Saturday, June 04, 2016

Answers Part One

And, of course, you can still Ask Me Anything.

phoniexflames asked: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you settle? And also, why?

I wish I had a more interesting answer for this one, but I'm really not sure. I'm agoraphobic, so I'm kind of an indoor pet. For a while, I considered moving to Guam, but that was over a decade ago when my grandparents still lived there. There was some appeal to just simplifying and learning to sail and not working a retail job. I've also thought about Seattle; I had a cousin who lived there and seemed to love it.

Living in Illinois can be tasking at times, especially as the state is running out of money and can't get its budgets right. I wish I lived somewhere with fewer people, socialized medicine, and no snow. I cannot stand the snow. It's an anxiety trigger for me and I'd be fine to be rid of it.

Where's somewhere with socialized medicine that covers therapy and a beach that has good wifi and a solid food delivery system?

abc asked: Thoughts on turning 40?

My most common thought on turning 40 is: Wasn't I just 20 a few weeks ago? Being on the cusp of 40 feels surreal; there are so many ways in which I haven't grown up at all, and other ways in which I feel impossibly old. I never really planned to be 40, I guess. I never thought about what it would be like. It's kind of weird, but I just never thought of a future past my mid-thirties. Earlier tonight I was watching a chunk of That Thing You Do! on TV and was thinking about how I went to see it in the theater in 1996 when I was about to turn 20. Because I developed memory problems over the years, it seems off to me somehow that I remember going to see that movie so viscerally--alone on a Saturday afternoon at the Oakbrook Terrace Mall, where I bought myself some popcorn and a soda--as though it was just the other day, and it's been two decades since. Life is weird.

So... no coherent thoughts on turning 40, maybe. I just hope I handle it better than I handled turning 35, when I had a bit of a crisis that became a long depression.

Lindsey Kelley has three questions. First: What are some of your favorite cartoons? Like, top five?

I can think of a couple of different ways to interpret that question, just because I'm me and I overthink. I'm just going to pick, at random, my five favorite pieces of animation, short or feature: The Snowman (a Christmas staple), It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (a Halloween staple), Bambi (my favorite Disney movie), a wonderful short animation called Sunbeam from 1980, and the "Recobbled" fan edit of Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler, which in that version is the greatest animated film I've ever seen.

Second question: What's the worst book you've ever had the misfortune to read?

I've summarized them both here: Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are possibly the two worst novels ever written. I feel like I'm cheating a little, since I read them both as blog projects.

The worst book I read in high school (for my sophomore English class) was A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which is probably the only book I read for an English class that I just flat-out hated. (And then we watched the movie, which was even worse.) I found it dull and whiny where it wanted to be a compelling meditation on envy. Knowles also just didn't realize he was writing about repressed homoeroticism, so instead of being honest with itself, the book just contrives a forgettable conflict. I don't know why we had to read that thing. That was about as relevant to kids in 1992 as a gee-haw whammy diddle. (Which, by the way, I had one of, which my Grandpa gave me, and which gave me a second or two of joy, which is more than I can say for that book.)

Third question: In your opinion, who's the funniest comedian working right now?

There aren't a ton of stand-ups that light me up right now, but I love Bridget Everett. I love her cabaret type of show. It always makes me laugh. I also loved Eugene Mirman's most recent album, I'm Sorry (You're Welcome). The last stand-up specials I think I dug were by Kumail Nanjiani, Jen Kirkman, and Aziz Ansari.

Roger sent me a few questions that I'll get into on the next Answers post, but for now I'll mention that he asked me to share my thoughts about Harambe the gorilla and the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo. There's been a lot of folk making comments about it on the internet, and I've tried to avoid really digging into it. Roger himself wrote a post about internet mob justice and the outrage over what happened. I think there's a lot of raw anger that's come out of this that I don't like dealing with after a decade of blogging. (Part of my anxiety disorder is that I can't always process anger and confrontation, which makes me defensive and frustrated, and a lot of my internet friends and acquaintances have been saying a lot of angry things.)

When I first heard the story, it made me think of Binti Jua, who saved a boy that fell into the gorilla enclosure at Tropic World at the Brookfield Zoo twenty years ago. The Brookfield Zoo is my zoo, and I've been there many times. My wife's favorite animal is the gorilla, so we've been to that enclosure and seen Binti Jua a lot of times over the years. A lot of people seem to have thought of that when Harambe was shot, and used that moment to somehow "prove" that the handlers at the Cincinnati Zoo made an error in judgment. There's been a lot of blame in this incident, and a lot of racism, and a lot of judgment, and a bit of anti-zoo sentiment that I don't necessarily agree with. (In short, I don't think zoos are the problem, I think shitty zoos which are run poorly are the problem.)

