Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This Makes Me Laugh

As someone in the industry who deals with this on a daily basis, this parody commercial makes me laugh to no end.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fahrenheit 451


When I first started reading this one, I was pretty certain that it was going to be one that I didn't like. It seemed to be more of a 200 page epic poem than a novel to me. Every single thing was talked about as a metaphor or a simile to something else. It seemed like nothing was happening at all in the story, because so much time was taken up with poetic speech.

If you don't know how I feel about poetry, then you should take a look back in the Dunesteef archive, and you'll find that I admit that I really don't like it. It seems to be meaningless froufrou to me. All ornamentation and no substance. But if that was truly the case, wouldn't it have died out and gone away years ago? Yet it continues to persist, despite all of society's disdain.

A guy at work has one of those tear off desk calendars that has a new thing for each day. His is by the parody news site theonion.com. Each day, there's a new fake news article, and they're really very funny and there's a lot of caustic jabs at people's failings. Anyway, the other day, the onion story was about a poet who had just finished his most recent work. After finishing, he took another pass to "obscure up" his poem, removing words that were necessary for it to make sense to normal human beings. The last line of the story said that the poem would be completely ready once his 5 year old nephew wrote the last stanza. That's the kind of disdain poetry gets these days. And I pretty much completely agreed.

Then I read Fahrenheit 451. In that book, society outlaws reading books. Not because some totalitarian Nazi-like hardline government came into power, but because people became too lazy to read anything. They watched TV all the time instead, filling their lives with meaningless chatter in search of fun. And since their minds were so empty, they felt bad when others, who did read, would point out their stupidity. They'd show those snobs, books were outlawed. Firemen didn't put out fires anymore, they started them. They went to the houses of those that hid books, and burned them.

Montag, the book's main character, is a fireman who has a change of heart. He turns from bookburning to a book advocate. There is a particularly powerful scene in the story where Montag forces his wife and two of her friends to listen to a poem from a book he has squirreled away. One of the women is left in tears, another flies into a rage. They cannot handle the words at all.

The scene made me stop and wonder if I haven't been wrong all along. Is poetry more than froufrou? I have said before that I must not be smart enough to understand poetry. But this book gives me a more accurate excuse. It's not that I'm not smart enough to understand it, it's that I'm too lazy. I'm one of those people in the book who chose to fill his life with meaningless chatter in search of fun, instead of trying to grapple with hard subjects. Perhaps someday, someone will come along and take that stuff away, because no one will really mind anyway, right?

What other things will they take away then? What other things are too boring or intellectual to be forced to deal with? What about mathematics? Nobody likes math in school anymore. Will those bright kids from other countries be the only ones that understand math in the future? Will the western world sink back into poverty because they were too lazy and bored to learn about math or science? What else will go, I wonder.

As you can see, it's a very thought provoking book. It's interesting too, because the plot in the book is really only enough to make into a short story. But, Bradbury goes out of his way to make every line sound poetic. Supposedly, that hammers home his point. It worked for me, I think I got the point...or at least one of his points. I'm still not interested in poetry, unfortunately, but I have been making an effort to read more and more recently, so I don't think I'm totally lost.

Anyhow, up next: Cory Doctorow's short story collection Overclocked: Stories Of The Future Present. I've read a few of Doctorow's short stories and I've enjoyed them. I also really liked Little Brother, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Cats Suck 2


Last night, my daughter was a little sick, so we let her sleep on the floor beside our bed.

Somewhere deep in the night, my wife woke up because she'd heard a commotion. My daughter was running around our room, chasing the cat, trying to grab it.

"What are you doing?" my wife said.

"I'm trying to get the cat," said my daughter, "It keeps scratching me."

Apparently the cat is at it again. Exacting its revenge on my daughter for the harassment (or love, depending on whose point of view you look from) that she gives it.

What a nasty beast. It waits until deep in the night, when she's sleeping and defenseless, then tears her out of that state with stabbing pain.

I wish we'd gotten a dog. If we had a dog, it would wait until deep in the night, and then nuzzle in next to her to sleep with her. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Artemis Fowl


I went about reading this series all wrong, unfortunately. I was at my podunk local library, and I found book 2 in the audiobook section, as well as book four. So I grabbed them, and listened. They were pretty good. I couldn't get a hold of book 1, but I did get book 3, so I managed to fill in the hole between book 2 and 4.

I kept trying, and still couldn't get book 1. The library had it, and it wasn't even checked out, but they couldn't locate it. So when I would try to request it, they would just cancel my holds. I did manage to get book 5 though, the further adventures. Book 1 was nowhere to be found though, and after trying a few more times, I finally gave up on ever getting that audiobook from my library.

A year and a half go by, and I find myself back in the library, and lo, and behold, there it is, just sitting there on the shelf! They've found the first Artemis Fowl audiobook, and put it back on the shelf for me. So, I grabbed it, of course.

Artemis Fowl is YA fiction. It's fantasy/scifi. And, like Harry Potter, or many other YA fiction series that have come out in recent years, it's pure fun. It's candy for someone like me who has been spending his time listening to heavy, meat and potatoes-like books like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Neuromancer. It's really fun stuff.

But don't take my candy comment wrong. It's not like Artemis Fowl is fluff with no substance at all. Eoin Colfer put in a lot of work crafting a fine story with well-rounded characters, touching moments, a nice character arc for our main man Artemis, an extremely interesting world, and gripping plot. I think I've heard it described somewhere as a cross between James Bond and Harry Potter, and that's a pretty good description.

On top of the high quality of the book itself was the very high quality of the narrator. Nathaniel Parker, he who played our lead character in the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, really impressed me with his range of voices. Each character was interesting and unique, although his American accents sounded a little lame, but they surely couldn't have sounded as bad as my English accents, so I can't fault him.

All in all, I recommend that you spend a few commutes enjoying an Artemis Fowl audiobook. Both the book and the reading won't fail to entertain you.

Next up for me? Back to the grindstone, it's time for Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury classic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Plain Awesome

Here's another one from that guy. Not a cover, but a song he wrote himself. It's pretty effed up. Funny though.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Cats Suck

My cat really hates my youngest daughter. I can't really blame it, because my daughter treats the thing like a stuffed animal or some other toy. Whenever my daughter comes into the room, the cat either leaves the room, or scurries under something where it can't be reached. If it's not fast enough, it is gathered up in a big hug, and is forced to endure the one thing cats hate the most, the love of a child.

