Saturday, March 08, 2008

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

I hope it's okay reviewing a graphic novel here, but it's something I read and I want to share it, so what they hey.

This morning I was thrilled to read Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, Jeff Smith's retelling/reimagining of Captain Marvel. The character originally appeared in 1940 in Whiz Comics as Fawcett Comics's thinly-veiled rip-off of DC's Superman (ironically, DC now owns the character and has made him an integral part of their fictional universe; Captain Marvel currently enjoys quite a cult following). That's all background that you don't really have to know to enjoy this book, I just thought I'd mention it. I love the character of Captain Marvel, and I love the old Whiz Comics (subsequently collected in DC's Shazam! Archives series), but these days I don't really have time for comics because they're an unchanging, endless soap opera with decades of baggage that are trotted out over and over again. I like comics that aren't really tied in to all of that, but are enjoyable as stand-alones.

Writer and artist Jeff Smith has created a beautiful stand-alone with Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil. This is the story of Billy Batson, an orphaned street kid who becomes the new host of an ancient power; by uttering the name of a powerful wizard, Shazam (the name is an anagram), Billy becomes Captain Marvel, a super-being with the combined powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. As a guardian of Captain Marvel's powers, and with the help of some interesting friends, Billy finds the inner strength to defend America against the dimensional incursion of the villainous Mr. Mind.

The absolute best thing about this story is the tone. The story is simple, a conscious throwback to a time in comic books (and in entertainment) when the line between bad guys and good guys was clearly drawn and problems could be solved by confronting them. Captain Marvel is portrayed as the good-natured anachronism he should be; he fights monsters and has superpowers and great wisdom, but he's also captivated by hot dogs and yells out "Holey Moley!" when he sees something unbelievable. He believes in responsibility and defending the weak. Billy, however, is lost and overwhelmed. He acts rashly and despairs when things seem too difficult, too hard to control. In a way, he stands in for the modern American who wants to do great things but can't get a handle on their situation. Perhaps the best turning point comes when Billy realizes that Mr. Mind crossed through to our dimension because of a mistake Billy made himself. "It's all my fault," he laments. "Then it is your responsibility to undo it," he's told.

The book is gorgeous to look at; Jeff Smith is a talented artist, and he draws comic book panels that are clean and easy to follow, emphasizing story over design. It looks dynamic without being too busy. As a storyteller, it's obvious he loves the characters and is committed to telling his story. And, best of all, it's appropriate for all ages; kids can enjoy this story, just as they could enjoy Smith's masterpiece, the Bone series, an epic fantasy.

As a comic book fan, it's wonderful to see how Smith keeps many of the elements of the original Whiz Comics--the wizard, Captain Marvel's sister Mary Marvel, Tawky Tawny the talking tiger, Mr. Mind, the alligator men and other villains--but somehow makes it all feel fresh and vibrant, even untold. He tells the story with warmth sympathy, with wit and fun, and with a wonderful sense of optimism, even in its moments of greatest darkness and seeming hopelessness. It's light and sometimes kind of silly, but because Smith doesn't wink at the audience in a knowing way, but maintains a straight face, it doesn't cripple itself by becoming too self-aware. It's just so unashamed of what it is, and plays it for the best and brightest it can be. And that in itself is a super achievement in a genre that becomes more cynical and self-involved. If you've never read a comic and never wanted to, look for this at your library. I really think you won't be disappointed.

Originally posted on the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

Does That Technically Make Her a Prostitute?

I read this story that said Anne Heche was going to "shock fans by flashing her flesh" in a new Ashton Kuther movie. She's apparently negotiating how far she's willing to go, contingent on how much money they'll give her for every inch she bares. She seemed to think this was very cute, but I had a couple of problems with this story. First, Anne Heche doesn't have fans. Second, this is hardly close to the first time she'll ever have been naked in a movie.

See, as much as I have a problem with actors who refuse to do nudity because they're protecting their career instead of practicing their craft (they're businesspeople, not actors), I also have a problem with actors who are all too willing to sell their nudity like a commodity for a certain price (also businesspeople and not actors). The fact that Anne Heche thinks her nudity is such a big deal at this point is annoying and hilarious. She's done it already... Return to Paradise with Vince Vaughn... Sexual Life... If These Walls Could Talk (where I'm sure the nudity was "essential"--that lie actors use to justify acting--to the plot of a college girl deciding to have an abortion... that crappy Demi Moore movie (narrows it down, right?) The Juror... Girls in Prison, part of Showtime's Rebel Highway series (which yielded one gem, Robert Rodriguez's Roadracers)... Gus Van Sant's abortive plagiarism of Psycho (it's not an homage, it's tracing)... Wild Side, a movie with Christopher Walken, of all people, where she plays a high-priced escort and has a fairly celebrated (among T&A afficionados) lesbian scene...

...with Joan Chen...

...and most recently in Pie in the Sky.

After that movie, she landed Six Days, Seven Nights and directed Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Stone in a sex scene in If These Walls Could Talk 2 and started what she apparently thinks has been an illustrious career as a popular entertainer. And now her fans, whoever they supposedly are, wait with bated breath to finally see her boobs in a movie with Asthon Kutcher.

Yeah, that sounds like reality.

Anyway, I hope I just saved whomever those fans might actually be ten bucks and having to see Ashton Kutcher in something.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Recession Concession

"It's clear our economy has slowed [...] Losing a job is painful and I know Americans are concerned about our economy. So am I. I know this is a difficult time for our economy. But we recognized the problem early and we provided the economy with a booster shot."

So, President Duh is finally willing to concede that we have an economic problem in this country, but he still believes his tax cuts and a government check are the solution to the problem. What he generally doesn't concede is that cutting taxes and going to war was quite possibly the worst thing that could have been done to the economy.

Are people finally now understanding that this is what happens when you elect a man who constantly failed at business to lead the country with the most money and the biggest foothold in the world economy?

This comes after yesterday's stock market fall (2000 points) amid reports that first quarter earnings were not going to be high as originally estimated. And today it was reported that 63,000 jobs were eliminated last month, the highest job elimination in five years.

Still, the White House refuses to call this a recession. I imagine that has a lot more to do with not having to pay for health care, not having to buy their own food, not having to pump their own gas, etc. To hear them tell it, the economic stimulus package is going to save us all and by this summer the economy will be booming. Bush has gone in front of cameras a couple of times now to threaten us into using that money to buy things and keep the economy going instead of paying off personal debt. Those are the words of a man with very little in the way of personal debt and, frankly, is not in touch with the way most Americans live their lives.

The jobs report also said that the good news--good news!--was that unemployment fell, wages grew, and weekly hours stayed the same. In actuality, unemployment fell by .1% because people are leaving the labor force and hourly wages went up .3%. In the face of this, Bush had the balls to say today, "Our economy will prosper." I guess because he wills it so. Because I don't see much evidence for anything else here.

I talk more and more to people who work in retail, and for them the situation looks pretty bleak. A lot of companies are restructuring and people who've put in loyal years at those companies are being laid off and cast to the wind. They know we're in a recession. Some of them fear we're on the verge of a depression. They know their money is becoming worthless and that they're going to have to make real decisions now about what they can and can't afford. Meanwhile, industries scream piracy at us simply because we haven't got the money to spend on the crappy music and movies they inflict on us. Bush is hinting that if we use our economic stimulus checks to pay off our student loans or business loans or mortgages, we're somehow destroying the economy.

When are corporations and the government going to stop blaming us for everything we can't afford to do for them?

After all, we're not the ones who said we could cut taxes, then go to war, destroy the economic surplus to run up a defecit to fund that war, and continue to keep the economy healthy.

Distributorcap has an excellent and terrifying post up on this same subject with actual numbers and economic theories. You really should read it. Is it time to finally take control of this?

