Saturday, March 06, 2010
I've been having tons and tons of fun playing Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Some of them give me quite the workout, too; I've been getting my blood flowing and sleeping really well.
Yesterday, we bought what will probably be our last new Wii game for a while (suckers are expensive), Super Mario Galaxy. It was something I wanted to get for Becca, because what she wants are the kind of epic adventure games that you can just get caught up in for weeks and months. Her favorite video game ever is Super Mario 64, and I wanted to get her something comparable to that so she could get whisked off by it.
Turns out that Super Mario Galaxy is like Super Mario 64 times a thousand. It is awesome. It's hard, but it's worth it. I know I'm not new to this opinion (the game's about three years old), but I just wanted to add in here how wonderfully perfect this game is. It's like someone made it specifically for Becca. And if she's happy, I'm happy.
Goodbye, productivity for March. Hello, Wii!
Meco - Superman and Other Galactic Heroes - 1979 (not available)
Meco returns to the same format as his first record, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, by taking a John Williams score and setting it to disco in a long, single-side arrangement.
The entire A side is the 16 and a half minute "Themes from Superman," and, as with "Star Wars," Meco is helped by the mere fact that John Williams had written one of his best scores with a number of distinctive, vivid themes. "Themes from Superman" almost, almost surpasses Meco's "Star Wars" because of the addition of a sweeping orchestra and the great arrangement; Meco and his arranger Harold Wheeler make some of Williams' themes, especially the Krypton theme and "The Flying Sequence" and make them sound like they were meant for disco. But at around the 13-minute mark, the whole thing slows down and we get a rendition of "Can You Read My Mind?" which is very pretty, but which features a reading of the same lines from the movie ("Can you read my mind? Do you know what it is that you do to me?" etc.) that just feel out of place and, it must be said, super-cheesy. It feels like a letdown, although the whole thing ends on a pretty sweep.
(I know a lot of people hate that bit in the actual movie, too, but it never bothered me. However, if you did think it was out of place in the movie, it's even more jarring here. So there you go.)
When side B started and the excessive snare drums came up, it sounded like "Other Galactic Funk" all over again and made me want to immediately stop listening.
Side B, just like the second side of Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, is filler. They'd have been better off just putting "Star Wars" on the B side and leaving it at that. Meco's filler is terrible. This is split into four tracks: "The Boy Wonder," "The Caped Crusader," "Lord of the Jungle," and "The Amazing Amazon." If only they could have turned "Lord of the Jungle" into something like "The Emerald Archer" or "The Scarlet Speedster," Meco would've done an entire album of DC Comics heroes.
The second side is expendable, with the exception of "Lord of the Jungle," which is like a quiet little soundscape experiment (up until the end when those damn snare drums come back). "The Amazing Amazon" is the worst. Totally drummed up. Why does Meco think snare drums are the instrument of heroism? Cripes.
Grade: C- (if you never flip it over, B+)
A Side: "Themes from Superman" (especially minus the "Can You Read My Mind?" tag)
BlindSide: "Lord of the Jungle"
DownSides: "The Boy Wonder," "The Caped Crusader," "The Amazing Amazon"
Cross-posted from Septenary
Friday, March 05, 2010
Where have you been all my life?
I am seriously in love with this game right now. It's like they took every Super Mario Bros. and combined them together. I can't get enough of it. And it's one of the rare games I'm actually better at than Becca. She didn't have an NES, and the game play is so much like the original three Super Mario Bros. games that it doesn't come as second nature to her the way it does to me. It's kind of astounding.
She said it reminded her of Sonic the Hedgehog. Why do you want to hurt me, baby?
Meco - The Wizard of Oz - 1978 (not available)
Albums like this sounded so much more interesting before the digital age. I have this record on mp3s, so the whole album plays continuously straight through. Now, Meco intended this album, like Encounters of Every Kind, to be a non-stop piece of music, but knew eventually the record was going to have to get flipped over. So he faded out at the end of side A and then built up again at the start of side B. It's understandable, obviously, but listening to it on my iTunes it's nearly fatal to the momentum. It's a sudden lull in the middle of the experience, and one it takes a while to recover from.
