Friday, August 14, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Learn about Nina Paley's fascinating "embroidermation" process of animation.

:: 10 Former Internet Trolls Explain Why They Quit Being Jerks

:: I love this Funny or Die video of Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg interviewing each other about their new movie. It perfectly illustrates not only why I never watch celebrity interviews, but also the truly infuriating and stupid double standard of how men and women are asked questions.

:: Why 35 screenwriters worked on The Flintstones movie. I keep hoping someone will write a book about the making of that movie one day. I don't know why, but over the years it's sort of become one of those failures I'm fascinated with. It has so many of the right elements, but it doesn't work on any level... how did that thing go so incredibly wrong? Other than, obviously, trying to be a kiddie movie about corporate espionage, social advancement, and other things no kid cares about.

:: An oral history of Lollapalooza '95.

:: First trailer for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight has me excited.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sesame Street on HBO

Today the Sesame Workshop announced that it had entered into a five-year partnership with HBO. And the internet wasted no time at all spreading the nonsense that "only rich kids with HBO will be able to watch Sesame Street!" Because the internet loves a good bandwagon about as much as it despises being patient and reading actual information beyond a headline.

This partnership is actually a good thing for Sesame Street and for PBS.

What this means is that the next five seasons will be available on HBO, HBO GO, HBO On Demand, even HBO NOW. They'll air there first, and after nine months, they'll air on PBS. Which is fine, because it's not like PBS was going to stop airing old episodes in the first place. They'll just keep airing reruns, like they already do, and then they'll slot the new episodes in after nine months.

Here's something a lot of the people with instant knee-jerk reactions might not realize: Sesame Street airs just 26 or 27 new episodes every year. That's a little over five weeks of content. That's it. And Sesame Street airs every weekday, twice a day. But so little of it is new. When the show started in 1969, it did 130 episodes in its first season. The second season, it did 145. From there, the show did 130 episodes a season, every season, until 1998. After that, they only did 65. And since then, it's been slowly whittled down to about 26 or 27 episodes a year. That's it. So most of the year they air reruns twice a day--one episode in the morning (at least in my market), and an edited-down, half-hour version of the same episode in the afternoon. And that edited-down episode is a little... lighter on educational content and heavier on somewhat educational media parodies with number jokes.

Here's another interesting wrinkle: earlier this morning, it was announced that from now on Sesame Street was only going to air a 30-minute version. The hour-long episode won't be produced anymore, mostly because it will allow PBS to remain competitive with other children's programming outlets. What it boils down to is that the half-hour episodes perform better on digital platforms.

So, this is pretty much good news all over. With HBO paying for the show, Sesame Street is going to be able to do more episodes this season (35), and they're going to make more episodes available on their streaming services. Not only that, but when they go to PBS, PBS (for the first time ever) won't have to pay for them, because HBO already has. One of the key points of the deal is that PBS still gets to air the show, as they have for the last 45 years. This is a great business model, because it actually acknowledges that the way children consume their entertainment has changed and it gives Sesame Workshop the ability to adapt to it.

Not only that, but Sesame Workshop will also be able to produce other series for children, including at least one Muppets program.

So that's good news for Sesame Street, its viewers, for educational programming in general, and for public television.

And for Muppet fans.

Please stop your unnecessary outrage panic.

Hibiscus 2

Another bloom. This one is red, but the amount of sunlight in the picture makes it look pinker. It's actually red red. Butterflies are starting to come up and sit on the plant for a little while. It's just really relaxing and nice.

UPDATE 4:21 PM:

It clouded over a bit today and Becca took some pictures that show the red off a little better.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Film Week

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

60 CYCLES (1965)
A short Canadian documentary by Jean-Claude Labrecque about Quebec's St. Laurent long-distance bicycle race. It's only about 15 minutes and has very little dialogue, but by juxtaposing the picturesque background with the movement of the cyclists, it turns the race itself into something of a personal journey for its participants. Very well-shot and edited; I'm always fascinated by films that really capture movement, and I didn't ever really think that watching a bike race could look so exciting. ****

GIMME SHELTER (2013)
Vanessa Hudgens plays Apple, a pregnant 16 year-old who runs out on her abusive mother and has a disappointing meeting with her long-lost father. Her life begins to turn around when a priest helps her into a shelter for pregnant teens (the shelter is real, and was the inspiration for the film itself). What the film does really well is paint a picture of what the social work system is like in real life, and how it has so many bureaucratic layers that it can be impossible to bring about any meaningful change, even in the life of an individual. It's too easy to get lost in it. Frankly, we live in a country where everyone seems to be so scared that what they have is going to get taken away somehow, or they might have to actually share something for a minute, that they're just being as goddamn selfish as they possibly can. That seems to be what the American Way really is. And this isn't a movie that reaches much beyond Lifetime movie cliches (although Hudgens, bless her, is really trying), but at least it illustrates that people don't deserve scorn just because they need help. ***

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Random Thoughts on Star Wars Stuff

Jaquandor has a post up this morning with some Star Wars thoughts, and some of it is stuff I've been trying to say myself for a while. Chief among them is that my enthusiasm for The Force Awakens is starting to wane in large part because the whole thing seems to really be Star Wars Episode VII: Let's Ignore Everything George Lucas Has Done Since 1980.

I don't love talking about Star Wars online, because there's always someone who is still just SO ANGRY about the prequels that they get too emotional to have an actual conversation with. The thing that bugs me is, given the joyously derisive talk about midichlorians and the reverence for practical effects, those are starting to seem like the people that Episode VII is being made for. The way people are talking about this "new canon" is making the new trilogy seem like a gigantic do-over for prequel-haters. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Han Solo is introduced reminiscing with Chewbacca "Remember that time at Mos Eisley when I shot Greedo first?"