Throwdown 3/7

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. The judges on American Idol need to be barred from saying that their show is a “singing competition” and that “it’s all about the singing.” How dumb do they think we all are? Give me a fucking break; it’s not about singing, it’s about who is going to be the easiest persona to market. Simon is being completely disingenuous about the “singing competition” when he’s spent his entire career choosing marketability over talent. He doesn’t know shit about music (seriously, he’d never heard “More Today Than Yesterday,” “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” or “Magic Man”?), but he’s a good businessman. He just needs to stop being so disingenuous about it.

2. Disney is planning the following releases for 2011: Cars 2, National Treasure 3, Tron 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Dear God, How Long Does This Fucking Thing Need to Go On, Why Won't Jack and Will Just Fuck Already So We Can Finally Go Home? Weren’t they just saying last year that they were done with endless sequels and were going to do something new?

3. Is that what they mean by bodyguard? How do I get that job?

4. Some people went nutso after last week’s so-so episode of Saturday Night Live starring Ellen Page. “Did she out herself on that last sketch, OMG, OMG!!!” Some people just really want her to be a lesbian. What bothered me was the opening monologue, with Ellen Page jumping on the Diablo Cody backlash by making fun of her characteristic dialogue. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, if Cody was a man, she wouldn’t have won the Oscar (she basically wrote a Kevin Smith movie, and no one’s arguing he should win an award). Today I can say that, if she was a man, the backlash against her wouldn’t be as personal as it’s getting. What the fuck? Men still hate a successful woman that much? Get over it. She wrote a great screenplay and it won an award. And unless there was some kind of gentle loving subtext I missed in that monologue, that’s awfully bitchy of Ellen Page to jump on that bandwagon, considering that without Diablo Cody she wouldn’t be nominated for an Oscar, nor would she be hosting Saturday Night Live.

5. After a shooting in this country, people always say “I hate how easy guns are to get in this country,” but when someone gets killed in a vehicular accident, no one ever says “I hate how easy cars are to get in this country.”

6. It says a lot about how bad TV animation is now that Fox wants Seth McFarlane to create yet another unfunny, poorly-animated, reference-heavy show. They’re doing a Family Guy spin-off starring Cleveland, the most boring, unfunny character in a show that is lousy (and I do mean lousy) with boring, unfunny characters. Instead of giving him another show, Fox should send McFarlane to classes to learn how to write characters, write humor that’s funny to people who aren’t on dope, and hire actual character animators.

7. A British Army captain came back from Iraq, did a bobsled run, and didn’t realize until after he’d completed the run that, at some point, his leg had been accidentally torn off. They managed to reattach it, then told him that it would take two or more year for him to gain the full range of mobility. So he told them to cut the leg off and give him a false one just to get fucking on with it. That man is either very tough or very stupid; either way, I think his children can’t ever complain about getting hurt ever again.

8. Is this why Jenna Jameson got all skinny and ugly and creepy? Preparing to play a zombie stripper? I guess that makes sense; turns out she’s a method actress.

9. Drew Barrymore donated a million dollars of her own money to the World Food Program. I’m just gratified to see someone with that much money doing something good with it instead of trying to shame me for not doing something more important with the twelve bucks I have in my checking.

10. Jeez, are people still upset that John Cho isn’t Japanese, and yet he’s playing Sulu in Star Trek? Not a week goes by without seeing someone complain about that. I guess he’ll just have to, I don’t know, act the part, then. Oh, incidentally, Zachary Quinto isn’t a Vulcan, either. I hope that doesn’t spoil your enjoyment of what I'm sure will be a very good pointless movie.

11. My only comment on these Watchmen pictures that have cropped up: it looks as ridiculous as I thought it would. I hate that they’re making this movie, and I hate that people are actually excited about it. And I hate that most of the people cast in this movie are in their twenties or early thirties, thus reversing one of the points Alan Moore was trying to make. And that’s the end of the comments for me; it should have stayed a comic book, and as far as I’m concerned, it did. There was probably a way it could’ve been made into a movie (I’ve been saying that for a while now), but I don’t think this is going to be it. I pass. No more comment.

12. Shia LaBeouf to Empire magazine about his arrest in Chicago: “That was complete and utter insanity. I was an asshole, and it was a mistake I’m still completely embarrassed about.” Wow, accountability. I like this kid. You never hear anyone admit they acted like an ass anymore; it’s all the fault of their fame or the pressure of working. By the way, isn’t it funny how you never hear about gaffers or directors or stand-ins or the lighting team freaking out and acting like assholes and getting arrested? And these are the people who work all day; actors relax and then work in short bursts; they work for seconds or a couple of minutes at a time. And they have all the pressure? Anyway, I feel good seeing a young actor own up to something instead of doing the publicist spin. It’s nice.

13. Here’s another celebrity thing from this week that I kind of respect. Marion Cotillard said that she thought 9/11 was a conspiracy conducted by the American government. Lots of people got pissed, of course, although she didn’t say anything that other people haven’t said before (I entertained the theory here on this blog when I first heard about it, and a recent poll shows that roughly a third of Americans believe that 9/11 was some sort of government conspiracy). What I love is that she refuses to apologize for her thoughts; she has no intention to say she’s sorry. I love it. If she was an American actress, you can bet she’d be apologizing in a statement the next day, terrified that this would have a negative effect on her career. Instead, Mlle. Cotillard is sticking by what she said. And I like that. It’s rare to see an actor with any integrity.

14. I think it’s absolutely a ridiculous sham that E! has given stage momager and self-proclaimed “White Oprah” Dina Lohan her own reality show. It’s apparently going to be about Dina managing Lindsay’s little sister Ali and turning her into the same kind of train wreck self-parody that her older daughter became. Even the press release paints Dina Lohan as a loving and concerned mother, which is just demonstrably not true; Dina wants fame for herself and has cynically used her daughters to get it. The only reason E! really wants this show is so that they can showcase the self-destruction of Ali Lohan, and Dina probably knows that. Apparently being a pathetic mother is enough of a reason to have your own reality show these days. Macauley Culkin’s dad must be kicking himself that he couldn’t get a similar deal.

15. Miley Cyrus said this week that she’s creeped out by older, single men who come to her concerts alone. My question is: how does she know that’s happening when she’s packing in arenas full of screaming children? Does she look over each and every person there? I think mostly she just makes that assumption because, of course, society now teaches young girls that they can only be victimized by single men (listen to Aly & AJ retardedly rant about the extreme and constant danger of “perverts” some time). Hey, Miley, there are some adults who like your music, too, like me. And I’m sure there are some who like you for much less wholesome reasons, like me. I don’t know, I guess my advice to you would be to stop posting soft core pictures of yourself online and wearing slips to premieres, because who do you think is really looking at them? Duh. Seriously, in the future, when she’s only getting work singing in Indian casinos, she’s going to miss those single guys.

16. Why do I keep hearing about politicians who have donated money from questionable sources to charity? This week I was hearing about Rezko contributions to Obama being given to charity. I always think that’s a cop-out. It’s something politicians do to save their ethical image after they’ve gotten caught taking dirty money. If they really had ethics, they wouldn’t cash the check in the first place. And Obama petulantly walking out of a press conference because reporters dared to ask him questions about it doesn’t make him look any better.

17. How come no one ever asks why Chelsea Clinton isn’t in the military? I mean, her mother voted for the war repeatedly. Why don’t they ask her why, if she believed in the war so much when it started, Chelsea’s not in Iraq right now? I guess it’s not just conservatives who have a double standard.

18. Spice Girl Mel B did this for an ad for the Helen Bamber Foundation, a British human rights organization that benefits survivors of the sex slave trade. I guess sex slave trafficking didn’t have a sexy enough image? Seriously, what is the point of this now? PETA ads were silly enough, but now women are getting their kit off to highlight the plight of women who are used as sex slaves? Why? What does this add to your message? It’s an important charity and it’s important to throw a light on this, but what is the message this is meant to send?

19. Speaking of PETA, despite their terrorist efforts, fur is making a huge comeback. Which actually makes me a little happy, because I hate PETA way more than I love animals. See what being obnoxious does? It makes me disagree with you no matter your position.