The cat has gotten wise recently though. It has figured out what times the girl can't fight back. And it uses those times to exact its revenge.

Now every day, my daughter sits at the dinner table with her knees tucked up to her chest as she eats. If she doesn't, the cat will slip in quietly and scratch at her dangling feet. The poor girl has marks all over her legs.

I wish we'd gotten a dog. A dog would just take whatever pounding she wanted to dish out and then lick her face in thanks. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2001: A Space Odyssey

Link To Blog
Rock Hudson famously stormed out of a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, muttering "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

When I first saw the film in college I had a similar, but slightly different experience. I famously dozed off in the third act, snoring away in the college library. But if someone had invented a translator that took snores and fashioned them into words, it would have said, "Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?"

I only sort of got it. Maybe if I'd managed to stay awake I would have understood better. When it came time to write my paper on the subject, I had to search the internet for other people's opinions about the film. I knew it had something to do with evolution, but it was such a stretch for me to figure out.

So I approached the reading of Arthur C. Clarke's book with a lot of wariness. I needn't have worried. This is an interesting book, and for those of you who despised the film like I did, it will transform your experience into something much more palatable.

The book, a commemorative edition published in time for the actual year of 2001, started with a prologue by Arthur C. Clarke. He recalls the writing of the book, which, I didn't realize, was written in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick as the film was being made. It wasn't done in the usual fashion of screen adaptations where an already produced text is adapted for the screen. Because of this, there are several variations between the book and the film, but all in all it's pretty much the same story.

The difference between the two is that the book actually explains things with exposition and dialogue and all that fun stuff, where the film just shows a picture of someone's face and plays classical music, and leaves you in the dark as to what was actually going on.

Now I admit, I'm not particularly intelligent. I'm not a boorish moron, but I'm not the smartest guy either. I've already related some of what I thought about the book to a friend at work, and he voiced the opinion that I was in fact stupid, and the film was completely clear and understandable to him. So maybe the rest of you reading this (as if anyone was) agree with him, and can't stand my simpleton stumblings. I'll be the first to admit that I'm surely an idiot.

But, if you are an idiot like me, and didn't get the film at all, check out the book. It's a pretty good read. Most of the story is vastly more interesting when there is a little more given to you to work with.

For example, I wanted to pull my hair out during the sequence that involved the man-apes and their prehistoric struggle to evolve. It was awful to sit through. In the book, however, it was my favorite part. I could probably have read an entire book about the man-apes and been satisfied with that.

The other parts are much more interesting as well. From the trip to Jupiter (which is actually to Saturn in the book, they bailed on Saturn in the film because the special effects crew couldn't make decent looking rings), to HAL9000's descent into madness, to (most of all) the end sequence where Dave Bowman takes his step forward in evolution, there is so much more to be understood and enjoyed.

Now, it's not a perfect book for sure. As is the way with many of the Sci-fi grand masters, there's a lot of slow moving sections where the story stops to discuss, analyze, and postulate on the science, or worse, to explain in exhaustive detail how some invention of theirs is supposed to work. But for the most part, it's a lot of fun, and it really served me well by taking a classic masterpiece in film, and making it accessible to me at last.

Up next: Well, I take a step in a different direction. I'm going to read Eoin Colfer's YA novel Artemis Fowl. Sometimes it's nice to eat dessert along with all those meat and potatoes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


I really enjoyed this one. I've become a bit of a connoisseur (is that the right word, probably not since I think it implies that I know a little something about it, which I don't) of juvenile and young adult fiction. It's got a lot to do with the fact that my kids have reached that age, and it also has a lot to do with the fact that juvenile and young adult fiction seems to be the stuff that is exploding the most in the consciousness of the public these days, probably due mostly to Harry Potter's eye opening success.

Recently, though, I've read a fair amount of juvenile and young adult fiction. I read to my kids when I put them to bed as often as I can manage, which sadly is something like once every two weeks or less. I've been getting the opportunity to read books that I never got around to reading myself when I was a kid. I never read a full novel until I was about fourteen or so, so I missed a lot of good stuff. Right now, me and the kids are working our way through The Mouse And The Motorcycle.

I listened to The Graveyard Book with the thought of whether my kids would like it or not. Writing a book for kids that's about ghosts, ghouls, witches and killers is asking for it really. My kids are a timid sort, but they're not alone in that category. There's a lot of scaredy-cat kids out there. I once thought my oldest son was a bit of a wimp, but I've met some serious, no holds barred wimps in my days as a dad, which have made me realize that my son is not as bad as I once thought.

The Graveyard Book has scary parts, but if you can handle a Harry Potter novel, then you can handle The Graveyard Book. It was enjoyable for me, from beginning to end. Like many juvenile books, it was more like a collection of short stories about the same character than an actual novel. We follow the adventures of Nobody Owens as he is raised by the denizens of a graveyard. The short story-like chapters, follow Bod, as he likes to be called, from childhood to almost adulthood. It's a very different format than what you get from most adult novels, but I liked it all the same.

My only gripes were these...(by the way, if you haven't read the book, I'd skip the gripes, because they are spoiler-ific, but I had to say them, when I say, "END OF SPOILERS" it's safe to read again).

1. Bod's ghost parents are just not important characters in the book. They aren't involved in much of anything. It was all about his guardian, Silas. When the end came, and Bod said goodbye to his mother in a scene that was supposed to be touching, it felt completely hollow to me. Who was this woman? His mother? I don't remember hearing much about her the whole book through. I felt about as much when Optimus Prime mourned the death of Jazz in the first Transformers crap-stravaganza.

2. I was very disappointed with the way Scarlett was written out of the book. After meeting her as a five-year old, and then bringing her back as a teenager, she suddenly and unceremoniously runs out, moves back to Glasgow and that's that. It was not at all satisfying. It would have been better not to bring her back at all, instead introducing some new female to play her part in the second part.

END OF SPOILERS

It's safe to read again, but I don't really have much more to say. I recommend this book. I liked it even better than the last Hugo-winning Neil Gaiman novel I read. Even adults, who aren't necessarily its target audience, would enjoy this book. So if you haven't read it yet, check it out. Get the audio book, by the way, Neil Gaiman reads it himself, and of all the author's I've ever heard reading their work, he is by far, and I really mean by far, the best. He gives professional audio book readers a run for their money.

