fallen in love with the site "The Ultimate Bootleg Experience" (aka T.U.B.E.).

They offer (illegal, I'm sure) complete downloads of bootlegs of concerts and concert video.

At times I have been really impressed by the quality of the sound. They usually spell out if it's from a soundboard connection, broadcast over FM or if it's a crowd recording (which usually sound the worse, but can have a certain charm - in the middle of the third song on the 2009 Steely Dan show, you hear some woman announce in a nasal voice, "These are our seats." which really puts you in the live moment).

What finally put me over the top was a posting of a late 70s Steely Dan show with the original lineup. I had always wondered what they sounded like. Answer: good.

Btw, they have many more artists than Steely Dan.

Enough babble, go check it out.

Just some housekeeping. You'll notice that some blog bros and sisters are gone from the right, they done retired. (Dropping like flies anymore. Have we passed into a new age on the web and no one noticed?)

I'll miss you Opinionated Home Schooler and Redwood Dragon.

Also, the link to my old vanity site will be coming down sometime in Oct. because Geocities/Yahoo is discontinuing their free hosting service, so it will disappear into the void. So, if there's anything out there that you like or liked, go grab it now. The Reading page in particular has some good stuff. I think it's the only place on the web you'll find Gahan Wilson's wonderful Pocket Movie Sci-Fi / Horror Calculator.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's like asking a Xeriscaper how to grow Kentucky Bluegrass

The wife and I agreed a long time ago, after I had been given some sage advice from a teacher way before we had kids, not to allow video games in the house. They can play them at friends' houses, but not at home.

The few exceptions have all been games you can play on a computer, don't cost over $30, and specifically games that require something other than shooting things. Of the few allowed, "The Sims" has been a perennial favorite of the older MPC1. What's even more cool is that she enjoys creating the world and the houses as much or more than creating the simulated people that populate these worlds. She spent a week building an apartment complex once.

Often, she'll start regaling my lovely wife and me with something that has transpired in the Sim world, and I'm always amused because it's often so … nerdy. Not what she says, mind you, but what happened in the game.

Then it dawned on me: here's a game where the primary goal is social interaction created by a group renowned for being the biggest social maladroits ever to plod the face of the planet - COMPUTER GEEKS!

I've been in IT for almost 20 years now and of the hundreds of IT people I've known and worked with, I can think of exactly two who are good at talking to girls; I include myself in that number and I'm not one of the two. Now, let me qualify that IT geeks are some of my favorite people in the world. They're usually intelligent, kind (once you know what they consider kind), fun to talk to, and the list goes on. But, the vast majority are not the people you'd tap for relationship advice, whether it's friendship or romance.

Yet, here's this whole game created by these very people about that very thing.

One of her buddies got Sims 3 recently, and we don't have a computer powerful enough to play it (nor do we want to re-invest all the money on the new games and extension packs), so she's been limited to playing at her friends. She was belaboring the differences between Sims 2 and 3 in secret hopes I'd be so moved as to buy a new computer for her just so she could play version 3, and she says, "But, even though you can visit other Sims and more places in 3, it's still really hard to make friends."

After I'd pulled myself up from laughing my ass off and rolling on the floor, wiping my eyes and getting my breath back, she said, "You're going to blog this, aren't you?"

Yes, my dear. Yes I am.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I was mere blocks away when the massacre at Columbine high school occurred. We heard of it over the police band or something, so got wind of it just as the first kids started spilling out of the school.

I recall being deeply frustrated with the media reports at the time because the police had (appropriately) kept a lot of information out of the news, so the hours and hours of local reporting (which you could not escape if you had a TV on) were footage of tear-stained friends and family doing memorial stuff while the news anchor droned banalities, punctuated by the occasional weepy interview about how special someone was.

Yeah, that's pretty harsh, I know. I did and do have sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, but the news managed to be useless and unbearable. If they were in a media blackout, they should've just said so, STFU, and move on to the weather.

When I saw Columbine by Dave Cullen - though I wasn't really stoked about a journey through that particular valley of woe - I picked it up with a sigh and got down to it because I still had so many unanswered questions.

