Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans." 
 - usually attributed to John Lennon, but actually first coined by Allen Saunders.  

That sure as hell has been true for me this year.

Here it is: my wife asked for a divorce July 1.  We are still working out the legal, financial and other stuff, but for all practical purposes, I'm suddenly single again.  Yay.

I've kept it as mum as possible, but a co-worker just outright asked when she noticed I don't wear a ring anymore.  The other day she remarked how it seems to her that this seems to be a current trend (anecdotally): wives divorcing husbands after several years, and not based on anything other than "I don't want to be married anymore."  Several of my buddies and a couple guys from work have been or are going through this, too, so having her confirm what I'd already been thinking was strangely comforting.  I'm considering forming a club, and of course we'll have to have t-shirts.  An informal poll has already ruled out "Kicked to the Curb," so the hunt for a pithy club motto continues for now.

In addition, around that time (July) I had a massive outbreak of psoriasis (the liver thing is "cirrhosis" and not related, to head off the oft-asked question), so I was covered in scary-looking red welts.  Children in the checkout line would stare and tug at their mom's clothing to point me out.  The dermatologist tried everything in her arsenal and finally recommended really hardcore drugs reserved for cancer patients and tried-everything-else arthritis patients, both which came with the dire warning that they essentially shut off your immune system, so if you catch something ...   I opted for remaining a rash rave. (A couple months later, she found a cream which did the job of making me mostly human again.)

Then, one of my best buddies ever died suddenly of a heart attack.  I talked about this in my last post, but let me tell you how I found out:

So, there I was, about a week after my wife's announcement, sitting out front of the house (as red as the devil from my psoriasis) watching my 8-year-old bomb around on her bike, sipping cold, frothy comfort.  My friends and neighbors from my social group all began to pour down the block, all of them stopping to ask if I was coming to the party. (Some also asking what the hell had happened with the red skin and all, one smart-ass inquiring if I had enough butter to handle the situation.) I said I hadn't heard of a party.  (Not everyone gets invited to all the parties as sometimes the host wants to keep it small, so I just assumed I'd not been invited to this one.)  Some of them said they'd seen me on the email.  So, I went inside to see if I'd missed a memo, as they say.  While hunting for the invite, I came across an email from a mutual friend that my buddy had died.  And sure enough, I'd been invited (though the original invite was to meet everyone in downtown Denver, which is over an hour away and an expensive pain in the ass, so I usually send my regrets - but they had changed it at the last minute to their house).  The guy throwing the party knocked on the door as I was reading the email about my buddy and gave me a kind rash of shit for not coming to his party and I'd better get my ass down there.

No one yet knew about the divorce, I was fresh in the shock of losing a close friend, many hadn't seen my lovely new crimson upholstering, and there I was getting me and my daughter ready for a party.  Luckily it was a beautiful day, everyone was in high spirits, and my cartoon-character appearance (or "mid-transition to super-hero" appearance, your pick) allowed for a great foil to not have to broach the other two sad topics.  Smokey Robinson songs bonging in my head helped get me through as well, with Bob Dylan taking a few turns.

The next day, I was doing my usual Saturday morning surfing (does anyone call it that anymore?), and I found this:

Laugh.  Thought I'd die.

This has been my personal motto thus far this year.

Well, enough of that shite.  Time to keep going.

My fiction consumption continues to trail non-fiction, but read a couple I enjoyed the hell out of.  

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is the sequel to The Shining, though only in the sense that any episode of a TV show is the sequel to another.  It's not remotely scary, as The Shining was.  I had to stop reading that thing when I was alone after the sun was down, for crying out loud.  But King has addressed the totally not scary thing in many recent interviews with typical self-effacing aplomb. (Short version, and I paraphrase: it was easy to scare you when you were 15, but now you're a jaded old fart, what's a guy to do?) When you're past that it's just (some of) the characters from the first book and it's not scary, it's fun.  (It will not covert anyone who's not a King, fan, though.)

Another good one I read sometime this summer and really liked was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Get me with a good twist and you have me forever.  This book is so twisty you begin to feel like Dorothy moments before she squashes a witch with her house.  At least twice the perspective on the events change so drastically it's like discovering you're in the Matrix or Inception or both at the same time, and while someone less guileless than I might see the twists coming, I had the true joy of: holy shite I didn't expect that! And the ending; oh, the ending.  When you read the Amazon comments so many fret and fume over it.  Google will turn up large discussions over it.  Personally, it made me grin.  I didn't see it coming either because stories like this don't end this way. So good on Gillian Flynn. (They're already filming the flick starring Batman, er, Ben Affleck, so read it before it's in a theatre near you.)

Donald Fagen decided to shock the world again, but not with wondrous glossy instant classic tunes, but a quasi-autobiography! Not much of a surprise, but he's a funny, erudite writer!  Music fans will enjoy, and for Steely Dan and Donald fans, this is a must-read.

Jack Nicholson was the subject of a new bio by Marc Eliot (who has a spotty record in his chosen profession, fwiw).  Turns out Jack is a guy who struggles with being fat and bald.  In the meantime, he's made some great flicks.  This bio just reaffirmed what most of the bios I've read about artists (and most people): they never feel they are successful, that they're never where they want to be, and that they don't have what they want.  So, even Jack Nicholson has had many dark tea-times of the soul.  And scads of pussy.

