Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To Be Continued

The blog will be on hiatus for a little while, at least through the end of the year. I need to devote some of these energies somewhere else, and with the back pain and the back-pain-related meds I'm on, updating is becoming difficult.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

If You See It, Pick It Up For Me

So, I threw my back out last night. God, do I feel old. I'm doing better this morning, that is to say I can sit up and even stand for short intervals without being in debilitating pain.

Suck-fest.

But I've seen a doctor, and I didn't have anything planned that's going to be interrupted, so that's good. And Abby's been an incredible help yesterday and today--I honestly don't know how I'd have made it through without her.

So yeah, if you ever have a chance to throw your back out, don't.

]{p

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who Names A Team "Fortress" Anyway?

So Evan and I have been playing Team Fortress 2 lately instead of our usual Left 4 Dead 2 sessions. You know, change of pace and all.

I've more or less got the hang of the game (I still can't play a spy worth shit, but I'm finally a functional engineer), and I'm struck by just how... well... completely unlike the Left 4 Dead games it is.

There is no story, there's very little backstory, and what backstory there is exists more for comedy. Ditto the characters (they have their own personalities, but there's no limit to how many can play at once). And while Left 4 Dead hand-holds you into the game, TF2 has a relatively steep learning curve. There are no tutorials, no sandboxes--there are tips, but they show up randomly.

Nope, you pretty much jump in and start playing and learn by dying a whole lot. Reminds me of old-school platformers that way.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar: Reactions

So Abby and I went to go see Avatar this weekend. The best description I've heard of it is that it's basically a $100 hamburger: well-crafted, painstakingly presented, thoroughly enjoyable, and at the end of the day, just a hamburger. A really good hamburger. But a hamburger nonetheless.

I didn't see it in 3D because I am done with 3D. I don't need the headache to witness the splendor. I will say this: I liked it. The plot was well-thought-out if not terribly adventurous. The plot twists were all telegraphed fairly early on. The fight scenes were great--Cameron really should do space operas. And the technical achievement of the film cannot be understated: the movie looks incredible. The CG characters emote believably, and the environments and creatures are splendidly real and visceral.

I will complain a little about the writing. The plot-driving McGuffin is a mineral called... wait for it... "unobtainium."

Yeah. Really. Spoken without irony.

There were a few other vocal gaffes: "take it to the next level" and "we're not in Kansas anymore" that were a bit hackneyed, but for the most part the characters were colloquial enough to be believable, if not eloquent.

It's curious to me that this film was released against Oscar hopefuls rather than as a summer blockbuster. I can't help but think that Cameron expects Avatar to be a shoe-in for Best Picture. And he's wrong. Although I wouldn't be too surprised if he managed a nomination.

Anyway, good flick, exciting, 'splody, gorgeous. Is it worth the hype? Probably not. Worth seeing? Well, you could do a lot worse for $10.

]{p

Sunday, December 20, 2009

To The Moon, Pie

This weekend, I ate a strawberry-flavored moonpie.

It is an abomination against nature.

]{p

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tabling This For Now

So I'm spending part of this weekend with my mother-in-law, which becomes an excuse for me to work on any of her collection of jigsaw puzzles.

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles--I don't do them very often, but I find them meditative. I hardly ever do them at home because we just don't have an accomodating surface for them--the coffee table is big enough, but it's also the coffee table. And it's got a lip on it that makes clean-up a bit tricky. So I've been saying that I need to get a card table, so I can do puzzles in the basement.

Anyway, since I'm here at my mother-in-law's (mother's-in-law?... grammar joke), part of me responsibility is to take back some presents, and I couldn't help but notice that one of them with my name on it is rather large and flat. And roughly card-table-shaped.

Makes me happy.

]{p

Friday, December 18, 2009

Even My Hair Is Wavey

Having played around with Wave, I'm beginning to see some of the uses. Google describes it as a tool for collaborative document editing, but to really grasp it's usefulness, you need to have a fairly loose definition for what constitutes a "document".

A document could be a proposed set list, or a set of suggestions for where to eat lunch, or a meeting agenda, or anything like that. I've been using it mostly as a notepad for things that I might want to share, particularly with bandmates. It's the kind of thing I use Google docs for, actually, but it's more flexible in some ways, especially with respect to sharing information.

Of course, the big drawback is still that no one actually checks their waves, but that will change as the usefulness becomes more evident. I'm still not convinced that it's any kind of be-all-end-all toy, but I'm a lot more optimistic than I was a few months ago.

Incidentally, I've got like a dozen invites, so if you or anyone you know wants to play around in it, just ask.

]{p

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reactions: Iron Man 2 Trailer

So, if you haven't checked out the trailer for Iron Man 2, do so now.

I'll wait.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, despite going into it with fairly modest expectations. It was big and 'splody but it had tremendous heart, a fair amount of wit, and a wonderfully charming leading man whose struggles against his very real demons externalized themselves in fantastically sci-fi ways. It looks like everything is going to continue in that vein with the sequel.

We get a brief glimpse of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Don Cheadle as War Machine, but it looks like the main conflict is going to be against Whiplash, played by a nearly unrecognizable Mickey Rourke (although the character is said to be equal parts Whiplash/Backlash and Crimson Dynamo). It looks pretty damned spiffy.

So I'm excited. Your thoughts?

]{p

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blue-Cat-People-Ray

This is early speculation on my part.

For a while now I've been saying that blu-ray will never take off as a format because it doesn't have a vehicle propelling it. The tech is starting to get cheap enough and enough people have hi-def television these days, but there's no movie that you have to own and that must be owned on blu-ray. Not like The Matrix was for DVD.

Again, this is speculation. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have a suspicion that Avatar is going to be that movie.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why, This Collection Is Filthy

So I picked up Madonna's The Immaculate Collection the other day. I was born in the 80's, but I definitely missed out on its music, including Madge's hayday, but it's fun to look back and rediscover a once-phenomenon like that.

If you sift out all the 80's production values and synths, there's a lot of sex appeal layered into those songs, even as far back as Holiday.

So, that's interesting.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury...

Abby related to me that the original women's "sufferagettes" were a militant group in England that burned homes, restaurants and churches, cut phone lines, smashed government buildings' windows, sent explosives by mail, and bombed Westminster Abbey. Eventually, women in England got the vote, and I think there's a lesson here for all of us.

Terrorism: sometimes, it works.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pleasant Surprise: Humpday

Watched a movie the other night called Humpday about two friends who decide to make an art-porn together. Here's the gimmick: they're both straight males, and they would be having sex with each other. I was amused enough by the trailer to drop this in my Netflix queue, and really the only reason I rented it was because I forgot that I had it in my Netflix queue at all. Eager to return it and wide awake, I popped it into the DVD player fully expecting to give up after twenty minutes (a la Shrink).

Instead, I was treated to a rather charming film that isn't about weird sex at all. Weird sex is the background noise to a dramedy about friendship and marriage and the weirdness that inhabits both of those worlds.

Ben is settling into adulthood. He's new-ish-ly married, his man-cave has been converted into a nursery-to-be (although his wife, Anna, isn't pregnant yet). He has a mortgage and a beer gut and and is fairly happy with his life. Then, at 1:30 in the morning, his Bohemian former-best-friend Andrew knocks on his door.

The two friends catch up. The next day Andrew falls in with a "Dionysian" commune and invites Ben to a party where there is a lot of alcohol, a little pot, precious little inhibition, and much talk of the upcoming "Humpfest" amateur porn festival. On a drunken whim, Ben and Andrew decide that they should make a film together.

Mild Spoilers Ahead

The premise of Humpday is pretty far out, but the filmmakers sell it by taking the focus off of the premise and instead exploring the way it strains very realistic relationships. For example, Ben goes to the party to collect Andrew because Anna was going to make her "world-famous pork chops" but Andrew is already cooking for the party and they invite Anna over instead. It quickly turns into a "honey, you can come to this party if you want to, but it's not really your scene, but I'm going to put in a quick appearance and then come home" scenario that should be achingly familiar to any married man in the audience.

And Anna totally calls him on it. She constantly surprises the viewer by having a much firmer grasp on the situation than Ben realizes and not only calling his bullshit, but understanding where it's coming from (which, again, should be achingly familiar to married men). She comes across with wonderful depth. The morning after the party (Ben having stood her up for dinner and stayed out until 3 in the morning), she wakes him up up by mounting him but telling him that she's angry with him and doesn't want to talk to him. But what at first appears to be an angry (if awkward) sex scene becomes a little bit more tragic when Ben asks her what's going on. Well, she's really pissed off at him, and they were supposed to have sex the night before because she was ovulating and it was a last-ditch effort to get pregnant this month and never-mind-I'm-just-too-angry-at-you-to-go-through-with-it.

It's a reveal to both Ben and the viewer--Ben had previously told Andrew that he and Anna were only sort-of trying to get pregnant, that if it happens it happens. This scene illustrates the difference between Anna's head space versus Ben's, and it highlights the main conflict of the film: the disparity between the person Ben thinks he is (as evidenced by his Bohemian roots and his friend Andrew) and the person that he has agreed to be (a husband and father).

