Friday, August 29, 2008

Georgia, Meet George

With myriad quotes coming from the White House to the tune of "in this day and age you can't just invade a sovereign nation with a democratically-elected leader", I can't help but wonder if the Russian actions in Georgia are simply intended to make prominent Republicans look stupid.


Can I Just Sacrifice a Miata or Something?

So I figured out why the traffic gods hate me.

A little background:

Every morning I pull out of the apartment complex and onto Lindbergh and immediately exit onto Olive to head over to 170. Every morning this week, Olive has been backed up all the way to Lindbergh (presumably all the way from 170), which has incited me to stay on Lindbergh and then take Manchester over. This alternate route is generally about five or ten minutes longer, but it's a better route when there's a lot of traffic on Olive or 170 (it's the way I take to go home, because at 5pm, the Galleria is open and Brentwood/170 is a zoo). I've been under the assumption that they're working somewhere on Olive and have a lane closed and that it would eventually clear up. Like, after a day or two. But it's been all week.

Yesterday was the worst. I got stuck in the left-turn lane at Lindbergh and Clayton and couldn't get out of it--only I couldn't see that I was in it because it looks like they've redone that intersection and I was behind a cement mixer. Then I sat through three lights getting onto Manchester, and a thirty-minute commute that's normally a twenty minute commute became a forty-five minute commute. Then on the way home I got stuck behind an accident on Manchester and my normally thirty-minute return commute took me an hour.

I was sitting still, parked, on Manchester in front of a Starbucks for something like five minutes, so I pulled off the road and went in for a chai.

Add to all this the fact that gas prices jumped by nearly twenty cents yesterday, and the only conclusion I could come to was that there were simply more people driving than usual. But that didn't make any sense--why would that many people just start driving at 7:30 in the morning at the end of August?

If you've figured it out at this point, congrats, you're smarter than I am.

This morning, I was relieved to see that Olive wasn't backed up all the way to Lindbergh, so I took that exit only to discover that it was, in fact, backed up all the way to just-before-Lindbergh. But I was committed to it, so I sat it out, and I'd finally have a chance to see what all this supposed construction was about. But there was not construction, and about half-way to 170, the congestion cleared and the streets opened up. It was surreal. But the other direction was jammed--the other direction that was all free and clear at the other end of Olive. It was like all of these people were on their way at 7:30 to some arbitrary location right smack in the middle of Olivette.

And then it occurred to me. It hit me right in the forehead. Summer's over. Duh.

There literally are more people driving in the middle of Olivette at 7:30, and they're going to schoo. First of all, the buses are running, and parents are dropping off their children, and the next batch of newly-licensed juniors and seniors is starting to drive themselves to school. And, perhaps less-obvious but of potentially significant impact, nobody's taking vacations. Throughout the summer there's a percentage of people who just aren't on the road because they're somewhere else.

The downside to all this? It's not going to clear up until December, and then it will start up again and go until May. So, the long story shortened: the traffic gods still hate me, just not quite as arbitrarily as I'd assumed.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who's Going to Watch the Watchmen?

I finished reading Watchmen last night, and I'm suddenly quite nervous about the film. The trailer was epic and enticing and featured a bitchin' song, but now that I know the story, I'm perplexed.

Because the graphic novel is not epic. It's layered, it's multi-faceted, it's complex, it's gritty. It's not epic.

Which is not to say that the film will suck. But I'm concerned.

First, Zack Snyder does not impress me as a director. I really didn't care for 300 all that much. For all the pomp and vim and homo-erotic undertones, the thing that really, truly bothered me was that it claimed to be rooted in realism (like, you know, the graphic novel was) but came off in the end as quite cartoony. Some things I can overlook, like the over-the-top depiction of Xerxes. Others I can't--like a whole diatribe about how a phalanx works, only to completely abandon that fighting style when the actual, you know, fighting starts, in lieu of every-man-for-himself bravado.