Linda Ronstadt's autobiography was long on her thoughts about music and singing (and she makes it interesting), but not more than a sentence about her boyfriends and lovers.  So: fail.  In Jack's bio and Rod Stewart's autobio, while most of the time prurient details are left out, at least we get an occasional name.  And not even all of them, just the greatest hits (heh heh).  So, the woman who famously supposedly didn't marry George Lucas doesn't even use the name "George" in the entire book.  When I mentioned this to two of the female librarians when I returned the the book, they both gave me the WTF? reaction.  We'll have to leave it to someone else to provide this story.

Some other media brought Chuck Klosterman to my attention, and I discovered a new favorite writer.  I tried an older book of his and felt is was somewhat dated and filled with the musings of a young man adrift in the detritus of that stage of life (which all of us guys do, I'm not disparaging it; also, the journey of young men seems to differ enough from that of young women so I'm being specific to my gender in that judgement).

Then I got his latest, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), and found it much more to my liking. Best of all his writing has improved dramatically.  One of my singular joys in life is finding a writer who gets exponentially better.  His regular article "The Ethicist" is found here.

His premise is "The villain is the person who knows the most but cares the least." If that intrigues, check out the book.  I agree with most of his points, but it's still more of a philosophical exploration of the notion of evil.  I contend that The People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck grapples with the reality of evil in a more concrete fashion. 

I picked up The Girl With No Name: The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys by Lynne Barrett-Lee and Marina Chapman due to the title alone, thinking this had to be BS.  But Edgar Rice Burroughs was apparently prescient, because the story plays out like the beginning of Tarzan, down to the detail of her trying to use vines to move through the jungle (she was too heavy).  The first-person perspective of this story makes it so gripping, because she addresses what it was like to live without language, or even think in language, for much of her young life.  Her attempts to rescue herself are heartbreaking.  The part about "grandpa" monkey saving her from poisoning was the highlight for me.  And, of course, as a father, the thought of a 5-year-old fending for herself in the jungles of South America just breaks my heart.

This article, Chick Lit vs. Dude Lit, springs off the supposed snark-fest this year between chick and dude authors for a few smiles at everyone's expense.

You may have noticed I don't talk about sports much, and that's because I'm utterly lacking the sports gene.  Perhaps because of that, when my taxes go to sport franchises, I experience what wingnuts report feeling when they believe their taxes are going to "takers," as they call them in their tea-bagger, Ayn Randian (,deeply fucked up and cruel) view of the world (except mine re sports franchises is based on facts). This week as I've Christmas shopped, I've had to go to some stores that are included in the taxing area for the Denver's "Sports Authority Field at Mile High" stadium, so the sales taxes nearly double. (We had a perfectly good, and even famous, stadium called "Mile High Stadium" when I moved to Colorado, but the Broncos, like all the other football teams around the nation, hinted they would leave if we didn't build them a new stadium. Those who know about these things claimed the stadium was in great shape and would've lasted for decades to come, but the owner had sold all the private boxes and wanted to reap those dividends again, so presto a new sports stadium.)

Then I read this (via kottke.org).  Talk about pissed for days. Every time I think about this, my mind goes into a Lewis Black rant. 
TLD: Lewis Black hangs out a lot with one of the funniest comediennes around: Kathleen Madigan, who's Gone Madigan is not to be missed.  If you have Netflix streaming, it's on there.  Another gem on Netflix is Iliza Shlesinger: War Paint.  My daughter and I laughed and laughed.  She's made all of her friends watch it.  After reading the tax thing above, these should talk you back from the ledge.

In music my latest favorite discovery is an album from 2008: Carolina Liar Coming to Terms.  It's one of those rare, not-a-bad-song-on-it albums.  Click the Grooveshark link on the sidebar to the right and check it out yourself. 

I also dig this trance-tastic EP by Tei Shi, Saudade (which means this). The music and video site Gorilla vs. Bear is a great source of new tunes, for honest and true.  Their monthly mixes are free, awesome, and always come with a track listing so if you need to free up a song for a mix CD (with Audacity), you can find the track and extract.

Another great music site is portable.tv's music site. Their list of the best songs of 2013 is eclectic, snob-free, and pretty good.   NPR has a best album list, but I've not gotten through it myself as yet. I love how they have the recommender holding the album in the picture - strangely charming.

And here's your Christmas(/Hanukkah/Festivus) present (that I found on portable.tv's list above), the beautiful long jam: Kurt Vile's "Wakin on a Pretty Day". (Right-click on the link on the page to download.) Portable.tv's comment on the song is dead-on and hilarious: "There’s a 90% chance that every guy with Jesus hair and headphones is listening to this right now."  (I have Jesus hair at the moment. And headphones.)

The two movies that I will carry in memory from this year, and probably on my DVD rack, are Gravity and Frozen.  While I loved the two end of the world movies, and waded through the disappointment (and sheer boredom) of the long-awaited Ender's Game, Gravity and Frozen are the classics that will emerge from this year.