Now you would expect that Anna would object to Ben's wish to have sex with his friend, and she does--it's a plot point. And you wouldn't expect Ben and Andrew to still want to go through with their movie once they've sobered up. And you'd be right, but they find themselves in a weird sort of competition--Andrew to prove to himself and the world that he really is an artist (despite his having never made a piece of art) and Ben to prove to the world that he's open-minded and adventurous (despite the wife and mortgage). It turns into a sort of pissing contest--if you won't have sex with this man, then you're a pussy.

And I love the irony of that particular sentiment.

I won't tell you whether they go through with it--as the last third of the movie is devoted to sorting that out. But it's a fun film that doesn't overstay its welcome (93 minute running time, baby) and has a lot of reality and heart buried under the weird sex gimmick driving it.

]{p

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Know, I'm One To Talk

I'm so bothered by the tendency towards ignorance in political discourse. Bill Maher comes out against the H1N1 vaccine. Any doctor in the world will tell you that it's worthwhile, but one comedian thinks he knows better?

Hilary Clinton vocally says that the people know what's better for the economy than economists, never mind that economists are paid to know about the economy. Anti-evolution religious figures and climate-change deniers claim to have a better understanding of science than scientists.

In short, it seems commonplace for a random person to believe that they know more about a given discipline than people who have devoted their professional lives to the study of that discipline.

Hubris.

]{p

Friday, December 4, 2009

Terminator Stagnation

Finally got around to see Terminator Salvation and I can think of no better way to describe it than this:

It's a big-budget fan-fic.

SPOILERS AHEAD

TS's action sequences are big and 'splody, but there is no drama. The second-act plot twist that Marcus is a terminator was given away in the trailers. The third-act plot twist that the machine-killing McGuffin and the presence of Marcus are Skynet-engineered subterfuge are clever but rather obvious. The characters do absolutely nothing to endear themselves to you--we root for John Conner because he's John mother-fucking Conner and for no other reason. He's heralded as a prophet and a respected leader, but we don't ever get to see him do anything that is particularly charismatic or respectable. Rather, he's generic tough with requisite dark-melancholy. If you don't already know about the going-back-in-time plot device that fuels the first films, you're just out of luck. We get next to no explanation of why Kyle Reece is important, just the assurance that he's extremely important.

And, in the manner of true fan-fiction, the movie is littered with homages both subtle and holy-crap-did-John-Conner-just-say-"I'll-be-back"?!?!?! We get a retread of the liquid steel and frozen terminator sequences from T2 (in fact, that entire fight scene was eerily reminiscent of the second film's factory climax). We get a bombed out gas station in the middle of a desert outside Los Angeles that looks surprisingly like the gas station in the middle of the desert outside Los Angeles from the end of the first film (may be coincidence, anyone else get that vibe?). When Conner blares a radio in the street, the song that plays is Gn'R's You Could Be Mine, which was the highly promoted single from the second movie's soundtrack.

And then we get a naked Arnold. In short, a movie that could have been a stand-alone action thriller in a very unique setting is instead a series of action set-pieces punctuated by inside jokes and a complete lack of character development.

Of course, I have a larger beef with the continuing Terminator franchise. The first movie made sense. James Cameron took a wild premise and made it fairly believable by focusing on the human struggle and by being James mother-fucking Cameron. Then he made the second movie, which was bigger and 'splodier than the first, but he still made it work. And the end of that film was a beautiful way to cap off the franchise--and really, how could it go on? How could a John Conner who was coddled and protected as a child ever grow up to be the fearsome warrior who would save mankind. Frankly, T2 stretched the range of believability on that end and only redeemed itself by averting the Judgment Day calamity altogether. Yeah, they managed to send back another set of Terminators, and yeah, we decided to send them later in time because, well, I'm not sure why. But we went with it because it was a phenomenal film with cool new special effects that was able to tell a hugely emotional story. I love the fact that part of the T-1000's downfall is that he assumes a mother can be tortured into betraying her child.

Everything after that is cinematic masturbation--making more films (and TV shows) that are poor executions of a hugely popular brand name.

Meh.

]{p

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Message This

So a while back (i.e., last month) I wrote about Microsoft's ploy to inflate Bing's search numbers by incorporating it into the file-search feature of Windows XP. This is just one strand in a web of Microsoft being deceptive dicks that we've all dealt with at some point. I got another taste of it last week.

I don't use Outlook express. I don't use MSN messenger. But I missed the Internet link and accidentally opened Outlook Express. Ever since, MSN messenger loads on startup, even though I don't have it configured with a profile. It sits there, broken and disconnected, in my system tray.

Microsoft is doing what people bitch about Apple doing--trying to tell you how to use your computer. At least Apple has no pretense about it.

]{p

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Even More Left 4 Dead 2 Impression

So I've been paying particular attention to the differences between Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2.

For starters, 2 has much more varied gameplay. At launch, the first L4D had four campaigns that were more or less identical--they all played out the same way but they took place on different maps. The five campaigns in the sequel all have their own unique flavors. Dead Center goes for the zombie-slasher-flick vibe full-bore. It has the most plot-centric progression, it has none-too-subtle nods to other zombie movies (the last half of the campaign takes place in a mall).

Dark Carnival feels like a pretty straight-forward L4D experience, but Swamp Fever has a much more open-world vibe. Hard Rain is probably the most survival-horror of them, and the go-there-and-come-back nature of the level makes it stand out. The Parish in many ways feel like the epitome of what a L4D2 campaign is. The panic events are nearly all in the new gauntlet style, and it has the only gauntlet-style finale, in which you run across a bridge against a head-on cavalcade of infected.

The other substantial difference between this game and its predecessor is that the maps feel much more open--the maps in the original game had plenty of areas to explore, but the areas were tighter-quartered. The openness of the sequel means that the special infected can't sneak up on you as easily and are easier to defend against. They counteract this by throwing even more of them at you. Just this evening I came to a safe room only to be set upon by a Jockey and two Hunters.

Still enjoying it very much, though.

]{p

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey's Don't, However

Time flies. Thanksgiving is over and now we start Christmas shopping season which will take us at a dead run through the end of the year. Then the '00's are over, and we move on to the teen years of the decade.

Happy Black Friday everyone,
]{p

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Try The Veal

It's Thanksgiving, the day of the year when we all get together and remember what we're thankful for. And what, you may ask, am I thankful for?

A goddam four-day weekend.

Happy Holidays!

]{p

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Um, Blogless?

Guess what I forgot to do last night. Write an entry for this morning.

This might be an indicator that I'm running out of things to say.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dammit, Jim

Re-watched Star Trek. The more I watch it, the less it stands up to scrutiny, but it's still a damn fun flick.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

It Doesn't Help That "Binging" Mean Drinking To Excess

So apparently Microsoft's new re-branded search engine Bing has 10% of the market share for internet searches. This seems pretty remarkable until you think about how they did it.

You see, they've re-programmed their entire line to use Bing. It's the default search on IE. In fact, on XP the other day, I did a search for a file from the start bar and that popped up a Bing search. In short, Microsoft has dedicated the most popular operating system in the world to using Bing, and after all that effort, they only have 10% of the market.

Pretty pathetic, I'd say.

]{p

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong

There weren't many males in the audience at this show (like, could count on two hands), and few of those were under fifty. That said, there were two in the front row: myself and some blond guy. Both of us were at the front of the line to get in, both of us sang along with almost every song, and both of us were utter fanboys.

I've been following Vienna Teng for longer than I've known my wife (and Abby and I started dating almost five and a half years ago). Her music is rich with atmosphere, has wonderfully inventive and intelligent lyrics, and and draws from a broad swath of varied musical influences, wrapping it all around solid pop sensibilities. So you get songs like Antebellum, which uses the Civil War as a metaphor for lovers growing apart, or No Gringo, a song about Americans trying to illegally emigrate to Mexico after some unnamed disaster had left the U.S. in ruins.

I've seen her play three times now, and this time I managed to bring four other people--two of whom had never heard of her prior to my intervention. I could run down highlights, but I don't think anyone would know any of the songs I'm talking about, so I will pause to mention that the Star Wars "cantina" theme found its way into the bridge of In Another Life eliciting some laughter from myself and others. That prompted Vienna to point out that some of her fellow nerds had been "outed". I also inadvertently started a series of awful "Is that a Vienna Teng CD in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" jokes (answer: both).

But the real take-away from the show was Alex Wong. I've seen him as part of her backing band and heard his production influence on her albums (which gives her latest--Inland Territory--some of its wonderful weirdness), and I knew him to be a competent percussionist, but good lord. He is an incredible musician. He usually played two or three instruments at a time, a typical example being Harbor, in which he played a xylophone with his left hand, a two-piece drum kit with his right hand, a kjone with his foot, and sang backup all at the same time. He would switch instruments or sticks without missing a beat, sometimes flipping sticks around in the air to use different ends during different parts of the same measure. He would grab two mallets in one hand to do a cymbal swell and then discard them for a shaker faster than I was able to keep track. Awed, I am.

And will definitely be seeing him/them/her again the next time they're through St. Louis.

]{p

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Impressions

My expectations for Left 4 Dead 2 were pretty high, but having played through most half of it now, I have to say that the game has so far met or exceeded them all.

The original Left 4 Dead worked with the conceit that you were actually a character in a movie about a zombie apocalypse. The characters from that game were cardboard cut-outs, the stuff of slasher fiction: a grizzled veteran without a war to fight, an energetic yuppie who has been ripped from his life of urban familiarity, a dimwitted thug with a heart of gold, and a hot chick. The quartet fights their way through a city that has already fallen to pieces. The tone of the game was highly stylized, but the panic events and finales had a certain realism to them.