Meco assembled the same team for this third fantasy disco album, and this one improves immeasurably on the first two. It helps that he's using the score to the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz, so the base he's working from is solid. It starts right off with a big, bold, horn-heavy dance version of "Over the Rainbow," and just leads out from there. The first side is a pleasure to listen to. It only lasts about 14 minutes or so, and takes Dorothy from Kansas to "We're Off to See the Wizard," and features sound effects and a chorus singing a lot of the Munchkin parts. The entire A side, taken as one composition, is probably the strongest thing Meco's done in his first three albums (even including "Star Wars"). The whole piece just doesn't stop; even when it slows down (as in "The Cyclone," which features a dreamy section with a synthesizer playing a plaintive recapitulation of "Over the Rainbow"), the arrangements are so tight and the theme so focused and the beat so steady that it never once becomes boring or overwhelming.
The second side, then, takes a while to get started, and the whole thing just isn't quite as good. It starts off with "Poppies" and "The Spell," so it's kind of slower, anyway, and the woman singing/exclaiming for the Wicked Witch of the West gets kind of irritating. The second side is only good in fits and starts. "The Haunted Forest" is nicely funky, though. "If I Were King of the Forest" has little to do with the music from The Wizard of Oz, but has a majestic theme I wanted to hear more of (this section is only 57 seconds long). The real pleasure of side B is the final track, "The Reprise," which starts with a brief bar of "There's No Place Like Home" and then features what amounts to an orchestral overture of the music. It's really nice as an exit piece. Kind of jaunty, too.
A Side: I'd say the entire first side taken as one piece, which it really is (the single version, "Themes from The Wizard of Oz," isn't the same thing)
BlindSide: "The Reprise"
DownSides: "The Poppies," "The Spell"
Cross-posted from Septenary
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Well, not really Locke, of course. Locke is dead. But watching Lost the other night, Becca and I were talking about why it is that he's been so successful at gathering followers to his cause.
Personally, I think it's because, at this point, everyone's looking for answers, and he seems to have them. He seems to deal with people squarely, so far. There's every chance he's the proverbial devil in disguise, and he kills a lot of people, but I get it. I get why people would be compelled to follow him and not Jacob. Everything we've learned about Jacob makes me hate the guy.
This takes me back to the third season of Lost, which is the season that started to throw me, when the Others revealed themselves to be mostly assholes. I kept thinking that if Ben Linus had just shown up on the beach and asked Jack to perform the surgery on him and offered people a ride home in his submarine, he would've got a lot farther than he did with his campaign of terror, kidnapping, and murder. A lot of the cruelty just seemed completely unnecessary, just weird for the sake of weird, and I didn't like it on a gut level. Then we saw last week that, rather than be upfront and honest and ask for help, Jacob still prefers to manipulate people into doing what he wants.
Now, there's talk of "rules" for Jacob and whatever this other guy is, so maybe part of the rules is that they can't act directly or just tell people what they want them to do. If that turns out to be the case, then that's something else. But given the knowledge I have to work with right now, I think I'm kind of on Locke's side. Again.
Some other stuff...
:: What the fuck is going on on American Idol right now? Did I just forget how stupid it was because I missed last year? Once again, we see thousands of auditions, and we wind up with the blandest singers in America. But what's really pissing me off right now is the inconsistency of the judges. Be original, but don't do a song we've never heard before. Put your own spin on it, but make it sound exactly like the original. Be marketable, but not too unique. Be creative, but not so creative that it frightens us. Seriously, they are offering the worst advice I've ever heard them give. They just don't know what they want, and as a result, they are offering terrible advice and the contestants are just going to get worse because of it.