But, regardless of my feelings for the film, certain things about 300 did work. The graphic novel was about an epic battle, and a sweeping, grand, epic style was appropriate for the film. Nothing about the film was subtle, so it didn't matter that David Wenham was belting out lines from behind his eyepatch and Speedo. You don't go to 300 for the nuance. But 300 seems to be Snyder's qualification for directing Watchmen, and Watchmen is a completely different animal. The thematic elements are much more rooted in moral relativity versus absolutism and the human-ness of costumed heroes. So, perhaps a bit of subtlety and nuance is appropriate. But consider that trailer.

Every damn frame of the trailer is in slow-motion. Rorschach with his homemade flamethrower was a tense, fast-paced, brawl in the book, not a slow, grand, epic, fast-paced brawl. There's a scene in the trailer in which Dr. Manhattan is split into three copies of himself, all in the same room. This happens exactly once in the book, and it happens when he has a fight with his girlfriend. Why should this be slow and grand? It needs to be tense and hostile.

Then there's the fact that the movie is cast almost entirely with B-listers (if not C and D-listers). With the possible exception of Billy Crudup, but his character is a hulking blue computer graphic for 95% of the film. Well, Patrick Wilson is moving into leading rolls now, but he's not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue, now is he? I'm not saying they should have cast Brad Pitt, but the fact that I'm having to look up people to find out what they've been in before does not inspire confidence. These are supposed to be complex people with complex motivations and relationships. You need a solid actor for that.

The cast also feels young--particularly the actors playing Ozymandias and Silk Spectre--arguably the two most important characters to the story. The main story takes place when they are retired, middle-aged. These actors are both 30 and could pass for 25 in a pinch. Now, that may be part of the plan, since the story has a lot of flashbacks in it, so, as above, it's not a deal-breaker, but it does not inspire confidence.

The costumes have been modernized to look a bit more... well, hero-ish? Perhaps Spandex is the wrong direction, but take a look at Nite Owl. In the book, he's an awkward, pear-shaped man who manages to transform into a pear-shaped but surprisingly effective hero. But the filmic rendition seems to be going for pure bad-ass. So the whole Nite-Owl/Silk-Spectre/Dr. Manhattan dynamic that is so central to the plot is going to be eschewed for... bad-assery?

All of this brings me back to my central concern. It looks like Zack Snyder has every intention of giving this film the complete 300 treatment. But the problem with 300 was that, for all it's religious adherence to visual style, it abandoned the soul of the work. Furthermore, what worked in 300 probably won't work here. 300 was a gore-fest on paper, remarkable for it's brutal depiction of a historical event--it was almost bereft of dialogue. Watchmen is much more literary. Besides being the only graphic novel to ever win a Hugo award, it contains an incredible amount (for a comic) of novel-style writing. Pages of it in every chapter. It gives the world and the characters depth, and all that back-story will not be available to the audience, so it is up to the director and the actors to convince us that it still exists. And I have seen no evidence that they are up to the task.

I hope I'm wrong. Come March, I'd much rather be able to say "that was awesome" than "I told you so."


Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Songs "In Love", "Polly Amry"

I've got a couple new songs posted over at the Kurt and Chuck Fuzz Page. One of them is In Love, an older song that I recently put together a decent recording of. The other is genuinely new and has not even been demo'd before. It's called Polly Amry and it's about a guy who gets into an open relationship but can't control his jealousy. It's fun.

Both are free to stream or download.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Who's it Gonna Vee?

So Obama is getting ready to announce his running mate. I'm betting that it's not Joe Biden. If only because Obama-and-Biden sounds and awful lot like Osama bin Laden. That those are the kind of superficial things that dictate elections.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

NINe INch Nails at Scottrade Center

Nine Inch Nails. I love their music. And by "their" I meant "Trent's" of course. But I think I speak on behalf of NIN fans everywhere when I say this:

We're getting too old for this.