If Left 4 Dead was a slasher, Left 4 Dead 2 is a grindhouse flick. Valve has turned everything up: larger maps, more zombies, more outrageous events in a bleaker and crazier setting. The second campaign of the game takes place in an amusement park where you're chased around by zombie clowns. It ends when you take the stage that had been set up for the band Midnight Riders and set off pyrotechnics to attract a passing helicopter, all while beating zombies to hell with the band's guitars. Bye-bye realism.

For example, in the first campaign, an NPC (non-playable character, for those of you playing along at home) agrees to clear a path for you, which he does by setting off an explosion. He does this under the condition that you go across the street to the store and get him some cola--which will set off an alarm and summon the horde. Before you go, he lets you raid his gun shop, providing a nice kid-in-a-candy store moment. None of this makes any sense if you look at them through a lens of reality, but it works.

In part, Valve gets away with this by giving us more grounded characters. Our heroes have a bit more personality and depth than their predecessors, and there's a level of storytelling layered into the campaigns that deepens the game without interrupting it, all using character dialog and scenery. In many ways, the storytelling elements of this game are dramatically influenced by Portal--with setting and character interactions driving the story rather than plot. Not surprisingly, the game is pretty immersing: the levels are still linear, but they don't feel linear. You're still being led around by the nose, but you don't feel like you are. You feel lost without actually being lost. The background plot is there if you want to find it, but the real story comes from the characters.

In short, Left 4 Dead 2 is what a sequel is supposed to be: a better game. It builds on all the strengths of the original and improves upon the weaknesses. And through all of this, it never takes itself too seriously. There's kind of a push these days to make games "cinematic", but these games often fall pretty flat. It's amusing to me that Left 4 Dead and it's sequel are games that pretend to be cinematic, but focus on being quality gaming experiences. In fact, if they ever made a movie of the campaigns in the L4D franchise, it'd probably be a pretty horrible movie, but it'd be a movie that looked like it had been blast to make.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Missing: A Kurt

As I write this, it is 1 hour and 45 minutes to the release of Left 4 Dead 2. So, if I don't answer the phone, that's why, you know.

]{p

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good Music

Thought I'd take a break from all this Beatles talk to about plain old ordinary good music. Of course, when I say "good", I'm referring to the songs from my iTunes list whose titles start with the word "Good".

  • Better Than Ezra - Good
  • The Dresden Dolls - Good Day
  • The Beatles - Good Day Sunshine

And it only took us three songs to get to a Beatles title. Let's see if we can avoid that again.

  • Sarah McLachlan - Good Enough
  • Violent Femmes - Good Feeling
  • Third Eye Blind - Good For You (I effing love this song, by the way)
  • Foo Fighters - Good Grief
  • OK Go - A Good Idea At The Time
  • Weezer - The Good Life
  • The Beatles - Good Morning Good Morning

More Beatles? Seriously? Damn.

  • Good Morning Starshine (from the Hair soundtrack)
  • The Beatles - Good Night

Well, shit. Okay, but Ringo sings that one, it hardly counts.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic - Good Old Days
  • Green Day - Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Good Soldier
  • Chic - Good Times
  • DJ Rap - Good To Be Alive (man, has anyone even heard of these songs?)
  • The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
  • Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch - Good Vibrations

Okay, not Beatles, but really freaking funny. To me, anyway.

  • Pink Floyd - Goodbye Blue Sky
  • Pink Floyd - Goodbye Cruel World
  • Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Imogen Heap - Goodnight And Go
  • Seatbelts - Goodnight Julia
  • Paul McCartney - Goodnight Tonight (doesn't count, doesn't count!!!)
  • Collective Soul - Goodnight, Good Guy

Whew.

]{p

Saturday, November 14, 2009

God Is On The iTunes List

My musical traipsing, upheld somewhat by The Beatles, has brought me to God. Well, to songs that start with the word "God" anyway.

We get:

  • Tori Amos - God
  • Alice In Chains - God Am
  • The Wallflowers - God Don't Make Lonely Girls
  • Nine Inch Nails - God Given
  • Queens Of The Stone Age - God Is On The Radio
  • Cowboy Mouth - God Makes The Rain
  • Moby - God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters
  • Third Eye Blind - God Of Wine
  • Coldplay - God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  • Alice In Chains - God Smack (originally title God Smash... I kid)
  • Metallica - The God That Failed
Not too many. Not nearly as many as there are "Goods".

]{p

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seriously, Though, Let's Get Away From The 'B' Names

I've had occasion to re-watch both of Rian Johnson's films lately, those being Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Apart from a love of the letter 'B', the movies have almost nothing in common.

Brick is a 40's-style hard-boiled noir detective story set in a modern day California high school. It's smart, funny, daring, well-crafted, made on the cheap, and is one of my favorite movies to come out in the last few years.

The Brothers Bloom, I must admit, disappointed me at first. I was expecting something... a little more like Brick, and what I got instead was a screwball comedy fairy-tale disguised as a con movie. And don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed watching it, but I found the ending a bit anti-climactic for a con-movie. That said, upon repeated viewings, it has endeared itself to me and revealed more of its character to me.

And in this way, it's very much like Brick, which I have seen probably a dozen times now, and in which I can still find new nuances and layers to the depth of the story. I'm reminded a little bit of Kubrick, whose films you watched once to see the story and then again to just look at the visuals and admire the craft. Unlike Kubrick, however, Johnson's films don't have the same artistic flare that permeated Kubrick's and often got in the way of the storytelling.

Anyway, I've ranted far longer than I intended to in this post, but I'll close by saying that I'm deeply interested in whatever Rian Johnson is directing next. His first two films are not for everyone, but they're smart, well-made, and singularly unique, so check them out anyway.

]{p

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Is An Arcadium, Anyway?

Over the weekend I had a chance to listen to Red Hot Chili Pepper's Stadium Arcadium from start to finish for the first time in a while--and it's a double-album, twenty-eight tracks altogether. And while the RHCP sound is certainly dominated by Flea's bass insanity and Anthony's raps about sex and geography, this time around I was most impressed by John Fruciante's guitar work. Particularly, listen to Charlie and Turn it Again, in which the guitar layering is most evident. Both songs devolve into guitar breaks for their endings and feature some fantastic melodic hooks.

Of course, the whole album is pretty kick-ass. I think you could have picked four songs at random and called them singles (I love the opener, Dani California, but I couldn't say that it's any stronger than Death of a Martian, which closes the album). I'm also amused by the random trumpet lines that show up in songs (e.g., Turn it Again or Hump De Bump) because Flea, in addition to being one of the most prominent bassists in the world, is an equally skilled trumpet player.

Anyway, nothing profound to say. Just that this record makes me happy.

]{p

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Steam Powered Fail

Argh, my install of Steam got corrupted and couldn't be repaired, meaning I've lost most of the games I have installed on this computer.

Of course, the beauty of Steam is that I could just uninstall the client and then reinstall it and I've got everything back. But that means I have to reinstall, well, every game I feel like playing that was purchased through Steam.

Which takes a while.

Ugh. No L4D for Kurt tonight.

]{p

Sunday, November 8, 2009

There's Also A "Leggy-Blonde"

I love the fact that I can walk into the office and say "Dude, Leather-Boots is Kitten-Liver" and at least one or two people will know what I'm talking about.

This comes from working in an office where we only know people in the building by their physical appearance or vehicles (for those of you playing at home, "Kitten-Liver" comes from a license plate: KTNLVR).

So there's corporate culture for you. And, for the record, Leather-Boots did, in fact, turn out to be the same person as Kitten-Liver.

]{p

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some "Random" Entries Are More Random Than Others

Dude, I totally forgot to celebrate Guy Fawkes day. I was gonna, like, blow up some shit... and stuff.

I'll be in Kansas City for the weekend, my only computer an underpowered EEEPC with an uncomfortably small keyboard. So, if I don't respond to comments, that's why.

]{p

Friday, November 6, 2009

Don't Tell Me "Rise of Cobra" Isn't Sexual

So Abby and I rented G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to see if it is as truly awful as everyone says. And the verdict is: yes, it's pretty bad. Thankfully, it's not unwatchably bad. I didn't want to gouge my eyes out or just turn it off and walk away (like we did with Shrink earlier this week). But it hinges on some pretty stupid ideas.

And I blame the director for all of it. The film is a study in poor execution. It hits all the right beats, but it stumbles over itself. There's a grace and poise to some of the action sequences, but there's a whole lot of senseless chaos as well. There are huge special effects sequences, but they all look really, really fake. Every single plot twist was telegraphed; every plot point was overstated. Really, for me the unintentional laughs started with the fancy Hasbro production logo.

Main themes of the script include: becoming evil means dying your hair black and donning glasses. Or burning your face and wearing some kind of mask. What else... oh yeah, science is evil. And intelligent women don't believe in emotions. It's basically an affront against nerds, and who do they think is going to see this movie if not nerds? On a storytelling level, there were no fewer than seven unnecessary flashback sequences (eight if you count Baroness's frequent flitting remembrances of a better time with Duke). Cobra Commander controls the world by brainwashing all of his minions with nano-technology (seriously...). He's the only real bad-guy in the movie. Well, Destro started out bad, then he became a pawn... and Storm Shadow was bad, because his rivalry with Snake Eyes needed to be a plot point for some reason... something to do with honor and swordplay and being Japanese. Seriously...