20. Jenny McCarthy is trying to get the medical community to take her seriously when she says that diet and vitamins can ease the symptoms of autism. I think she probably has a good point—her son is autistic, after all, so she’s got some experience with the condition; besides that, doctors and researchers keep finding out more and more that a lot of disorders (especially hyperactivity disorders) are the result of diet and food allergies. I don’t know, is it just that she’s a hot blonde, so she’s supposed to be dumb? Or is that she takes her clothes off for a living sometimes and that disqualifies her from commenting on the treatment of her own son? Because what I see here is a mother who wants to ease the symptoms of a child whose condition is not covered by insurance and being rebuked by a medical community that is more and more reliant on medications as the magical cure-all. Just because you don’t like her movies, it doesn’t make her dumb. I’m not saying diet and vitamins are a magic cure, either, but if she’s had some success with her own child, doesn’t that warrant some kind of looking into?

21. People were shocked—shocked—this week to learn that there were videos on YouTube of soldiers partying, drinking, snorting coke, etc. Why do we afford our soldiers this sort of nobility that doesn’t really exist? In many cases, these are people who are poor, struggling, and sometimes just dumb. A lot of the people being taken by the military are people who were just no smart enough to get into college and don’t want to dig ditches. It’s very easy for people who’ve never been in the military to point at guys doing coke or women taking their tops off and look down on them and say they bring down the image of our soldiers, but have you ever heard these people talk? They’re not samurai, okay? They’re not all idealistic and honorable; some of them are just idiots looking for a trade they can make money at when they’re out. And I’m sure some of them enjoy killing. Have you ever read Dr. Laura’s son’s blog? He loves killing foreigners! He delights in it. I’ve seen pictures of soldiers spray-painting mosques and pushing Iraqis around. And then there were the other videos that came out this week of our brave men and women cavalierly running tanks over peoples’ cars, randomly shooting into someone’s flock of sheep (for kicks, I guess), and in one especially and casually cruel scene, picking up a puppy and flinging it down a hillside (and then bravely shrugging at the camera). I can’t believe that people are pissed off that someone out there is tarnishing the image of people who’ve been sent to murder a lot of people in the name of low gas prices. Remember Abu Ghraib? That’s probably much more common in a lot of places. Seriously, take the biggest, bullying, dumbest asshole you knew in high school. Those are the people that end up in our armed forces. Duh. Now he’s bullying foreigners instead. Did you ever read any of the stories that were covered up from the first Gulf War? Stories about turkey shoots with Iraqi civilians? About mass graves to cover that up? Why are people so fucking shocked to find out that the American soldier is an ordinary human being like anyone else? Get some perspective, already. Yeah, if only our soldiers could find it in their hearts to act nice and polite while they murder a bunch of people and rape their country. This is war. And it is fucking sick. And dehumanizes everyone.

22. Another thing that makes Americans seem childish: shock and outrage over memoirs. This week the book Love and Consequences, Margaret Seltzer’s narrative of being raised in the ghetto by a black foster mother, was exposed as a total fabrication. The only reason there isn’t more anger over this is that Oprah didn’t command her followers to read the book. Look, I’m sure it was at one point very cute that people used to believe that memoirs were always true, movies were always based on reality, photographs were always accurate depictions of what was, and song lyrics meaningfully reflected the singer’s life and attitudes, but it is way too late in history now for people to be so unsophisticated that they’re angered when things turn out not to be real. They should know by now.

23. Or not. This is the one story I read this week that was the most characteristic of how ripe America is for takeover by some other country. There’s a woman in Indiana who left two of her daughters (ages 1 and 3) alone in the bathtub for several minutes because she got distracted watching American Idol. She just forgot the kid was there because, I don’t know, David Archuleta is so dreamy and irritating or something. When she finally snapped to, she had her third daughter, age 7, run and check on the kids. The 3 year old was under the water and unresponsive, and was rushed to the hospital and, as far as I know, is still in critical condition. It probably doesn’t help that they found some marijuana in the house, too. Really, fill in your own symbolism for why America doesn’t care anymore and what it doesn’t care about here.

24. Boy, do I feel sorry for Patrick Swayze. Not because he only has five weeks to live—although that itself is pretty fucking horrible, and I’m so sorry for him and his loved ones who are about to go through this (and are probably already going through hell)—but because the news that he’s rapidly dying of cancer which has spread through his entire body has gotten out to the public (thanks, Enquirer), and now his last five weeks on Earth are going to be spent having to dodge paparazzi who are going to hound him so they can have those oh-so-saleable final pictures of him. The poor guy. Let him spend his final weeks saying goodbye to his family and doing the things he loves for the last time instead of making it difficult for him. (Note: I wrote this on Wednesday; by Thursday it had come out that Swayze does indeed suffer from pancreatic cancer, but he’s not on some kind of death clock. I decided not to alter this because I think the point is still valid. And now that the tabloids aren’t on a countdown, they’re still going to hassle him worse than ever. And I still think that sucks.)

25. Finally, I’m going to end on a somewhat upbeat note (if you’re a nerd like me). Scientists have discovered rings around Rhea, a moon of Saturn. This is the first time a moon has been shown to have rings; scientists thought it was only possible with planets. Alright, I thought it was neat. Also neat: this sound file of the radio waves given off by Saturn’s rings. Listen to it. It’s spooky and awesome all at once. Listen to it in the dark for a really neat experience. Even better: listen to it in the dark while also playing Kaleidoscope or John’s Children or some other obscure psych rock band from the sixties.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Leave Mike Huckabee Alone!

Stuff Meme People Like

PJ made a list based on the blog Stuff White People Like (which is a pretty funny blog) and decided to go down and see if she liked any of the stuff the blog listed. She probably didn't mean it to be picked up as a meme, but I haven't had much to talk about this week, so I took it and I'm doing it that way. She bolded what applied to her, so I'll do the same here. I'm a joiner.

#01 Coffee -- I used to love it, but I don't drink it anymore because I put in too much sugar and cream, so I'm not going to count this one.

#02 Religions their parents don’t belong to -- That's a funny one. I know a bunch of people like that. I consider all religions equally silly.

#03 Film Festivals -- Never been to one, but I'm open to it.

#04 Assists -- This would imply that I like sports, which I don't.

#05 Farmer’s Markets -- I like the idea of them, but I've never been to one. I really should, as part of my wanting to lose weight is the idea of going to shop for better foods more often.

#06 Organic Food -- I'll say yes here, although I don't eat as much organic food as I'd like. I had some samples of organic goat meat at the meat market a while back that were really good, but the meat itself was really expensive.

#07 Diversity -- PJ points out that the site's depiction of white people liking diversity makes white people look like hypocrites. But I do know a LOT of white people (and am related to some) who think diversity is a good thing as long as they don't have to live near any black people and their kids don't have to learn to speak Spanish. I bolded it because I do appreciate diversity, but I don't approach it in that sense of a lot of people I know--with the kind of arrogance that says I'm a better person because I can learn from other cultures. Actually, I just like learning about other cultures. I want to learn more than the two languages I already know (in fact, I'm desperate to learn Spanish, but only for three reasons--I like the language, there are a lot of American speakers of Spanish, and I want to read Don Quixote in its original language--okay, four, because I loves me las chicas). I don't approach anything with the idea that it will make me look a certain way.

#08 Barack Obama -- As seems to have lost me some readers, I am not a fan of Barack Obama.

#09 Making you feel bad about not going outside -- As I become more and more of a prematurely old man, I do tend to get the attitude that kids need to go outside more (I did, when I was a kid). But in the end, I don't really give a shit.

#10 Wes Anderson Movies -- I know, huh? What is it with whitey and Wes Anderson? The only Wes Anderson movie I liked was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I actually loved. Otherwise, I just wait for the one or two good songs he'll dig up on his soundtracks. That's all he's got; the shortcut to emotional reflection that is the rock song. I feel the same way about Cameron Crowe, who also sucks.