The strength of this book is how thoroughly the psychology of the two evil little motherfuckers is constructed from the diaries and tapes they left behind, augmented with a the insights that psychologists and criminal profilers have from similar cases. If you want to know the mental patch-work of evil human beings, this book will show that to you. Jodi Picoult tried to do that very thing in her Columbine-inspired Nineteen Minutes, but ended up (I feel) just embarrassing herself. (I credit her for trying, though.)

Points of interest (to me, at least):

- The "quiet time" after the initial bloodshed. Once the two little peckers had gunned down several kids in the library and cafeteria, they wandered around not shooting anyone for a 32-minute "quiet period". The author posits that this conforms to typical sociopathic behavior, in that once the initial thrill of the crime is experienced, all the "fun" drains out of it and the sociopath lapses back into boredom and disinterest.

- What happened, specifically, to the two pricks. They blew their heads off at the same time. Good riddance.

- The Cassie Bernall mythology. It was initially reported that one of the attackers pointed his gun at her and asked if she believed in God, when she said yes, he shot her. Well, that didn't happen. In reality, she didn't say anything; the gunman poked his head under the table she was hiding, yelled "peakaboo!", and shot her. (Bless her heart and may she rest in peace.) However Valeen "Val" Schnurr a few tables away had been hit with a shotgun blast and started praying, "Oh my God, oh my God, don't let me die." The attacker turned around and said, "God? Do you believe in God?" She replied, after a pause, "Yes. I believe in God." "Why?" "Because I believe. And my parents brought me up that way." He began to reload but something distracted him and he walked away. (I now find I could have resolved this question just by looking around the web a bit. Yet, this book is authoritative and some of the sites still quibble over details, so I'm glad I've got the info from a reliable source.)

- The days of April 19-20 are becoming pretty big ones in American history. All this happened on those dates:

-- Waco Branch Davidian siege famously ended in flames on the 19th, 1993
-- Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995
-- Columbine shooting happened, on April 20, 1999 - the date chosen because of the previous two events on this list, and the fact that it was Hitler's birthday; don't know why they didn't do it on that Monday the 19th
-- Johnson Space Center shooting, April 20th, 2007

And, interestingly (and included by me out of sheer perversity):
-- April 19, 1987 – The Simpsons premieres as a short cartoon on The Tracey Ullman Show (Source: Wikipedia)

Therefore, I'm gonna be jittery on those two days in April henceforth.

Even though I've mentioned it and it's obvious, the book is a grueling, hard read just because of the horror of the event. If it intrigues, gird your mental loins beforehand. If you'd prefer your summer be lightness and mirth, eschew this one.
Academia Decides to Join the Clan

M. Blowhard linked to "feministx," a deeply conflicted young lady (and college student) who's mulling over (among many things) "Human Biodiversity" (aka "HBD", aka "evo-bio") which is the identity-politics code term for, well, a bastard cousin of eugenics, meaning that there is not a movement to improve humans through selective breeding (and killing), but a perceived need to acknowledge that there might be significant enough racial differences that impact human behavior and thus should impact subsequent considerations regarding policy, education, and what have you.

Or, in a nutshell, act as though some racial and ethnic stereotypes are real. Formalize it.

I think most of us - at least folks who value pragmatism - do employ stereotypes a little bit, but I think we do it on a contingency basis, ready to abandon preconceived notions at the slightest reason to do so. A supposed propensity towards something does not equate to that behavior eventually presenting itself; we're complex beings, and our race is (or gender is, or ____ is) merely a component of what might determine our actions or reactions.

However, I think "formalizing" Human Biodiversity as a subject in academia will essentially institutionalize racism and ethnic tension (not to mention sexism).

I have worked jobs covering the gamut, and I have seen NO DIFFERENCE in ability or performance when it comes to race or gender. This includes 5 foot tall, tiny women tossing 60 lb. pieces of luggage into an aircraft's baggage compartment that's 7 feet off the ground.

(Well, I have seen a difference as far as male/female social politics go. Men employ different social politics than women do, and vice versa. But, for the purposes of this post, it's immaterial.)