Up next? Back to the hard SF. Arthur C. Clark's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I hope this is better than the film, or you may never hear my review of it, because I will have fallen asleep at the wheel of my car, crashed, and died. I fell asleep two separate times trying to watch the film, luckily I was parked on a couch for that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween IV

My favorite Pixar movie of all.This is my friend's kid. When I saw him come out in his costume, I had to get a picture and share it. The best part is the tail in the back. When he walks...or waddles as he tended to do in this bulky costume, the tail wiggled back and forth.

Sharkbait, ooh ha ha.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween III

My son came home the other night with a bag chock full of teeth-rotting candy. But you remember how it is, there's always that one house (or several), that take it upon themselves to save the children by handing out something more healthy. Sometimes it's a granola bar, sometimes it's worse.

This year, my son came home with the ultimate. One house he visited was handing out...

wait for it...

cans of pinto beans.I felt bad for my son, those cans are heavy, and they only get heavier as the night wears on. I probably would have ditched it if I were him, but he dutifully brought it home. I suppose it was worth the effort just to be able to prove to people that someone was actually handing that out.

Maybe soon, we'll include it in a pot of homemade chili. I can already smell the farts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween II

While trick-or-treating this Halloween, someone gave my kids each a cup of hot chocolate at one of the houses. Is this as strange and anachronistic to you as it is to me? I was a small child when the idea of giving out homemade treats to children became taboo. I'm willing to bet that there is no actual incidents of people poisoning treats for kids, but all the same, that's the fear that disallowed homemade treats for good. That and the possible razor blade (or something like that) in the caramel apple. But all the old ladies that were holding out on that have died. It hasn't been okay to give out homemade treats since 1987, maybe even earlier. But here we are in 2009, and there's someone still doing it? Weird, just weird.

It turns out that this kind of thing is in fact dangerous, too. Because my youngest daughter received her cup from this house, turned around and said, "Daddy, look, I got hot chocolate," and promptly fell down the cement stairs that led up to this house's front porch. She spilled the hot chocolate all over her costume, and banged her leg up pretty good too. She cried for several minutes, running her clown make-up all over her face, and the good folks that lived at that house had to fetch a band-aid to placate her. Trick-or-treating didn't last much longer after that either--her spirit had been broken by the fall.

Strangely, at the end of the night, as we were driving back to our house, my wife asked the kids what their favorite part of the night was, and sprinkled into the other two kids responses was my daughter saying her favorite part was falling down the stairs. Huh?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween

I've never been so scared on Halloween before. Without consulting me, my wife and my youngest daughter decided that this year she would dress as...a clown.

I'm afraid to wake up in the middle of the night tonight, and find her standing next to my bed in full make-up staring at me.

Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams


When I was younger, I put so much stock into things that I had discovered first. If everybody knew about it, then it was no longer cool.

When I got a little older, I gave up on that preconception though. It's not true. Take Harry Potter for example. I know many people who hate Harry Potter even though they've never spent a minute reading one of the novels, just because of the sensation it caused. They don't know what they're missing. Those books are really good, even though everybody likes them.

Of course, someday, years from now, they'll seem tired. People will experience the whole series by the movies without ever reading a paragraph. And so on. There is that drawback. If everybody knows about it, then it permeates our culture, and becomes one of those things that you know without actually experiencing it. Like the writings of Shakespeare have become. Any idea how many of the common turns of phrase that people use on a daily basis are lifted from the pages of Shakespearean plays? A lot...check out this site for proof.

That's the problem that I ran into with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. It's been around a long time, about as long as I have. Growing up, I've heard more and more about how this book goes. Culminating in the film version from a few years ago, where I learned about most of the little parts I hadn't already heard. So when I finally took up the book, it was too late for anything in it to feel fresh and interesting. I still liked it, but it wasn't the experience I was hoping for.

Usually, when you hear about something for so long, it's amazing to finally experience it for yourself. Like my experience with reading Frank Herbert's Dune for the first time. What I knew of it was widened out and expanded. That wasn't the case with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy though. It wasn't a complement to the movie...it was merely another telling. Which made me sad.

I think the problem might have been the fact that it was comedy. Retelling jokes doesn't tend to make them funnier, instead they get less funny. The punchline can't surprise you any more once you've heard it.

It's too bad. I still recommend the book to anyone, because it's fun, and, hey, it's really short too. And maybe you haven't had the whole thing spoiled for you like I had. It is a good book. And for a comedy to still be gaining fans 30 years later really says something about its quality.

Anyway, next up for me: Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. That's one that I know almost nothing about...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow


My first introduction to Little Brother was on StarShipSofa. Back in May of last year, Tony played a 30 minute sample of the book. I got to hear the start of a young super-hacker's adventure. He snuck out of his heavily surveilled school, fooling gait-cams, arphids, and brown-nosing snitches to do it. It was fun, and enjoyable. I never expected what was to come.

Our hero, Marcus, and his friends are out of school, trying to play an internet game that involves doing things in the real world as well as online. Suddenly, a terrorist attack occurs, and while trying to get help, our main characters instead get arrested by the Department of Homeland Security. This is where the story takes a sharp left turn and changes from what I had expected it to be, judging by the preview StarShipSofa provided, to what the story really was about.

There are some really difficult moments to read in this book, including several incidents of state sponsored torture, but it is all well worth it. This book was absolutely terrific. Anyone who reads more than a book a year or so knows the feeling when you get into a novel, and all you want to do is keep reading. It gets late at night, and you have to be at school or work early the next morning, but you can't bring yourself to put the book down. Your house is an utter disaster, and you really should be cleaning up, getting your kids dressed, changing the baby's diaper, but instead all you want to do is read more in the story. My wife is particularly susceptible to this disease. She tends to finish books in a day or less, because once she pops, she can't stop.

Well, I'm not so susceptible as that, but it happens on occasion, and with this book, it hit me hard. All I wanted to do was read...or listen anyway. I had the audio version of the book, read by Kirby Heybourne (why, by the way was a great pick for a reader. He was a completely believable 17 year-old. I'm sure that might be a drawback if he's reading other books, but perfect for this story). It's harder to be addicted to a book when you have to listen to it. Well, maybe that's not true. You can take care of a lot of those chores that you might have to ignore if you had to read the book with your eyes. I could mow the lawn and read at the same time...how talented am I? But when you're addicted to a book, and you're listening to it, you can't go any faster to find out what happens next like you can when you read.