#11 Asian Girls -- Oh, yeah. I do love Asian girls. I love all girls, really.

#12 Non-Profit Organizations -- Lousy hippies.

#13 Tea -- I like tea, but I don't drink it very often.

#14 Having Black Friends -- I like having friends, but not specifically of any race. I just like talking to people. I don't think having a black friend reflects on me a certain way; I've just always been friendly and polite. Really, I don't ever have very many friends for long. I'm obnoxious and irritating once you get to know me. A little needy, too.

#15 Yoga -- pass.

#16 Gifted Children -- I'm not a big fan of any kind of kid, frankly. Well, I do seem to like the teen pop singer variety. Can I call Miley gifted?

#17 Hating their Parents -- I don't like hating my parents, but it's happened on and off pretty much my entire life. I know the kind of people this refers to, though.

#18 Awareness -- I think that, stereotypically, a certain kind of person loves appearing to care about something (I grew up in the suburbs, I observed these kinds of people, especially women with nothing else to do, sorry). I find it hard to care about certain issues because--and I know this makes me sound arrogant, but this is my experience--I'm usually looking beneath the surface before most people I know and I'm usually right because I don't like to speak up if I'm not sure of what I'm saying, and people get irritated by it initially. People hate having holes poked in things, but I'm only pointing out what's there. I guess I'm the kind of guy who rains on the parade. So I see a lot of people aren't into awareness as a reality.

#19 Traveling -- I like the idea of traveling, but even making the six-hour drive to my ancestral home of Des Moines is more taxing than I want to deal with.

#20 Being an expert on YOUR culture -- I don't even know what my culture is.

#21 Writers Workshops -- I don't like groups, really. I'm too self-conscious for a writers' workshop. I didn't like taking Creative Writing in high school.

#22 Having Two Last Names -- What is the deal with that shit, anyway?

#23 Microbreweries -- I don't like alcohol, but I know some people find microbreweries some kind of cute amazement.

#24 Wine -- What's the deal with that, too? American yuppies are so desperate to be a part of this wine culture that they've even now banded together to pretend that zinfandel, the only truly American wine, is "delicious" instead of "bland and awful." It used to be that the guy who whipped out zinfandel on a date was seen as a cheapskate and he didn't get laid; you might as well have picked up a box of wine at a grocery store. I don't like the way wine tastes, and I have to admit, it does annoy me a bit to see people casually drinking it. Plus that Sideways movie fucking sucked. People in their forties love that "life is like an aging bottle of wine" bullshit.

#25 David Sedaris -- I've only read one essay by David Sedaris. It was cute, I guess, but didn't make me want to read any more of his stuff. I don't think Amy Sedaris is remotely funny, either. But I do like Dan Savage.

#26 Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!) -- I have to admit, Manhattan is one of the few places I want to see. But I want to see all of New York, really. I have a more romantic picture in my head of Bearsville, but mostly because Todd Rundgren recorded there.

#27 Marathons -- Marathons are not for me. Otherwise, I have no real opinion of them.

#28 Not having a TV -- I know some people who are inordinately proud of not having a TV. Sell it somewhere else, granola.

#29 80s Night -- I love 80s music and movies and TV shows, but this deifying of it that's going on right now (or worse, when I see kids who were probably born in 1989 at best wearing a Chunk or Pac Man tee shirt) is just so uncool.

#30 Wrigley Field -- I do love Wrigley Field, but I'm from Chicago.

#31 Snowboarding -- No thanks.

#32 Vegan/Vegetarianism -- I'm a meat-eater, which is the natural human instinct. If you want to be a vegetarian or a vegan, fine, I don't really care. But when you start telling me how it makes you such a better person morally and spiritually and that I can't understand it because I'm some kind of cow murderer, I'm going to punch you in the chest. And your lungs will probably collapse, because you're a vegetarian and your ability to deal with injuries sucks and your bones are brittle and you always look crazed and like you're going to fall over. Hey, if it was wrong to eat meat, the human race never would have survived and developed the brain you use to make lame decisions based on the false conception of animals as spaient beings.

#33 Marijuana -- I'm not wearing the tee shirt, but I never turn it down when offered. What can I say? It's relaxing and it makes some music a lot better. White people must love marijuana--it's the only thing that can make Family Guy funny.

#34 Architecture -- I do appreciate architecture, but on the level of aesthetics and history (especially art history, which I love). I'm not all gay for Frank Lloyd Wright or designing my own home.

#35 The Daily Show/Colbert Report -- I hate them both. They're chintzy and smug and not very funny.

#36 Breakfast Places -- I like to go out to eat breakfast, so I guess that counts. I won't wait in line for an hour at Egg Harbor or anything. And if I'm going on Sunday, I have to go early to avoid the army of churchies rewarding themselves for finding the time to sit through something that is supposedly very important to them.

#37 Renovations --Man, I hate renovations. My stepmom is always working my dad hard on renovating everything in their damn house. It's not even that nice a house, honestly, and every time my dad has a second to think to himself, she's got him rewiring the basement or installing a fireplace or redesigning the bathroom or putting in new cabinets or some fucking thing. What is she afraid of? That if he gets a second to think he'll realize how unhappy he is? Just asking.

#38 Arrested Development -- Yeah, but it's a fucking funny show. I love it.

#39 Netflix -- Of course. I don't have to put up with that little fuckwit who can't count working behind the counter. Plus, I refuse to shop at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, so I'm out of options. I also like Redbox, for the record.

#40 Apple Products -- I really don't like Apple. And yes, it's because of their smug commercials and the legion of people who are queer for Macs telling me how Apple products automatically make you smarterer and magical and good just cuz they awesome. I wonder if these are the same people supporting Obama because supporting him automatically makes rainbows brighter and puppies happier and the air taste clean again.

#41 Indie Music -- I find a great deal of indie music sucks. And I like a LOT of music.

#42 Sushi -- No. Just no.

#43 Plays --I've been to a couple and enjoyed them, but I never feel the urge to go. I saw one play three times just because a girl I really had a bad, bad crush on (senior year of high school) was doing the lighting.

#44 Public Radio -- I never even think to listen to it.

#45 Asian Fusion Food -- I don't even like the sound of that.

#46 The Sunday New York Times -- No.

#47 Arts Degrees --Never thought to get one.

#48 Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops -- In theory, yes. I've gotten some really good food from there, but I'm not a fanatic about what it does for your entire soul, like my crazy mother.

#49 Vintage -- The whole idea of vintage is pretty lame, I think. I guess it's replaced "antique" as some kind of school of style. I just like what I like and am able to justify it. I don't think my purchases or tastes "say something" about me.

#50 Irony -- I despise irony, if only because it's misused constantly. I blame Alanis Morrisette and Joss Whedon for a non-stop stream of irony in popular entertainment that actually really isn't irony. Which is ironic, I guess. But also stupid. I fucking hate Joss Whedon. Irony isn't actually congratulating yourself for being smart or clever. And now I've got to put up with the constant barrage of songs which are above being melodic (including a neverending flood of "ironic" covers of pop songs sung at a soporific non-pace), comedy that's too good to be funny, and TV shows that are too smart to actually be entertaining.

#51 Living by the Water -- I know some people who are really into this idea. I bolded it because I've had recurring dreams about living on the beach my whole life.

#52 Sarah Silverman -- She's hot, but she's really not funny. She's graphic and says rude things, but it's not funny just because it's coming from someone who looks like her, and that's her entire schtick.

#53 Dogs -- No one else likes dogs?

#54 Kitchen Gadgets -- I have to admit, I like looking at the kitchen stuff when I'm at the store. I'm fascinated by them because I want to learn to cook more and more complicated dishes. I find it satisfying to cook. Just some result from doing something physical is remarkably edifying.

#55 Apologies -- Yeah, there's a sort of apology porn going on in America right now. People apologize for anything--especially for having an opinion. It's America constantly second-guessing itself.

#56 Lawyers -- I hate the idea of lawyers, I don't like legal shows, I don't like how litigious America has become.