Gravity in particular was one of those movie experiences I jones for.  I don't think I took a deep breath throughout. The eyes got sweaty a couple times. My eldest said the same thing.  This movie blew my mind and touched my heart without my permission.  It's now in my personal top 10. 

Don't read this until you see Gravity, but here's some insight on how it was made. Also for viewing after, the other side of the distress call, directed by the director's son (who co-wrote the movie).

If you don't have kids as a reason to go see Frozen, borrow some, or just bring a bunch of buddies who will endure the slight embarrassment of grown-ups going by themselves.  When the Ice Queen belts her "I want" song (voiced by Idina Menzel of green Wicked fame), I got goosebumps on top of my chills (which you get when watching a movie set in deep winter). And, like most, I loved the twist. 

I don't watch a lot of broadcast TV anymore, and when I do, I skip over the 20 minute commercial breaks, therefore I missed this:

Which I was directed to after watching this: [which was removed, and the Jimmy Fallon show on NBC didn't post it as a highlight....the mind boggles]
Replacement link: Lip-Sync Off With Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Guitar friends and neighbors, this is awesome:
'Til next time.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, August 23, 2013


"Life is a screaming orgasm in the wasteland of the endless night," wrote someone on the wall of the bathroom in my favorite bar in college.

Throughout my life I've pendulumed between optimism and cynicism, and this quote always fits either mood, which is why I like it.

This post is going to be all over the road like that, because that's been my mood this summer.  One day the world is fuckin' awesome, the next I'm suffused with more ennui than a black and white French film about relationships.

This has been a summer full of awesomeness because I've had a lot of time with my 8-year-old daughter as everyone else has been at work or out of town.  She delights in being outside and will spend every moment she can in the sun.  Most of my life I've been an indoor guy, preferring a movie or a book to pass spare time.  The times I did go outside on purpose with full intent was when I lived at home because it was by a major river, which was a wonderful place to go hang out, day or night.  However, since she wants to be outside, I grab my Nook, pull up a chair and watch her play, and it's turned me back into an outdoor guy.  I'm looking forward to doing that tonight as I write this.  Last time we were out she walked up with a leaf that had begun to turn so it was a kaleidoscope of patterns, "Daddy, isn't this leaf beautiful? Here, it's yours."

Summer has also had some major bummers.  A good friend from high school and beyond died of a sudden catastrophic heart attack mid-July.  This guy was central to some of the most significant pre-fatherhood memories of my life.  He was active in the Minneapolis art and music scene, and often dragged me along to gallery setups and openings, and a few band parties.  Had some great times.

As everyone will tell you, when a peer dies as you all are going gray, it's a threshold. Your body has already been reminding you, often, that you're getting older with random pains and the number of pill bottles that threaten to expand beyond one shelf in medicine cabinet.  So that's been weighing in my mind.  And, contrary to my favorite poem, I'm not grieving for myself, I honestly feel the world is diminished by his passing.  He was the proverbial great guy.

My eldest got her driver's license this summer and we found her a great first car (enough metal to matter if there's - heaven forbid - a bad crash, and the price was fantastic).  She got two jobs on top of an internship so I just don't see her much. I recall when she was tiny I was listening to the shared MP3 jukebox drive at work, and the great Harry Belafonte song "Turn Around" came on, and I quietly wept at my desk (thank God no one came by to chat at that moment).  From that moment on I dreaded her "going out of my door" and here it is.  So I has a sad, as the web meme goes.

If real life didn't have enough things to be blue about, this movie season was, just, well, dammit, it was not all that. 

R.I.P.D. was a nice try, but just couldn't deliver in the end.  Throughout it felt like nothing but a wanna be Men in Black retread.  Even the BIG ROOM where everybody works looked like the MIB set redressed.

This is the End had some amazing gags in it - the devil's swinging cock not the least of them. The cameos are phenomenal, especially because they're so unpredictable in how they play out.  It's one of the better releases of the summer.

Man of Steel was boring.  There was nothing new in the story at all.  If you reboot, you gotta switch it up a bit.  Also, your references or homages (however you care to put a gloss on recycling visuals or ideas) have got to be that, not blatant lifting from Alien, Prometheus, and every earth-invaded-by-aliens flick ever.

The Wolverine was also boring and predictable.  The only noticeable thing was the two stunning Japanese actresses Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto.  The last time I was mesmerized by an actress like that was Emma Stone in Easy A.  What an odd phenomenon that someone's looks in a movie can be the sole thing that holds one's attention (talking Wolverine here, Easy A is fantastic).  When I got past basic teenage lust all those years ago, which can lock on pretty much anything alluring about a woman, the first time I remembered being gobsmacked by an actress's mere presence was Grace Kelly in Rear Window.  She still makes my electrons jump into a higher orbit when I see that flick.  I'll watch it just for her.

The Way, Way Back didn't even make it to a theater near me, so now waiting for the DVD. 

Monster University was an amazing misfire.  It was nothing but a string of going-to-college cliches but with the Monsters Inc. characters.  Who did they think was the audience for this?

Despicable Me 2 at least gave the kids one movie to root for this year, and something the parents didn't have to merely endure.  

I was warned off both The Lone Ranger and Elysium, so again the wait for the DVD.

