Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Couple of Early Nerdy Birthday Presents

My birthday's not actually until July, but since we never know when and if any money's going to be there, Becca often gets me presents early. It's nice, because it's fun in the earlier part of the summer and I don't have the depressing reminder that I'm going to be 36 which is almost 40... not only 40, but 40 and not having done anything with my life, so, fun for all. Eh, at least I'm enjoying it day to day. Been losing weight which is especially nice. But anyway, on to this:

This is the shirt Becca ordered for me, and I love it. I got mine in charcoal, which for some reason is my favorite shirt color (my beloved Oscar the Grouch shirt was charcoal, but it's so full of holes I can't wear it anymore). The Hulk is my favorite Marvel character, and certainly the one I relate to the most--especially again since I went off my Lexapro and have the anger troubles again (which, when I can control them--which I'm getting better at--are still better than Lexapro's "Static Affect"). So the #hulkmood tag is a nice play on some of my moodiness. Seems like a perfect shirt for me to have.

We also got a copy of Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes for the Wii with our leftover Amazon credit. You know how much I love these Lego video games. We're not too terribly far into it yet, but the gist is that Lex Luthor (Main Man Clancy motherfucking Brown!) frees the Joker from Arkham Asylum (and a bunch of other Batman villains to cover their escape) and they begin synthesizing Kryptonite to power a Deconstructor Ray that Lex can use to take things apart. So far only one other DC hero has shown up as a playable character, but that character is Superman which just thrills me to no end. Lego! Superman! This is the first time I've played Superman in a video game since that shitty N64 game based on the animated series back in the 90s (which surely has to be the Nintendo 64 equivalent of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600). Lego! Superman!

There's also been a cut scene cameo by Martian Manhunter, but so far no one else. I like the slow build to having more characters, and it's not like Batman isn't incredibly fun to play. I've just completed a section where Lex and Joker attack and destroy the Batcave, and it was pretty thrilling. Gotham City looks amazing.

I've reached a stage in life where I don't really ask for things for my birthday anymore. I still want things, of course, because I'm a materialistic bastard, but I don't ask for them because my money situation is what it is and it feels unfair to ask when you can't always give. So to have these things turn up in the same week, even just under a month before my birthday, is a hell of a lot of fun.

Star Trek Alternate Title Intro

I love this.

TV Report: Futurama Returns and a Brief Note

Futurama's back. I have to admit, I haven't loved it the way I did before it was canceled (and even then it was starting to deteriorate a little bit at the end), and this week's episodes sort of confirmed for me that the show has no intention of trying that hard anymore. And that's fine, it's still fun, but it doesn't feel special anymore. It's never going to be great again. The episode "The Bots and the Bees," for example, didn't do a ton for me (though I see that, of the two episodes this week, it was easily the more popular; I guess I'm still more invested in Fry and Leela's romance than in Bender just doing the same stuff over and over). It didn't resonate with me because this show is becoming like The Simpsons in its drive to maintain the status quo and not do anything too interesting. So when Bender's baby Ben shows up, he's cute as hell for the space of a montage, and then I just spent the rest of it wondering how they were going to make it so he'd never be on the show ever again. It's hard to get emotionally invested in a story when you know they're just going to go back to point A at the end and it'll erase everything that happened. Eh. Entertaining, but nothing that really feels like it matters, you know?

Besides, the second episode clearly wins for some of the funniest lines ever on Futurama, including "Scruffy, do you have any varmint grease?" "What viscosity?" and, on the revelation of an underground pyramid, "What badger could have built this?!"

:: The final two episodes of The Borgias were everything I always hoped the show could have been. God, I hope they've got it figured out now. Those were excellent television. That is all.

:: Oh, I also just started streaming Bob's Burgers, and it is utterly hilarious. I didn't realize so many people from King of the Hill were working on it, which is just a huge plus for me. You know, King of the Hill is the only animated series I can watch reruns of over and over again and never get tired of? I don't know what magic it is. It's pretty much just King of the Hill and Kids in the Hall that I can think of that never, ever get tired for me, animated or otherwise. Is it the letter combination? Bizarre implications...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy 70th Birthday, Brian Wilson

I've talked at length about my love for Brian in the past. One day I'll put up my tracklist for my own version of SMiLE... at least the music I listen to that I think of as SMiLE. Until then...

MasterChef Observations

:: Christine Ha is the winner. Goodnight, everybody!