I also think the folks who are forwarding "Human Biodiversity" as a field of study will dash against the rocks of studies like this where test scores were influenced by how the participants were predisposed to the test. Short version: two groups of Asian women of predetermined equal intelligence were give a math test, but one group was told beforehand that women typically didn't do well on math tests, so try hard, while the other group was told that Asians were better at math than other races. The group who were told they were "just girls" did worse than the group who were told they were braniac Asians.

Another reference to that study notes interesting information regarding a similar study about white guys who golf.

Pretty much sets the Human Biodiversity shite on its ear, methinks.

I also think Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel dropkicks evo-bio through the goalposts of bullshit.

Seems human advantage is directly tied to ecosystem advantages AND a culture's predisposition to other cultures. For instance, Diamond asks why China didn't "conquer the world" but western Europe did; the short answer: Chinese thought they were the height of human accomplishment and culture, so why go hang out with the stinky, slack-jawed idiots that comprise the rest of the world? Ironically, they WERE the height at the time global conquest began, but that very fact and their self-knowledge of it allowed pretty much two whole continents to be overtaken by (stinky) Europeans.

So, the success of various groups of humans is not comparable to the wrens of Galapagos having specialized beaks that allow them to dominate a part of the ecosystem. It's more like, "Hey, these plants here grow really easily. Too bad I don't have more land on which to plant them. There's a whole bunch of new land somewhere? Cool. Sign me up."

About the only (anecdotal) evidence I've ever seen that possibly supports evo-bio was on a recent repackaged "America's Funniest Home Videos" show that featured "the best scares." To a one, anyone of European descent just took a couple steps or just fell the heck over when startled. However, every single person of African descent ran like hell and got completely out of the room/house/dangerous place (or punched the assailant so hard, "danger" was averted). The dearth of Asian representation on that particularly-themed show might speak to some innate stoicism or unflappability. (And, yes, I am kidding about this being some sort of evidence for evo-bio bs.)

When Entertainment Weekly first came out, it was a snarky, helluvah fun read.

Then at some point after one of the big media conglomeration cycles, they moved to not really covering entertainment, but merely being a shill.

I stopped my subscription a few years ago, but while researching something a couple weeks ago I came upon a "get 4 issues free, then cancel" offer, so signed up to see how they are now.

Wow. The decline since is phenomenal. It's about the most content-less magazine I've ever picked up on purpose. Over half the "articles" are just lists of "what's cool!" or "see this!"


Wednesday, July 01, 2009


"Don't waste your money on a new set of speakers,
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers.
Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways
Its still rock and roll to me."
- Billy Joel

The first time I heard those lines I knew from experience that they were true. Stereo wars in the college dorm rooms only confirmed this awesome truth.

TLD: Stereo wars occurred when someone would toss their door open and start blasting a song; if this gave offense, or if someone just wanted to out-blare the challenger, they, too, would wing open their door and crank it to 11. Turns out that many huge, expensive speakers can win on a sheer decibel level, but rarely on fidelity, and they tended to suck when turned down very low.

I had this pair of speakers that came with my original JC Penny stereo system I'd purchased in early high school. They sounded better at most volumes (save for learjet takeoff levels) than all the other speakers on the dorm floor. I kept those babies until I literally blew them out - the foam that ringed the speaker cone simply shredded one sad day (a couple decades after I got them).

The replacement set, which I purchased in the late 90s, were close in size and specs. to that old pair, and I still think they sound better than most of the stereos I hear at other's houses.

I used to be somewhat of an audiophile. I didn't get into those bizarre turntables that had the platen made of granite floating on a bed of compressed air suspended from the ceiling on a counterweight treated specifically to dampen vibrations, with the strobe light on the side, replete with a complimentary package of plastic sleeves for your vinyl. However, it did need to sound good, so I popped for a Bang ∧ Olufsen turntable, which I have to this day. Still sounds niiiiiiice.

When I use it.

Which these days is about a much as I use my CD player anymore - say 5 times a month, tops.

Which brings me to my point.

My fidelity preferences these days are completely driven by the media itself and not a general desire for the best representation of the media whenever possible. In other words, the song or movie I want to experience drives where I want to hear it or how I watch it.