The film was horribly miscast--Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fine actor, but he's not menacing. His character was a blatant rip-off of Darth Vader. Channing Tatum looked the part for Duke, but he didn't do anything outside the typical grizzled soldier routine. Baroness was okay--Sienna Miller is not exactly a powerhouse of acting prowess, but she filled her bustier... erm, role well enough (she did quite well when you look at the script--during a terrorist attack she stopped to tell a woman "nice shoes"... seriously...). But Marlon Wayans as Ripcord? Really? You made an action movie and your first instinct was "we need us a Wayans"? That was bad, but not egregious. Brendan Fraser as Sgt. Slaughter was egregious. Jonathan Price (British accent and all) as the President of the United States was egregious.

The design was over-the-top to the point of laughable, like the rest of it. And without any sense of coordination--at the end we have Cobra Commander and Destro and from a distance they looked exactly alike.

I'm sad at the potential--there were lots of little moments that I thought could have had some weight if done correctly. Such as the Baroness's redemption at the end: she's in prison (oh yeah, spoiler alert) and says she'll never get out because of all the horrible things she's done, but Duke says it wasn't really her, they kiss, yay! It could have been a little darker, a little heavier if she had said something instead that all the horrible things she had done really were her--she might not have started out as the kind of person who would kill people, but she is now, and she's not going back. You know, character arc, that kind of thing.

But what should I really expect from a Hasbro production?

]{p

Potential alternate title: "Hasbro, Will Travel"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Aesthetics of Politics (In North Carolina, Anyway)

I'm torn. The worst campaign website in the world went up recently, for George Hutchins in 2010. It's laughably awful. A coworker described it as "clawing up from the depths of Hell to stab him in the eyes".

Part of me feels so bad for the guy. I just want to point out all the horrible, horrible flaws in design and, you know, sentence structure. Clue him in on little things: "Pot Smoking" is not a noun and should not be used as a subject. Use the gerund phrase "Smoking pot" instead. Shy away from the comma key a bit. Believe me, when I'm telling you that you use too many commas, you use way too many freaking commas.

I want to leave comments in his forums, telling him that the poster linking to efowl.com is fucking with him! And basic web stuff--backgrounds should not be stark red. Words should usually be the same color when they appear in the same sentence. Rather than listing your sentences sequentially, organize them into paragraphs. You know.

And I particularly like this (which I've reproduced sans formatting for the ease of all our eyes):
"America is a Great Nation, due to our Diversity; but ONLY WHEN, This Diversity is VOLUNTARY."
Okay, you clearly do not know how to properly use a semi-colon, a comma, or capital letters. And really, is diversity what makes America great? When did America become a university?

I just want to clutch the poor misguided web-designer to my bosom and tell him "There there, it'll be all right" and outline the various ways that this site is an abomination to the eyes. And at the same time, I'd hate for Mr. Hutchins to take my advice and suddenly seem, you know, like a serious politician.

So, like I said. I'm torn.

]{p

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wave Hello (I Hope)

I did finally get my Google Wave invite the other day (I don't remember if I mentioned it here or not). And now I'm stuck with the task of trying to contrive a use for it.

Yeah.

Don't get me wrong, it's really cool, and it's really powerful. Watching the Google demos makes it look really, truly exciting. But watching the Google employees show how they use Wave brings to light a major, major flaw with Wave.

It's designed to be used by smart people. Google's developers and product managers are pretty smart. Most internet users. Not so much.

]{p

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Of Course, I Do Know Several Robs

So I got a comment on this post in which someone named Rob provided a genuine answer to a rather sarcastic question.

I'm not chiding "Rob" for the info, I'm actually rather glad he responded. First of all, he provided information, rather than simply trolling.

Also, it leads me to believe that every now and then someone actually reads this thing.

]{p

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Introducing Google Blank!

Anybody else notice the weirdness with Google lately? How they're not showing anything except the logo and search bar until you actually move around the mouse and such.

I don't think there's a joke to it--I think they've taken their philosophy of minimalism and taken it to the next logical step. It's just a matter of time before Google's home page is nothing but a blank screen where you type and magic happens.

Oddly enough, that's more or less the way opening a new tab in Chrome works.

There may be nothing to "get", but that said, I still don't get it.

]{p

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Even The Muzzle Flares Look Good!

Happy Halloween.

Speaking of dressing up, can someone please explain the camouflage that soldiers wear these days? Why is it all digital-looking? Are our troops hiding behind pixelated flora? Is it some kind of homage to classic first-person shooters.

I realize that most of our soldiers learned to shoot by playing Doom and Wolfenstein, but graphics are much better-looking these days.

]{p

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Is My Rifle, There Are Many Like It...

Speaking of Left 4 Dead, some disagreement has arisen amongst my gaming friends (many of whom at least claim to read this blog) about the usefulness of the Hunting Rifle. I had taken for granted that it was a sort of red-herring weapon, there to distract gullible players. Almost everyone in the game forums agrees that the best possible combination of weapons is two shotguns and two automatics (everyone capable of forming a properly-punctuated sentence, anyway). I decided to try it out on a few campaigns and make up my own mind, and I reached the following conclusion:

The Hunting Rifle is both the most over and under-rated weapon in the game.

For the uninitiated (the initiated are free to skip this paragraph), L4D is a first-person zombie-apocalypse shooter. You and your three friends roam the city trying to get from safe-room to safe-room until you can find an evacuation point. You have a primary weapon and a pistol (or two) with unlimited ammunition as a backup. Along the way you'll find three "good" weapons, almost always grouped together: an automatic shotgun, an assault rifle, and The Hunting Rifle, which has a smaller clip and slower fire rate, but packs a mighty wallop and can be fired accurately over a great distance.

Hunting Rifle lovers point out the strengths: you can take down a Tank or a Witch at a distance without having to reload (on Easy or Normal, anyway) and that bullets pierce multiple enemies (the shotguns do that too, but have a far shorter range of effectiveness). What I found it most effective for was clearing out big open spaces from a distance. We've all done it--you come around a bend and find a large open area with maybe 30 infected in it. With a Hunting Rifle you can clear that out in about twenty seconds. Without one, you get close enough to start picking them off and the rest mob you.

HR detractors will point out that the weapon is basically useless in close quarters or against Common Infected on the move. And they're right. Even with the extra powerful bullets, it is far less useful than an automatic shotgun, which also pierces and has a wider target area. When I played with the HR, if the action got too close, I found myself switching to dual pistols, because I could fire twice as many bullets in the same span of time (doubling my chance of hitting anything--you can't take careful aim the middle of a mob) and reload just as fast (if not faster). But perhaps the biggest issue with the HR is that it lends itself to distraction--it's very tempting to use the scope to pick-off far off targets, but there are often better ways of dealing with them (pipe-bombs or simple avoidance come to mind). And waiting around while someone plays "sniper" can cause the AI Director to send another horde at you.

So you have the odd duality of the Hunting Rifle: it is a sublime asset in some situations, a liability and a distraction in others. So I think it can be used effectively, but the key to its use is in knowing when to not use it. Don't charge to the front and start sniping--hang in the back and snipe when needed; use your pistols the rest of the time. You also need to have a team accustomed to fighting with a sniper who will call him/her to the front when the time is right and protect him/her when the horde arrives.

]{p

Thursday, October 29, 2009

L4D2 Impressions

After a few delays and epic shit-tons of anticipation, the early access demo for Left 4 Dead 2 dropped for pre-purchasers. I'm a pretty big fan of the original, so please allow me to throw my two cents in regarding our glimpse of the sequel.

The demo lets you play through two chapters of the final campaign (about twenty to twenty-five minutes of gameplay or about 1/12 of a single run through the total game). My conclusion: L4D2 is everything we want out of a sequel--more of everything that worked in the original, less of what didn't work, and new and inventive additions. And let me also address the naysayers: we could not have gotten this game by incrementing through free downloadable content. This is a totally new game with vast improvements, so quit your goddamn bitching!

The key to this game is "more". More campaigns, more gameplay modes, more enemies, more variety in both your weapons and your enemies, more story, more well-rounded characters, etc, etc, etc. And all that "more" mostly works. I will say that the demo never felt like it got bogged down by the additions--and we weren't all veterans playing either. We had someone over that had never played the first one; we gave him a quick tutorial on the gameplay and by the end of the first chapter, he was keeping up and killing things alongside the rest of us.

My only real complaint, and I hesitate to call it a "complaint", is with the new Special Infected. I like them, I just found them a bit underwhelming. The Spitter feels like a less-dangerous Boomer. The Charger feels like a less-dangerous Tank. The Jockey feels like a less-dangerous hybrid between a Hunter and a Smoker. The Wandering Witch behaves just like a regular Witch, only now she can't block off paths, making her much more avoidable. Coupled with the inclusion of the old SI's, the new ones gave us variety, but not much of a challenge.