And Ellen, seriously... why are you even here? Contribute something, damn it.
:: If Funny or Die can do a hilarious sketch where Saturday Night Live cast members show up as the former presidents, why can't Saturday Night Live do it themselves? The amazing thing about Funny or Die is watching people be funny who can't seem to pull off anything half as amusing on the comedy show they're performing on. Maybe Saturday Night Live should do more taped segments...
I was thinking of watching Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show, but then I just carried on living my life instead. I don't care about late night talk shows, I really don't. I don't watch them, and I'm not invested in who hosts what. I don't blame Leno for NBC's ridiculous Tonight Show debacle, but I've never thought he was funny before, so why do I care now?
NBC has a serious problem with the arrogant, almost confrontationally dickish tone of their ads. They still desperately want us to believe that they're America's foremost network (as long as you don't actually look at the ratings), and it's such a turn-off. They were advertising The Jay Leno Show like it was the answer to the question of all television itself--oh, finally, comedy at 9 (I'm in Central time, here). And then when it failed hard, as everyone with a brain knew it would, they moved Leno back to Tonight and touted it with ads that made everyone involved look like a smuggo and did nothing more than make me want to punch Leno in the face. Now they're advertising The Marriage Ref, which by all accounts is terrible, as though it's the greatest thing to happen to the American family in the entire history of marriage. NBC, here are some more letters for you: STFU.
No, it's not at all in terrible taste to have Alec Baldwin judge someone's marriage...
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
ACCORDING TO GRETA (2009)
Hilary Duff as a teenage girl carted off to live with her grandparents for the summer because her mother can't deal with her anymore. She keeps talking about how she's going to kill herself and acting as if no one else in the world matters. It's like Georgia Rule but with more realistic emotions and without Lindsay Lohan (which at this point can only make everything better). Duff does possibly her best acting here, which may not being saying much, but I thought she was quite good. The end is a little too pat, but it's not as condescending about the woes of teenagers as some movies can be. Not great, but not bad. And Duffster needs to stop playing teenagers now. *** stars.
More fun than I thought it would be. This is basically Harry Potter/Princess Diaries for frustrated guys in their twenties. Stressed out at work? Suffering from panic attacks? Jumpy at the thought of losing control? It's because you just don't know yet that you're part of some weird ancient order of super-assassin weavers who take their orders from a loom to keep the balance of something and something else in the world. The movie wisely never goes to deep into these origins, instead just taking it as a fact that magic or superpowers or fate or whatever it is that powers people so they can curve bullets and jump onto trains exists in this cinematic universe. It's like The Matrix, if The Matrix had been smart enough not to try and explain (and then over-explain) how everything worked. I mean, it's a dumb movie, but it makes the good choice to revel in its dumbness and just be a kick-ass action movie instead of getting too full of itself and trying to be something more. Hella fun. ***1/2 stars.
THE COLOR OF FRIENDSHIP (2000)
True-ish story about the friendship that develops between two girls in 1977. The family of Congressman Ron Dellums (Carl Lumbly, who I thought was quite good) agrees to host an exchange student from South Africa. With Dellums so involved in civil rights and trying to get America to support the black liberation movement against Apartheid, the family wants to take in a black South African student. What they get, however, is a white girl, Mahree, whose father is a policeman who tells his family that recently-imprisoned Steven Biko is a terrorist. Mahree and Piper Dellums eventually form a tentative, and then very genuine friendship that has a lot to overcome--the family's disappointment at getting an Afrikaner girl, Mahree's naivete, and Congressman Dellums' assumptions about racial stereotypes. What I like is that it shows how overcoming racism, institutionalized or no, takes understanding and reaching out from all corners to conquer. For a Disney Channel movie, it's remarkably interested in real world problems and how they apply to the lives of teenagers. ***1/2 stars.
THE ROOKIE (2002)
Dennis Quaid stars as a high school baseball coach who dreamed of making it as a pro, and decides to take his chance when it comes. Remarkably unwieldy; this one just didn't hold me. ** stars.