I don't really have anything to add, which is why I've been staying out of it. Someone had to make a tough call that I'm glad I didn't have to make, and a child's life appeared to be at risk. I understand why we're mad that Harambe was killed; western lowland gorillas are majestic animals, and they're endangered. I don't think it's useful to blame the parents because a kid slipped into a dangerous situation; that happens sometimes. I nearly got myself killed a lot of times as a stupid kid. That's how kids are. It's tragic, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes bad shit happens and there are sad consequences. Maybe that sounds trite, but what else can I say? It's easy to armchair quarterback it the next day when you've got no personal stake in it. I wasn't involved, so who the hell am I to say what everyone who was should have done? I just don't think the outrage is going to solve anything.

Friday, June 03, 2016

This Week in Neat-O

I didn't do this last week because Inoreader had a big data loss and most of the stuff I had saved to share here just disappeared. If it comes back, I'll share anything interesting but, well, let's just move forward.

:: Why Disney needs a gay princess.

:: Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture

:: Fandom Is Broken

:: Yes, Disney Should Have A Queer Princess

:: I Got Death Threats For Reporting On A Video Game Delay

:: Cancellation and the Art of Muppet Fan Journalism

:: 6 Reasons Heath Ledger's Joker Ruined Comic Book Movies

:: Here's an amazing YouTube page with opening title sequences to lost, forgotten, and quickly-canceled sitcoms.

:: An Oral History of ILM’s ‘Dragonheart’ On Its 20th Anniversary. I have an enormous soft spot for this movie, mainly because I loved the novelization so much (written by the film's writer, Charles Edward Pogue, and a much better story than the actual movie, which is similar but has almost no depth) and I was excited about the SFX. This article is mainly about ILM and Phil Tippett's work on the film, and very interesting if you're into FX and creatures like me.

:: A State Set in Stoned: Colorado’s Mellow View on Legal Marijuana


Thursday, June 02, 2016

Film Week

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

Hoo boy. I keep forgetting I even watched this, which is itself a bad sign. I was really hoping there was something here that I would enjoy. It got terrible reviews, but so did Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, and I loved both of those movies. But this... it's hard to know where to start. It's sort of like a rip-off of Dune mixed with the spirit of Flash Gordon, but not even a little bit fun. The film is structured terribly; we start on a totally unnecessary flashback, then zip all over space, and there's a pointless bit with space bounty hunters, but we should be following Mila Kunis the whole time. She plays Jupiter, who lives in Chicago with her immigrant family, works a punishing schedule as a cleaning lady, and dreams of the stars. And then she finds out she's the reincarnation of a member of an intergalactic nobility who seed planets (including Earth) in order to farm humans to make a solution that keeps them genetically young, and is commercially very valuable. Because of laws governing genetics, Jupiter essentially owns the Earth, and is caught in a power play between three nobles (including Eddie Redmayne in a performance I can only describe as embarrassing) who want to inherit it and make gene-juice out of its residents.

It... it almost sounds complex, but it isn't. It's underwritten, and the explanations are so simplistic that the Wachowskis tend to use the score and the editing to rush through those scenes. The biggest problem here is that even though the structure is all wrong--we should stay with Jupiter the entire time, but with all of the cutting back and forth we lose all sense of her story, which kills the picture--the story itself is relatively straightforward, but at every turn the Wachowskis are doing all that they can to make it seem bigger and more complicated than it actually is, destroying any chance of it being enjoyable or intimate. Honestly, the intimate moments are probably worse, because there's supposed to be this love story between Channing Tatum, as an alien soldier, and Jupiter that is just... very, very tedious. It's perverse; it's like the movie just stops everything so you can experience these long, dull stretches that only exist to prove that Tatum and Kunis have absolutely no chemistry together. Seriously, Mila Kunis is awful in this; I've seen her do so much better, but here she just seems to want it to be over, playing Jupiter like she's just had a head injury and is trying not to fall asleep so the concussion doesn't kill her.