Okay, she's not the winner yet, I just don't see a future where she isn't the winner of the third MasterChef actually occuring. As per usual on American talent competitions, you have to keep in mind that it's only 50% about talent; the rest is about finding someone likable and sympathetic with a great marketing hook. Christine Ha is very likable and sympathetic and has a great marketing hook because she's very talented, very sweet and nice, and also blind. And I think once the judges tasted her first dish, they immediately started looking at her as someone who would make a great winner: a blind MasterChef! Someone who struggled with a degenerative illness that attacked her eyes, lost her sight, and overcame that to become a great chef who can't even see her own cooking. It's a triumph! The Good Morning, America piece writes itself!

Okay, okay, sorry to be so damn cynical about it. Honestly, I like Christine, and she obviously knows what she's doing. She comes across as a very nice and easy to like person who has a rare gift for flavor combinations and who is somehow able to make gorgeous dishes. I just think the editing and the excitement about her on MasterChef dehumanize her a little bit and turn her from a person into a Media Story or a Plot Device for a Reality Competition Series. They want to paint everything she does as a triumph merely because she lives and copes with being blind. It takes away from what she does (and does well). I'd like to see them be able to say "Wow, your talent is amazing!" instead of "Wow, your talent is amazing and you're blind!"

But yeah, I think she's going to win if only because she's the easiest one to market, and that's very important for a competition that desperately wants to pretend it's an American institution and creates amazing winners you never hear from ever again if you even remember who they are. It's much easier to build excitement than it is to translate that excitement into financial profits.

:: I see Ryan is this season's villain. Too bad he's so bad at it. He's not interesting or evil, he's just stupid and douchey, and has terrible taste in clothing (it wasn't even cool to wear Zubaz in 1992, it sure as hell isn't now). Another entitled white trust fund baby waving his dick around, and he hates Monti because she won't translate his clumsy and horrible sexual interest as the compliment he probably seriously believes it is. (The older I get, the more impatient I am with men who think "I really want to sleep with you" is supposed to be a comment on a woman's worth or character and that she should take it as such.)

:: Speaking of Monti Carlo, I didn't like her until last night. I agreed with Joe that a lot of her is shtick, and her "This is what I think housewives looked like in the 1950s but with catseye glasses" hipster thing is the female equivalent of 15 years ago when a bunch of guys saw Swingers and started wearing open bowling shirts and straw hats. I find that kind of thing irritating, and I found her desperation and lack of confidence a bit grating because it tended to come out in over-the-top reaction shots. But after watching her shine last night, foiling both Ryan's attempts to get her kicked out of the kitchen and his creepy sexual comments, I am totally on her side. Not that she needs me on her side, but I now feel invested in her success.

:: People I want to go home: Ryan, Tali and his idiotic hat, maybe Becky (she talks about how great she is an awful lot for someone whose food wasn't even tasted by the judges until last night, but she was also very, very efficient on the line).

People I think I like so far: Josh, Scott, Stacey.

People I'm totally rooting for: Christine, Monti, Felix.

Will I also be blogging about Hell's Kitchen? Nope. Too frustrating. But I sure do think Celemenza should be leading that blue kitchen!

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

TOMBOY (1985)
Gender expectations in that painfully earnest and gauze-and-synth-heavy 80s style. I always wanted to see this when I'd pass it at the video store, mainly because I thought the poster was sexy (and I'd already found Betsy Russell on sneaked late night cable in Private School), but I was never old enough and then it just sort of fell by the way and now it's almost thirty years later. Cute, but it wasn't really worth the wait. Very sleazy and predictable (another one of those movies that ends with a race of some kind), but I still adore Betsy Russell. **

CITY OF GOD (2002)
I don't know why this one got away from me for so long, as it's easily one of the best films of the 2000s. There's a great grasp of character here, and it's brimming with a confidence that allows it to take a true story and turn into something that is tragic and real, but also at times witty and funny. A story about crime and poverty in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro, we see kids grow up in this environment and eventually become the criminals who terrorize it, with many caught in a system that offers almost no hope of escape. Guns are commonplace to an almost cartoonish level, and violence and crime become things that are accepted as a part of daily life--even expected in some ways. Through all of this we see stories that are personal and understandable, but the film wisely never resorts to preaching or playing too hard on our sympathies. Lots of energy, really fantastic filmmaking. ****

JANE EYRE (2011)
This is actually the first adaptation of this novel I've ever seen. It's an excellent one, cutting right to the heart of the characters and bringing us close into their world. I find a lot of movies set in this time period seem to be too cool, as if the filmmakers can't relate to the people of the time. Here we see the intellect and the passion beneath the surface of these often-repressed people, and the story of Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester becomes as immediate as it is on the page. A great deal of that is due also to the actors, Mia Wasikowska (who I've come to like) and Michael Fassbender (who I've come to love). It's also very sumptuous to look at; another problem too many movies about this time period have is that they drain out all the color, and here the characters live in a world of lush greens and blues. An excellent second feature from Cary Fukunaga, the director of Sin Nombre. ****