Closer was released in 1994, and it first ushered the band into the mainstream public consciousness and propelled Trent Reznor to his demi-god status as official spokesman for youthful angst. Now fast forward fourteen years to present day. I'm 28, and that's young-ish for a die hard NIN-fan. And I'm not nearly as angsty as I was at 14 and 15. Nor, so much, youthful. I'm definitely older and more sedate. And I'm not alone, even the dressed-up aging goth-kids were very polite. But in all seriousness, there comes a time when you just can't scream out "Hey pig, piggy pig, pig, pig" with a straight face. And that time seems to be somewhere between 25 and 28, if my concert-going experience is any indication.

I also must admit that I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this show. Depending on how you count it, Nine Inch Nails have put out between 3 and 6 albums of new material since the last North American tour, including the juggernaut Year Zero and it's somewhat-less-impressive follow-up The Slip, as well as a 4-part instrumental opus called Ghosts that features 36 tracks, none of which anyone bothered to title.

Seriously, you can't call out "#24" for the band to play. It just doesn't work. Who'd have thunk (why did the spellchecker not catch "thunk"?) that Trent Reznor would be an attendee of the Dave Matthews school of song-titling. I say that, but then, DMB's #41 is a favorite of mine.

I digress.

This was the closest I've ever been to the stage for a major show--having purchased floor tickets through the fan club. And note to self: I wore my steel-toed boots thinking of toe-protection. Turned out to not matter, and standing for 4 hours in boots is MURDER on the feet. Next time, I'm wearing tennies. Toes be damned.

The show kicked off with, I kid you not, half of The Slip, with March of the Pigs thrown in for good measure. It was a hard rocking mini-set in which every single song began with drums. At that point, I must confess disappointment. There was a swirly light board in the back, and it was all very big and boisterous, but it wasn't very showy, and there wasn't much in the way of crowd pleasing.

At last, the front-most of the three semi-translucent video screens descended and band members came out to the front and did some Year Zero material while back-lit. Now we're talking. This was much more typical of NIN, and it brings to light an interesting point. Nine Inch Nails shows are much more of a visual spectacle that happens to have some performers in it. That said, you don't gain a whole lot by being twenty feet from the stage. Trent plays to the cheap seats. His light show was at least as sophisticated as the one at Tool's show last fall, but at least his band engaged the audience. They also had a bit more fun with the lights than Tool. During Only, Trent was behind a wall of static that would part and follow him around. Once in a while he would grab the "hole" in the "static" and fling it to one side of the stage. So, yes, this was, in fact, choreographed within an inch of its life. During the encore, Josh Freese walked up to a series of boxes on the light board at the front, and as he touched them they would turn red and would play either a kick or snare hit and repeat. He built up the pattern until it became the drum line for Echoplex.

So, after The Great Destroyer in front of the light board, the band re-assembled behind it for a few tracks from Ghosts. Moving the various light boards around created some great 3-D effects, and there were some interesting vistas playing during the Ghosts songs. This went on while the band played odd instruments--there was a double-bass, a banjo, some interesting tuned percussion. Josh Freese had chimes, a timpani, some tuned pipes, and a kit constructed from jugs and various hardware store items.

I felt conflicted. It was cool, it was conceptual, it was artsy and far-reaching. It just wasn't all that interesting. I'm as much a fan of high-concept folksy art-metal as the next guy. Probably moreso, come to think of it. But part of me just kept screaming "We get it, Trent, you're a genius, now step away from the marimba!" When Aaron would put down his banjo to pick up a guitar, I couldn't help but wonder if he was leaning over to Alessandro and asking "What did we get ourselves into?"

Finally Piggy started, signaling that we had left the land of stuff-I'm-promoting and ventured squarely into stuff-the-audience-wants-to-hear territory. And let me tell you, you've never heard Piggy until you've heard it on a double-bass and ukelele.