The World's End is the next flick I'm looking forward to.  All offerings by the stellar comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been at the very least quite good.  These average looking guys have so much charisma and talent that by the time any of their movies end, you just love them. A bromance from afar, if you will.  I wonder if the dudes who did This is the End got wind of Pegg's project and decided to try to beat them to market in standard Hollywood fashion.  Remember the year we had at least 3 comet-wiping-out-the-earth movies?

I'm kind of in a reading slump, sticking mostly to magazines: web, paper, and PDF for the Nook.  If you have an e-reader, remember they read PDFs, and you can save nearly any web page in Chrome as a PDF and mail it to yourself or transfer it to your reader.  When I come across an article that's longish and I don't have time to finish it, I PDF-er up, and stash on the Nook for later.  It's a happy surprise to have a few great articles to read whilst the children play.

Here are some articles I've enjoyed lately:

Kubrick - a lengthy remembrance of the great director, perfect for the PDF to ereader trick. (Via kottke.org)

George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates

5 Ways Fundamentalists Misinterpret the Bible

I Don’t Believe in Atheists - think of all we don't really know: why bikes work, how gravity is generated, why we like music, how our minds work, why sleep is needed and what it really does, what do dreams do, how self-aware are various kinds of animals, is there self-aware life beyond our planet, and so on?

401(k)s are a sham - FWIW, I knew this back in the day when they were introduced because the math just didn't add up.  And even then, I didn't understand that if the market went bust, they took funds OUT of your 401(k), so of course everyone I know won't be able to retire on even the most generous 401(k)'s out there, they'll essentially pay the internet bill.

Democrats and Republicans are Not the Same - a favorite excuse of most of my conservative friends who sort of acknowledge how badly the Republicans have and are fucking up is that the liberals are just as bad.  And I've even said yeah we have our loonies too, though will say most of them are off in colleges and not directly influencing or hindering government.  But last party I got fired up when I heard, after all this time, stupid ass Faux news soundbites and other lies from the right, I got a bit heated and yelled for the first time in years.  I apologized but I wouldn't have had to yell had I had the finer points of this article at my disposal.

And to bring it around full-circle to George Saunders's (gad that doesn't seem like proper punctuation, but oh well) invocation to be kind, here's an excerpt from the following article how cruelty is justified in the ultra-conservative mind:

Tennessee: Ayn Rand’s Vision of Paradise
How to justify meanness?

It’s not easy to be cruel to someone who is down and out. After all, most of us feel ashamed when walking by a homeless person or watching kids crammed into over-crowded classrooms. It requires several psychological twists and turns to make life even harder for low-income Americans.

  • You have to blame low-income parents for their own economic problems. Even if the unemployment rate is sky-high it must be the poor person’s fault.
  • You need to feel superior — that somehow you got to where you are today not by an accident of birth but rather by your own hard labors. Anyone not as successful as you, by definition, is inferior.
  • You have to believe that meanness really is tough love — that by taking benefits away from the poor you are actually helping them on the road to self sufficiency.
  • It’s helpful to have access to the broader Randian/libertarian philosophy that argues all forms of collective government action are an attack on freedom. In this view, altruism is seen as a curse that justifies collective government programs which essentially steal money from the makers and to waste on the takers. All collective caring by the state, therefore, is evil, so that all support for the poor via government is evil as well.
  • It’s psychologically crucial to have your prejudices confirmed by charismatic alchemists like Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan who peddle selfishness as the highest form of morality (although only Ayn Rand had the guts to say it so bluntly).
Reference for post title is here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Movie Season with no Ebert

Here we are, solidly into the summer movie season and nothing but crickets on this blog thus far.
TLD: Here's my note, teacher.  I've been sick since the start of April.  I've had 4 to 5 different viruses and other bugs, 2 of them requiring antibiotics.  I'm even home sick today - I can't tell if all the other things have just worn me down or if I have yet again something new.  Ironically, I remember thinking in March, wow, I've been through the whole winter and haven't caught anything significant.  Fate looks out for those kinds of thoughts, so try to avoid having them. (And I discovered in Mary Roach's wonderful (all of her books are wonderful) Gulp, that you catch viruses by touching your eye or picking your nose with an infected finger, and NOT by drinking after someone, as your digestive tract will nuke about any virus.)
My beloved movie critic, Roger Ebert, died on April 4 (the very day I fell ill, I'm just putting together - cue the creepy music), and I haven't had the drive or time to post about it until now.

Since his health troubles started (in 2006 I note from his bio/eulogy on the Sun-Times), I have been quietly dreading the day that Ebert found eternity. I find I miss him very much.

He loomed larger in my life than practically any other media presence, including actors, authors, comedians, writers of all stripes, and celebrities in the political and religious worlds.

That's because when I was growing in my small town in South Dakota, the only TV stations we got were two of the big three and PBS.  I was likely watching either the International Festival of Animation (which should have been called the Canadian Festival of Animation, since it was produced and paid for by Canadian public TV) or watching Monty Python when they mentioned the "Sneak Previews" movie review show.  Before that time, I had no idea such a thing existed.  I was hooked in one viewing and remained a loyal viewer through all incarnations of the show.  I scheduled my week around it.