Gorgeous art direction in this wholesome MGM musical about a family in 1903-1904 St. Louis. There's not a lot of narrative meat, but the sets are beautiful, Marjorie Main is funny, and I never pass up the chance to see and hear Judy Garland singing. It's an enjoyable experience, even if the story gets a little windy at times. And it gave us "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," one of my favorite songs. ***1/2

Silly, superficial story about an English lord (Rex Harrison) and his American daughter (Sandra Dee) who is making her debut and who falls in love with a drummer who's supposed to be a ne'er-do-well but who is really just boring old John Saxon. Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall are fun and enjoyable as the beleaguered parent and step-parent of Sandra Dee, and Angela Lansbury provides some nice moments for more than one reason (I'm just going to say it once and for all: Angela Lansbury was a sexy bitch), and it's very pretty, but too often it's just long and endless and feels like it's taking place in real time. There are patches where it's so boring and so big for such a flighty movie with a flighty premise. **1/2 for Rex and Kay.

A small but powerful film from Ingmar Bergman about a mother and a daughter and a lifetime of resentment and uncertainty. Liv Ullman plays the daughter of a concert pianist (Ingrid Bergman) who comes for a visit, but feelings of guilt and anger that have been repressed for too long spill forth. Ingmar Bergman wisely doesn't resolve the matter; it simply must be confronted and allowed to be in the open. It would be inhuman to suggest a resolution for something that has lain so long that it's taken on a life of its own. Ingrid Bergman is excellent in this movie, giving one of her finest performances despite, apparently, having problems adjusting to Bergman's style of shooting (long, lingering takes)--although the discomfort does enhance the emotions at play. Beautiful, one of my favorite of Bergman's films. ****

The most powerful film I've seen in a while; it left me with a sick feeling for hours, but it was an important story to tell and made very well. It tells the true story of a woman in 1986 Iran, the Soraya of the title (played by Mozhan Marno), whose husband is abusive towards her and wants her to consent to a divorce so he can marry the 14 year-old daughter of a rich prisoner; he wants the divorce because he doesn't want to support two families (they have four children), but he also refuses to restore Soraya's dowry. So he and the town mullah (himself a former criminal masquerading as a mullah) develop a campaign to have Soraya accused of adultery and put to death. It's a depressing film, for certain; it highlights the lack of women's rights in Iran by showing us a case the Western world heard about, but warns us that thousands of people have died this way and continue to in places where bullying and sexism have been written into law and put power in the hands of people who have no remorse about abusing it. The film isn't so one-sided, though, giving us different male perspectives and showing us how sharia law also dehumanizes men, either by encouraging them to become animals or letting those animals prey on their sensitivities. Shohreh Aghdashloo is excellent as Soraya's aunt, who makes sure the story is known (and damns the religious hypocrisy that would cover it up). ****

Monday, June 18, 2012

70 Years of Paul McCartney

It's Paul McCartney's 70th birthday today, and since I've got nothing to do all day, I figured I'd sit down and come up with a mix CD of my favorite Paul McCartney songs. If someone asked me why I liked Paul McCartney, solo artist, well, this is the CD I'd give them, anyway. So my criteria here is really only that they have to be Paul solo songs (with two exceptions, which I'll explain) and that they had to fit on a single disc. Here's my McCartney mix. (Note: I'm not linking to YouTube videos this time, if only because it was hard to find any that would actually play instead of stalling out. Some played just fine, others...)

1. "Another Day"
If there's one thing that makes it hard to make a Paul McCartney mix (especially a personally definitive one), it's that he doesn't have a lot of great openers. Most of his songs sound like the middle of a longer song, which is fine if you're making Abbey Road, I guess, but gave me a hell of a time here. I decided to go with this one, which was also Paul's first solo single.

2. "Band on the Run"
3. "Live and Let Die"
These have to be on there somewhere, and since they're rockers (ish?) I decided to front load them so it doesn't slow down right away.

4. "The Back Seat of My Car"
5. "Too Many People"
Slowing down a little, but with the genuinely emotive stuff. Paul's best creative period as a solo artist was, for my ears, about 1969 to 1971, so there's a lot of early stuff all over this playlist.

6. "Say Say Say" (with Michael Jackson)
Paul's 80s period, though, is represented mainly with cheese (defined often as "genuine attempts at emotion in a style people don't think is cool"), and I had to stick this one on here. When I was 6, this kind of stuff is where I knew McCartney from. (I also chose this over "Ebony & Ivory," which I'm just not much of a fan of, Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo notwithstanding.)

7. "Heart of the Country"
One of the bounciest of Paul McCartney's bouncy songs.

8. "Let Me Roll It"
His "Lennon-style" song, as it were.