In this day of portable music, a new unwritten rule has wafted into the cultural air: Don't inflict your music on me, or even your current song choice - even if I like the artist, because you can keep it to yourself, so please do.

Nearly all of my music listening is done through an MP3 player or a computer. Most of that is in headphones of various quality. About the only time I play music out loud is in my own car on the way to and from work (where I don't have the song selection I do on my MP3 players, which annoys me). A third of the time I try to put something on the stereo at home, someone pipes up and says, "Uh, I don't want to listen to that right now."

So, I've stopped buying CDs altogether because I just convert them immediately to MP3s, and music is now largely a private or mobile event for me. No sitting down and absorbing an LP like the old days.

When it comes to movies, I still want to see big event movies with lotsa special effects on the big screen for the obvious reasons (which boil down to an immersive experience), but for comedies and dramas, I prefer to watch them at home. Most comedies these days are released as emasculated PG-13 squankers to bring in the teenage audience, but come out as an "unrated" (essentially a hard "R") version of the same thing, and the latter is always better.

Also, anymore, when you see a comedy in a theatre, some people seem to get offended if you laugh at something they didn't. I've been glared at for laughing during a movie more than once this year. Some people need to chill the fuck out, methinks. Still, it diminishes the experience. I can laugh my ass of on my couch without reprisal.

Today's dramas often have a load of extras on the DVD, so it's kind of a "meta" experience. I often want to back up or watch a scene again if it intrigued the first time, too. Frinsance, when I watched the fantastic Doubt recently, there were a bunch of extras with the author/director about the history of the piece, his inspiration, the fact parts were filmed at the very Catholic school he attended, and so on. Good stuff.

The moral of the story is I find myself mildly surprised that most of my media consumption is purposely mid-fi or even lo-fi. This dawned on me when a couple other music and movie nuts made the observation out loud that they don't go to movies or buy albums anymore. And it wouldn't be that way if there were no such thing as DVD (because I would still see movies in the theatre if we only had mushy old VHS) and MP3.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we have them, because the convenience of use - for me - outstrips the loss of fidelity.

But Billy Joel was more prescient than he realized.
Just in case you've never seen it

This is probably one of the funniest bits evar. Robin Williams channels a drunk Scot in the midst of inventing golf:

Friday, June 26, 2009


So, watching one of the news summaries of Farrah Fawcett's life, which was pocked with a generous sprinkling of clips from "Charlie's Angels," I began to wonder: did her nipples ever stand down?

I'd always thought that "Friends" took the award for most breasts at full attention, but Farah may have been the unbreakable record setter - the Elvis of pokies, if you will.
Without Permission

I have beloved a phrase coined by a college roomate: "Look out, they're trying to touch your heart without your permission!" - said during a movie we didn't expect to be so emotionally stirring. He was a renowned cynic and when his eyes started welling up, he had to come up with something I guess, and that was it. Brilliant.

The rule about entertainments that do that (the unsolicited heart-touching) is it has to come with some sort of payoff that makes it worth the emotional trouble.

Tragedies particularly illustrate this principle. If everything ends badly, then there has to be something in there that made it worthwhile. Apocalypse Now, Body Heat, and Terms of Endearment come to mind.

When there is no point to the tragedy, you get something like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where you start out getting your heart broken as this little deformed baby with liver spots on its hand reaches up to hold his adopted mom's hand at night, then it all ends with having to watch a baby die (in his ex-wife's arms, no less). And there you are, all wrung out for nothing.

This isn't even a one trick pony, it's a half of a trick pony. All the movie does is play out the premise and that's it. There's nothing else there. Since this is a Fincher film, it honestly surprised me. This is his first full-on stinker.

If you want to see something real, something with passion, watch the extras where they show you how they pasted Brad Pitt's face on various avatars and stand-ins to make it look like he's really a 2-year-old troll. There you see passion and meaning, of a sort.