Anyway, after several nights of less sleep than I needed, I finished this book. It only took me a matter of days. And I recommend it to anyone. It's a fun read, but beyond that, it opens your eyes to a lot of things that you've probably never considered. I hadn't. Wandering aimlessly through my suburban life, I never considered the impact of surveillance, of spying on our own people, and what it might lead to. I have been concerned with what rights we might have given up in the name of security, and this story is all about that kind of stuff. Check it out and enjoy.

Up next for me? The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's a short one, so I should be back soon with another report.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I didn't know thing one about this book going into it. It shows just what a noob I really am when it comes to science fiction, or at least to certain corners and alcoves of the science fiction pad. I would have approached it with more trepidation had I known. When I told Rish what I was reading next he said, "Oh, you couldn't pay me to read Gibson." But I looked at the list that Liz Mierzejewski put on her comment post, and saw that Neuromancer was number 10, and it was also specifically mentioned on Jason Sanford's story, Book Scouts Of The Galactic Rim, and I went ahead and gave it a shot.

I didn't know that the story was a cyberpunk story though. Cyberpunk is a genre that I have a really, really hard time with. I struggle with any science fiction story that uses a lot of specialized jargon, and you can get that in any sub-genre, but with cyberpunk, it's almost mandated. I have to admit that for long periods of time in the story, I had only the loosest grip on what was going on. If I hadn't mentioned on the blog that I was going to be reading it next, I probably would have quit on it. But I bravely soldiered on, and by the end...I still didn't like it much.

I never did figure out what most of the slang and BS in the story meant. What are microsofts? They're not related to the company of the same name, which hadn't even released its first version of Windows by the time this book was published. What is an Ono-Sendai? I think I finally figured out that it is the brand of computer he was using, but I could have been wrong. He mentioned the Yakuza a lot, and I think I finally figured out that he was talking about the Japanese mafia, but I don't think he ever helped me to figure that out--I may have looked it up on Wikipedia or something like that, I can't remember. And I still don't know what Flatlining is. People were said to be flatlining, which I would assume meant to die, but there was the flatline construct as well. And then there was the frequently mentioned Hosaka, and the place called Freeside, which I didn't figure out for a long while was actually a space station not a city on a Caribbean island or something. A lot of it I still wouldn't get, but I just found a sort of glossary that someone has compiled over at Wikipedia.

One other thing that I really despise is stories about drug addicts. Maybe if it was a story about someone who had kicked drugs, and was doing their best to stay off the stuff, but I just don't care what an effed up drug addict is doing to score their next hit. I don't think that Pulp Fiction is an awesome movie, I couldn't make it through Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and I didn't enjoy my attempt at reading Naked Lunch. Case was a drug addict who did take some left turns in search of drugs, but not enough to completely sour me on the story, it was just mildly annoying and stupid.

One of my big problems may have been the fact that I listened to this book in audio rather than reading a print version. With material like this, it can be infinitely valuable to be able to flip back a page or two, or a chapter or two, to reread a part that will ease your confusion about the part your reading now. But with audio, you just can't do that. I wonder if I would have liked Dune as much as I did if I'd listened to the audio rather than reading the actual book? I tried to listen to the Dune sequel, and couldn't get past the first tape, but that could have been the severely annoying voice that the reader had more than the material itself.

Anyway, if you haven't figured it out already, this book was not for me. I suppose it's a classic, the first cyberpunk novel or at least the first big one, but cyberpunk just isn't really my thing. To make cyberpunk work for me, a lot has to be done to soften the landing. Others, I'm sure, love it, and that's okay, we're all different, and I'm glad we are. It makes life so much richer.

I'm happy to be moving on. Up next...Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. It's not on the classic list, but it was a Hugo nominee this year, so I figure it's worthy. I hope there's no cyberpunk in it...

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Incredibles

Okay, I have gone completely soft, and haven't written the last of these things I started way back in May. Please forgive me. *Crickets* Oh, that's right, I forgot nobody reads this blog anyway.

So, back in May, the kids and I got together, pulled out the blankets and pillows, popped some popcorn, and sat down to watch The Incredibles. It didn't have a short cartoon that played before it, so we watched the Carstrailer, and went straight into the film.

Rish really likes to do lists of top five or bottom five whatevers--Marvel super hero films, John Hughes films, Johnny Depp films, and so on. We've done best Marvel films, best DC films, but he's never done a list of the best super hero films of all time. If I was forced to make that list, I think I would put The Incredibles at number three.

And as far as movies that show super heroes being super heroes, it is far and away number one. Nowhere else can you see super heroes with such an amazing grasp on their abilities. The Incredibles are all new versions of already established super heroes. For the most part, they get their abilities from the other family of super heroes, The Fantastic Four. Mr. Incredible would be like The Thing. He's not made of rock, but he has super strength, and is nearly invulnerable to attack. Elastigirl is obviously Mr. Fantastic with the stretchy power. Violet has the powers of Invisible Girl, able to become invisible and create force fields. But then there's Dash, he's not The Human Torch, but instead he's Flash. Now Flash hasn't had a film adaptation yet, but The Fantastic Four certainly have, two of them in fact. If you put the two Fantastic Four films side by side with The Incredibles, it will quickly become obvious that Brad Bird and the folks at Pixar have a much better handle on what the FF can do than the people behind the actual Fantastic Four film. Which is a little sad to me. I've heard from a friend that Marvel is planning a Fantastic Four reboot. If that's true, they better get Mr. Bird on the phone, but it might not be possible, because apparently Pixar is now planning an Incredibles sequel.

I love the way The Incredibles starts with the raw interviews of the supers from "back in the day." It's hilarious stuff, and it hearkens back to Pixar's fake outtakes gag from A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc. It's fun to see the attitudes of the two main characters, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl reversed from what they become later in the film as well. Mr. Incredible thinks it might be nice to settle down, and Elastigirl says there's no way she'd stop hero work and leave it to the boys.

The first segment of the film, showing the glory days of super heroes is excellent. It's filled with humorous lines, in fact, most of the ones I quote from this film are from this first section. (Don't you hate those people who are endlessly quoting movie lines?) My favorite thing in all this is Bomb Voyage. What an inspired goofy character. I can't help but smile whenever I hear him say, "Monsieur Incroyable!" Also, the demise of the super heroes seems all too plausible. Our crappy, selfish litigious society is likely to take something good like super heroes and say, "You didn't save my life, you ruined my death!"

