Friday, August 12, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Film Week

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

HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015)
When this documentary about Malala Yousafzai was released last year, I saw most of the reviews were playing that internet game of "More Woke and Informed Than You" and went on and on and on about how Malala doesn't need a "puff piece" and all that because, you know, we get it. But I think calling this doc a puff piece misses the point of it. What I liked about this movie is that it doesn't deal in legendarium and mythmaking, turning Malala into a symbol. It tells the story of a teenage girl and her intellectual, proud father, and why they felt education was important, even (or especially) in the face of suppression. Malala tells us about her life before she was shot by the Taliban and how she and her family live as expatriates now. Malala's story is an important one, but it's also important to remember that outside of her bravery and her willingness to stand up for what she believes all women are entitled to, she's a person. The humanity that's on display here is as essential to understanding what happened to her as all of the speeches. Showing Malala's interest in athletes and her own difficulties in school isn't a puff piece; it's a part of who she is. As usual, I feel like most of what passes as criticism online today just misses the point. ****

THE NIGHT BEFORE (2015)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie as three friends in their early thirties who get together every Christmas. This is their last hurrah before settling into their adulthoods, and they're finally getting into a legendary secret party they've been chasing for eight years. It's a reunion of JGL and Rogen with their 50/50 writer-director Jonathan Levine, and like that movie, it has some genuinely emotional stuff, some genuinely funny stuff, and some stuff that doesn't really work but at least tries. It is nice seeing a Christmas movie that seems to really love Christmas without getting preachy about it. And I appreciate the message about friendship and how you make your own family in the world as you grow up. Fun Miley Cyrus cameo, but Michael Shannon as a mystical, enigmatic pot dealer was my favorite thing. I feel like this is the kind of movie I would have absolutely loved in 2009 but am a little over these days. So... I don't know, it's fun, and there are things I dug in it, and I don't feel like I wasted my time at all. But I'll probably never watch it again. Gonna go with ***.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part II: The First Six Weeks

To recap: I was born on July 17, 1976. It's literally all I've done so far. And really the first few months are just "firsts" of things, but I have a lot of pictures from that time period, so let's really drag it out. I used to be cute. In that top picture, I'm all of a week old.

So, born July 17. That was the same day the Summer Olympics opened in Montreal.

Pretty boss poster, I think. The next day, July 18, Nadia Comeneci, the Romanian gymnast, was awarded the first perfect 10 in modern Olympics history. She went on to get six more perfect scores in gymnastic events and won three gold medals, all at the age of 14.

Meanwhile, baby me still don't know what's what. I do, however, remember one of those toys: the mouse with the tartan pattern. I just used to call her "Miss Mousie." I had her a long time, until I was at least 10 or so. It was around the ages of 10 and 11 when a lot of my toys started "disappearing." I wanted to keep her, though, because she'd really been one of those totems you have from your early life that make you feel a little centered when you get really upset and overwhelmed. My plan was to pass her on to my own eventual child, but all that was never to be.

I guess it must be the anxiety disorder that makes me attached to things and then traumatized when those things are gone. Obviously, I didn't understand that then. All I knew was that Miss Mousie was suddenly missing and no one really cared. That's a lot of my life in a nutshell.

I think this is me on the first day home from the hospital. Sleeping, eating... much like now, all I was basically doing was existing. According to my baby book, I smiled for the first time on July 19. I was already a happy kid.

Also, Benedict Cumberbatch was born on July 19, 1976. Probably not why I was smiling, though.

On July 20, the Viking 1 successfully landed on Mars and started returning amazing photos of the planet's surface. I spent a lot of my childhood fascinated by outer space and other planets, and I think it's neat that I was born right as this was happening.

Also happening: the Son of Sam committed his first murder on July 29. Scary stuff happening. The Olympics, the Mars landing, and a serial killer. Yep, definitely born in mid-seventies America.

I have no idea what it's like to bring a baby into the world. I guess I never will, but I feel okay with that decision. In a lot of ways, even at 40, I haven't really grown up yet. Still holding on to too much stuff from the past, which this series is partially an attempt to revisit and make peace with.