GENERAL SPANKY (1936)
The Our Gang movie. Now... who looks at Our Gang and says, "Hey, we can make a feature. But what should be the setting? Hey, we've got a black kid, let's make it the Civil War!" I don't know, I was just seriously uncomfortable with the amount of gags establishing how Buckwheat was a slave. That said, I was glad they focused so much more on Spanky and Buckwheat than the rest of the gang, because they were the best performers in Our Gang. Breezy, funny, and really, Spanky McFarland is just really, really good. *** stars.
THE INFORMANT! (2009)
This movie successfully nails the tone that The Men Who Stare at Goats so desperately tried and failed to achieve. This is a quirky, odd movie, based on a true story, about a businessman (Matt Damon) who tells the FBI he has information about price fixing in agribusiness and strings them along in an investigation for years. I won't go into the details, because this is a brilliant, fun movie to watch unfold. But I will say that Damon, once again, is quite good, and it was a pleasure to see Scott Bakula in such a large role as an FBI agent. Fantastic score, too. I liked this Soderbergh movie better than any he's made since Solaris. **** stars.
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (2009)
Yes, I did. I heard they made a terrible movie. Turns out it's not a bad movie--it doesn't try hard enough to be bad--just an unwatchable one. The umpteenth fish out of water comedy about New Yorkers who have to live in rural America combined with the umpteenth comedy about a separated couple who come together when their lives get simpler. Hugh Grant is alright (I never hate Hugh Grant), but Sarah Jessica Parker has no comic timing at all. No stars; I couldn't even finish watching it.
THE ROAD (2009)
A man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The imagery is haunting and the emptiness of the world is palpable, but there's no emotional center. I didn't feel anything for the pair as they made their journey, and that's a huge stumbling block that keeps the viewer at arm's length. I just couldn't connect with it beyond the bleakness and the cinematography. Robert Duvall has a scene that is the best moment in the movie. But, you know, he's Robert Duvall, so... **1/2 stars.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009)
I really wasn't expecting much here, but this is a wonderful, surprising movie. Yes, it has all of the tropes that make so many animated movies today such repetitive chores--a heavy-handed message about fathers and sons, for example--but it deals with them in emotionally genuine ways and weaves them into the main story instead of stopping the movie dead for them. It helps that the movie is just so hilarious and so well-cast. It's also nice to see a CG-animated movie so completely unconcerned with physical realism. I'm actually surprised this didn't garner an Oscar nomination; it's really that good. It's also nice that the character design seems so very Muppet-inspired. Great voices, especially Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, and Anna Faris. **** stars.
PLANET 51 (2009)
I dig the central conceit of this film, which is basically a 1950s sci-fi flick with the roles reversed--an American astronaut lands on an inhabited, suburban world and is mistaken for an invader. The execution, though, is terrible. It very self-consciously wants to emulate, as exactly as it can, the Steven Spielberg productions of the 1980s, from direct lifts to subtle things (like, for example, the town square being an exact CG replica of the town square from Back to the Future and Gremlins. But what really lets it down is that the aliens are so exactly like people in a 1950s movie that there's no real culture clash when the astronaut arrives. He's on a world that is 99% exactly the same as where he's from, but the people just look different. Pointless. * star.
MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009)
Another 1950s sci-fi homage, but I really enjoyed the hell out of this one. Maybe it's because DreamWorks has the bar so low that I'm overly impressed with everything they do that isn't completely Shrek the Third terrible, but I really liked this movie. There's not much I can say about it, other than that it really fulfilled every hope I had for it. ***1/2 stars.
Here's a clip of Bill Murray talking to David Letterman about the possibility of his involvement with Ghostbusters 3:
Killing the character in the first reel? I've been hearing rumors that Venkman might appear in the third movie as a ghost. I wonder if Murray would do the voice and they'd sort of do the character CGI like the recent video game.