So, The Incredibles is the story of a family, that has fallen apart, and needs to find a way back together. Bob, also known as Mr. Incredible, has lost sight of what matters most. He is constantly looking over his shoulder at his glorious past, and misses the glorious present right in front of him. Helen, also known as Elastigirl, has forgotten who she is, and her husband as well, and settled in for a lifetime of frumpitude, hiding and surviving, instead of living and thriving. And then there's the kids, struggling, as all kids do, for their own identity. Who are they? Violet's invisible, not literally, just figuratively. And Dash is a pest in need of an outlet.

When these people finally figure it all out, and come together as a family again, it makes me cry. It's so triumphant. The moment when the bad guys attack the family as a whole, and they team up to take them on gives me chills. It's just so completely satisfying. I wish that there was a possibility that I could write something so...Incredible.

Again, like Finding Nemo, they decided on a different composer. It's not a Randy Newman score, instead we have the first appearance of Michael Giacchino. He'll be back for Ratatouille, which is another fine score, but it doesn't compare to this one. This score is great. It comes across to me as a James Bond-like score. It's so very sixties sounding, brassy, and brash. It fits the film perfectly, and it's a pleasure to listen to.

There is only one complaint that I have about this film. This is the first film that Pixar did in which humans were the main characters. They chose to go the stylistic route, rather than duplicate the disastrously creepy realism of Warner Brothers's The Polar Express (Although The Incredibles came out first, so I suppose duplicate isn't quite the right word). I think that was a good idea, but here and there, there are characters that are a little too stylized, when placed next to the other fairly normal characters. For example, Dash's teacher, who he torments by placing thumbtacks on his chair, has an unusual, large football-shaped head. By himself, the character doesn't cause any problems, but placed next to Dash, Helen, and the Principal, all nearly normal-looking characters, he stands out garishly. It is enough to make you forget that you're just watching a movie, breaking the suspension of disbelief. It's not enough, however to cause me to dislike the film. It's more like a very small zit on a really hot, busty chick who digs you. It's very easy to overlook.All in all, this is a movie that you must see if you haven't. From the little touches of comedy, like the self-destructing message setting off the fire sprinklers, or Mr. Incredible's back going out on him while he battles the Omnidroid, to the excellent action, lovable characters, and interesting story arc. Oh, and Jason Lee is in it too, so what's not to like?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barbudo

They say that everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, everybody needs a bosom. And while I definitely agree with that, it seems like there are a few other things that everyone should have, at least once. Everyone should order escargot at least once, just to say you've eaten snails. Everyone should write in a cartoon character as their vote for president at least once. Everyone should have intercourse outdoors at least once (preferably on the 1st of May). Along those lines, everyone should go skinny dipping once...or more than that if possible. Everyone should live in New York once (but leave before it makes you hard) and live in Northern California once (but leave before it makes you soft). Which leads into my whole point here. If you're a man, you should, at least once in your life, try to grow a beard. See how it looks. Well, I've long considered giving it a shot, and recently, when I'd been lazy and failed to shave for about a week and the time came to shave it back, I just thought, screw it, let's see how a beard looks.

Beards are a bit of an exclusive club. So many people have issues with facial hair coming in sparsely in some areas, but fuller in others. That tends to make beards look awful. I let my beard grow for upwards of a month, knowing that I was going to fall into that awful-looking-beard club. My sideburns don't grow at all, so any beard that I have is never going to be attached to the rest of my head. My cheeks grow sparsely too, so there's that. The hair on my neck grows really thick though, so I could have one of those hideous neck beards that you sometimes see in period films set in the 1800s.

A lot of people at work told me that it looked good. I don't know how much I can trust them though, I think they all just wanted me to stop being such a dullard and live a little. One of the women who told me it looked good was once arrested for streaking at a local arts festival. Another is married to the guitarist for a rock and roll band that played on The Tonight Show. They've got wilder tastes than me, I think.

Beards are really hard to deal with too. Growing in, they itch like a son of a...hey that rhymes! Well it would have rhymed if I'd finished my thought anyway. After that, you've got hair all over your face. It's like taking a cat, and gluing it to your upper lip. It will drive you a bit crazy. I'm already one of those people who can't leave any anomaly alone. When someone spells something wrong, I point it out, even though it makes them hate me. If I have a new jag on one of my teeth after a dentist appointment, I worry that thing until my tongue is scraped raw. So, if there's hair on my face, I'll stick out my tongue and mess with it, until my lips are dried out and my tongue hurts.

But the final straw, was...well there were two final straws really. First, I went to work, and someone that I hadn't seen in a while noticed my beard. "Hey, like the beard," he said, "It's very Muslim. You growing that for Ramadan or something? It's coming up you know." The Muslim beard was definitely not the look I was going for. Then, the next day, I kissed my wife, and she said, after having been supportive up to this point, that it wasn't nice to kiss me. It was like kissing a stranger. Instead of kissing my lips, she was mostly getting the hair around them poking her.

It was time to give it up. I'd had a good run, and now I needed to throw in that towel. I took a couple of pictures, just to prove that I had once worn a beard, and then I spent a half of an hour hacking and slashing that thing off.

Get an eyeful, because there will never be another picture like this one.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

American Gods

A few weeks ago, Rish and I ran Book Scouts Of The Galactic Rim by Jason Sanford on the podcast. If you haven't heard it yet, it's a story that talks a lot about various seminal science fiction works. The story got the both of us thinking. We did mention the fact that we both felt lacking in our knowledge of science fiction literature. Independently, without ever conversing about it, we both decided to start working on remedying that fault.

I happened over to Rish's blog, and saw that he'd posted about his first venture. He's reading Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. That's one of the few books that I already have read, and I must admit that it wasn't my favorite. It was hard to get through, but I struggled away, and made it to the end. I never felt rewarded for my persistence though. I had recently finished reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which I loved, so I was hoping for more of the same with Stranger. It's not what I got, for sure. Okay, I'll further admit, not only was it not my favorite, I hated it. But you can't always win, it's just life. I just hope that Rish doesn't feel quite the same way as I did, because it could easily damage his resolve to continue.

My reading time is so very limited these days, but my listening time isn't. So I went in search of Audio Books. I wanted to hear Neuromancer by William Gibson, a book that Jason Sanford referred to in his story. While I searched for that, I got Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a book that won a Hugo Award a few years ago. It isn't classic science fiction, but as a Hugo winner, it likely will be someday.I really enjoyed the book. Gaiman has a very readable (or maybe I should say listenable) style of writing. And his story was very fun. I heard it described somewhere as a cross between Americana, Fantasy, and Myth. I really liked the combination. Sometimes it seemed like it could have been Garrison Keillor writing about the residents of Lake Wobegon, except that those residents were Ibis of Egyptian mythology or Odin of Norse mythology or Kali of Indian mythology.