The addition of Uncommon-Common Infected certainly made up for it. So far I've only gotten to play against the riot-gear-wearing infected, who are more or less immune to a frontal attack. Having those mixed in with the normal horde did a lot to spice up gameplay, and I'm supremely interested to see how the different UCI's add to the challenge and character of the levels they inhabit.

The really dramatic improvement of this game over its predecessor comes from the weapons. In the original game, you had a shotgun, an Uzi, or a pistol, and could eventually find an automatic shotgun, an assault rifle, a hunting rifle, and dual-wielded pistols. 98% of players go with either the shotgun or the automatic (whichever version of either that they happen to have handy), with pistols as a backup. Since all guns are found grouped into caches, everyone just goes straight to their favorite.

The L4D2 guns are far more organically placed, forcing players to occasionally use a gun they don't prefer. Additionally, there are many different types of each class of gun. We encountered two different pistols, three assault rifles, two handheld fully-automatics, and three shotguns--each with its own unique character. Furthermore, rather than having your secondary weapon be a pistol, you can swap it out for any number of melee weapons, everything from a cricket bat to a frying pan to an electric guitar. I was skeptical at first--would I really want to forgo dual-pistols just so I could wield a melee weapon?

Then I tried out the machete. After I picked that up, I barely even fired my primary weapon. Hacking the infected to pieces was just too much fun.

There's also a "bile bomb" (Boomer puke, essentially) that can summon the horde to attack whatever you throw it at--which is interesting and great for bringing down Tanks. It's not quite as cool as the plain old pipe bomb, which attracts infected and then sends bits of them flying every which way (as opposed to vaporizing them like the original game... pipe bombs are so much fun to watch now).

So, all told, I was looking forward to playing L4D2, and now my appetite has been whetted. It looks to be a dramatic improvement over what was already a fantastic game. I'm excited.

]{p

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Accidents Happen

So yesterday morning I was turning into the parking lot at my office, and the car in front of me was driving very slow, but since I was blocking a lane of traffic (turning left and all), I hugged her fender pretty close. Then she stopped. Then her reverse lights came one. Then I started honking my horn, but she didn't stop until she hit my front bumper.

It wasn't a bad hit. She was probably going 1mph when she hit me--we took one look and decided that it wasn't worth pursuing, there was no visible damage and no reason to think either of us had been injured. So she left... out the other entrance to the lot. Apparently she had planned to use the lot as a turn-around and hadn't bothered to look behind her as she backed up.

Whatever. It's rainy, it's morning, we all make mistakes. No blood, no foul. But in retrospect I'm a little irked at her total lack of concern. I understand not wanting to say that she's sorry because it might appear that she's claiming fault (which you're never supposed to do), but once we'd established that we weren't going to call our insurers, there was no reason to keep up the charade. I was standing still--it was pretty clearly her fault. She didn't even ask if I was okay.

Damned inconsiderate, if you ask me.

]{p

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Case You Don't Hear From Me...

So, I decided to try out a casual game that showed up on Steam last week called Everyday Genius: SquareLogic.

The oddly titled puzzler is the first outing from developer TrueThought [citation needed] and is similar to the recent game KenKen that's been running on the New York Times website.

Also, it's been DEVOURING MY SOUL.

Avoid it if you can, or check out the free demo if you have hours and hours free for the rest of your life. There are literally tens of thousands of puzzles in there, all math-based, and covering a broad swath of skill sets. At the end of the day, it's all simple logic. You have a square grid. Like Sudoku, you can only use each number once in a row or column. Numbers are grouped into "cages", and the numbers in each cage share some attribute: maybe they're all even, or they add up to 15, or some such. Based on the clues, you have to sort out what numbers go where.

They get progressively more complex and the grids get larger as you advance, but on any given level of difficulty (of which there are like 40), there are hundreds of puzzles (800 is typical, especially at the beginning), of which you really only have to beat one to advance.

Couple the uber-addictive-ness of it with the Steam Achievements (I'm kind of a sucker for achievements) and you get a puzzler well worth the $15 that is a complete time sink.

So, save yourself, 'sall I'm sayin'.

]{p

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Like Riding A Bicycle, Really

Overheard at work:

"I can't believe there are people who go their whole lives without ever learning how to comparison-shop."

]{p

Feeling quippy today. My apologies to anyone hoping for substance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Money Too

So this week I got to tell professional web developers to their faces why I didn't agree with their decisions. I enjoy that aspect of my job.

]{p

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Apolitical Post About The Left

How crazy is this?

Roughly twenty percent of the world's population is left-handed, but in a large part of the world, using one's left hand is taboo. I had a professor in college who remembered being told in grade school that writing left-handed was sinful (she's a lefty). Obviously, this was before baseball became the national pastime and south-paws gained some respect.

But seriously, we as a species have nothing better to do than pick on a fifth of the population for something that is absolutely meaningless?

]{p

Random trivia, half of the Beatles were left-handed. Anybody care to guess which ones? (before Abby does, because she knows).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That Look Is Sooooo 1997

So, I've sort of become the UI guy at work. There's job security in that, but more to the point, it means I have some credibility when I rag on other people's poorly-laid-out websites.

So, in honor of my place of newfound esteem: WebTender, you kind of suck.

]{p

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Con-Census

So I got the latest batch of census-related paranoia from a rather conservative fellow I know. I know of a lot of Republicans who are really big on trying to undermine the census, like it's so important to protect your private information from that government. Which, I get. I think they're over-worrying, but I agree that it's a legitimate concern.

What I don't get is that this is the same party that pushed The Patriot Act through.

]{p

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Like Orbital DORK Shock Troopers

We were watching something on Hulu not too long ago and got the option to watch a long-form commercial for Halo 3: ODST in lieu of the normal commercial breaks. This long-form commercial took the form of a Zune/ODST party where minor celebrities (e.g., Ryan Phillipe or the DJ from Incubus) sit around playing Halo 3: ODST and talking about the experience.

You can watch the entire video here (it's about three minutes long).

Also, ODST stands for "Orbital Drop Shock Troopers", if you're trying to figure out the joke in the title.

What I find so absurd about this is the set up. Four XBox's. Four TV's. Four couches. And all of these people are playing together but leaning back to shout at each other. It's like, they get some added enjoyment from being in the same room.

Remind me again, why have we abandoned local multi-player? It was games like Goldeneye with their 4-player death match that turned shooters from nerd pastime to social gathering. Maybe we could take a few steps back that direction.

'Sall I'm sayin'.

]{p

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sleep-Aggrivating

So my wife snores. Not often, in fact, not most of the time. But every now and then she'll roll onto her back and start snoring.

If this is keeping me awake, I'll move to tell her to roll over, and she'll stop before I even say anything. So I'll lay back down. And she'll start again. So I'll move to tell her to roll over. And she'll stop. Before I say anything.

Some nights this goes on for quite a while. Most nights I tell her to roll over anyway.

But it's interesting to me that, even in her sleep, my wife is messing with me.

]{p

Thursday, October 15, 2009

They Might Not Be Giants After All

I went to see They Might Be Giants at the Pageant last weekend. There were sock puppets. There was a confetti canon. One of my favorite albums was played in its entirety. So why wasn't it a better show?

I've seen TMBG before, back when they were promoting The Spine, and I found them pretty relentlessly entertaining with their on-stage antics and their near-constant berating of the audience. They seem to have acknowledged that nobody really cares about their new material anymore, so for this tour, they promised to play their most highly-regarded work, Flood in sequence, in its entirety. There would be a few breaks for "the telethon", or some such (never did quite catch that joke). In short, they made a pretty hefty promise with this show.

Let's start with the opening act: two Irish boys who sang folksy love songs with a guitar. The music was solidly okay, just North of mediocre. If they had been Jon Secada, they could have done all right with those songs in the 90's. They did completely undermine their penultimate number. It had a build towards the end in which the line "Let's get naked and get under the sheets" is repeated eight times, but before starting the song, the singer told us a story about his nephew hearing that song and singing "Let's get naked and get under the sheep". Good story, but when it came song-time, I couldn't think about anything other than sheep during that would-be emotional climax of the song.

On to TMBG. They started pretty strong, playing a few numbers before launching into Flood. But right from the get-go, there were sound issues. John Linnell's vocal was too low, and I don't think I could ever hear Flansburgh's guitar. Besides the sound issues, there were a number of technical problems, not the least of which was that they botched the set list.

After Dead, they took their first break (for sock puppets) and came back and started with Someone Keeps Moving My Chair. Which means they skipped four songs: Your Racist Friend, Particle Man, Twistin', and We Want a Rock. They remembered them throughout the show and so they were peppered across the set rather than actually being played in sequence. It's not a big deal, I know. It didn't ruin the show for me. But it's indicative of the kind of amateurish mistakes that went on during the rest of the show. From their banter, it seemed like the set list had been printed wrong prior to the show's start. But nobody caught that? Even when they announced the sixth song (out of nineteen) as the start of "side 2", nobody stopped to say "wait, that can't be right"?

At one point Flansburgh commented that the only way the show could have been more awkward was if they had played in their pajamas.

The other problem I had was that the arrangements differed pretty wildly from what's on the album. I understand that certain songs that have been played to death are going to feel a bit stale and change over the years--I get that. And I also realize Flood was recorded when the band was playing along with a tape; it was never meant to be played live with, you know, instruments.

