Thursday, December 29, 2011

At the end of 2011

As we head into the final year of the Mayan calendar, I think we find the world somewhat adrift. Protests foam in many countries including the USA, dictators are being dispatched to the void with welcome regularity, the middle east looks like it might give representational government a try, media companies continue to implode because the market has shifted (again) to personal media-consumption devices with a 8 by 6 inch screen, and the killer app is a slingshot. (Oh, I got a Nook for Christmas. Love. It.)

We've faced probably the most evil group of elected officials in a century who actually want America's economy in the crapper because they think they can foster political gain from it. Let's go over that again: elected officials are actively working against the average American and making sure the government accomplishes nothing because they think it will help them on election day a year from now. On a tiny positive note, even the most thick-headed partisans seem to be grasping this, so the next election will be interesting.

On a side-note, politics-wise, I've been wondering why some pundits attack the first lady. The vitriol and nastiness directed at Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton back in the day, puzzles me. Heck, even when Nancy Regan got grief for updating the White House china I thought it was a bit much. What could possibly be the goal besides looking like an ass? I guess I'll leave it to wiser people.

Oh, and after years of joking that we'd see it someday (and always hoping it would remain a joke), I actually saw some poltroon with a "Jesus is a Republican" sticker on the back of his car. When I brought this up to a conservative I work with, he attempted to spin it as a joke the driver was in on, but all the other stickers were just as out there, so I think the guy means it. I got a look at him and his wife at the stoplight, and his whole demeanor was one of rage and bitterness. Methinks a lot of these assholes are gonna be surprised when they finally get to heaven (assuming) and Jesus straightens them out in the issue. (FWIW, as He did when on earth, He would likely eschew any political stance.)

Well, enough of that political shite.

I haven't seen all the 2011 movies I intend to, but of those I've seen, the ones I've dug (in no particular order) are:
- Paul
- Source Code
- Super 8 (my family's fave for the year)
- American: The Bill Hicks Story
- Bridesmaids
The Harry Potter saga ending, part II, we mean it this time, flick
- Crazy, Stupid, Love
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
- Our Idiot Brother
- Contagion (scariest flick I've seen in a while)
- Red State
- The Thing (how could I not like a well-done prequel to my favorite movie?)
- A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
- The Change-up

To my surprise, my wife loved Harold and Kumar as much as I did. You don't need to see the first two prior to seeing this one, but it does enhance some of the jokes.

I was thrilled that the folks behind The Thing prequel did such a fine job of making a nearly seamless prequel with nary a whiff of retcon, even preserving the look and feel of the movie even though they had to conform to the look of the special effects from 1982. And, my God, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a babe. The silver screen certainly has a lot of new eye candy these days, what with Ms. Winstead and the almost-too-pretty Emma Stone. I can see why Jim Carrey lost his shit and posted a video confession that will haunt him for the rest of his days.

The other big surprise for me was The Change-up, which I watched as part of my ongoing Ryan Reynolds festival to see if he's one of those guys who picks enough interesting scripts to always check him out. (The current short list includes Jeff Bridges, the late M. Emmet Walsh, Kurt Russell, Sandra Bullock, and Meryl Streep. Though Emma Stone may join, it's too early to tell.) So far the verdict is yes, The Green Lantern notwithstanding.

Anyway, except for the epic misfire of of a set-piece where toddlers are put in major harm's way, The Change-up is funny, which was part of the surprise because the reviews were scathing, but other surprise for me was the nudity, meaning the actresses (save for one) weren't ones I would expect to expose their pink parts. (Which came with the realization that I have some murky categorization in my head of those who will get nekkid and those who won't.) This lead me to pause the flick and the actress to see what else she's been in (to test my "not the kind who gets nekkid" theory), which then lead me to the trivia that all of the nudity in the movie is CGI. Upon re-review of the scenes (a few times), I have to say the uncanny valley has been conquered, at least as far as breasts are concerned.

For a guy, can you imagine having the job of creating CGI nudity? Would it be the greatest job ever, or would you get to the point where you only surf the web for articles? I heard/read the actresses got to choose the appearance of their CGI parts. Imagine being the animator sitting there with some gorgeous actress, which would be intimidating (and fun) anyway, but then your task was to page through big screens full of animated boobs and discussing which ones she wanted as hers. At least my mind would boggle. (Conversely, for a woman, I can't imagine a more tedious assignment. I doubt CGI dicks will catch on, and if they did, the conversations would center around, "[Male star's name], I'm sorry, but if I make it that big, it will look fake.")

Two of my favorite albums - U2's Actung Baby and Nirvana's Nevermind - have finally gotten the deluxe remastered treatment, but alas the window of interest has closed for me. Both were released when CDs were well established, so they sounded good in the first place. All the reviews claim the upgrades in sound are minimal or a step backwards, to boot. And, like Stephen King has pointed out, you can only listen to a song so many times. I've spun both of those so many times that if they were vinyl I'd have the clicks and pops memorized, too.

Besides, a lot of rock dinosaurs put out decent albums this year. Really. There are at least three keepers on the latest from Blondie, Steve Miller (two albums worth!), Cheap Trick, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, and Lenny Kravitz. (One funny footnote to the year is Elvis Costello warned fans away from buying his latest box set because the label egregiously overpriced it.)

My favorite albums from new(er) bands are Foster the People - Torches (which is my eldest's favorite of the year), Givers - In Light, Foo Fighters - Wasting Light, and Maroon 5 - Hands All Over. My favorite singles are ColdPlay - "Hurts Like Heaven", Panic at the Disco - "The Ballad of Mona Lisa", and D. Gookin - "Stealing Sun Chips" which reminds me of The Go! Team but a bit more stoned and drunk (the song is FREE, btw).

I discovered an interesting trick which works most of the time (90% roughly) if you want to preview an album before buying it. Yes, this is immoral and probably illegal if you don't eventually pay for it, but if you want to download an album for free, you need a newer browser that allows you to enter search terms in the URL wherein you enter the name of the band, a dash, the name of the album, followed by "". Like this:
foo fighters - wasting light
steve miller band - bingo!

The books I've enjoyed are Stephen King's latest about time travel, the Dave Grohl bio This is a Call (wow, even though Courtney Love probably didn't pull the trigger, she couldn't be more implicated in Cobain's death, imho), and a wonderful installment in the 33 ⅓ series: Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (33 1/3) by Carl Wilson. It's definitely something readers of this blog should seek out. The premise is brilliant: Wilson admits he HATED HATED HATED Ms. Dion, especially at the time when you couldn't get away from that ubiquitous song that everyone eventually wished would hit an iceberg and sink out of sight, too; so he uses that to frame a discussion of musical taste. It is one of the most cogent breakdowns of what constitutes taste and how we can be more tolerant of other's horrible preferences. Especially since we appear to be headed for a time when the music market is more stratified than ever. (I mean, Judas Crispies, Doris Day even has a new album out.)

I've read a few articles recently that mourn for the day when most of the top 20 albums were bought by most music lovers, and we all had the same thing spinning on our turntables or in the tape decks of our cars. I think the last time I recall everyone embracing an album that we all had to have was Nirvana's Nevermind, with honorable mention to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (which sold more copies than Nirvana did, actually). According to this Wiki article, the chanteuse triumvirate (Britney, Shania, and Celine) and the boy bands of the 90s are the only other pretenders to the throne of celestial sales numbers, but I believe they are actually examples of when the market splintered.

So, see you in the new year. I trust there will be a few fine entertainments in store.