The usual suspects made an appearance. Head Like a Hole and Terrible Lie from Pretty Hate Machine, the latter being an absolute staple. Of course there were Pinion and Wish from Broken, and also Gave Up, which was a pleasant surprise. It got a pretty respectable showing, considering it's only got 8 songs on it. Closer made the set list (I have no idea how the band can stand to play this song anymore, but kudos for being good sports about it) including the now-common throwback to The Only Time during the break-down. Also from The Downward Spiral were Hurt, the aforementioned songs about pigs, and Reptile, which is a personal favorite of mine. Year Zero got a handful, including God Given, which made the encore, and Survivalism, which involved a video screens of mock surveillance cameras.

Several of them were pointed at bathrooms.

And then a couple started having sex in one of them.

It was slightly off-putting, which was, I guess, the point. It certainly wasn't the most gratuitous sex scene I've ever witnessed, but it wasn't any chore to figure out what they were doing, either. During the second chorus they finished and left the bathroom. It brought to bear the whole invasion-of-privacy (to the extent that sex in a public loo can be considered "private") thing, but still...


Sadly, The Fragile didn't get much love (neither did With Teeth, for that matter, but I find that to be less tragic), with the band only playing The Frail, The Wretched, and The Big Come Down. Oh well.

The show closed with In This Twilight, which was appropriate enough, although Trent played some strains from Zero Sum as the band was making it's final exit. I would have liked to sing along with that. I can just imagine a stadium full of people all singing that chorus.

Shame on us, doomed from the start
May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts
Shame on us, for all we have done
And all we ever were, just zeros and ones.

Still, it was a good show, and a long show, and I'm glad I went, and I'll likely go next time.

I just sort of wonder where NIN and it's ever-aging fanbase is going to go from here. Trent's putting out music at break-neck pace, now that he's label-free, and selling it for stupidly low prices (downloads of The Slip were free, all 36 tracks of Ghosts could be dl'd for like $5). But the aesthetic has been virtually identacle on everything since With Teeth, settling into a format that sounds much more like a 5-piece band than the industrial weirdness that defined NIN's early career, or the 80's-pop blip-inspired anger that definded their even-earlier career. Time will tell. And I'll be listening. For a while anyway.

But next time I'll get a seat.


It's Pronounced Moh-HAH-Vee!

Have you seen the ads for Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment"? Unsuspecting users are asked what they think about Windows Vista and then are given a computer to futz around with. They ask how they think this computer compares to what they've heard about Vista and they invariably say that it seems much more solid and usable. And then the surprise--it is Vista! You were using it just now and liked it. Aren't you surprised?

The point of the ads is supposed to be that the negative hype is unwarranted and that it actually is a good system and if you used it without knowing it, you'd agree. I think the point is well made--Vista is not without its drawbacks, but it's not quite the brick that people claim it is.

But I have to take issue with the ads on principle. How sad is it when your best advertising recourse is to trick people into realizing that your product doesn't really suck after all?


Is it a Bank or a Snake?

So, Bank of America regularly sends me e-mails about ways they can make my banking easier. Today they sent an e-mail telling me how simple it is to sign up for online bill-pay and pay my bills online. And they're right, it is easy and convenient. Which is why I've been signed up since 2003.


I realize that there's a fine line between "helping" and "pestering"... actually, I take that back. It's not a very fine line at all. It's a broad freaking line. And guess which side you've landed on BoA!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Do They Make Misfortune Cookies?

Why the local Chinese restaurant feels the need to include 2 fortune cookies (and no pepper--seriously, folks) with a single order of vegetable fried rice is flipping beyond me. But, as an eater of said cookies, I suppose I can't complain too much for getting an extra. Today's second cookie included 2 fortunes in it, which means for the price of an order of fried rice I got three times the fortune of a typical eater of Chinese foods. In America.

Did you know that fortune cookies are unique to the Western world? They were invented by Chinese immigrants in California. The cookie is actually a Japanese-style cookie. And yes, everything else you know or thought you knew is a lie.