Still, it's my opinion that they veered to far off course. Sometimes they would sing missing instrumental parts, sometimes they would skip sections of songs, and what their sax player actually played when called upon to play never resembled what had been there on the recording.

It may sound like I'm nitpicking, but I'm not the only one who felt a little disappointed. By the second encore, I think everyone around us was just ready for the show to be over.

And I guess it's most frustrating because I know they're capable of putting on a better performance than that. Oh well.

]{p

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Death And Facebook

I found out this week that former classmate, Anna Rodriguez, passed on last Monday after suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of twenty-six. I'd friended her on Facebook perhaps three weeks ago, although we were never particularly close--I would describe our real-life relationship as "friendly" rather than "friendship". Nonetheless I'm sad to see her go, and I'm particularly struck by the weirdness of the phenomenon of death on a social network.

Because it's not like your status changes to "dead" when you die. Rather, there's your profile showing you alive and intact while your wall and comments sections become a sort of memorial to you. It's a bit surreal, especially because it is completely unfiltered. You get remembrances with LOL-style abbreviations or typed in all caps. Anna's last status update was to say that she was "ready for a change". A few people commented on the irony of that being her final post--someone even commented that "GOD heard your plea and although we may not understand it, he made a change". I'm pretty sure that's not what Anna meant by "change", but I can appreciate the intent of the commenter, even if I find the result to be a wee bit tacky.

Moreover, this is the second social-networking-friend that I've lost in real life, and I'm wondering about protocol. What is the proper amount to time to wait, for instance, before "unfriending" the deceased? A month? Or should you just wait until the account is disabled for inactivity? After the inevitable "We Miss You" group arises, should you join? Should you remain a member indefinitely? Some people might actually need to cut their digital ties to the deceased as part of the grieving process, I would think.

These aren't terribly serious questions (although if someone knows definitive answers, I'd love to hear them) so much as musings on the way that social networking has changed our lives, and also, apparently, our deaths.

At any rate, farewell Annie Rodriguez. I will remember you fondly.

]{p

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Messing With Texas

So I spent the weekend in Houston for a wedding in Cypress, which is just down the street from Spring, where I used to live. So I took a moment to revisit my old stomping grounds, and I was struck by how much Houston felt like home more than any other home I've gone back to.

Which is not to imply that I would ever want to live there again. It still has the oppressive heat, the wasps, the roaches, the torrential downpours, the mother-loving humidity, and, you know, Texans. I talked to the groom at the rehearsal dinner, he asked me how my drive was, and I said it was twelve hours in a small car, but it wasn't awful. He proceeded to tell me about how that was nothing--you could drive for fourteen hours from one end of Texas without leaving the state.

Really? You went straight from "how was your drive?" to "Texas is big, yee-haw!" without pausing for, you know, conversation? I lived here, I've gotten over how big it is. And for your information, there's nothing but filler between El Paso and San Antonio, so it's not as if you're making the best possible use of the space.

Another striking Houston oddities: the sheer number of people who dress up for a wedding by wearing their "good blue jeans" and their "nice belt". Why yes, I'm glad you wore your nice ball cap to the reception. If my recollection holds, there were eight men in suits: the groom, the groom's father, the preacher, the two groomsmen, the two ushers, and me.

The bride's father wore a sports jacket over a Henley, which I might almost count except he paused at one point to tell Abby and I that he wanted to design a short-sleeve sports jacket for warmer weather. I swear to god...

Now, I don't want you to think that this is in any way a representative slice of Texans or that I'm deriding Texans across the board. There are lots of perfectly wonderful people living in Texas and Texans, in general, share some admirable qualities. They're typically very polite, as long you're non-hispanic, straight, and willing to at least feign some religiosity. They say "y'all" without even a hint of irony, and my word, but they could teach St. Louis a thing or two about building roads. Roads are big and broad with wide shoulders and dividers. Highways have one-way multi-lane feeders with no-signal U-Turn lanes at intersections. Damn straight.

'Course, they freak out a little when the weather gets below freezing, but it's not like that ever happens.

Also, if you speak fondly of Spring, they immediately thing you're talking about Old Town Spring, which is sort of a like a mile-long craft fair with sturdier tables. I don't care much for Old Town Spring, but it was good to see the old stomping grounds. I found the road where I got horribly lost after only a month with a driver's license. I found my old house, my old Junior and Senior high schools. I found the community theater where I had once been active, and found that, even fifteen-odd years after it's moved, the old sign is still visible from 1960 pointing to its old location in Breck Plaza.

Something never change, it seems, even though they really could use to.

'Twas good to be back, if only for a weekend.

]{p

Monday, October 5, 2009

Less is Moore

It's interesting to see how the left is sort of backing away slowly from Michael Moore. Self-proclaimed liberals have been complaining about Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story, and as a more-or-less liberal person, I have to agree with them.

Now I've been a long-time Moore defender. Yes, he plays fast-and-loose with the facts and yes he presents information in a way that is not strictly dishonest but somewhat misleading. I don't agree with the practice, especially if you're calling your film a documentary, but I understand that he's trying to make what is often a very honest point with cinematic flare, even if the facts seem to require some tailoring. Exactly how ethically dubious that is, well, that's a matter for another discussion.

But he's sort of isolating himself, and I'm not 100% sure why. I would cite a combination of factors: first, as the left has taken control of the middle, Moore and his ilk have become outliers and the rest of the left is trying to not be lumped into his extreme viewpoints. Another possibility--he may be losing his mind, just a little.

Take a look at C:ALS. I haven't seen it, but I'm aware of his two major themes: 1) Capitalism is evil and you can't regulate evil (that's a direct quote, by the way) and 2) Capitalism should be replaced by Democracy.

Ahem?

First, let's talk about this "evil" word for a minute. "Evil" is sort of like "Love" in that it doesn't really exist that way most people think it does. It is a word used to describe people's actions and perhaps their attitudes, but we tend to regard it as a causal force. "Evil" is not a thing that compels people to action, it is simply a description of horrific actions. In that sense, it can sure as hell be regulated. We regulate it all the time. We don't always do so effectively, true, but it's sort of like saying "you can't regulate murder". We should. We can. We do (to the best of our abilities).

Second, is Capitalism even a thing that is capable of being "evil"? Of course not. It doesn't make decisions, it doesn't act, but on the other hand, it does compel people to action. It is a system, so we can describe it as "flawed" rather than "evil". But if something is flawed, you treat it one of two ways: you fix the flaws, or you replace it with something better.

Moore's ideal replacement: Democracy. What does that even mean? One is a political system, one is an economic system, but the two are analogous in their own spheres. This is not an apples-to-oranges comparison, this is an apples-to-applesauce comparison. Bill Maher asked Moore that very question: "What do you mean by that?" and I think it's an important question to be able to answer if you're going to make any kind of statement about, well, anything. Moore started talking in pretty platitudes, but he never answered the damn question. Show me an implementation. Tell me how to Democratize commerce. Tell me what it is, why it's better, and give me a roadmap there.

I mean, Jesus, Mike, look at some of your own movies. Previous themes have been: Roger Smith (and by extension any CEO) doesn't care about working-class Americans, America has a bizarre and dangerous fixation with guns, the Bush administration lied about Iraq and other things as well, Americans would benefit from universal health coverage. These are all things that can be argued and discussed factually. But "Capitalism is evil"? It's too vague to be meaningful and, frankly, too childish to be discussed with a straight face.

And the beautiful irony of this is that capitalism begets democracy? You want to democratize something? Open up trade with it. And if you want to criticize capitalism, start by pointing out that what we have in America is a far cry from pure capitalism. That's an interesting subject. But "evil"?

Meh.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yes, I Am At A Wedding Today, How Did You Know?

And now, a live-blog of a wedding.

They do!!!!

Kiss!!!

...Photos...

Speeches.

Dancey and drinky.

Maseltav.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Small Fear For My Own Safety

Right now I'm on the road with my wife and my (rather conservative) mother-in-law, driving to Texas.

Must not blaspheme in the car... or in the Texas.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: Zombieland

Today Zombieland opens, and if you're like me, you were probably just thinking to yourself wow, you know what I haven't seen in ages? A zombie movie. I could really go for a zombie movie right now. Sarcasm aside, Zombieland is at least a mild winner for being light, quirky, and self-aware enough to have some fun at its own expense.

Zombieland stars Jesse Eisenberg, whom we might as well call the "poor man's Michael Cera" right here and now. He's fresh from starring in Adventureland, and I can't help but think that missing out on Land of the Lost might have nearly killed his career. The film also stars Woody Harrelson, but don't be fooled, he's there to put a name on the marquis. It's Eisenberg's film.

When making a zombie apocalypse film, you have to ask yourself a few questions: What kind of zombies are we dealing with, i.e., how did it start? How do the survivors survive? What are the survivors trying to accomplish? How will it all end in a memorable bloodbath?

The zombies in Zombieland are the fast-moving variety. The outbreak started with an infected hamburger that carried a mutant strain of Mad Cow Disease, which turns humans into raging, bloodthirsty, mindless... well, zombies, along with anyone they bite. Eisenberg plays Columbus. And here I will break for a moment. The movie subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) points out the similarities between our nameless, stoic, insane heroes and the nameless, stoic, insane hordes. For most of the film, we don't know anyone's real name. Columbus is called "Columbus" because he's from Columbus, Ohio. His neighbor, back when the outbreak started, was "406". Anywho.