From that moment, Ebert became my major touchstone on all things movies.  He completely  influenced - though that's not a strong enough word - my tastes in film. We diverged in opinion only about the specific species of semi-plotless tragic dramas, the kind Paul Thomas Anderson likes to make for example, where it's about "our journey with the characters" and the credits roll seemingly at random. While I encounter the odd flick in that vein that I like, I really prefer verse chorus verse movies. Still, if he recommended it, I'd usually give it a try.

I've noticed his absence every time a new blockbuster or bomb rolls through this summer.  I yearn to know what Roger thought about it.  I still have Peter Travers, and the basic barometer of Rotten Tomatoes, which suffice, but as Travers himself says in his sweet eulogy (one of the few sweet ones from a fellow critic), there was no one else like Roger.

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert.

So, let's rewind the summer movie season and start at the top.

Saw Tom Cruise's new "look ma, I'm saving the world" mashup Oblivion.

Richard Roeper has already perfectly coined the flick, so I'll just use that: “This is the sci-fi movie equivalent of a pretty damn good cover band.” In their reviews, most of the critics played "name that reference!' of all the other sci-fi flicks Oblivion is cobbled together from, because it's just so blatantly a cover band, as Roeper said.  Go surf Rotten Tomatoes and you'll see what I mean.

The (probably unintentional) reference that made me grin the most was the female character* who runs the computer while the male character (Cruise) is out fixing battle drones; she essentially has Sigourney Weaver's job in Galaxy Quest where she repeats what the computer and others say - which Weaver's character justifies thus: "Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's stupid, but I'm gonna do it! Okay?" I listened carefully for a line that made a pointed reference to that one, but I didn't hear one. Let me know if you do, if you see it.
*Names are somewhat intentionally unimportant, but that's a bit of a spoiler, so I'll leave it at that. 

In a bit of Alanis Morissette irony, one of the previews prior to the flick was for R.I.P.D., which  obviously takes most of the premise from the Showtime series "Dead Like Me.," so here we had a preview of a recycled premise before a main feature of recycled sci-fi tropes. (Can't wait to see it!)

Iron Man 3 was fun. Better then 2 at least (I even can't recall how 2 ended). However, like most review have mentioned, it felt that Downey was just saying the lines. His PTSD face was much like his "I love you, Pepper" face.  The cute kid angle didn't play well because Stark is a real dick to the kid, which seemed out of character. I like the suit cha-cha at the end - tres clever.  But the fireworks display was the definition of gratuitous and especially tasteless in tough economic times like these.  It puts on somewhat horrific display how clueless the comfortably rich are about how the rest of us are struggling to keep things together.

Gatsby - just no.  I've never really been intrigued with the story, and I recall the novel as readable, but when I saw Jay-Z did the soundtrack, I thought: naw bro, naw.  Perhaps I'll pick up the book again to see if I missed something the first time.

Star Trek Into Darkness was a joy, even though it wandered into the very plot waters all Trekkies hoped it wouldn't. Happily it's inconsequential as the bad guy could have gone by any name; Montalban, say.  I love how Abrams understands each main character has got to have their moment or we feel unfulfilled.  The whole Dick Cheney gets a really big ship and becomes a pain in the ass subplot was delicious. The final chase fight on moving platforms was beyond cliche, but oh well.  My favorite line was (and I paraphrase from memory): "Bones, stop it with the metaphors.  That's an order."  I see Whisky Prajer has a few thoughts about it, too.

I mention the kid's flick Epic only to warn you off somewhat.  It's an abysmal string of hero's journey cliches, with at least 3 different hero journeys going on at once. Even worse, the plots were (probs unintentionally) lifted from the recent string of straight-to-DVD Tinkerbell movies. Since I had a coughing fit that I just couldn't shake, I was in the lobby when it let out (I spent most of the time standing in the hallway leading to the theater so I could dash out when I had to cough), and most of the kids from 3 to 8 really liked it from their reactions as they emerged.  Everyone else had the facial expression of "2 hours. Gone. Forever."  Yeah, it's the longest cartoon ever made, methinks, clocking in at 10ish minutes shy of 2 hours. DVD this one, and make sure you have something else to do while the kids watch.

I had high hopes for Now You See Me given the cast and the preview.  But, shazaam, they pull nothing but disappointment out of the hat after a pretty cool first act.  The big reveal is so anticlimactic that you half expect a trick ending where they come back and go JUST KIDDING! and do a real ending.  The way the end credits start it hints at that, but then the real credits (the legally required ones) start to ascend and it's just over.  Not sure if you wanna waste the time on this one.  Perhaps if you're marooned on the couch and the remote is out of reach, you can endure it to pass the time, but otherwise, no.

This leaves Man of Steel, R.I.P.D., This is the End, The Lone Ranger and The Way, Way Back as movies I'm more or less looking forward to.  I don't include the kids flicks, because as the father of an 8-year-old, I'll see them regardless.  Though I'm going to try to stick my wife with enduring Disney's Planes, if the moppet wants to see it, though the preview did not seem to interest her.