This video has a lot of fanboys all riled up. It's pretty obvious here that Murray's uninterested in doing a third movie. I have to say, as much of a wet dream as this movie sounds--written by guys from The Office, directed by the original director, a younger cast being passed the torch by the characters we love--I don't really blame him for a second for not wanting to do another Ghostbusters movie.
Let's look at this another way, alright? Ghostbusters II was silly, disappointing garbage that doesn't even come close to the greatness of the original. Ivan Reitman's output since the original Ghostbusters has been pretty terrible. Writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg are coming off of Year One, which just wasn't funny and which lots and lots of critics and viewers absolutely hated. And, frankly, Bill Murray doesn't really need to do Ghostbusters 3; what he seems most annoyed with is the knowledge that he's going to be painted as the bad guy by fans for not wanting to commit to the movie. Especially since he just did the video game and had a blast doing it, and so few I've seen online so far are willing to cut him the slack that, at his age, sitting in a room and recording a voice is a lot more appealing work than strapping on a proton pack and running around New York.
So what we're left with, at best, is a Ghostbusters 3 without very much Peter Venkman in it, which I admit is pretty sucky, unless they find a way to do him as a ghost and make that the impetus for a new team of Ghostbusters to be formed. I think there are ways to get around it and still make a fun movie. I don't know that they will, but I see how it could work.
Of course, all of this is tempered by the fact that, when and if the movie actually does come out, the fanboys and the internet are going to hate it regardless of its quality. Because that's what you guys do.
One of the more interesting things about Tumblr as a social networking site is how immediate it is. It's also pretty ephemeral and momentary. One of the things I see people doing on Tumblr now is putting up notices about missing kids. I always make sure to reblog those; I have 346 people who follow my Tumblr, and maybe more who follow it through an RSS, so if there's a chance that even one of those people have seen a missing kid, I'll take that chance. I know there are those who think that this sort of thing isn't what the site is for, but if Tumblr can be used for something more than throwing up Mean Girls quotes, then that's a good thing.
I reblogged the notice about Chelsea King, the 17 year-old girl whose body was found yesterday. Since she died, there's been a flurry of media news, and Tumblr seems to be keeping up with every bit of it. As with everything on the internet, it's driven a wedge between some users and others.
In brief: I've seen a number of people on Tumblr complain that Chelsea King's tragic murder is only national news because she was a young, pretty white girl.
I've also seen a number of people on Tumblr complaining about those complaints, saying things like "It's a tragedy no matter what color Chelsea King was. I don't care if she was white or not."
That's an admirable attitude, but the issue is not whether you care what color she was, the issue is that the media cares.
I have lived in and out of Chicago since I was four. There are a lot of black and Latino murder victims here that barely rate a mention in the news when they're attacked or the accidental victims of drive-by shootings.
In 2006, an 11 year-old girl named Darien Shellie was playing video games in her basement and took a bullet in the head during a drive-by that wasn't even meant for her. That tragedy wasn't mentioned on the news. At all. I only read about it on the Chicago Tribune's website. Because all anyone could talk about at the time was Natalee Holloway and some attention-seeking idiot claiming he killed JonBenet Ramsey.
This morning, all WGN News seems able to talk about is Chelsea King.
So, while it's admirable that you don't care what color Chelsea King was, and it's absolutely right that it's still a tragedy, those who say that the only reason the media cares so much about this story is that she was a young, pretty white girl have a genuine point. You shouldn't be angry at them for thinking one death is no less a tragedy than another.
You should be angry because you know they're telling the truth.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Meco - Encounters of Every Kind - 1977 (not available)
Quick to capitalize on his success with Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, Meco assembled the same crew for a concept album based partially on the theme of a trip through time and partially on wanting another hit single based on a John Williams theme.