#57 Juno -- Hey, it's a good movie, get over it. Not liking it doesn't prove how smart you are, it just proves you take your opinion too seriously. If you didn't like it, that's one thing, but being proud of that says something else about your ego.

#58 Japan -- There's a bit of an over-reverence here for anything that comes from Japan. I like Japan; my aunt lived there for years, and I've been there once. But, especially as an animation fan, I reject this idea that every comic book and movie and computer game that comes from Japan is automatically better than everything because it comes from Japan. Japanese pop culture is just as shrill, pointless, empty, and irritating as American pop culture, and being into one over the other doesn't make you anything (except easily amused, maybe). Nothing against Japan, though, because I'd be keen to visit there again, especially now that I'm old enough to appreciate it more, but the love of it in America rivals the twee love of all things Oirish for sheer condescencion.

#59 Natural Medicine -- I don't trust natural medicine as far as I can kick it. I just don't, and I especially don't trust its practicioners. My mom used to push St. John's Wort and ecchanacia as the cure for everything, but I always said that you have to believe in a placebo in order for it to work. Ever notice how most of the people who push these herbal magic pills on you are on Xanax or something like that?

#60 Toyota Prius -- Ugh, tell me about it.

#61 Bicycles -- I'd like a bicycle in order to lose weight, but I can't see toting it around to work or something.

#62 Knowing What’s Best for Poor People -- Again, tell me about it. As a poor person, I get that a lot. And I'm not even selling-your-kids-poor, I'm just only-make-the-minimum-payment poor.

#63 Expensive Sandwiches -- What is it with the sandwich craze in America? Subway is just gross, and I know people who've found insects in Panera Bread. I like to get deli cuts and make a sandwich sometimes, too, but people are turning sandwich shops into some sort of religion.

#64 Recycling -- It's still an industrial process, people, and it still uses a lot of water and resources.

#65 Co-Ed Sports -- I don't have an opinion either way. I like to watch girls play volleyball; does that count?

#66 Divorce -- White people do love their divorces in this country. A really good example is the way some people refuse to support Hillary Clinton because she's not divorced and Bill cheated on her repeatedly. There was a time when she would've been praised for keeping her family together; now people think she's a fool for not leaving him. But as a child of divorce, I can tell you that even if you get over it, it sucks feeling like one of your parents hated life as part of your family so much that they've left you.

#67 Standing Still at Concerts -- I don't even like to go to concerts. I've been to one and I did not stand still.

#68 Michel Gondry -- I liked the two movies he made with Charlie Kaufman, but I haven't seen the other two.

#69 Mos Def -- Meh. I like him in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I always find his opinion interesting on Real Time, although his refusal to believe in the moon landing makes me question how sharp he really is.

#70 Difficult Breakups -- What is that all about? White people do, in my experience, love to invent reasons for themselves to be unhappy, especially when it comes to romance.

#71 Being the only white person around -- I don't care either way.

#72 Study Abroad -- It's a nice idea, I suppose.

#73 Gentrification -- Ha, right on! I see where some people are pretentious about living somewhere that's more "real." But some people also genuinely love being in a place where they're exposed to a variety of attitudes, cultural influences, and opinions.

#74 Oscar Parties -- Do people really do this or is that just a cliche?

#75 Threatening to Move to Canada -- I've done it, I admit. And I still think it would be a good idea, so I'll bold it and come clean. Sorry, but I'm addicted to affordable health care. Without it, I have a tendency to, well, die.

#76 Bottles of Water -- I don't drink tap water anymore. It grosses me out, I admit, and when we first moved to DeKalb there was still radium in it. I try to find out which companies are actually getting their water from glaciers or purifying it instead of just getting it out of the municipal supply.

#77 Musical Comedy -- Indeed.

#78 Multilingual Children -- If and when I have children, I want them to be fluent in English (unlike most kids in America) and fluent in Spanish, too. That's the way America is going, and no amount of white people screaming "Dialing 1 for English is a major inconvenience for me!" is going to change it. I'll bold it on that basic level. I'm not in love with the idea as a badge, the way some mothers I've known are. I also hate that other attitude; I used to date a girl who actually got pissed off when she heard a child speaking in any language but English. Get fucking over it.

#79 Modern Furniture -- I like what's comfortable. I don't care what a couch looks like as long as I can comfortably nap on it.

#80 The Idea of Soccer -- "You know, everywhere else in the world, it's called FOOTBALL." I know some of those people. I think soccer is about the only sport I find exciting (except for Australian-rules football, which is wild). Most sports are a lot of standing around and waiting for a brief burst of action. Soccer is constant action, so it's exciting to me and fun to watch (and, if I remember my childhood correctly, fun to play). I guess basketball is, too, but I just don't care for it. I'm not precious about it.

#81 Graduate School -- A great place to hide from getting a job. I almost used it for that. Still, I don't begrudge anyone access to it; sometimes you don't know what you really want to do with your life. Sometimes you only figure it out well into your adulthood.

#82 Hating Corporations -- Some people take this to a super-annoying level of rhetoric. I do hate corporations for what they do to the planet, but I can't afford to shop anywhere else. I hate being blamed for all of this country's problems because I shop at Wal-Mart because, as Bill Maher says, I just refuse to pay more for anything. Actually, Bill, it's because I'm so fucking poor that I have to shop there. You're well off enough not to have to, and that's great for you, but I'd suggest you shut up until you know what it's like to stand in a store and have to decide what's more important this week--your blood pressure medication or eating food.

Well, I liked 21 out of 82. I don't know what that means.

C'mon! Let Me In!

I just want to talk! I promise! I have some pamphlets you should read! Can I just leave my card?

I Feel Sorry for Kids Today

Here's the narration from the new Sea World ad. It's all spoken by children who sound like their average age is 10.

I believe that there's still mysteries in the world, and wonders, and surprises.

I believe that fun is a renewable resource.

There's some things you'll never be able to download.

I blieve that when we celebrate life in creatures big and small, we discover connections that stay with us forever.

Are you fucking kidding me? This is how kids talk in commercials now? It's enough to make me miss those cloying Smucker's kids.

This is also the way kids talk in lots of movies now (see Night at the Museum for a fantastically depressing example). What the hell is wrong with my generation as parents? Is this the kind of crap they want to hear from kids? This thoughtful, pseudo-philisophical bullshit? It's like we want our kids to just walk up to us and say "I think we should visit Sea World on vacation because the connection with reality and something outside of myself will be valuable in actualizing my autonomy in the future."

What's really depressing is that this ad is characteristic of a larger problem with my generation: we don't know what we're doing, and we desperately want someone else to tell us. Even if it's our own children telling us how we're supposed to raise them.

I still blame pushing PC self-esteem in schools instead of learning how to think.

Connie Britton Is a Sexy 40 Year-Old

I always thought she was sexy; now she's also 40. In addition to being mucho sexo. Happy birthday, Connie!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

James and the Giant Peach

After admitting on my own blog over the weekend that I'd never read any Roald Dahl but loved some of the movies based on his work, someone whose opinion I tend to trust told me I really had to correct this. And I went and chose James and the Giant Peach because, well, I loved the movie version...

But now I love the actual book as well.

What really struck me about Dahl as a writer (at least based on the one book I've read so far) is his prose style. He doesn't have that condescending "Oh, and then children, look at this fantastical wonderment" tone that a lot of writers mistake for whimsy. He talks to his readers sometimes, but it comes across as excitement over the possibilities of fiction and it's infectious.

What I found especially interesting about James and the Giant Peach is that it's an adventure story where the adventure is almost secondary to Dahl's examination of the characters. James is a Charles Dickens sort of character, an English boy who's been orphaned and left with two aunts who treat him like an indentured servant. He meets a wandering stranger who just gives him some magic (a bag of boiled crocodile tongues, with all sorts of gross details involved in their creation) that accidentally--but fortuitously--grows a peach and some insects to giant size. The peach becomes James's means of escape, quite literally, as he and the insects fly it across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. And it's all very exciting, but it's really background for Dahl to have these great characters running around.