I'm dubious about Man of Steel because it's likely to be precisely what it looks like: a retread of the origin story covered in the first two original Superman movies, but retooled as a Dark-Night, gritty, perpetually blue-hued version, with over the top swat-fu scenes and shit blowing up during 20-minute long action sequences.  I hope it's more than that, but so far it doesn't look promising.

Caught up with Django Unchained on video and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, which is typical of Tarantino for me.  I've got a buddy who worships him, so that casts me as the cynical heretic in our crowd. I didn't like the Kill Bill episode where the coma-laden Uma is sold out as a sex doll.  It tossed me out of the movie (too grim for the rest of the general tone), and this perfectly conveys my wife's reaction prior to our leaving the group viewing:

Yet Django stayed within the rough confines of a spaghetti western, so the horrific parts (like Django's wife being pulled out of a punishment box that sits in the hot sun) didn't wreck my suspension of disbelief.  Though had I not seen other movies about the horrors of slavery, the historic TV series Roots being one, I may not have able to get past it.  But because everyone who should get it DOES get it in poetically vengeful means, and the fact that it ends with a classic spaghetti western song from the My Name is Trinity series, it worked for me.

Finally, I streamed the documentary on Kurick's The Shining: Room 237.  Wow, what a turkey.  Read some of the reviews from Amazon to get an idea of how terrible it is.  I stuck it out until the end because in the middle one sensible person (the only woman who opines) points out that Danny's path on his big wheel is impossible, and hoped someone else would drop a cool tidbit like that.  But no, it was mostly conspiracy theory horseshite. The most whacked example is it's Kubrick's attempt to tell us he helped fake the moon landings. Others claim it's his holocaust film, while another says it's about the massacre of the American Indians  There are  a couple ideas floated that are so silly, even the guy saying them tries to justify them by claiming in post-modern criticism, even if the creator/author likely didn't consciously create the symbolism or references, if the critic sees them due to his or her personal experience, they are valid anyway.  (Hence the fake moon landing/indians/Nazi "interpretations.") Which is a great indictment of post-modern criticism and theory unto itself.  Perhaps if you've got a bunch of friends who are liberal arts college professors, this would be a fun diversion while you were trying new wines, merely to enjoy the batshit craziness of it while getting lightly buzzed. Oh, and if any of them try to defend any of the theories (besides the one about the big wheel), you'll have identified those who should no longer have tenure.

I'll leave you with my favorite piece of new trivia.  Kevin Pollak reveals in his new autobio, How I Slept My Way to the Middle, the agony he faced during A Few Good Men because everyone wanted him to do his Jack Nicholson for Jack.  He never did.  However, Nicholson's contract stated he had to work only 3 days, and was gracious enough to stay for an additional half day, but no more even though some reaction shots of other actors hadn't been filmed yet.  After he left, Reiner was going to sit and read Nicholson's lines to the other actors to get their lines back to Nicholson in the can.  Pollak suggested that NOW he pull out his Jack impersonation, because after hearing the lines for 3 days, he had them cold.  So, Pollak stood in for Jack and did the lines.  When Reiner went to edit, he was putting together that scene when he realized that he had actually used a couple voice takes of Pollak's because they were so good it was difficult to tell them apart.  He went back and made sure it was all Nicholson, replacing the couple Pollak lines that had crept in, so don't fire up the moving hoping to ferret out Pollak's lines.  Still, how much validation does a guy need when even the director can barely tell who is who.  Kinda like another movie Pollak was in...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Robot and Frank

I've been a robot fiction devotee since I read Asimov's I, Robot as a kid.  His Robots of Dawn is still in my top 5 novels evar.  Thus, I will see about any movie that has robots in it.

TLD: For example, I tried to watch the Jean Claude Van Dammit flick Cyborg recently, and just couldn't hang with it past 15 minutes.  Oh well. 

Finally carved out the hour and a half to see Robot and Frank.  I ended up enjoying it by the third act because they finally tap into the built-in pathos robot stories seem to have, but it started sloooow.

I mean, the robot arrives about 10 or 15 minutes in so we get to the story quickly enough, but there are quite a few first-time director/film school mistakes like one scene involving a car driving past us, down the road, and around the bend, but with a funky/showy low angle (for what amounts to no reason). Why are such shots ever included in a flick? If you need to pad the run-time, do it with something unique to the movie, or at least with a character doing something.  And, hey, if you have a robot as a character, perhaps watching the robot do things would've been a better way to use up that minute of our lives.  They also telegraph a heavy foreshadowing that does not pay off, which makes me wonder if during a script revision the payoff was removed and no one noticed. 

As I watched, I suspected that the person in the robot suit was a child from the movements, and frankly, the choreography was lacking, or the actor (puppeteer?) did not have enough practice time.  You can actually see the actor move from a typical human resting pose to an Asimo-like stance when he (it's voiced by a man, so we assume "he") prepares to walk.  Come to find out it's a female dancer in there, which surprises me, since most dancers take movement seriously.  An interview with the director reveals that for a couple days of the 20-day shoot, there was in fact a male child in the suit, so perhaps those were his scenes.  But, folks, if you're gonna make a robot movie, the robot's movements have got to be right, or it stands out like a mis-painted frame in an animation.