This unsolicited heart-touching kinda scotched the new Pixar 'toon Up for my fambly. It made my eldest cry from the start, and thus left her too bereft to enjoy the rest. Same for my wife. What did it for me, besides that, was piss me off when the bad guy purposely set up the child in the film to die a horrible death. Even if it is just a cartoon kid, it bothers me that bazillions of kids now have the idea in their head that a mean old guy might just let them fall to their deaths.

Full disclosure, my family has been contrarian, though, on a few Pixar films. We literally couldn't get through Ratatouille and thought Cars was merely OK. We hated Finding Nemo. The eldest's first words as we walked from the theater were, "Jeez, everyone in that movie was damaged in some way. Weird." We all got tired of playing "what's the handicap?!?" during the flick. We found Denis Leary's dental-instrument-scarred fish the most disturbing.

We might have a different aesthetic than other families, perhaps.

Note: I started writing this post on 6/22, and upon reading Whisky's recent post about David Edelstein's coinage of the standard Pixar plot: inconsolable woe ---> sentiment ---> riotous chases ---> rousing cliff-hanger - I nearly leapt up and said "Hell Yeah!" Because it's so true. But merely muttered "dammit" because I had been sorta scooped, even though my point is slightly different.
My opines technology that "failed"

Read this article on 10 disappointing technologies.

Here are my thoughts on some of them:

Biometrics always gave me the heebie-jeebies because it's simply giving too much information to people who really have no business asking for it in the first place. If you are doing something that requires a security level where biometrics even comes up as a topic, you pay a fucking set of guards to look everyone in the face and get pissy with them if they have the slightest suspicion you're lying to them.

Then, you put the biometrics after that. Or another guard in a worse mood.

The point being, you can always find a way to fool a machine. Fooling peoples is harder.

Or, people ARE the only viable biometric safeguard.

I actually see a day where I might move some of my family's computers to Ubuntu, because I've installed it a few times now and have gotten everything to work that I wanted to. I haven't done it yet because for now I have valid instances of Windows 2000 running on most of the boxes and XP running on one (because they don't allow you to put it on all the boxes you own, which I think is a stupid business model for home computers) and it all works, so I'm too lazy to bother switching until I have to.

However, lately, there are enough web sites that check what my FREAKIN' OPERATING SYSTEM IS and wont' allow me to run their stuff because my OS is "too old" or "doesn't support" this or that, which is horseshit. I go onto the same site with an Ubuntu box and everything works. When I'm accessing you through a browser, you shouldn't care what my OS is.

I also have held off due to concerns about technical issues that arise when I'm not home, thinking that my family could troubleshoot Windows issues better than Ubuntu ones. It turns out they're typically floored either way, so I've tossed that out as a roadblock.

So, if I don't have the money to get newer stuff in the next couple years, I may have to switch operating systems just so sites on the web will let me do what I want.

If that's not silly, I don't know what is.

Oh, and I wish Apple would do a true port of the Mac OS over to standard "intel" chips, because then I'd just use them. They appear to be worth the money.

Virtual Reality
I knew virtual reality would never amount to anything because it faces the same problem robots and cartoons do, it falls into the uncanny valley. When your brain gets all the signals that you should be moving and feeling motion when you aren't, as it would in home virtual reality systems, you start feeling queasy, no matter who you are.

I got to try an early VR setup years ago, and I'm not the sort of guy who gets queasy easily, but man, after 5 minutes, I had to yank that sucker off my head and go sit down for a few.

The current spate of 3D movies demonstrates another side of the problem VR faces: at first it's a fun gimmick, but after a few movies, it becomes something of a distraction, because your brain gets over the gee-whiz factor and begins to get annoyed at being fooled. It knows what's real and what isn't and it balks if you try to get it to accept what is, in effect, a sensory lie.

Another way of looking at it is it's fun to hit the amusement park once or twice a year, but you wouldn't want to crawl onto one every time you wanted to watch a show.

Voice recognition
Ya wanna know who are the only people who need voice recognition? People without arms, blind people, and the freakin Captain the Enterprise. That's it.

You don't speak like you write, so no one's going to dictate anything other than a memo. Even then, the cleanup would be bad enough that it'd be quicker just to type it.

I've written before about what it would be like to work in an office were voice recognition is the standard.