So these are my three fortunes:
  • A new relationship is about to blossom. You will be blessed.
  • A pleasant surprise is in store for you soon.
  • Do not dwell on differences with a loved one. Try to compromise.
So, if my interpretation of this is correct, either my now month-old marriage is about to end, or Abby's pregnant. Or the cookies are lying. Still, what the hell kind of fortune is that?

Of course, you can do the old "in bed" trick, in which case my trio of fortunes would seem to indicate a pending surprise threesome. Or you can do it xkcd-style and add "except in bed", which is just depressing for the first fortune, doesn't quit work for the second, and turns the third into a time-tested relationship maxim.



Also, I have 18 winning Lotto numbers, if anyone is interested.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Speaking of Unsolicited

I've been getting more spam than usual lately. Not that it's an issue, because gmail has the best spam-filter evarr, but still, the fact that the little number on the left next to the "spam" link is on average higher than the day before bothers me. On principle.

I routinely empty out my spam folder and when I do so, I scan the titles briefly to see if anything solicited has found it's way in. This rarely happens. But I couldn't help noticing the inordinate number of spam messages touting an Angelina Jolie sex tape.

So, what gives? Is there some new Jolie look-alike who's agreed to get naked, or has someone just started looping the two-fifths of a second of Hackers in which she exposes a pre-augmentation breast?

And speaking of spam...

Did you know that spam was invented by lawyers? True story.

Anywho. Speaking of solicitation, I got a sales call about car warranties on the phone at the office, and not thirty seconds after hanging up, I got the same call on my cell phone. The irony was lost on the salesman, however, because he was a recording.

And I feel like a bit of a cad, but I linked to here from Cinematical article (I'm in the comments). It honestly was a topic-relevant comment, and the link was pertinent to it. But I still put up a link to my own site in a comment on another site. I'm conflicted.


Credibilty Shmedibility

CNN has once again proven the viability of TV news with their report on a Bigfoot discovery in Georgia.

Not that Georgia, the other Georgia.

This all goes to support my claim that in the future there will be no news, only blogs. TV news is driven by ratings, so they tend towards sensationalism. This is why CNN is looking more and more like the National Enquirer these days.

The only thing newsrooms have that the laity don't is access, and the key to keeping that access is to not speak truth to power, it seems, or even to anyone.

I think more and more people will be turning to news blogs for up-to-the-minute info and turning their TV's off.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: Tropic Thunder

Finally, someone is giving the Judd Apatow crowd a run for their money in the league of absurd, crude, R-rated comedies. And this one is helmed by none other than Ben Stiller.

Tropic Thunder is a multi-layered send-up of war movies--a genre that hasn't really been touched since the Hot Shots films (I think). Some of the strokes are subtle. Specific shots reference Platoon, Apocalypse Now!, and Saving Private Ryan, and fans of the genre will take notice. Others are more broad. Jack Black's drug adled comedian character borrows from Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams (although not directly enough to say that he is parodying anyone in particular); Robert Downey, Jr.,'s (punctuation police?) Kirk Lazarus is one part Tom Hanks and three parts Russel Crowe. Ben Stiller is... well, a bit more generic, but I couldn't help but remember his take on Tom Cruise back in the day. And speaking of Tom Cruise, he shows up and steals every scene he touches, and every scene he's in is funnier than the one before.

In fact, the bit players do a lot for this film. Brandon Soo Hoo, the itty-bitty drug lord, is instantly likeable and endearing... for a drug lord. Matthew Mac-Con-Nah-Hee is great fun to watch, as are Danny R. McBride and Brandon T. Jackson. And I chuckled mightily as Jay Baruchel waxed philosophical about how gamers and porn had determined the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD fight. Even the tiniest bit parts were seriously, seriously amusing. Toby McGuire shows up for about thirty seconds--perhaps the funniest thirty seconds of the film. Jon Voigt and Lance Bass are there for a few guffaws.