In fact, the best chapters in the novel just have the characters sitting around and talking. James's new friends accept him immediately, and in one great chapter (probably my favorite in the book), they all just sit around and discuss entomology. Each of the insects talk about the purpose they serve in life; the Spider kills mosquitos, the Earthworm enriches the soil, the Ladybug destroys crop-killing aphids, etc. Everything has a purpose, but that purpose is often misunderstood when people base their beliefs on appearances. James learns that stereotypes based on expectations are ridiculous (the bugs laugh at him for presuming that everyone keeps their ears in their heads).

Each bug also, in a way, represents a facet of English society--the dignified Old-Green-Grasshopper is refined and has good taste, the Earthworm is literally a soil-of-the-earth country dweller who fears the worst, the Centipede is boastful and brash (you can almost hear a Cockney accent), the Ladybug is a genteel, pragmatic widow, etc. And they all need the young James to hold them together and lead them onward and out of danger.

One of the things I love about this book is that the sense of danger isn't overplayed. The emotions are genuine, and the sense of peril is exciting, but there is an overall sense that things will be okay as long as James continues to keep his head and be clever. He's pragmatic and doesn't lose his cool; he looks for solutions while everyone else frets and fusses. And I think that's especially good for a kids' book; there are a lot worse things for kids to learn than being resourceful and friendly, and that those two traits will help you out in life.

I love this book, and I'm glad to have finally read Dahl. Since this book took me all of two hours to tear through, I'm going to read a few more, so if anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

Originally posted on the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

Censored James

So, I finally started reading Roald Dahl. I was reviewing James and the Giant Peach for the Spring Reading Challenge, and while looking up some information online I noticed that it has been a frequent target of censorship. James and the Giant Peach, a banned book? I just read the book today, so it's pretty fresh in my memory, and I can't see why it would be banned.

Worse still, when I tried to find out some information about it, I couldn't. All I could find is that the book supposedly encourages smoking and drinking (it doesn't), that it uses the word "ass" (it does, but in the original slang sense of someone acting like a fool), and that it encourages children to be disobedient towards their parents (James's parents are dead; he defies his aunts, but they abuse him). Is that all people have? Because that's a slim case, and anyone who seriously thinks James and the Giant Peach is dangerous because of those three things has seriously got to slap some more tinfoil on their antennae, because they're not getting good reception.

Any book that promotes the autonomy (and resourcefulness) of kids comes in for this kind of treatment. It's sad how badly some people don't want to let their children grow up into adults.

Spring Movies 2008

Other bloggers are doing their lists of the movies they most anticipate for 2008. They're a lot of fun to read; I can't plan that far in advance, really, so I'm just doing what I used to do and taking a look at the upcoming season and the movies it will inflict upon us and what I'll be heading to see. Because I'm an egomaniac that way.

Already released is The Other Boleyn Girl, which I still want to get out to see. I know it got mostly bad reviews (at least the ones I saw), but I like Tudor history and I love Eric Bana and Scarlett Johansson and I can tolerate Natalie Portman. Plus Peter Morgan wrote it, and I usually like what he writes. I can tell you right now that the movie isn't sexy enough; otherwise, we'd be hearing more about it. And if it's going to be a historical (or even ahistorical) romance novel, it could at least be all steamy.

Not going to see Semi-Pro. I still haven't seen Blades of Glory, and that movie at least has Jenna Fischer (and in a basque, at that). I'm tired of Will Ferrell's sports comedy schtick.

Now, on to March.

7 March: 10,000 BC is a maybe. It's obviously going to be stupid, but will it be stupid fun like StarGate was, or stupid stupid like The Day After Tomorrow was. Or even worse, stupid boring like Godzilla? I want to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I'll probably wait until it hits DVD, because I'm sure it won't be playing out here, but it looks like it could be very cute. And Amy Adams looks supercute in it. I don't know anything about Married Life, but I like Chris Cooper, so who knows? The Bank Job is DVD fodder for sure (as Jason Statham's action movies tend to be), and I don't know what Paranoid Park is, but if it's by Gus Van Sant, then no way. Not after Elephant. I don't know what Snow Angels is, either, except that it will be the latest in an almost-unbroken streak of Kate Beckinsale movies I don't go to see because Kate Beckinsale fucking sucks. You couldn't pay me to go see College Road Trip.

14 March: Horton Hears a Who! looks astoundingly awful. Yet another movie that takes all of the fun and wit and simple honesty and emotion of Dr. Seuss and turns it into a midlife crisis comedy that no one could or would ever care about. Sure, the animation looks great, but whenever I see poor Horton with Jim Carrey's still-unfunny voice saying "Nothin' wrong wit dis!," I kind of want to throw up. I keep thinking, "A person's a person no matter how small." That kind of poetry doesn't need a modern spin to be interesting, but the people who produce animation to day are mostly cowards and keep trying to reach that hipper-than-thou, stuff-is-funny-because-I-recognize-it, apologize to people for making them go see a cartoon, Shrek audience. No thanks. Chuck Jones did an excellent cartoon of this forty years ago, and coupled with Bob Clampett's witty Horton Hatches the Egg cartoon, I'm perfectly fine never seeing this movie. Also, Funny Games opens that day, which I'll probably skip. I don't know what Sleepwalking is. Nick Stahl is in it. Does he play tortured? Because I've had enough of tortured Nick Stahl to last me a lifetime. I'm not sure about Doomsday, though I did love the director's The Descent. Never Back Down comes under my "until one man" rule (never go see a movie where the trailer narration says "so-and-so was such-and-such until one man blah blah").

21 March: Drillbit Taylor warrants a viewing from me on DVD because I like Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen is one of the many screenwriters. I hate Owen Wilson, but it might be cute. And if not, it's probably more harmless than insultingly stupid. It's not like Adam Sandler's in it. Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns... no. I just don't like Tyler Perry. Cat doesn't appeal to me at all. Not interested in The Grand, but anything could happen, I suppose. I don't know what Shutter is.

28 March: I don't feel the need to see a movie about the murder of one of my heroes, so I probably will skip Chapter 27, which stars the overrated Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman; and if I did feel the need to see a movie about Chapman, it probably wouldn't have Lindsay Lohan in it. After seeing I Know Who Killed Me, it'll be a cold day in hell before I see any movie with her in it on purpose (except Bobby, which I want to see for Shia LaBeouf, and any sex tape she inevitably ends up making). I like Kimberly Pierce--well, I liked Boys Don't Cry--but Stop-Loss looks pretty bad. 21 stars Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey, so that's a no (are they fucking or something? this is their third movie together, and they have zero chemistry), and only an idiot would go to see Superhero Movie thinking it would be funny. If the 21st century has proved one thing, it's that spoofs aren't funny in the internet age. And that's right, I'm saying that if you go and see Superhero Movie, you're an idiot. Because you should know better. Also, is Run Fatboy Run actually going to come out?

4 April: I am going to see Leatherheads; I love Clooney, and he directed it, and I loved both movies he directed. Nim's Island sounds like it could be a neat movie; it seems like an unusual role for Jodie Foster to take, and that should be a nice break from her seemingly endless streak of women-in-peril Lifetime movies. I haven't heard much about The Ruins; I'm more interested in reading the novel by Scott Smith, because A Simple Plan was excellent. Wong Kar-Wai debuts in English with My Blueberry Nights, which has Rachel Weisz. You know, come to think, I've yet to see a Wong Kar-Wai movie, so I don't know if I'm looking forward to this or not. Also out is Shine a Light, Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert movie, which I'll probably see eventually on video. Scorsese did direct one of the great concert films--The Last Waltz--but I've seen a number of Stones concert films and they don't change much anymore.

