Monday, July 04, 2016

Muppet Monday

Happy 4th of July! Here's a three-part series of American Revolution-themed Sesame Street sketches from 1986/1987. Have a fine day. I'll be steaming hot dogs in beer today and having some frog dogs.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Song of the Week: "Pretend to Be Nice"

For some reason, this one started running through my head when I was out on Friday. And I'm not complaining, because this is my favorite song on the soundtrack of the 2001 movie Josie and the Pussycats, a movie that was unjustly forgotten and bombed critically for reasons I still don't understand. I think it's pretty brilliant as a parody of how outlandishly manufactured the teen music industry was at the time... I mean, it still is, but back then it seemed to be not even bothering to hide it. And it's one of the only movies I've seen smart enough to turn product placement into a running gag. I don't know, maybe it captures a moment in time too closely and too well, but this is an underrated flick. When Jem and the Holograms flopped last year, I was one of a small chorus telling people to see this movie, because it was smart, funny, and fun. And it has Rosario Dawson, come on!

Sunshine Blogger Award

Over at, Kelly tagged me with an old-fashioned blog questionnaire. Remember those? They used to be everywhere, and for the first couple of years, they were hella popular on Tumblr, back when people on Tumblr used to talk to each other more often. (A couple of contentious election cycles sure fixed that!)

Anyway, here are the rules of the thingy:

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a “get to know the writer better” type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.

Now, I'll tell you right off the bat that I'm throwing the second half of this out the window. I don't even know if 11 people read this blog anymore, and I don't know who (besides anyone Kelly already tagged or me just tagging Kelly back, and tag backs are lame) would actually answer it. Maybe that makes me an awards pig, but I've made my decision in the heat of the moment... because that's... what heroes do.

But here are 11 questions from Kelly.

1. What do you value more in a story: dialog or plot?

My wife and I were talking about something similar the other day after coming home from a movie. I'm still undecided. Great dialog can often win me over even if the plot is meager or overly familiar, but likewise an energetic plot or interesting plot structure can cover dialog that's merely functional. I guess for the purposes of this questionnaire, I'd say dialog is what I value more, simply because great dialog is memorable, and sometimes I've gone back to books because of memorable dialog and discovered that the plot that went with it was more or less a memorable dialog delivery system.

2. Describe the home planet of Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Come on, that dude ain’t human.)

Judging from a recent appearance in a surprisingly awful Inside Amy Schumer sketch, I'd say he comes from a planet that concentrates on a development of patience commensurate with the development of talent.

3. If you enjoy watching any sports at all, which ones would you at least like to try just once?

My lower back is screaming at me as I contemplate this one. I don't really enjoy watching it, but I think boxing might help me learn to defend myself in more ways than one.

4. Describe the most recent book to which you gave (or would have given) five stars.

I'm pretty lax on my reading this year, and I'm gonna sound like I'm kissing ass, but Kelly's own The Wisdomfold Path: The Song of Forgotten Stars, Book Two is wonderful.

5. Do you finish bad books? Why or why not?

It depends on the book. If it's so bad that it's a real chore to read, I used to give it about halfway through before I dropped it. I always point to Michael Crichton's The Lost World. I got halfway through and was still bored out of my skull, so I just gave up on it. That was when I decided: if a book is so bad that you just look at it and sigh over how dull it is, dump it. Why extend a bad experience any further than you have to? Unless you're genuinely curious about how it turns out or reading it for a class, I say stop if your interest or your enjoyment runs out. Or, you know, you can blog about it.

I don't always go halfway anymore. For a while, last year, I was reading some of the early Pocket Books Star Trek novels, and some were so bad that I just stopped them after a couple of pages. When the characters are that out of character, it's just not going to be fun. There was one where Spock became a pirate that was an almost fun, over-the-top sort of bad, though. I finished it, and it was bad, but I think I was just in this space where I was challenging the book to see how bad it could really get.

6. How vexed are you when movies don’t match the books?

Not very. I expect adaptations to diverge. If it's something like Hamlet, half of the interest is seeing where it diverges and what choices the adaptations make. There have been times--and of course, none occur to me off the top of my head--where I think the movie of a book chose to cut something, change a scene's tone, or make a slightly different choice that made the story or a specific character stronger. And, of course, many times where that wasn't the case. But it doesn't usually bug me too much; it's disappointing if an adaptation is bad, but usually I just write it off to the film itself being poorly made.

7. Describe your perfect hot beverage. In detail. I’m talking roast of bean or variety of leaves, additives like spices or squirts of citrus, vessel from which the drink is sipped, where you are sitting as you sip it, who is next to you, what music is playing.

One of my local grocery stores sells something generic in a flavor it calls "donut shop." They sell the Dunkin' Donuts brand coffee, too, but I like the generic better. I just buy a pre-ground bag and pour some into my cheap Mr. Coffee. It's cheap, but it does a fine job without getting grounds in my cup, and since I grew up watching my Mom spoon instant coffee into a cup of water and put it in the microwave, it almost seems fancy. (It ain't, but I'm not a fancy fella.) I drink it from an old mug that we bought--probably at an airport gift shop--in 1982, when I was six. It has the silhouette of a palm tree and says "Guam" on the side, one of my many reminders of two trips we took to the island. Something about beach scenes just calms me. I add cream and, ideally, a little packet of Sugar in the Raw, which tastes more like molasses than sugar (which it more or less is), so it's not too sweet. And ideally I'd just drink it in the morning, with my wife, sitting on my living room floor and sharing a donut or some mini-scones. What's playing? Early Tom Waits. "Please Call Me Baby" and a midsummer morning with a cool breeze and the smell of flowers.

8. Do you watch cooking shows? If so, describe your favorite.

Cutthroat Kitchen, where sabotage isn't just encouraged, it's for sale. My wife sure did get me hooked on a couple of cooking shows. I like Cutthroat Kitchen because it's not as pretentious as Chopped, although Chopped looks humble and low key compared to how far MasterChef has climbed up its own ass. I'm not watching that one anymore unless it's a junior edition.

I also keep trying to recommend Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown, which is on FYI and is a surprisingly involving show. In this one, a professional chef goes up against a collective of child prodigies, some as young as 8. They get to pick a different chef from their group for each round, and the winner of each round gets some advantage going forward. It's fun stuff, and not too full of itself.

9. Name a place you’ve visited that you thought you’d hate but you didn’t.

And leave the house? Unthinkable!

10. You know that hobby you had as a younger person that you miss dearly but you know you’ll never do it again? Describe it!

One hobby I kind of miss is drawing. I used to draw a lot, and people told me I was good at it. I just enjoyed it. I tried to get serious about it and wasn't really that good, and after some very non-encouraging art teachers, I just gave it up. I still doodle or sketch sometimes, but just for fun. I'm never going to be a serious artist, and that's fine. I don't think I miss the drawing itself as much as I just miss feeling like I was good at something.

11. On January 20, 2017, the newly inaugurated President of the United States signs a law requiring all Americans to display a coffee-table book prominently in their home. Which one do you put out?

One of my most influential books: Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects. I need to figure out if I can still get that book...

I can't figure out a snappy ending to this little Q&A, so in lieu of one, here's a picture of Michelangelo eating four slices of pizza.

It's like looking in a mirror.