Silly and as much an over-the-top war film as the films it spoofs, Tropic Thunder is hilariously offensive and vile. Not perfect, but side-achingly fun if you're in the right frame of mind.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Its Our Tree, But Much of the Root Structure is in the Neighbor's Septic Tank

So today I found, a social network site centered on genealogy. I've a couple of relatives who were interested in family trees, one of whom is now deceased and the other being a very, very distant relative over in Germany (he hosts the website, a network site devoted to the Pankau namesake, so I thought he'd get a kick of this). And I must confess that I'm somewhat intrigued.

On the one hand, genealogy is kind of like existentialism-lite. I like the idea of watching your own family tree grow as other people fill in the gaps--discovering connections, meeting people that you don't like. On the other hand, does the world really need another social networking site?

So, the thing claims to be in open beta, and I'm happy to try it out, and it's pretty bug-free (so far) all things considered. Worth a look.

In other news, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes both died over the weekend. Between those deaths and Morgan Freeman's car accident, this has not been a very good week for black entertainers.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Movies, Sunday Blues

So it's been a weekend of me disappeared into the other bedroom working on music between errands and movies. Just finished The Hunt for Red October, and boy does that movie still hold up after all these years. Sean Connery chewing Russian through his Scottish brogue notwithstanding, there's a fabulous feel of realism infused throughout.

It was DVD's for the weekend--although I was very tempted to go see The Dark Knight again. Ultimately, I opted out, since Abby's brother is coming into town next weekend and we'll almost certainly see it with him. I've already seen it twice, and I'm not above seeing it a fourth time, but you gotta spread it out a little. I'm reminded of my obsession that developed around the second installment of the Lord of the Rings films. I saw The Two Towers six times in the theaters, thrice during opening weekend. For me, it was worth the price of admission just to watch Legolas mount his horse (it is, seriously, the best moment in the movie).

The equivalent in TDK is the emergence of the Bat-pod. Because, yes, it's that bad-ass.


Today was spent "in the studio", stumbling out occasionally for food or conversation. The fruits of my labors can be found at my Abstract All-Stars page on AAS is the musical alter-ego I use for the weird, atmospheric, ambient, dance-y stuff I write. (read "weird" as "lyrically nonsensical", "dance-y" as "with looped drums", and "ambient" a "God, I use too much reverb"). Today's addition was Sunday Blues, and you are free to download and share it, along with anything else you find there.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Review: Pineapple Express

I was unusually hyped about this movie. I couldn't tell you why. Maybe it was the glut of big-budget action that preceded it this summer. Maybe it was the hangover from and The Dark Knight and Iron Man. Maybe it was the infective trailer with the M.I.A. song that has been stuck in my head for the last week and a half.

Maybe it was the shot of Seth Rogen belly-whopping off a second-floor balcony onto Gary Cole.

I'm glad it didn't suck. I don't know how I would have reacted--actually I do. Just read my review of Indiana Jones 4. God, I haven't been that disappointed in a highly anticipated movie since Spider-Man 3.


Speaking of Spider-Man 3, the original Spider-Man had that song Hero by Chad Kroeger and Josie Scott that played during the trailer. That was equally infective. I was sort of interested in seeing Spidey on the big screen (liked the idea, didn't think Toby McGuire could pull it off), but when I saw that trailer with the cunning use of a fairly mediocre song (remember this line: "someone tole me love will all save us"... wtf, Chad?), I was hooked, I was there, ready to see Toby and Kirstin Dunst and James Franco.


Speaking of James Franco, he's funnier in this. And Seth Rogen is funny. I laughed. I actually cackled. Out loud. Alone once (it was a Star Wars joke, and clearly no one in the theater thought it was nearly as funny as I did).

Wait, where was I? So this is an action-buddy-stoner-comedy with a 70's vibe and a bitchin' soundtrack. Very dark, very violent, very stupid, and very very funny. And I don't like stoner movies. Seriously, I couldn't finish Harold and Kumar.

Also, for a movie with a nearly-entirely male cast, it was strangely effeminate.

Wait. What?