9. "Bluebird"
Very pretty song, though not quite as pretty as "Blackbird." This one's actually on my iPod right now... I think it's the only McCartney song that currently is.

10. "Pipes of Peace"
Another one of those cheesy 80s songs, but I've always dug this. It fits on here for me.

11. "The Long and Winding Road" (Let It Be...Naked version)
And now, the promised explanation. Like I said, I think 1969 is when Paul McCartney began his solo career. If you listen to the last couple of Beatles albums, they really are--as Rolling Stone pointed out in the infamous negative review of The Beatles--four guys doing their own music but playing together. They were all thinking like solo artists. Not that it was to the detriment of the music, but the four members of the band were no longer really playing as a band. I think of "Get Back" as the last real Beatles single; this and "Let It Be" sound like they'd be right at home on McCartney, Paul's first solo album, which makes sense because they were both recorded around the same time. I think a McCartney collection is remiss if it doesn't take both of those songs into consideration, and I think they belong here. Also, check out how confident McCartney is on both tracks; he's really left it behind and started grasping the possibilities of what he can do on his own, and he's not afraid to do it. Too bad it only lasted a couple of years. There's just no excuse for that awful first Wings album...

12. "Singalong Junk"
A very pretty McCartney instrumental, sort of a tag for the previous track, and a bridge before...

13. "Dance Tonight"
Bounce, bounce, bounce... I don't feel bad that there are only three songs from the 80s on here and then nothing until 2007.

14. "Listen to What the Man Said"
15. "Coming Up"
16. "Silly Love Songs"
Keeping the pace moving along, and then leading into a silly love song.

17. "No More Lonely Nights"
Such a cheesy, soft rock, adult contemporary radio hit, but I love this stupid thing.

18. "My Love"
19. "Jet"
20. "Ever Present Past"
This one goes great with Ringo Starr's "Fading In and Fading Out" by the way. I wish John Lennon and George Harrison had lived long enough to write from the same perspective.

21. "Let It Be"
22. "Maybe I'm Amazed"
Don't these songs sort of sound like two halves of the same whole? I've always looked at them that way, and I think they're the two best songs McCartney's ever written.

23. "The Lovely Linda"
A little tag to fade out with (it's only 42 seconds long) and then that's it.

Well, it may not be your Paul, but it's mine. Just a little diversion for the day.

My Pool

I need to complain somewhere, and that's what blogs are for, so here goes.

Everyone in my apartment complex got a letter this morning threatening loss of pool privileges for everyone.

I've lived in the same complex now for, wow, 11 years. One of the nice things we have is a fenced-in swimming pool for residents and guests of residents. All you did was go over, show your ID, sign in with your name and apartment number, and then you got to enjoy the pool. Standard stuff. I love going to swim, and lately I've been going as often as possible as an alternative to going to the gym. It's one of my favorite things about living here.

Three summers ago (2010), I noticed that there was no longer an attendant by the pool. You just opened the gate and went in and that was it. This led almost immediately to a lot of abuse of the pool by people in DeKalb. It became very crowded as people just started driving over to use the pool, clogging up the parking lot and the pool itself, often just stripping down to their underwear and diving in (to 9 feet of water, genius move, by the way). Last summer, the management decided they couldn't have it again, so they installed a new metal fence with an electronic security system; everyone who lives here was given a pass to wave in front of an electric eye so the door would open, and that was supposed to solve the problem.

Of course, it didn't. Because the gate doesn't always lock, so local children sit around and wait to find the door unlocked so they can just come in. Whole families just pop over to do that. There's also a parade of douche bags from the university who insist on treating this like it's their private pool and keep bringing over coolers and hanging out. And there are people here who just let people come in whenever.

I've avoided complaining about a lot of this because I really don't want to be the guy who gets all elitist about a swimming pool, but christ, I pay rent to live here, and part of that entitles me to pool access during the summer. I resent everyone just walking in whenever they feel like it because they won't go to the park district pool or the university pool facilities. It's fucking rude and I'm sick of putting up with it. I resent watching people just walk on in, or watching someone else just open the door when they ask. It really pisses me off. It just does. Maybe that makes me the privileged guy getting pissy, but I really don't care anymore. I pay for this.

So I'm really pissed off to receive this note from the landlords threatening the removal of all access to the pool for everyone just because people are dicks. And I'm especially pissed about it for one overriding reason: this only happened because they decided it wasn't worth it to pay someone to just sit by the pool all summer and make people sign in.

"Don't ruin it for everyone," the letter warns. You already did.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Song of the Week: "The Living Years"

Because it's Father's Day and my Dad digs this song. It was hard to escape in 1989 and he'd always leave it on if he came across it when scanning radio stations. Back when that wasn't a totally futile exercise.