I have to admit that, like most Americans, I have little to no knowledge of the mythos of gods that don't belong to the Greek pantheon. They teach Greek mythology in public schools, and, even though there's a great deal of time spent in history class discussing Egypt, their mythology is not heavily explained. Go beyond that, and there's no time spent whatsoever on myth. Not the Norse gods, Indian gods, African gods, or Mayan gods. If you want to know a little or a lot about those pantheons, then you've got to seek it out on your own. Neil Gaiman must have spent a few lifetimes researching for this book. He refers to so many different gods from so many different places, that it leaves an ignoramus like me feeling dumb...but entertained all the same.

One thing, which was probably a wise move, that I found interesting was the almost complete lack of mention that we got of the Judeo-Christian pantheon. There was a small mention, but it was probably better to just leave it out and save himself the trouble it could create. Besides, in America Jesus is just too powerful. He didn't fit into the story about old, forgotten gods at all.

I was led by curiosity to see if there was a site out there somewhere that gives some sort of glossary for us dummies that just don't know mythology like an intelligent guy like Gaiman does. The book in several places gives you only a description of one god or another, and I was just so curious that I had to find out exactly who they were. If you're the same as me, check out frowl.org, but wait until you are finished reading, because some of the entries contain spoilers that might blow some of the surprises that the book has in store for you.

My only complaint about the book (and it's just because I'm a sad old prude) was that I could have done without the various graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. These were mostly found in the "Coming To America" segments, that were interspersed throughout the book. I think the book would have been fine without them, but I'm a prude. Oh well. I got through the book just fine, and they weren't enough to scare me off or take away from my enjoyment of the book, but depending on your level of prudishness, they could be.

Up next, Gibson's Neuromancer!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Happened To Murphy?

I figured I'm morally obligated to post this one, owing to my other post about how nothing ever goes right for me.

The other day at work, somebody asked me if I wanted some french fries, he'd apparently gotten an enormous order and wasn't able to finish it himself. This is already unusual--free food, woohoo!

So he gives me this huge bag full of fries and one of those little cups full of ketchup, and I start making my way through them.

When I get to the last couple of fries, I dip them into the ketchup cup, and hoist them towards my mouth. I notice that a huge glop of ketchup is slipping off the fries, and before I can make any evasive actions, down the glop plunges.

Here's where everything goes alternate dimension on me. Rather than falling onto my shirt and dribbling down to my waist leaving an impressively large and unsightly stain, the glop of ketchup actually falls right back into the ketchup cup!

It was so different from the way things normally go for me that I was moved to blog about it.

I feel invincible right now. Today, a glop of ketchup, tomorrow the world. Nothing can stop me now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I'm Listening To Today - Diablo Swing Orchestra

The other day, I was putting together our most recent episode for the podcast, and I needed some Heavy Metal music to use in the background of a scene. I went over to Jamendo.com, my favorite site for CC licensed music, and checked out what they had. I found some good music for the show, downloaded it, and was about to leave, when something caught my eye.

At the bottom of the page, there was an album that listed itself in the categories of metal and jazz. Metal and jazz, I thought, that's a combination I don't think I've ever heard before. I like metal and I like jazz, I bet this could be something good.

So I clicked on it, and I wasn't disappointed. This stuff was great! On top of the metal and jazz (the jazz really only shows up in the first track), they have a huge classical music influence as well, with a cellist in the band and a, get this, opera singer as their lead singer! It's like Charlotte Church joined the boys from Metallica for a jam session.

I remember when Metallica did their S&M concert back in the nineties with the San Francisco Symphony. I had high hopes for that, but it turned out to suck. It sounded more like an orchestra and a metal band happened to be playing in the same room, but they'd made no attempt to play together. This band, Diablo Swing Orchestra, is what I hoped Metallica's S&M might have been.

I'm sure most other people are put off right away by the idea of listening to an opera singer, but I'm not the timid type that only listens to Miley Cyrus pop songs. I like me some experimental stuff.

Anyway, I know this band isn't for everyone, but I think they are absolutely fantastic. You can download their album for free from Jamendo.com, so there's nothing to lose in checking them out. You can preview their songs with the widget just below here. Hopefully I manage to score them at least one new fan...come on John Smith, don't be afraid.

  

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musings From A Mall

LINK TO BLOG

So, on my vacation to the great white north, I spent a few hours in what once was the world's largest shopping mall. According to Wikipedia (which never has incorrect information, so I trust it implicitly), the West Edmonton Mall was the world's largest mall from 1981 to 2004 (although different articles say 1986-2004, see Wikipedia is never wrong...er...I mean). So what happened in 2004? Well the Chinese built a bigger mall. Then, someone built a bigger mall in the Philippines, and a bigger mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well. The West Edmonton Mall is now the fifth largest in the world. The West Ed previously had always been in competition with the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the title of world's biggest, but the good folks in Asia have made that competition moot.

Kuala Lumpur having a huge mall seems particularly relevant, because that's the same town where they built the Petronas Towers; the twin set of buildings that you might remember seeing in *Entrapment* (that Sean Connery movie with Catherine Zeta Jones in the skin-tight black outfit sliding her butt under security laser beams in close-up). Those buildings displaced the Sears Tower as the world's tallest building. Then came Taipei 101, an even taller building, displacing that.

There are a few other buildings under construction now that will displace those, but this whole thing got me thinking. Until recently, America (and Canada) had the big buildings. Now, Asia lays claim to all of those titles. Why is it that Americans didn't find it necessary to try to top the Sears Tower with another even taller building? Have we perhaps matured as a society and no longer find it necessary?

See, it seems to me that that kind of thing eventually happens. Once, a hundred or more years ago, the tallest structure was in Europe, the Eiffel Tower. But Europe was already getting old by then. Their ambition was waning. Then came several world wars, destroying once and for all any glamour in the ideas of empires, conquest, and competition for world supremacy.

However, a hundred or so years ago, a once provincial nation on a different continent was just beginning to see these kinds of ideas as viable. So they set out to prove themselves as worthy. They built tall buildings like the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower. And they started taking their influence overseas. Eventually, the United States of America became *the* world power, as the British Empire used to be. But the British grew out of the need to assert dominion. Now, after a hundred years, it seems like the U.S. might be growing out of that need too.