It's a nice option for those who need it; the rest of us will always prefer a mouse and a keyboard.

IF the subscription model allowed you to keep your the tunes you downloaded if you decided to stop subscribing, then there'd be no issue. But, you decide you don't want to pay - or can't - and POOF! All gone. Suck to be you.

That may work for cable or satellite TV reception, because we don't consume TV shows like we do music. Music, however, has always been something that's yours once you buy a copy.

I know. I know, the music biz REALLY tried to change that model, but look where they are now.

Music files with no copy protection (DRM - Digital Rights Management) are the model for the foreseeable future.

Sadly, I think I ruined a friendship over this. Someone wanted to just GIVE me a Zune for free, because apparently it does allow you to load non-DRM MP3's on it, but I said I just didn't want to support a business model I disagree with. Someone once told me that as far as the market's concerned, you vote with your dollar. So I don't give money to corporations whose actions or policies I disagree with, if it's at all possible. (You can take the hippy out of the 70s...)

Still, he was being generous, and I pretty much came off as a dick - me with my precious morals and everything. I forgot, at the time, that people matter before anything else, and I should've accepted it gratefully and just used it as a player.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Recent Flick Viewage

Frost / Nixon
I actually convinced my eldest, who's 12 ∧ 1/2 (since she can't wait to be 13, with the "teen" on the end there, she makes a point to always add "1/2" to her age when asked by anyone), to give this one a try, and she did because she couldn't think of anything better to do. Now it has become the standard-bearer for her on which movies to avoid, e.g. "Dad, this isn't like that Frost / Nixon thing, is it?"

I, however, really enjoyed it. Much more than I thought I would.

But then I was alive at the time and remember hating Nixon (think of how Boris Karloff says, "The Grinch stood there, hating the Who's" to get the right tone). I actually have some respect for the poor bastard now, and think that if he hadn't turned a particular corner in arrogance and insanity (and had run with a better crowd), he'd go down in history as a pretty decent pres. But, no chance of that. He'll always be the crook. And all of his crook cronies coming back during Bush II and doing pretty much the same thing just proved the vileness of that approach to governance all over again.

I didn't realize that these interviews were the first ones where Nixon admitted he did something wrong. I read a later interview(s) somewhere where he really did cop to most of what he did, so I was unaware that this was the first time someone got him to crack.

Watching Frost get himself prepared for the event, and the politics, intrigue, and power games that swirled around the whole mess, are mesmerizing. It may be a function of my age, though. I've witnessed - or been involved in (sadly) - a lot of the kind of things you see in Frost / Nixon. So it's ugly fun to see that it goes on everywhere, and always has.

It's really too bad the movie is inherently boring for the young and/or those who weren't there (assuming, here). When kids are in a hurry to grow up and think it's all skittles and beer, this would be a great movie to show them about how parts of the adult world play out and what makes them suck so much. Not that you'd want to discourage them. Maybe just show it as a warning, so they can brace themselves.

Nearly forgot - make sure you check out the video of the actual interview on the DVD. It's interesting to see how the writer deviated from what was really said, but still stayed within the bounds of what was conveyed.

My Best Friends Girl
This movie made me laugh really hard.

There is one scene of dialogue where a man and woman trade insults so creatively obscene, I laughed harder as each one zinged past. It has one of the best puke jokes, EVAR, too.

But beyond that I don't want to give away any of the plot, because discovering the shtick is half the fun.

The ending is predictable, but the ending of romantic comedies have been since Shakespeare, so: so what.

One proviso: this is a VERY adult movie. Even kids savvy about sex shouldn't really watch this one until they're about 16 or so.

Role Models
Like My Best Friends Girl, this is an R-rated comedy that has the uncut original version as an option on the DVD (and thus the only way to go with adult comedies, imvho). Unlike the above, though, this one is actually not all that foul, and is even sorta tender-hearted.

The premise is two guys end up doing community service and get specifically assigned to a Big Brother program. Since they are faced with either doing the community service or going to jail for a month, they get stuck with the kids no one else wants. Hilarity ensues.