Columbus is going back home to try and find his parents when he meets up with "Tallahassee" (Harrelson), who is basically playing a funnier Bruce Willis. He starts out pretty one-dimensional, killing things because he enjoys killing and trying to find the sacred snack cake... a Twinkie. He and Cera--whoops, I mean Columbus--team up if only briefly because they're going more or less the same way and have found their union convenient, if not necessarily pleasant. En route they meet "Witchita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin, in the only role I've ever liked her in so far) who are sisters heading West to Los Angeles so they can visit Pacific Playland, which they hear is zombie-free.

The flow the story (and the tone) revolve around Columbus' rules, a list of mandates for himself that he writes on a little pad and constantly updates and adds to. Columbus was kind of a bookish, WOW-ish, shut-in before the apocalypse. He spent most of his life avoiding people, a tendency that turned out to serve him well once people became deadly. And he has found some very practical axioms that he chooses to share. There's "Limber up" and "Beware of bathrooms" and "Don't be a hero", but the first and ostensibly most important is "Cardio". Exercise. You can't outrun the horde if you're overweight and/or out of breath. These rules are represented visually and often show up as scene punctuation and transitional material (not unlike the rules from Fight Club).

The one thing I'll bring up is that the film knows what it is. It knows that zombies are a bit played-out at this point, so it has some fun with the topic. Oh, we get our fair share of gore, but it's generally fun gore. I particularly remember a shot of businessmen being chased by a blood-covered zombie in a G-string and pasties. The movie doesn't expect to be taken too seriously, but it offers wild surprises and meta-humor where a more serious film would have been stoic and tormented. Which is not to say that there isn't some melancholy under the mirth. Our four survivors are all heading someplace that they've heard is free of zombies, but deep down, they all know it isn't true. They just want to keep moving, because it's kept them alive so far.

As for the ending, I won't give it away, but it's called Zombieland and two of our characters are on their way to a theme park, so feel free to start drawing conclusions. All told, it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an evening. Kinda fun, kinda jaunty, kinda cool, and fairly fast-paced. It got a little cheesy in places, and there was an extended cameo in the middle that dragged on for a bit too long and then ended in a fairly obvious plot twist (albeit a pleasantly absurd one).

Oh, and the music was rock-solid. So that's a plus.

So if you get a chance, see it. Take the kids.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome To The Folds

I've now seen both ends of the Ben Folds performance spectrum. We saw him about this time last year when he was touring with a 5-piece band, playing mostly stuff from his production-heavy recent album Way to Normal. This time around, he had a piano. That was it.

In the spirit of the Ben Folds Live album, Folds put on a somewhat informal, rather low-key show that was heavy on audience interaction and pulled from his entire catalog, including three new songs from a forthcoming collaboration with--of all people--novelist Nick Hornby. We got Army from Reinhold Meissner and nothing at all from the self-title Ben Folds Five album, although the encore consisted entirely of songs from Whatever and Ever, Amen... including one of my all-time favorites: Selfless, Cold, and Composed.

I realized I should probably give Songs for Silverman a few more listens, because he played four songs from that record, none of which I knew too well. He played a handful from Way to Normal, including rousing versions of Dr. Yang and Effington. The best-represented album was probably Rockin' the Suburbs with 5 songs: Still Fighting It, Annie Waits, Zakk and Sara, Not the Same and, oddly, Rockin' the Suburbs.

He opened with a shortened rendition of Free Coffee and played a few lighter songs before launching into an impromptu number about the coat-check/soft-drinks sign on the wall facing him. This quickly devolved into something about his tuna sandwich tasting like burnt plastic because tuna is treated with carbon monoxide to make it stay pink.

Swear to god...

It was funny to watch this, because when he got to a part about Googling "burnt plastic" and "tuna" he realized that his creation had grown perhaps a bit beyond his control and sat shaking his head as he played for a few measures before going into carbon monoxide treatments of sandwich fish... with the coat check... and the soft drinks... and the green exit sign... etc, etc, etc.

We had pretty decent seats--third row back in the balcony, right on an aisle. We were behind two men in pink shirts and, in front of them, their wives. As the show started the usher came and asked to see our tickets and it turned out he had seated us wrong the first time--we were actually a row up, so the husbands had to move. They had general admission tickets anyway and were just hoping to snag empty seats, but when we got moved, they were ejected back to the standing-room-only bar area. A few minutes later, they showed up and took a couple of seats in the front row of the balcony, right across the aisle from their spouses, smiling and waving. It felt very much like a Mentos commercial.

But I digress...

You have to give him credit for audience participation. In addition to the usual callbacks on Army and Song for the Dumped, he taught us backing parts to Bastard and promised us a cookie if we got it right. He added a fourth part to the "ahhhh's" on Not the Same and then led us all in some vocal chicanery at the end. But I think Ahmed won the night in this category.

Ben's one cover was Such Great Heights by The Postal Service, but he forgot the lyrics halfway through the first verse and asked us if any of us knew them. He pulled a kid named Ahmed up onto stage to sing lead. Ahmed (we learned his name later) gave it a noble attempt, swapped some lyrics around ("everything looks perfect from up on stage") and he and Ben even managed some decent harmonies by the end of the song.

So, congrats, Ben. You've ruined this poor kid for all other musicians.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Re-Visiting The Saints

With a long-awaited sequel due out at the end of next month, Abby and I decided it was time to revisit that near-cultish classic, The Boondock Saints. We sang the praises of it back in 1999 (or whenever we actually heard about it) and recommended it's brashness and brogue to all of our compatriots.

What the hell were we thinking?

Um, Spoilers ahead.

Saints has not aged well. It's locked into an almost mid-90's black-trenchcoat-over-black-shirt-and-blue-jeans sensibility. This is forgivable in and of itself, but I can't help thinking that the movie made a whole more sense in the wake of Terminator 2 than it does today--now that Guy Ritchie has redefined and subsequently castrated the organized-crime-drama, making it more trendy than timeless.

That said, there were certain compelling elements to Saints. It offered a unique story structure in which violent showdowns were depicted in flashback. It was pretty mercilessly violent, and it did try to raise some questions about the nature of vigilantism--although it could have started that discussion before the closing credits, if you want my opinion, and it's a topic that has been covered much better by recent films like The Dark Knight.

But to really look at where this film goes awry, let's look at what it got wrong to begin with--a list that starts and ends with Willem Dafoe.

Dafoe's character, a charming and flamboyant FBI officer, shows up and destroys the Boston PD with his crime-scene analysis tactics. He dances through an alley finding bullet holes and doing chemical tests while listening to opera on his portable CD player. Yeah, wish I were making any of that up. His ability to outsmart the cops is governed by the fact that Boston's police force is depicted as being breathtakingly stupid. As Dafoe's psyche cracks--for no discernible reason--he grows ever more disheveled and mindless. He starts stealing evidence, evidence like a dismembered finger. As he figures out who these "Saints" are, he seems ever more distraught over the idea of things like due process, but in spite of that he's not cynical, he's an idealist.

In fact, he's such an idealist that he dresses up as a woman (the ugliest woman I've seen on film, perhaps) and proceeds to seduce mobsters in an attempt to free the Saints, which turns out to be meaningless because the Saints are set free by Billy Connolly, in what has got to be the most egregious deus-ex-machina ending ever, ever. The Saints get away because the man hired to kill them turns out to be their long lost father. Cue the organ music, we're making a soap! For the finale, we get a very public murder, followed by three minutes of spinny-camera, self-important prosthelytizing.

Okay, there were other problems too. Ron Jeremy shows up so one of the heroes can tell a horribly offensive joke, but it's okay because the bad guys made him do it. And maybe I'm just old and cynical, but I'm at a point where badassery cannot automatically make up for shoddy storytelling and weak characterization.

And don't even get me started on Donnie Darko!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Re-Visiting The Sisters

One of those movies I inadvertently saw a lot as a kid was Sister Act, a light-hearted family comedy in which Whoopi Goldberg witnesses a murder and hides from the mob in a convent, where she teaches the nuns to sing classic R&B and, in the process, discovers herself. Or some such. Turns out it was a staple of Abby's late-childhood as well, so she purchased a copy of it and we re-watched it. Such exercises are always... interesting. Even movies that I really enjoyed in my early twenties have soured as I approach thirty (e.g., Boondock Saints, but that's a rant for another post). Sister Act came out when I was eleven. How does it hold up now?

Surprisingly well. The character motivations are at least believable, although I couldn't say how realistically convent life is portrayed. The plot points make sense and work together pretty well, considering the writing situation that gave birth to the film. The script was originally penned with Bette Midler in mind to star and went through seven writers before the Goldberg incarnation came to be--and that sort of thing can be devastating (I mean, have you SEEN Meet the Robinsons?). It worked out, but some of the seems show. "Going out into the community" was obviously supposed to be a major plot element at one point but got reduced to a montage. And a few scenes seem to revolve around the Whoopi-being-funny element a little too heavily.

But the movie never completely falls into the one-joke pit. And for a movie with such a heavy emphasis on music, at least they got the music right. The holy-shit-this-choir-can-rock-a-little moments are still smile-inducing, and despite the fact that they are accompanied by an invisible back-up band, the song sequences work. The conflict with the Mother Superior feels a little less genuine, but Maggie Smith pulls it off by virtue of being, well, Maggie Smith. Still, if Whoopi can hear her girls practicing from her cell, how did the Mother Superior not notice until Sunday morning that Ave Maria was getting the Supremes treatment.