Instead of building ever taller buildings, we just build them to be as big as they need to be. If you've ever seen the movie *Towering Inferno*, then you know that a tall building can be a real problem when disaster strikes. Why build a building that tall? Not really necessary. It's only important as a status symbol really, and does America need status symbols any longer? Not really, we've got all the status we need.

So here comes Asia. China building taller structures, Malaysia building taller structures, Taiwan doing it as well. They've built bigger malls too. They are out-commercializing the kings of commercialism. They've just got so much ambition over there.

Once, the Arab world was the height of civilization. Then one day, they woke up and found that Europe had left them behind. Then America strode ahead of Europe. I know this is a big stretch to make based on a visit to a mall that's no longer as grand as it once was, but I think these signs point to the fact that, in the near future, Asia will be the home of the world superpowers that make the agenda for the rest of the planet. They are the ones who have the ambition these days. Hopefully they will be wiser than we have been.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacation Highlights

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Here's me at the Alberta Provincial Legislature Building in Edmonton. That place was so fun.Here's me at the West Edmonton Mall. Once this was the biggest mall in the world, as with everything else, the Chinese have built something bigger and better, but this mall is still waaaay bigger than any mall ever should be. It's a little creepy inside there.and here's me at the...uh...world's biggest Ukranian Easter egg. I don't know if it's the biggest Easter egg, but it's the biggest Easter egg with Ukranian designs on it. So, that's pretty awesome right?Man, don't I know how to have a good time on vacation?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm Back

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So, I spent a little time out of sight. Out of touch you could say. But now I'm back.

That's right, I just spent a little over a week in rural Alberta, Canada. It's pretty country, but it's definitely not what I'm used to. I'm not a big city boy--I grew up in a suburb of Sacramento, not the mean streets of New York or Chicago--but spending my vacation in a town with a population of less than 500 was a different kind of experience for me. I didn't realize how much of an internet addict I've become until I went to a place where they think this is what people mean when they say online.I've mostly managed to avoid this vacation over the years of marriage, sending my wife and kids out and staying home by myself, or meeting the in-laws halfway in Montana at their cabin. This time, though, my wife insisted. Her parents will be moving away from the house she grew up in, and she wanted to see it one last time. Her mom was ready to unload anything and everything she'd been saving for her kids over the years. Our van came back loaded down so heavy that we were lucky not to be scraping on the axles.

I did get a whole lot of time to do nothing though. Strange how a vacation that isn't jampacked with activities seems to last longer than it really does. I'm more used to a vacation that is over before it even feels like it's begun. So, with all the time I had, I read a shload of submissions to the Dunesteef. Then, with still a week to go on vacation, I put pen to paper--for the first time since the Broken Mirror Story Event, and for only the second time this year--and I wrote a story. And I wasn't kidding when I said pen to paper. I don't have a laptop, so I had to write the story the old fashioned way. It is 26 pages of handwritten fun. I was so proud of myself for finishing that I took a picture of it (after all digital pictures are free).Then, because I had more time, I wrote a second story. This one is much shorter, just a little flash piece. I think it's only 350 words, but the idea couldn't be stretched further...or at least I don't think it has that much potential, maybe a competent writer could make a novel out of it, but that's not me, now is it.So now I'm back, and after writing as much as I did, I'm excited to do some more. My job and family, so far, have reminded me why I never managed to write before though. I'll have to see what I can do.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What I'm Listening To Today - Mike Doughty and Soul Coughing

I used to listen to Soul Coughing like crazy when I was in college in the late nineties. Then they broke up, and I basically forgot about them. I still listened to their CDs, but I never considered what they might be doing these days.

Then we did the Broken Mirror Story Event, and one of our entries was inspired by a song by Mike Doughty, the erstwhile singer of Soul Coughing. I had to run out and check it out right away.

I loved that band so much, and it was almost as if they had new albums that I'd not heard yet. Mike Doughty's stuff is much less electronic and sample based. Instead, it's almost always got acoustic guitar throughout, but I like it just as much. It's still really good.

So this playlist is some of my favorite Mike Doughty songs as well as some of my favorite Soul Coughing songs. Check it out if you've never heard them before. You may find something you like.

Get a playlist! Standalone player

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

We're on our vacation in the middle of the Canadian heartland, driving across an endless prairie, and my daughter speaks up from the back seat.

"We can't go to the ocean to swim."

"What is that, Kiddo," I ask.

"We can't go to the ocean to swim, because I would be afraid to go in the water. I'm afraid of sharks."

I'm nonplussed. We're not going to the ocean anytime soon; we're in Alberta, probably 500 miles from the closest salt water; and what did this stuff about sharks come from?

My son speaks up, "She's still afraid of Jaws."

It turns out that, while playing at a friend's house, my two older kids, nine years old and seven years old, watched Steven Spielberg's Jaws. My seven-year-old didn't make it all the way through the movie, but she was able to watch the terribly disturbing opening skinny dip/shark attack scene.

I didn't see that movie until I was probably 15 years old, and I was very disturbed, what can my poor little seven-year-old be thinking? This was the same movie that kept a whole nation away from the beach for at least a summer, and, in many people's cases, more. What can that poor little girl be thinking that she would randomly bring it up more than a week after watching the movie and more than 500 miles (oh wait it's Canada, 1000 kilometres) from the beach.

We are going to California to visit family next summer. I hope she's over it by then, because I'm planning on taking them to the beach.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Murphy Brown's Law

I don't know if everybody else's life is like this, but if it isn't then why does Loki, god of mischief, hate me so?

Here's an example for you. Today, I'm heading out the door to work, and I realize that there are no leftovers for me to take for my lunch. I've got to make something, and fast. I look in the fridge, and figure that the quickest thing I can do is whip up a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches.

I grab the ham and cheese from the fridge, and the bread from the cupboard. I'm going to need some mayonnaise on these sandwiches if I want them to be edible. So, I grab a butter knife to spread it, and the mayonnaise bottle from the fridge. Except the last person who used the mayonnaise just set the lid on top instead of screwing it on. The lid pops off the mayonnaise, and the bottle plunges to the floor. When it hits, about a cup of mayonnaise splatters across the kitchen floor. So much for being quick, now I've got to get out some paper towels and scoop/wipe this mess up.