Outside of the flawed, puppet-like movement, the robot is a charming character. Deeply contrary to Asimov's robot rules, which most fans take as rote, this robot does not have a strict moral compass outside of caring for his charge.  There are hints he wouldn't physically harm anyone, but he has no problems with helping Frank resume his primary occupation as a thief. 

The movie itself is non-committal about the fact that Frank is a career crook. We even learn he was a bad father and his wife left him years ago.  The personality he presents in the film presents no reason to like him, either. 

This greatly diminished the film for me.  If I'm going to watch a movie about criminals, bad guys, anti-heros, etc., the movie needs to somehow let me know that it knows they're the bad guys, too, and none of us are OK with that.  Or the guy has to be so charming, we believe anyone would care about him, etc. etc.  But here we're presented with a grouchy, bland jerk in his decline.  Perhaps that's why the title is Robot and Frank and not the other way around.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Forking Dongles

As an IT guy, the first time I heard the word "dongle" my very first question was: "Is that really what it's called?"

Many things in IT are a euphemism or a verbalization of an acronym.  For example, about a decade or so ago, you'd hear sober women and men say the term "wizzy wig" out loud in meetings with completely straight faces and with not just a little gravity.  It was the (American) verbalization of the acronym WYSIWYG, which means What You See is What You Get.

See, popular software programs (now "applications" or "apps") like WordPerfect presented you with a big expanse of blue screen with a few ASCII (pronounced "ass-key," no kidding) characters (i.e. letters) indicating cursor position status, and the actual words you typed on the screen looked nothing like the final printed document. (For a brief moment in time, the blue screen was good, which is likely why it was villainized by a competitor.) Most office assistants took that in stride and after seeing a couple print-outs had a pretty good idea how it would look on the page.  But most folks were flummoxed by that, having only used typewriters where what you saw was how it would always be.  Thus, in the software world, those who could make the screen match the sheet of paper were considered pretty cool, and WYSIWYG was the acronym that meant your software did that.

So, this guy points at a plasticy metalish nub hanging off a port on the computer and says, "Oh, and make sure you have the dongle when you load that software, because it will only work when it detects the dongle."  So I asked the question in the first paragraph, knowing I would have to ask one of the ladies in the office for the dongle, because it was on most computers, but only the inserter of the dongle could get anywhere ... you see my point.  I hoped it was an acronym, or a euphemism, or something, but no, that was the word, and the only word.  So, for the next couple years, I would walk up to the keeper of the dongle, always a woman, and ask for it, and she would meet my eye when she handed it to me with that special knowing smirk, and eventually I got comfortable enough to return it.

TLD: Someday I might tell you the story of the time one of the ladies in the office had placed on her desk a valentine's day gift of a candy encased in a keepsake container, and before I could realize what I was saying, I was already walking away with every Human Services-trained lobe of my brain screaming: did you REALLY just say, "That's a nice box you've got there, [her name]."?!?!! When I looked back in horror, expecting her to already be lifting the receiver to dial HR, she just gave me the most devious, all-knowing smile, and just said, "Why, thank you."  For the rest of the day, my compadres asked me if I was OK, because my face was alarmingly red.  But I don't really want to tell you that story, because I could've been loading a cardboard box with my personal things in front of an armed guard within minutes, and that was the job that launched my career.

This week I was at a big tech. conference, sitting in a huge crowded room on chairs that only grade-schoolers would have thought wide enough, that suffered from this brain-dead design where the metal bar at the top of the seat protruded a solid inch beyond the back padding, so by day two everyone was squirming to find a place on their back that didn't have a horizontal bruise in order to lean back.  Eventually everyone just threw one arm over the chair, or slide so far forward that leaning back was not an option.  But anyway, there we were, trying to hold teeny cups of coffee directly in front of us while someone at the front of the hall tried for an hour to find the sweet spot on a tiny mic so that s/he wouldn't rock the room with shock waves upon hitting a percussive consonant while trying to force the computer to show the correct slide.   A blatant dick joke would've likely been welcome. (Like, "Why do you have all those horizontal bruises on your back?"  "Well, ....[insert dick mark joke here].")

I return from my conference to find out that at another one, some dude lost his job because he used the word "dongle" behind a woman who, even though her job was developer evangelist, thought the snigger in his voice when he said the word was a sexist dick joke. (Every single woman who ever handed me a dongle at work had that snigger in her eyes, I may have mentioned.) So, she took his picture and tweeted it - it's called a "public shaming" in current journalistic nomenclature - and then contacted the conference officials and had him removed.  So, he lost his job, and he's got three kids.  Then she lost hers over the backlash (apologies to the esteemed Franzen over using "then" as a conjunction).  Oh, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the internets.  Consensus appears to have settled on this being the best, most level, context-rich one.

On the way home from work that day, I stopped to buy a sixer of beer, and on the counter they had a new product pre-made in shot glasses on the impulse-buy area named "porn shot."  I pointed at it and told the two ladies behind the counter, in about a verbal tweet or two, the story above, and they were aghast. "What's the world coming to?" was their most repeated reaction.  I wisely chose not to riff on or belabor what the most common use of the word "coming" was in popular media these days.  Who knows who's listening?