I'd let anyone 14 or above watch this (unless they're specifically sensitive about dick jokes). There's one brief shot of breasts, but surprisingly it's not a gratuitous flash. Other than that, it's just bad, bad language.

So, for the first time in a while, I like all the flicks included in a post. Hooray.
The writing phenom that is Heather Armstrong

So, I ended up reading Things I Learned About My Dad: Humorous and Heartfelt Essays, edited by the creator of and It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita back to back because that's when they happened to arrive at the library. (My local library has an on-line Netflix-like queue where you can put your requests on a list and they notify you when they come in.)

There's just no point it trying to be florid about it, Heather Armstrong is one hell of a writer. As with all brilliant stylists, she has a couple verbal tics that not only define her, but they force you into the column of "love it" or "hate it". If you're not familiar, read a few posts on her site, and you'll discover your column. (I usta link to her site in my "other blogs" sidebar, but that's like the flea referencing the dog.)

"Things I Learned About My Father" - which was edited by Heather, but includes material from other bloggers - has exactly three great essays in it, and two of them are by Heather. The other is the very first one, written by Kevin Guilfoile. Others are ok, but only those three stand out. It's worth your time if you're a parent and want a nice commiseration read. Everyone else should go see the new Star Trek movie.

"It Sucked" is all new original material, save for the letters to her daughter (I didn't check but I think those are culled from her site). If you're a fan, you'll want to read this, because it's another-side-of-the-story events you're already aware of because she's blogged about them.

One revelation for me was she would catch her husband, Jon, crying (when he thought she was asleep) during the time she was dealing with a crushing post-partum depression which culminated in a visit to a mental ward. At the time, I remember wondering how he was faring. Myself, I find I suffer more when my wife and/or kids are sick or suffering than when I am.

I started this post, gad, maybe a month ago now, and life just keeps getting in the way (a good thing mostly, of course, but today it included sick family, a toilet leak that has destroyed the ceiling in the living room, fires to put out at work, and I didn't sleep last night due to the sick child and other mitigating factors ... to top it all off, we have fire alarms that have battery backup and when the battery starts to fail, it does this little beep thing that is acoustically evil in that it takes at least an hour to figure out which one's doing it), so in the meantime, I've been scooped by and his link to another classic Dooce post, which is a great place to start if you want to see if you want to bother reading her books (assuming you don't already read her). And I've mentioned it before, but she also has the best fart story ever, thus far.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Have a Ball

The Ball family has immersed themselves in glory with this video from their wedding. Upon my first viewing, as he began to lip-sync, I must admit to dreary thoughts, but when the whole wedding party joins in and it's wonderful.

Brian & Eileen's Wedding Music Video. from LOCKDOWN projects on Vimeo.

Here's the direct link:

I found this on the great Attu Sees All, but reposted it here in case you can't go to Attu's site at work (and I wouldn't where they monitor your internet use, some stuff is NSFW).

And I stole the title from myself from a page from my ancient vanity site where I thought I was being cute (and it's NSFW, again). I still thank God that the internets weren't around before I turned 30. When reminiscing, I sometimes find myself embarrassed over the things that could've possibly ended up on the web had it been around when I was a pup.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Greed Kills

As I have been (casually) following the news about the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on Feb. 12, I accepted on face value the general media consensus that it was most likely due to the inexperience of the pilots, and for the most part I think that's correct.

For example, the pilot had not been trained about what to do in a stall and what the signs were in that particular aircraft. The co-pilot apparently hadn't ever seen icing on wings in flight before.

But, when I heard about the pay the co-pilot was getting, the fact that she was sick, AND the circumstances of her employment with the airline, it was clear this was just an accident waiting to happen.

Back when I worked for a puddle-jumper airline, I was shocked when I found out how hard they worked the pilots and how little rest they were allowed between flights. On the amount of sleep they sometimes got - after being on shift for quite a few days on end - you wouldn't want these folks to pop open a twist-off beer for ya, let alone rocket your ass into the frozen, wind-torn sky in a plastic bottle fitted with wings and half-filled with explosive fuel.