Encounters of Every Kind takes the listener via time machine to various points in history, starting 1 million years in the past and ending in 1979 with a disco version of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's obviously meant to be listened to as a non-stop track of nine compositions linked together by a brief "time travel" theme and with sound effects used to create atmosphere. It's a bold concept, but it starts to wear out its welcome halfway through.
The first side is the strongest, with a looming prehistoric theme. The tracks "Roman Nights" and "Lady Marion" are standouts; "Roman Nights" is short and to the point (1:41), with a strong major theme, and "Lady Marion" is very pretty. But the tracks that follow alternate between stilted and turgid; you just hold on and wait for them to be over--especially "Hot in the Saddle," a cliched Western piece that insists on being nearly five minutes long. (Good spacing on the sound effects, though.)
The second side opens with the second-worst track on the album, "Crazy Rhythm," which starts with a clattering of sound effects and then replicates the sound of a tinny old Victrola. It eventually becomes a full-blown stereo track, but by then it's already been grating and grating and grating. Much better is track "Topsy," which is supposed to evoke the feel of an early fifties jukebox, but which sounds to me like aliens having a dance party. I can totally see these great animated aliens line dancing to this or something, with little fedoras on. Okay, it's better than I just made it sound. It's cool.
The two tracks closing the album, "Meco's Theme/3W.57" and "Theme from Close Encounters," are purposely the most disco-oriented tracks on the album. "Meco's Theme" is super disco; apparently it appears in the movie Thank God It's Friday. Now, I like disco, so I enjoyed "Meco's Theme." You can dance to it, it's got a great beat and is dense with instrumentation without being inaccessible. It's good stuff. "Theme from Close Encounters," though, drowns in a sound effects sequence which stops the whole thing dead in its tracks. I've got the rest of his discography to go through, but so far lightning has only struck once for Meco on John Williams.
Overall, though, the album's central concept and the flow of the music are a fun little sweep. You can listen to it all the way through once or twice; I'm not sorry I listened to it, but I'm mostly just going to stick to a couple of tracks in the future.
A Side: "Topsy," "Meco's Theme/3W.57"
BlindSides: "Roman Nights," "Lady Marion"
DownSides: "Icebound," "Hot in the Saddle," "Crazy Rhythm"
Cross-posted from Septenary.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Becca and I ended up getting a tax refund that was about three times bigger than we thought it would be. We used it to catch up on our bills and give ourselves some comfort room. We also decided we'd get something for ourselves as something to celebrate our first anniversary, which was last Friday.
At first, we were talking about upgrading to a Playstation 3. After doing some research online and checking availabilities, we ended up deciding to get a Nintendo Wii for some very specific reasons:
1. Price. It's a hundred dollars cheaper. It comes with Wii Sports, and Amazon had it in a bundle with an extra controller/nunchuck set, so we got the console, an extra controller set, and a game for less money than just the PS2 console.
2. Wii Sports and Wii Fit might as well be called Wii Getting Aaron Off His Ass. Becks and I played a little bit of Wii Sports today before she had to go to work, and I feel like I got a real workout. So that can only be good.
3. GameCube. We never got the Nintendo GameCube, opting instead to go with the PS2. But the Wii plays GameCube games, and there are so many cheap used GameCube discs at Gamestop.
4. Selection and nostalgia. When it comes down to it, I really miss Mario and Zelda games, and this was the way to get back to them. Every game I wanted to play for PS3 is available for the Wii (including my beloved Lego games), plus an array of Mario and Zelda games. I miss Mario Kart, so I picked up a used copy of Mario Kart Wii, and it's awesome. Everything I missed from my N64 days.
I'm not a serious gamer. I'm a casual gamer. I love to play them with Becca, but I'm not going online to join other players or download demos. The Wii does everything I want out of a console and, honestly, even more. I didn't feel like upgrading to the next Playstation was that important to me, because I honestly don't care about realistic graphics in video games; I like the cartooniness.
The Wii is perfect for me. Love it.