Bios and Babes

Read Rod Stewart's Rod: The Autobiography and Peter Criss' Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss.

I've gleaned that my interest in rock bios spawns from a deep curiosity to know what is was like to be the center of a universe, where your songs are absorbed into lives across the globe, (nearly) everyone loves you, everything is free, and obtaining sex with whomever is effortless as a breath.

(Now, mind you, I wouldn't want that kind of life. For honest and true. I much prefer my quiet, middle-class, nearly anonymous life with the grand pleasures it offers through family, friends, pets, and entertainments.)

Rod's autobio can be summed up "yeah, it's great to be a rock star" and Peter's "how I spent most of my moment as a rock star completely pissed off."

Rod surprisingly has a charming, breezy writing style. I laughed hard every chapter, and smiled on nearly every page. Here's one of my favorite quotes (page 184):
Mick Jagger -- speaking, I assume, for and on behalf of Bianca -- made a tentative inquiry about the possibility of a little light partner-swapping with Dee and myself. Well, I suppose it's always nice to be asked, and comforting to know that you are in someone's thoughts, but the answer had to be no.  Partner-swapping wasn't my scene, and it certainly wasn't Dee's.
It's very satisfying, too, because he does not flinch from addressing anything you may have heard about him: the care and feeding of his hair, his relationship with ex band members (think Jeff Beck), the infamous incident where his stomach was supposedly pumped, and the first clear account of how the Plaster Caster gals did/do their work, which all others have glossed over: they fellate the subject.  Rod and Ron Wood both declined immortalization because the Casters reportedly display their more towering works as introduction to entice the proposed member to join the collection. The more modestly endowed Rod and Ron decided they didn't want that fact recorded in the life-size memento that would be dwarfed on the eventual shelf.

The most touching thing in it, though, is his insecurity about his music, and how hard it is to deal with the worry that what he's doing may not be good.  He sometimes had to be alone or with only a couple close confidants to record a vocal.  Since his persona is balls-out confidence, it was surprising that he admits it's just a stance.

Peter Criss has a bit in common with Ringo in that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had most of the concept of KISS worked out prior to hiring Peter and Ace Frehley (save for the name and the makeup). He killed in his audition for the band and was hired on the spot.  The original record deal provided an equal 4-way split of the band's earnings, so it had the illusion of a democracy.

Yet, you are rarely hired into a democracy, and when royalties from song writing started coming in, Gene and Paul asserted their leadership of the band, and Criss is still pissed about it.  So, even though he claims happiness today, his anger comes through every other page and it seems to have poisoned his life more than it should have.

Highlights are: the famous soaring guitar solo in "Detroit Rock City" was done by Bob Ezrin, their wiz-kid producer, as Ace just wasn't feeling it that day (which Frehley freely admits in his appropriately spacey but somewhat boring autobio); the aroma of female pudenda that permeated the rooms where groupies would gather while awaiting pleasures with the band, especially Gene who would stay up all night and gather two new girls about every two hours; Paul, while often directly observed dipping into the female groupie pool, was also sometimes so wasted that when his gay groupies would start advances, one of the other band members would intervene and get Paul to his room alone; Ace was very fond of masturbation, and would commence at will, regardless of where he was - a street corner, in a tightly packed band van, and so forth.

I inadvertently listened to the whole book on CD of Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace. I picked it up because I was waiting for the book and wanted to get a start on it.  A week later I find I've listened to the whole thing.  One realization is I would not have managed to read it because his prose is as meandering as his guitar solos.  While I love his guitar solos, I could only enjoy his prose read aloud.  So that's my recommendation: listen to this one if you're a fan.

While rock fame and the ensuing life fascinate me, so does the flip-side of having tried, and almost making it, but stardom - or at least a long career - did not materialize.

Two artists I discovered after they resumed private lives were the Dance Hall Crashers and Alana Davis.  All their sites and fan sites have begun that weird erosion that takes place on web sites as technologies, web code and browsers upgrade.

Usually, a bit of googling will turn up some bread crumbs, and the two lead singers of the Dance Hall Crashers can be located: one is still singing in local bands while the other one has only a twitter feed, which may not even be hers.   Alana Davis has completely evaporated into the ether, apparently.

So, what must it be like to have had a couple hits, some radio play, a fan base, and then it's just over? I would imagine it's mostly life as usual, with some occasional small twinge, like the one you get when you remember the one who got away.  Carrie Fisher weighs in on that frequently, but she's still kinda famous and her mental illness colors it so much, it's hard to sort out the weltschmerz from the manic and the depressive.

I harbor a secret hope that maybe I'll have the opportunity to ask one of those three ladies that very thing.  If I do, I'll post it here.

Whilst mulling and researching for this post, I came across this article about Steve Perry of Journey.  I see in here echos of all of the above: Rod's insecurity, Criss' anger, Neil's elder statesman-ship, and life after fame:
"I don't want (any new album) to have pressure," Perry told Billboard in a late 2011 interview, "because I'll worry about it sucking, and then what am I gonna do?"
Finally, here are some related thoughts from an old post (scroll down to where I start talking about Phil Collins).
Update: Cracked has an article on what some rock stars did after.