11 April: I want to see Smart People; I will probably shoot my toe off before going to see Street Kings. When is Canoe Reeves just going to stop? Prom Night looks awful. I wasn't much of a fan of the original, but just the idea that they're taking a slasher movie and remaking it as a PG-13 psychological thriller is too stupid for me to consider. The Brothers Bloom is a possibility because Rian Johnson also directed Brick, which I loved, and this one has Rachel Weisz. The less said about College the better.

18 April: I really want to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Yes, I'm an Apatow zombie, but it looks hilarious and I really want to see Kristen Bell in a comedy. Plus it has Jonah Hill in it. Also coming out are The Visitor and 88 Minutes, but I don't know anything about them. I admit, I do want to see The Forbidden Kingdom, which looks silly, but my kind of fun silly. I don't care, I like these movies. Pathology has Alyssa Milano and, even worse, Milo Ven-whoozy from Heroes and Gilmore Girls and that stupid Fergie video. It's so cute how Alyssa Milano thinks she can still play college students.

25 April: Damn, I can't believe how many comedies are coming out now that I actually want to go see in the theater. This week there's Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Tina Fey's Baby Mama, both of which I'll gladly go see. There's also The Tourist, which sounds really bizarre but which has a good enough cast for me to see on DVD (I love Ewan McGregor). Then there's something called Redbelt with Tim Allen (pass), and Then She Found Me, a film which stars Colin Firth, whom I like very much, but which also stars Helen Hunt and Bette Midler, so it must also be horrible. There's also a movie Rob Schneider stars in and directed, but if you're going to see a movie Rob Schneider stars in and directed, then all the interventions in the world can't save you.

And that's the tiny little spring window, because now summer movies hit on the first week of May instead of in the actual summer (this year Iron Man starts us off on 2 May). Not a lot of meat in there, but it looks like there are a couple of spring movies that could be fun. I guess I'll do a summer preview in another month or so. I know for sure I want to see Iron Man, Prince Caspian, Mongol, Get Smart, Wall*E, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Dark Knight, Step Brothers, and... well, that's it, really. Maybe not a lot of meat there, either. And who knows how many I'll actually see? The last few summers have been so blah. But that's what's exciting about movies, I guess. They're like playing Russian Roulette with the time you still have left alive.

Leonard Rosenman 1924-2008

Oscar- and Emmy-winning composer Leonard Rosenman has died after a long illness. There's a nice tribute up at the Film Music Society. I liked Leonard Rosenman's scores; my favorite of his, actually, was his score for Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated Lord of the Rings. He must've liked it, too, because he used some of it in his score for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Hey, he probably wanted to put it into a movie people would actually see.

file hosted by

As a tribute to the man, here's the Lord of the Rings theme. I love it. Rest in peace, sir.

"I Had No Idea Crocs Were So Aggressive"

"I was shocked, the animal clearly wanted to kill me. One minute I was leaning over the boat teasing it for a picture. The next minute it burst out of the water with incredible speed ... its jaws fully open. I jumped back and the croc landed on the boat and then slapped into the water. I was shaking."

Those are the words of a man surprised that teasing an animal could piss it off.

It's fitting that this happened in Darwin, Australia, since it so clearly proves that Charles Darwin may not have been right about the idea that the fittest survive.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 12

Well, I don't know if I'm feeling better about myself, but the nightmares have stopped and I'm not scratching my hands or doing OCD things anymore. It just kind of... I don't know, cleared up. I guess I was able to push the things I'm worried about out of my head enough that I'm not as worried. I'm still grinding my teeth, though, and not just during my sleep. Sometimes I catch myself doing it. I have a dentist appointment for a week from today, so that bite guard is coming.

Otherwise, I'm getting better. I've been eating better for a while, cutting out the junk and getting back to eating fruit every day. I'm not doing as well as I know I can (and have done in the past), but I'm getting there.

The holding pattern is almost over with. Oh, and I'm walking every day again. I can already see the results, by the way, having lost at least an inch and a half. So the ball is rolling...

Gary Gygax 1938-2008

Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has lost his saving throw against death.

I played Dungeons & Dragons a number of times when I was younger. I always enjoyed it. One of my cousins married a guy who would get together with his friends every other weekend for a non-stop marathon quest; he was hardcore. Well, he didn't own any weapons or anything. I think. Actually, I don't know. Maybe he made a costume. He used to like to paint characters...

I think kids today are really missing something. I know I sound like an old man when I say that, but I don't really care. Tabletop gaming was fun, it was imaginitive, it got you into a room where you had to interact with other people. Now people have moved on to game platforms and online roleplaying. There's a lot less imagination in those games. At least, I've always thought so. It's part of the reason I bristle when I hear someone refer to a video game as an RPG. But thanks to guys like Gygax, I got to put a lot of my own imagination into scenarios and characters instead of watching it unfold on a screen. I lost track of how many times I checked the Monster Manual out of the library. It was the biggest influence over the way I think about magical creatures, which is to say it was a huge influence over the fantasy fiction I've written over the years and never been able to sell and/or finish.

Tabletop gaming. D&D. Or even AD&D. Go on out and make some friends, kids.

Catty Celebrity Quote I Love

"Who is she?"
--Kate Hudson being asked about what she thinks of Katherine Heigl in Elle

Star Wars vs. Saul Bass

Someone has done a mock-up of what the opening credits sequence to Star Wars might have looked like if it was designed by the legendary Saul Bass. I love this one.

Victoria's Secret Is Too Sexy?

Sharen Turney, the CEO of Victoria's Secret, says that her company's image is far too sexy. She thinks they've gotten away from their original feminine, sort of Victorian-naughty image. She says, perhaps a little too vehemently: "I feel so strongly about us getting back to our heritage and really thinking in terms of ultra feminine and not just the word sexy and becoming much more relevant to our customer."

Um... lingerie isn't supposed to be sexy? Okay.

I find this kind of interesting because, like a lot of guys my age, I used to steal the Victoria's Secret catalog. No, the Sears catalog wasn't good for anything except Christmas toys; I actually kind of pity guys who had to grow up with the women in the Sears catalog instead of checking out the Victoria's Secret catalog. That thing was sexy. And Victoria's Secret is, as far as I'm concerned, pretty damn hot. I actually like their image; hell, they're better at projecting young, hip, smart, sexy, and relevant than Playboy, which is supposed to be all of those things but is now just a company owned by an old guy who has lost touch with the modern world. I actually watch the Victoria's Secret fashion show. I loved Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen and Adriana Lima and Karolina Kurkova and Miranda Kerr and all of the angels and the models. I like Victoria's Secret, and I like it sexy.

Turney, however, apparently hates the hip, sexy imagery and wants to be more sophisticated. I find that, in cases like this, the word sophisticated is often a euphemism for stuffy. Or safe. Turney is trying to court women in college who want loungewear. Well, I have news for you, having graduated from college in 2006. The women in college want to be sexy. They don't want to lounge. There are always going to be young women out there who want loungewear or whatever the euphemism is these days for maternity nightgowns, but there's no reason Victoria's Secret couldn't get both.

This is what happens when a company that is successful decides that just being successful isn't enough. Being a recognizable brand name isn't enough. They have to widen their base. Turney wants to go "ultra feminine" to meet a woman's "needs and expectation." I always understood Victoria's Secret to be a high-end outlet that specialized in sexy lingerie. Why turn it into Sears? Or JC Penny? I would've said Lane Bryant, but God knows Victoria's Secret isn't going to deign to start carrying those kinds of sizes. Is Turney simply running scared because sales have been down lately? Hey, it's an economic recession, and sexy lingerie is kind of a luxury item. (And yeah, it's a recession; Sharper Image is going out of business.)