On another note, WTF is up with the sex-appeal nun?

You know which one I'm talking about. The shy red-head who had the lion's share of the solos. The only one whose hair showed at all, and who wore the habit that was not-completely-figure-concealing. They set her apart for a reason. Not 100% sure what else it may have been.

Oh well. At least the sequel still sucks.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Play That Funky Music, White Space

Stay out of my personal (white) space.

No, this is not a race thing.

I got a message from a friend via Facebook, asking for grammar advice. She was torn between "that" or "who" and had left a blank space in the sentence, which rendered as such in the e-mail transcription but not when I read the message on Facebook to reply to it. Which leads me to question: why are we still swallowing white space?

I program, and white space is about the only thing in the world that keeps code readable sometimes. It doesn't interfere--it's there purely to keep things visually organized. But most browsers just ignore it. If you're doing HTML (which is how most websites are ultimately displayed), then you have to use special tags for paragraph breaks, because the rendering engine ignores carriage returns.

Or does it? I don't know the mechanics, and it could possibly vary by browser--I simply don't know enough about how HTML works under-the-hood. But as an experiment I've indented one paragraph. My preview screen doesn't indicate which it was. How does it look on the page? Can you tell which one it was?

The point of all this is that eliminating white space used to make sense, but in a Web 2.0 world, I think it would be useful to get back indentations and such. Just food for thought.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where Are The Ugly Chick Sites?

So, do you like your pictures of semi-clad or ostentatiously attractive women with a little side dollop of weird? You're in luck, thanks to The Internetz!

The Tubez are teeming with hotts in bizarre circumstances, all graciously grouped by bizarreness.

There's the perennial favorite Hot Chicks with Douchebags. But it doesn't stop there. You can also check out Hot Chicks with Hot Dogs In Their Mouths. Not enough? We can also take a peek at Hot Chicks With Dogs With Boners or, if you like the idea of dogs and filth, but are not so interested in vaguely unsettling animal eroticism, you can check out Hot Chicks Picking Up Dog Shit.

Whew.

If you prefer a more generalized "weird", you can take a look at The Hawtness, and last but certainly not least, my personal favorite, Hot Chicks With Stormtroopers.

Hot chicks. Weird stuff. It's like everything a nerd could want in a single URL. Thank you Internetz.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

Man, but we've got a busy weekend. Tonight, going with a group to see a midnight showing of Serenity. Saturday we're going to Columbia for my mother-in-law's birthday. Then Monday is a Ben Folds concert.

I was going to consider going to a St. Vincent concert on the following Thursday, but we're going to be in Houston all of that weekend and then we have a They Might Be Giants show.

So, I might miss a post or two. 'Sall I'm sayin'.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Signal Broken, Watch For Finger

I know I give St. Louis drivers a bunch of shit for driving without their turn signals, but I saw someone today use theirs today, and I couldn't help thinking that perhaps I should tone down the rhetoric a bit.

I mean this guy was zealous--kept his turn signal on through three or four intersections.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Cliches

Things that don't happen in real life that do happen on television and in movies:

  1. Digital clocks click when they change.
  2. Anyone shaving will cut himself.
  3. All microphones feedback when spoken into.
  4. All couples have sex in their underwear (and don't even get me started of L-shaped sheets).
  5. Dogs know who the bad guy is.
  6. Anyone watching a video of any kind will rewind it and watch some shortened part again. Often several times.
  7. It is possible to go into a bar and order "beer".
  8. Lightning is always accompanied by thunder.
  9. It is possible to drive across New York or LA in less than five hours.

Don't let these happen to you.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And Open Letter (Ahem) To My Letter Carrier

Dear Mr(s) Post(wo)man:

I realize that my mailbox does not have a flag on it, and if it did, I would surely employ its use. But since it does not, perhaps we can reach an agreement. If there is a piece of mail in the mailbox that you, yourself, did not just place there, odds are it's out-going.

Thanks,

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Jon And Paul And Also Storm

Saturday night Abby and I went downtown to see Jonathan Coulton play at Off Broadway. He is the indie-DIY-er of the geek-rock scene with a catalog of pop/folk songs about math, zombies, vampires, and mad scientists. Etc.

The opening act was a duo called Paul and Storm who were extremely fun, performing a set that ranged from meta (Opening Band) to crude (Captain's Wife's Lament, in which the captain's wife complains about finding seamen all over the house) to absurd (Nun Fight, in which an announcer introduces two boxing nuns in the style of Benedictine chant). Other highlights included Frogger! The Frogger Musical and If James Taylor Were On Fire.

I felt ruthlessly entertained.

Then came JoCo. I had no idea what an excellent guitarist he is--the complexity of chord structures and arrangements doesn't come through when you simply listen to his recordings. He played the requisite favorites (Code Monkey, Re: Your Brains, Skullcrusher Mountain) and some requests (Presidents, The Mandlebrot Set, Dance Soterios Johnson Dance) and brought Paul and Storm up for a few songs, including a rendition of Soft Rocked By Me that devolved into an impromptu medley of sappy love songs, which then devolved into the audience singing the chorus of Hey Jude while Paul (of Paul and Storm) sang C is for Cookie over it.

And since Saturday was also International Talk Like a Pirate Day, there were no shortage of pirate jokes to be had. And because keeping things timely is good, one song was interrupted by Kanye West (the song in question, Mr. Fancy Pants, was played on what Coulton described as a $1300 purse). All in all, I think the most compelling thing about the show was the the performers were clearly having a great time up on stage. There was a lot of back-and-forth and interaction with the audience (Paul and Storm gave out prizes periodically and explained the ridiculous inside-jokes on their T-shirts). But my favorite joke might have been when Jonathan Coulton announced is "last song" in air quotes, only to leave the stage to thunderous applause afterward and then run back on 10 seconds later talking about what a shocking and surprising turn of events it was to be called back up for an encore.

He sold out the venue and the crowd was really responsive to him, so it's reasonable to think that he'll be back through again some time, probably playing someplace larger, and if you get a chance, it's a show I highly recommend--not just because it was a great show, but because of what it means for independent, and I mean truly independent, music. Neither Paul and Storm nor JoCo are on labels. They don't have professional recording studios or radio play. They are do-it-yourself-ers, and they are part of a growing trend towards middle-class-musicianship. And it's nice to think that part of the aftermath of Napster and P2P is that it's becoming easier to make a living as a musician without having to satisfy all of the superstar formula.

Also, I tried a Colt 45, and it did work every time. So that's good to know.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Away, Do You Fly?

Was listening to Lenny Kravitz's Fly Away for the first time in forever, and I realize, it kind of sucks. It's not awful, and it passes the gut-test: it's enjoyable to listen to more than once. But when you start looking at the nuts and bolts of the tune, there's not much there.

The song has exactly one chord progression: A, C, G, D, all major chords. Pretty standard alternative rock fare, the typical box-pattern riff that made riff-rock so laughable as the 90's drew to a close. During the verses, it's driven by bass, but it's the same chords. And while the choruses are guitar-driven. And what's with that intro? The guitar riff starts out in one channel, which is fine, and then there's a cymbal crash and the rest of the band comes in. 2 measures later, the guitar comes in on the right channel. What?

The lyrics are... "trite" is a polite word for it. Let's take a look at the first verse, shall we?

I wish that I could fly, into the sky, so very high
Just like a dragonfly.
I'd fly above the trees, over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please

Ignoring the fact that dragonflies aren't known for attaining mad altitude, what is this supposed to mean, exactly? I get a little bit about "freedom" from the end there, but more than that I get the feeling that Kravitz phoned this one in. If "degrees" isn't a cheap rhyme, I don't know what is. Let's see how the second chorus measures up.

Let's go and see the stars, the Milky Way, or even Mars
Where it can just be ours
Let's fade into the sun, let your spirit fly, where we are one
Just for a little fun

So, I'd say we're firmly out of dragonfly territory. Why "Mars" is a bigger draw than "The Milky Way" eludes me, but whatever. Now we're starting to see a little bit of narrative. This isn't about getting away, it's about getting away with someone else. The second half of the verse gets a little abstract, but that's fine, although the line "just for a little fun" seems to undermine the spiritual context that came out just a few syllables earlier.

So now we've figured out what the song is about. Sneaking off to go get laid. In the spirit of I Think We're Alone Now, which is fine for pop music. But how does this register in the chorus? The chorus just repeats "I want to get away, I want to fly away, yeah, yeah, yeah" over and over. Or does it?

There's something else there, something that I'd never noticed until a few days ago. Under the cacophony of "yeah, yeah, yeah", there's a smaller "with you" also being sung. So it sort of makes sense, and there's a hell of a hook at the root of this song, it's just kind of a sloppy execution of concept.

In short, Mr. Kravitz has committed a "Jack White" crime of songwriting--he's taken an awesome idea and not bothered to develop it enough. Which is why Fly Away was a hit. Hell, it was 1998--we rockers needed something to pull us out of the sea of boy bands. But ten years on, it's proven to be a pretty forgettable tune.

Which goes for most of Lenny's catalog, in my opinion.

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