Look at my parents, man. Mom is 19. Dad is 21. We live in a house on Des Moines Street in Des Moines, Iowa. I'm just a couple of weeks old. It's so crazy to just look back and see that as my life was beginning, theirs was, too, in a way. And people do this every day. Everyone has the story of their life. This is just mine.

July 31: NASA released the "Face on Mars" photo. This thing was in so damn many books I read about UFOs as a kid, and believe me, I read a lot of them. Anything about aliens or cryptozoology, I read. Scared myself silly, but it was so darn fascinating.

This picture is labeled "2 weeks old," so it's probably about July 31, also. I'm being held by my Grandpa Sage, my Mom's father. Here in the present day, he just turned 84. (Yesterday, in fact.) I wish I'd grown up around him a little more. Don't get me wrong, I saw him at least once a year throughout my childhood, but I wish he'd been around often enough to really influence me. He can be as selfish and thoughtless as anyone else, but he sure loves his grandkids, and he's just always seemed so calm and outgoing and friendly to me. I learned a lot just by watching him interact with people. He doesn't make people feel like assholes. He's not demanding. He's a gentle man. He was in the military, but spent most of his adult life working for the INS, so my Mom moved around a lot when she was a kid. I would expect that to make a guy hard and uncompromising, but if he was ever like that, I never saw it. Must be his Quaker upbringing.

August 1976 (going by cover dates, at least) saw the first publication of Starlog, a magazine that was an enormous part of my childhood. My life has always been full of science fiction, and here to welcome me into the world was (in my opinion) the greatest science fiction entertainment magazine ever. I was glued to this thing as a kid, always looking for news on upcoming movies and voraciously reading about my favorite special effects.

Also cover dated in August: Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. One of my all-time favorite comics. Just thought I'd mention.

All of this awesomeness, and my poor Dad still can't afford shirts, I guess. Just kidding. I sit around shirtless all the time these days, and all I feed are squirrels, birds and plants. I just think it's funny in so many pictures he's not wearing a shirt. I'm not a hundred percent sure what my Dad was doing for a living back then. When I was 21, I was driving deliveries for a printing company and had just moved back in with my Mom after a year in an apartment with a guy I really, really came to hate. I think at this point my Dad was still working at a steel mill and was just about to go into the Army.

On August 5, the same night Eric Clapton went on his racist, anti-immigration, "Keep Britain White" tirade on stage at Birmingham (wonder what he thinks of Brexit), the show What's Happening!! debuted on ABC. Loved that show as a kid, though obviously I mainly saw it in reruns. I think WFLD used to rerun it on weekday afternoons. Damn, I wanted to be kinda cool but really funny like Rerun.

Side note: Whac-A-Mole was invented in 1976. Its inventor was Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, Inc. He went on to create my beloved Rock-afire Explosion. Whac-A-Mole delighted the hell out of me as a kid, but not as much as the Explosion. Even today, just the thought of that animatronic band makes me smile. My Mom was at her boyfriend's kid's birthday party a few weeks ago at Chuck E. Cheese, and mentioned they had some of the old Explosion animatronics. "They have the gorilla," she mentioned. And me, her forty year-old son, said "He's called Fatz Geronimo, Ma."

According to my baby book, August 16 is the first time I slept through the night. Just one day shy of a month.

According to Wikipedia, this was the night of the first professional appearance of the Ramones on the stage at CBGB's. I probably wouldn’t have slept through the night for that. I would’ve been too busy rocking.

The next day, August 17, Alex Haley's Roots: The Saga of an American Family was published. It had a profound effect on me when I first read it in high school.

This is the world I'm evolving into. We'll see what sparks next time.

For now, here are some Clydesdales.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Song of the Week: "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love"

I'm feeling really bad this morning (I am in allergy hell this week), so that means it's time to put on some soul music. The Spinners, 1973. Unconscionably, this is the first time I've ever featured the Spinners.