I'm also a little bummed by this because I remember Victoria's Secret nostaligically. I didn't grow up with easy internet access the way today's shut-ins are doing. My 12 year-old sister doesn't believe me when I tell her that almost no one had the internet or cell phones when I was a kid. Jeez, my dad was the first person in our entire neighborhood to have a PC, and that was mostly because he worked for Wang Laboratories. The only people who had the internet when I was a kid were super geeks with those gigantic modems you actually had to put the entire phone receiver into. The days of the dot matrix printer with its green bar paper. DOS days, man. The only way you could see a naked woman when I was a kid was to a) pray that your dad had some magazines hidden in his underwear drawer (hence my lifelong appreciation for Jessica Hahn), b) get lucky enough to find discarded porno mags in the woods left there by the older kids, c) steal Playboy from someone's mailbox, e) steal Penthouse from the nearby convenience store, f) try and make out what was happening on scrambled cable (back in the days when there was scrambled cable). If none of those were happening, you could at least peruse your mother's romance novels. If you were lucky she had something by Erica Jong or Sidney Sheldon or maybe The Thornbirds. Victoria's Secret was like getting free softcore delivered to your house every couple of months.

But hey, why be sexy? God knows women aren't interested in that. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Miranda's Milestone

I've had a pretty serious, um, let's say physical crush on Miranda Richardson since I was 15. I thought she was very pretty and funny and, as I found out the next year when I saw Damage, The Crying Game, and some of her other films, dead sexy. So, a shout-out to Miranda and a thank you for her occasionally shedding her clothes (and I hope she does so again soon) and for a lifetime's worth of fine acting. She should be at least as appreciated as Helen Mirren, in my opinion. She's class.

Happy 50th Birthday, Miranda Richardson!

I Thought I Told You Abuse Was Love

Last night, as Becca and I were getting ready for bed, she turned her back to me and sneezed. She's allergic to dust, and sometimes she'll sneeze anywhere from two to seven times in a row. I feel bad for her, but it also kind of annoys me for some reason. She was about to sneeze again, and for no reason, I just suddenly passed by and smacked her hard on the butt. She didn't sneeze.

ME: See? Fixed it.

BECCA: Fuck you! I should hit you back!

ME: I wasn't hitting you, I was literally giving you a helping hand.

Becca rolled her eyes and walked into the bathroom.

ME: You remember how the Fonz always used to hit the jukebox and it would work? You're welcome.

BECCA: You've got to be fucking kidding me.

ME: Or should I say: Aaaaaayyyyyy.

A Vague Promise of Change Is in the Air

I keep reading a lot of stuff about how things are about to change and how this is just like 1968 and all these opinions about hope and other such vague concepts concering the election. Can the election just hurry up and get here already so I don't have to read this shit anymore? Because the rhetoric is really tired, and now that it's entered the realm of vague concepts, it's gotten more masturbatory than ever.

I don't really have these thoughts organized, so this is going to be completely at random.

* The conservative anger towards Michelle Obama for saying that she was proud of her country for the first time is at least proof that this idiot culture of outrage isn't fading away. Michelle Obama said she was proud of America "for the first time in my life" because there was such a swell of support for her husband's presidential campaign. And as usual, the oppressors got pissed off and played dirty by pretending they'd never heard a figure of speech before and taking her at her most literal. So Bill O'Reilly gets angry and blusters, and so do the other whiteys, and so does Michelle Malkin (a perfect example of the kind of lengths people--especially women, sorry--will go to betray their origins just to fit in), and people are asking how she could dare not be proud every Memorial Day and Veterans Day and Flag Day and whatever and whatnot, because we're all supposed to have our nationalism at the forefront of our every waking thought. Gotta love campaigns; more non-stories than any other time of the year. Except for summer, when they have to invent reasons for us to be terrified so they can sell us stuff. I always love to hear white people bleating on about stuff like what Michelle Obama said. But you have to remember that it's very easy for white people in the position of a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O'Reilly--white conservative males--to come down on Mrs. Obama for what she said. They haven't had the experience of being a black woman in America. Neither have I, but from what I understand and what I've witnessed, the black woman is not a valued member of society. Sorry. I hate that fact, but let's be honest. How many news stories do you see about black girls who got murdered in Aruba that are still top news priorities years later? Where are the black JonBenet Ramseys? When a black girl dies, it doesn't make the front page and doesn't stick in the national consciousness. It's not considered a national tragedy. Why is that? I don't know what life was like for Michelle Obama growing up, and I see she's been very successful in life... is it such an unreasonable position in 2008 that a black woman would be surprised and proud by the fact that the country as she's known it would support a black man for president? That's the kind of thing oppressors never understand, and since people like Rush and Bill-O and Malkin are bullies, I'm not surprised by their extremely stupid and funny overreaction.

* I didn't want to say anything, but I don't need to read an entire comment thread of people patting themselves on the back for using words like fuck because it somehow proves that they're not mainstream media. What was the point of that? This big circle jerk of liberal bloggers just cannot stop patting themselves on the back.

* I read a story about Obama's mother. She called him "Barry" repeatedly, which I liked. It made him seem more human to me. Right now he's got no real personality. I know people who compare him (stupidly, in my opinion) to Abraham Lincoln. If they're talking about the animatronic Lincoln at Disney's Hall of Presidents, I totally agree. He's stilted and humorless and I don't see any life in him. I just don't. It's got nothing to do with his capabilities as a politician, I just don't think he's got much in the way of personality or character.

* Will someone please explain to me exactly what the Kennedy family has done for this country? I don't get all of the worship. When people compare Obama to John F. Kennedy, I just shrug. I guess they're right; Kennedy gave really good speeches and didn't really do much, either. Robert Kennedy did some things that helped people in this country out, especially in breaking organized crime to some extent, but the poor guy got killed before he could do much more. What did JFK do besides give a bunch of inspiring speeches? Inspiring speeches are easy; work is hard. When Hillary Clinton says it's very easy for Obama to make great speeches but doing the work is more difficult, she's exactly right. The media is painting her as grasping at straws now, but she brings up a legitimate point. What is Barack Obama going to do as president? If he has a single idea for change, why won't he just speak up now?

* What was so great about the hippies, anyway? What did they change? It was another vague promise of change followed by... nothing. This is why I have a real hatred of hippies, because all I ever see from them now is vegetarians who talk about enviornmentalism and peace and do nothing about either. Usually they've got the money to talk about these things because they're not burning their energy by actually working and contributing to society. The hippies who laid anything on the line where in the underground and were either forced to flee the country or put in prison or even killed. Most people ran in 1970 at Kent State when they got shot at; as soon as standing up for your beliefs became about more than sitting in the grass and not wearing shoes and doing neat drugs and going to free concerts and listening to records with loose chicks, the hippies ran back to class, grew up, got jobs, and ruined the education system by insisting self-esteem was more important than learning. People keep talking about a revolution and they have no idea what that means. They're not prepared to give things up to do what matters; no one wants to do the work, so nothing will ever really change. But I'm sure blogging will solve everything.

* Some people say that electing a black president will send a message to other nations that America has grown more tolerant. Do you really think that other countries are waiting on the edge of their seats to see what America will do? Osama bin Laden is somehow going to stop hating America because we have a black president? He doesn't care who the president is; he hates Western imperialism, and America is always going to be the face of that. It doesn't matter whose face it is.

The bottom line for me is this: I'm sick of hearing about how we're on the verge of some kind of change and things are going to automatically get better just because Barack Obama wants us to cross our fingers and close our eyes tight and click our heels. I'm disappointed to see people I respect (or in some cases, used to respect) rallying around a vague, childish concept in lieu of actual ideas. This is, for me, the same mentality that got us into war, when Bush couldn't point to an enemy, but instead went on the offensive against a vague, childish concept (in this case, "evildoers"). People can gather around and dance the Maypole with rainbows in the air and sing a Smurfy tune all they want, but what is it going to change? Wishin' and hopin' is easy. Where are the ideas? Where are the plans? Where is the work going to be.

And if Obama doesn't win, are you just going to give up and go home?

Vinyl Seuss

Vinyl Pulse reports that Super Rad Toys will be introducing vinyl art toys based on Dr. Seuss stories. Horton Hears a Who! is first, but there should be more based on other Seuss books. Horton is actually my favorite Seuss character, which is why I want this toy and why I'm not going to see the new movie. There are more pictures at the link.