This has been in my mind a bit since last week when my wife's friend Joe came by for the last time (he moved a few days later, and it was very emotional). He does not like the prequels at all, but he knows I do, and we always take about it a little bit. I appreciate that when you don't agree with him, he'll listen to your explanation of why. I confessed that I think most people who hate the prequels with a passion that still burns a decade and a half later were never going to give those movies a chance in the first place, for a number of reasons (chief among them being that they were different in any way and took the damn things so seriously that they were actually offended that something aimed at teenagers and kids would dare to be aimed at a different generation of teenagers and kids). I confessed that I felt most of the people screaming at me about it were incapable of getting past their disappointment and trying to discover the story itself, and that I've actually read very, very, very few "epic takedowns" and internet rants about the prequel trilogy where it didn't become obvious that the person ranting didn't really understand the story. I think people have gotten so used to being spoonfed continuity that certain plot elements that are obvious about the prequels are being ignored by some because they're not telling the audience what they are.

I also think it just comes down, for some, to "this wasn't cool enough" and "CGI sucks even though I'm completely unaware that the budget for miniatures and sets in Revenge of the Sith was actually higher than the entire budget of the original Star Wars."

So, yeah, the fear I have is that--much like Neill Blomkamp's new Aliens movie--this is mostly just a retcon for people who can't handle something being different from their expectations.

io9 had a piece up last week about how overloaded we're going to be with Star Wars between the anthology movies and the new novels and the ancillary whatevers and how everything from now on is canon. The piece had a little too much hysteria for me to really recommend it, because I think fans just take this stuff too damn seriously. Star Wars is fun, so I don't understand why we don't just have fun with it. I see rants about Star Wars online all the time that seem like the author is working through some kind of intense trauma, and I wonder why they're spending so much time on something that clearly isn't bringing them any kind of joy. Is my generation just so in mourning for our lost childhoods that The Phantom Menace has come to represent some kind of unfulfilled promise of a return to utopia? And if so, are you the same people who gave up on President Obama after a year of not seeing the United States turn into a dream-filled Candyland?

Jeez, it's normal to be disappointed by a movie, but it is so not normal to let that disappointment fester until it becomes a character-defining trait. Hey, I get wistful about the good times of my childhood, too, but I think expecting that you will always love the same things forever and for always and that they will always belong to you and no one else (and always be aimed at you and no one else) is just willfully ignorant and dangerously immature. You ever see a guy over the age of 35 truly, deeply venting his anger and betrayal that he can't relate to a new version of a cartoon that he loved when he was a kid, never once accepting that this new version might be made for... new kids? Of course you have, the internet runs on that stuff. Count on both hands the people you've encountered who are genuinely upset that the Transformers haven't aged and matured with them like fine wine...

Sorry, got off on my own rant there. But jeez, the internet has taken my enjoyment of a series of breezy kids' movies and turned it into an ever-growing black hole of negativity that is too exhausting to go near. And I don't want to see a Star Wars movie made solely for them. Frankly, I'm still not interested in seeing a Star Wars movie that doesn't come from the actual creator and author of Star Wars. You know, the guy you can't get enough of bashing because he did you the disservice of creating a media property that you have sunk too much money and time into to not get all huffy when the word "midichlorian" suddenly, soberingly makes you realize that you're never actually going to get to be a Jedi.

I recommend reading this lamely-titled Cracked article: 6 Dumb Aspects Of The Original Star Wars Trilogy You Forgot. The author goes at the prequel-bashing, because god forbid we don't bring that up every chance we get, but he does put the Episode VII anticipation into perspective by pointing out that all the complaints people had about the prequel trilogy--the special effects, the heavy marketing, the fact that they were aimed at kids--were all parts of the original trilogy as well. He also does point out that George Lucas has been re-editing these movies from the very beginning.

(Quite frankly, as a somewhat aside, I have no more room in my life for people complaining about the Special Editions. George Lucas is the only filmmaker who gets shit on by his "fans" for doing special editions of his movies.)

Best line in the article: "If the new movies don't have something for your 10-year-old nephew to go nuts about, then you'll know Star Wars has truly sold out."

All I ask is that Star Wars be entertaining. And if it isn't entertaining to me, then I'll drop it, ignore it, and move on, because there's a lot of other Star Wars out there and a great deal of it is entertaining. I don't care if it's canon or not. I don't need Star Wars to pander to me. And I'm really starting to realize that's the difference between me and the fans I don't like to deal with. Because you know, if you don't like the prequels because you thought they were bad movies, that's cool. I can understand that. But if they were an affront to you and an assault on your memories and all the other ways we throw around words conveying trauma as though they don't actually mean anything, then I just don't want to understand you. Nothing personal, I'm just not going to engage on irrational negativity anymore, because my mental disorders can't handle that kind of thing. I have my own perspective issues.

I would love to go see The Force Awakens and just be entertained. I just hope I'm not going to go see it and watch millions of forty year-olds get pandered to.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Hibiscus

My mother-in-law gave me a hibiscus for my garden for my birthday, and it's blooming now. Nice surprise on a rainy Sunday!

Song of the Week: "Goodbye Moonmen"

This beautiful little thing was on last week's episode of Rick and Morty. Performed by guest star Jemaine Clement, this is exactly the kind of exquisite Bowie-esque weirdness that I would describe as my sound. (There's a little NSFW shout at the end if that kind of warning's important to you.)