Good points? The special effects are mostly great, and the designs are amazing. Someone clearly liked Chris Foss' designs for Jodorowsky's Dune. The grandeur of the shots of planets and space ships that look like sunfish skimming Saturn's rings almost, almost convince you there's a real epic happening. The score by Michael Giacchino is pretty good. But even the good things get to be too much at once, and the action scenes drag on interminably. I remember consciously thinking at one point in the climactic battle, "I'm watching Channing Tatum get dragged across a collapsing mining station inside the planet Jupiter by a flying lizard-man... how the hell am I bored?" I think that really sums it up. To see these designs, FX, and creatures wasted is just a shame. **

GET HARD (2015)
Will Ferrell as an investment broker facing prison, who hires Kevin Hart as a trainer to get him ready to survive maximum security. (And all the stereotyped humor that goes with that.) Hart's funny, but it's a forgettable trifle. **

I like the cast, but I wish it didn't take half the movie to go full Lifetime thriller. And even then, it's not as satisfyingly dumb-fun as you hope. It's your standard time-waster about a professional woman (the beautiful Sanaa Lathan) who meets a guy (Michael Ealy) who seems perfect at first, but turns out to have a violent temper and then starts stalking her when she ends it. Michael Ealy is good, though. He's an actor I quite like (would've loved to see him get cast as Doctor Strange), but I've only seen him play wholesome nice guys before, so it was kind of chilling to see him play more and more of a psychopath as the movie goes on. **1/2

Disney movie that sees Dick Van Dyke in the title role, a Navy pilot who gets lost at sea and washes up on a deserted tropical island. Immediately he starts doing the things guys always do after getting washed up somewhere in Disney movies: he builds a very complex home out of bamboo and thatch, makes friends with a chimp, makes himself a golf course and never once has a single hair out of place. It's a cartoon, with a lot of cartoon sight gags. You could substitute Goofy into the lead role and have pretty much the same movie. That's not a complaint. And then he meets lovely Nancy Kwan in the role of a banished headhunter's daughter, and there's a lot of stereotyping that seems a little (and at times more than a little) embarrassing sixty years later, and then it somehow turns into a women's lib picture in a way I found... well, it wasn't condescending. I enjoyed myself, eating hot dogs and drinking soda on a Memorial Day afternoon. It must have meant something to Walt, as it was his only onscreen story credit (and even then as "Retlaw Yensid"). ***

Documentary about the 80s New York City drag ball culture that I found interesting and moving. It became famous as the movie that brought voguing to mainstream attention (around the same time as the Madonna song). I found myself invested in the personalities onscreen, and was surprised at the movie's sensitivity to their lives considering the time period. Some of them are trans, most are black, many are gay, and the movie follows them without judging, letting them tell their own stories and relate their hopes to us. It does make some of the end a little devastating. ****

Documentary about fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi putting together his fall 1994 collection. Fitfully interesting; the film (directed by Mizrahi's then-boyfriend) is more interested in Mizrahi's big personality and portraying him as a sort of eccentric genius, but I was more interested in the too-fleeting bits about how the show was planned and designed. I do enjoy seeing 1994's most popular models, because I'm me, but I wish there was more about Mizrahi's creative process and less of him telling stories about movies he's seen. **1/2

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

This June, Ask Me Anything

I've been disengaged from this blog for far too long (for a number of reasons), so I'm putting out a call for help: ask me some questions. Some of you guys do this every year, and I did it once a little while back (my memory is such that I can't actually remember if it was last year, the year before, the year before that, etc.), and I enjoyed just talking about stuff I hadn't thought to talk about before. I know I'm not the most interesting cat in the alley, but no question is off limits, big or small, of consequence or frivolous or anything you just wonder about.

Just leave your questions here, or email me at with the subject line Ask Me Anything, and I'll start answering them here when I have some.

I hope you do have some questions, even if it's just asking me to choose between Betty and Veronica. Just trying to have some fun and get back in touch with this blogging thing. And if you don't, hey, that's cool, too. I'm gonna try this summer to just take some tiny steps outside of myself and communicate again.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Song of the Week: "Puff the Magic Dragon"

It's one of those things that's not "cool" to admit, but I've always loved this song. Like a lot of oversensitive, escapist little boys who grew up reading a lot of fantasy, there's always been an emotional connection there for me. I'd never heard this version of the song until recently, coming up on a playlist for one of those "radio" pages that I listen to on Tumblr throughout the day. This is Bonnie 'Prince' Billy from, as far as I can tell, 2005. I don't know much about him (real name Will Oldham) or how this recording came to be, but it sounds like a lost Donovan record and I like how it manages to actually be lovely and sincere without being soppy or making fun of the song. It's a song I've heard a lot in my life, and this version kind of gave it a spark that I just find charming.