When you put someone in that kind of a circumstance, pay them poorly, train them even worse, and expose them to schedules and working conditions that are essentially illegal in the manufacturing sector, it's bound to result in exactly what happened. Someone like an airline pilot should be aggressively groomed and trained, not treated like a temp whose primary duty is filing, where only fingers and a basic grasp of the alphabet are required.

From this article (read the whole thing, it's gripping), here are part of the details of how the co-pilot was paid and what her conditions were:

Shaw, 24, flew 774 hours in her first year at Colgan. Roger Cox, a safety board aviation safety expert, said she earned $21 an hour, meaning that she would have been paid about $16,254 that year. As a result, Shaw worked a second job in a Norfolk, Va., coffee shop when she started at Colgan, safety board witnesses said.

So, after handing folks their freakin' Venti's for a shift or two, she'd sleep on a chair in the pilot's lounge or on a plane, and then grab the controls of a FREAKIN' JET.

Dear God.

There are going to be a lot of corporate executives in hell, methinks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obligatory Review of the new Star Trek movie

Punchline: I had a grand time, as did my 12-year-old daughter (full disclosure: she's a fan of the original series). A hearty recommendation for fans, and a solid recommendation for newbies or folks who haven't liked any of the TV shows (particularly the latter shows).

Finally finally finally they have realized Star Trek is much better when it has a pair. A big pair. (I half expected the Enterprise to be sporting these, a tacky little trend that hopefully will be a short one.) And some hot green chicks, to boot.

The nicest surprise is that Sulu turns out to be a badass. Fans will recall that from the original show the episode where everyone gets wasted on an alien virus and Sulu ends up darting around the halls shirtless, challenging everyone to a fencing battle. Non-fans will enjoy things a bit more knowing that bit of history, and let's leave it at that.

My daughter's verdict, besides being the best movie she's seen this year (wow, huh?) was that they did a great job of casting. And they did.

Sulu is my favorite casting choice, as they used John Cho from the Harold & Kumar movies, and, as mentioned, he freakin' BRINGS IT. My next two faves are Karl Urban as Bones (he nails it while bringing the character freshness) and of course Simon Pegg as Scotty.

Kirk and Spock are cast wonderfully, too, though a few times you catch Zachary Quinto (Spock) being just a bit too doe-eyed for the Spock we know and love - but then it's actually a plot/character point, so even that works eventually.

J.J. Abrams was handed the keys to the kingdom, and admitted that he was not a trekkie, which was probably a saving grace. He clearly did his homework and was able to come to this without the nostalgic emotional haze original fans had, and so did not try to recreate that. His grokking of the series is so complete, I think he even included Galaxy Quest in his research, because there's a couple tips of the hat to that movie, too.

I can't say "my only quibble" because I don't really have one, if you follow Ebert's old rule of reviewing the movie you saw, not the one you wanted to see. If we step out of that restriction, my one wish is that Chris Pine (Kirk) had just once found a way to do Shatner's famous verbal tick when he was trying to remember a line where he would ... pause … before … rushing out the rest of the line. Maybe he's saving that for the next one.

And, oh yes, there will be a next one. They do manage to reboot the series in a way where they can do new adventures without having to betray anything that occurred in the original.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


So who were the marketing geniuses in each studio who felt is was a good idea to release their big sci-fi film at the same time everyone else did. And on mother's day weekend no less?

This weekend we have the new "X-men", "Terminator", and "Star Trek" all opening, and there's "Angels & Demons" plus the sequel to "Night at the Museum." In the age where movies stay in the theatres for two weeks, tops.

Da fork?

Turns out, I wasn't looking at the DATES of the ticket sales. When I went to the site I have for a while to find out movie times (because if you call the theatre for them, you're in for a 15 minute ride through menus before you know a movie time, and that's if you get the options right), I did not realize that you can now buy tickets for movies weeks in advance. And, the date of the show is listen in parenthesis, so it's easy to miss it's for a couple weeks out.
Fri (5/22) ( 11:50 ) ( 2:00 ) 4:40 7:30 10:20

See the date in there? Well, I didn't when I was in a hurry and was skating past all the other crap they put in your way on commercial sites.

So, the only movie I did care about seeing was the only one playing.