But it doesn't end there. I get the sandwiches put together, and head to the pantry to grab some Ziplok bags to put the sandwiches in. I try to pull two bags out of the box that sits on the top shelf. I get one, but in trying to get the second one out, the box falls of the shelf, hitting the ground, and spewing its contents across the floor. Now I've got about 50 Ziplok bags to clean up. I grab them all fairly quickly, but they resist being shoved back into the box. Several of them slip out of my grasp, and I've got to pick them back up. Finally I wrestle them back into the box.

I put the sandwiches in my lunchbag, and start tossing the ingredients back into their places in the cupboard and refrigerator. I'm done right? Not quite. When I toss the ham and cheese into the fridge, they dislodge a bag of shredded carrots from its perch. It falls to the floor and spills its contents too.

Is it Loki? Is it Murphy? I don't know, but it's my life.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Children Just Don't Understand

It seems like every person I've ever known who has a screwed-up life, be they my own friends or celebrities or whatever, always blames their messed-up life on their parents. Their parents didn't show them enough love, didn't take them to enough ballgames, didn't buy them enough popcorn at the ballgames that they did take them too, and so on. I wonder how many things these parents did for these nasty kids out of pure love, that they never even knew about or understood.

The reason I wonder is because my daughter lost her tooth yesterday. Back when my oldest son lost his first tooth, my wife, in a fit of spontaneity, gave him not only a dollar for the tooth, but also a box of Junior Mints. This established a precedent for our children. From then on, they would wonder what the heck happened to the Tooth Fairy, and why wasn't she doing what she's always done if they only got a dollar and no candy. So, in an effort to help our children's youth last as long as it can, we've always given both a dollar and some kind of candy treat. (Why the Tooth Fairy is giving candy is a topic for discussion all on it's own. Shouldn't she be promoting good oral health, which eating candy is not a part of? Or maybe it's a nefarious purpose. She wants the kids to lose more teeth, so she can wallpaper her living room with them, or whatever Tooth Fairies do with these teeth they collect).

Anyway, I was editing on the podcast last night. I was determined to get it done before I went to bed. I'm heading out for vacation at the end of the week, so I was running out of time. I ran out of gas somewhere around 1am, but I was still a ways from being done. I kept at it, because I was determined, and finally, bleary-eyed and utterly wasted, I finished editing at 2am. I went to my bedroom, undressed, and just as I was about to hop in bed, I realized that I hadn't taken care of Tooth Fairy duty. I put my clothes back on, and bleary-eyed and utterly wasted, I drove to the 24hr gas station to get her the candy that was expected to come from Fairyland.

I hope, someday, when she thinks it's cool to hate her dad and blame all her ills in life on me, she thinks about things like this, and understands just how much she is and was loved.

Seeing her face first thing in the morning as she marched into our bedroom at 7am to show us what the Tooth Fairy had brought made it all worth it, though. I only wish I hadn't been too tired to open my eyes for more than a split second to look before falling back into a fitful slumber.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Put The Alphabet In Alphabetical Order?

This morning, I hit play on my iPod as I was heading out the door to work, and it revealed to me a new feature. If you hit play without telling it to play anything specific, it takes everything on it, organizes them alphabetically by artist, and plays them all. I had my iPod loaded up with all the singles that I've collected over the years for songs from as far back as the '50s to the present. It loaded up A-ha's "Take On Me," and started playing.

The only thing I couldn't understand was that right after All-American Rejects, it played ? and the Mysterians doing "96 Tears." I'm no expert, but in everything I've ever seen alphabetized, numbers and symbols came before the letter A. How did it get shoved in between The All-American Rejects and "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finding Nemo



So we've made it to my number one favorite Pixar film of all time. What is it about this movie that so enchants me? I've talked a lot with Rish about it, and, as we've said on the podcast a lot, it's the heart that makes it so great. I think Finding Nemo has the most heart of all the Pixar films.

I rounded up the kids, and, once again, we sat down to watch the next DVD. The first thing that strikes me with this film is the absolute beauty of the film's score. After Coral is killed, and Marlin holds Nemo's egg in his...uh...fin, Thomas Newman's theme swells. Everytime I hear that music, I feel an unusually strong emotion. I don't really know how to describe it. I'm willing to bet that it's the same kind of feeling that an artist gets as he looks at the works of Van Gogh or Rembrandt or the feeling a soccer player might get as he watches the video highlights of Pele or Ronaldinho. That piece of music is sublime in its beauty. All the emotions that Andrew Stanton subjects us to through the course of this film are summed up in that 30 seconds or less of music.

I've always been susceptible to the power of music. So it's no surprise that Newman sucks me in right away, but it doesn't stop there. "First Day," the song that accompanies Marlin and Nemo's journey to school is magical, "Field Trip," the song that accompanies the schools trip through the reef makes me feel the same wonder that Nemo is feeling, "Mr. Ray, Scientist," is a memorable tune, "Lost," really evokes the terror that Marlin is feeling as he desperately tries to follow the trail of the motorboat. I could go on and on (that's generally what I do), because there are something like 30 tracks on the soundtrack, and I haven't even passed number ten yet. I'm sure you get the picture.

The soundtrack to Finding Nemo (and later Wall-E as well) inspired me to go out and get other soundtracks that Thomas Newman has done. The very well known theme to American Beauty is also by Newman. As well as the simply gorgeous music for Road To Perdition. But I've even got the soundtrack to movies that I don't even particularly like, like Meet Joe Black, because Newman penned the music. These days, Thomas Newman is my favorite composer. John Williams may have more great scores to his credit (I own ten times the number of soundtracks by him than any other), but when Newman reaches a similar age, they may well be equal.

Finding Nemo is a smorgasbord for the eyes. The backdrop of the coral reef is rendered with loving care, and art, to rival any that has been created in...hell in human history is put on the screen. I know we have a tendency to venerate things from the past while downplaying the worth of things from the present, so I'm sure most people reading this blog will consider what I just wrote to be hyperbole at its finest, but I really do believe that. Michaelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are no more beautiful than the images rendered by the animators behind this film. This is not your average lowbrow cartoon here. Anyway, I said it, and I won't take it back.

Now, Finding Nemo probably had the worst trailer of any Pixar film. Let me sum it up for those who don't recall it or never saw it. Marlin and Dory talk a little about their predicament, and they decide that they need to ask for directions. Since Dory is forgetful, Marlin decides that he'd better be the one to ask. He goes and finds the school of fish that likes to form themselves into shapes and do impressions. As they start to give him directions, Dory comes swimming in and scares away all the fish. She laughs, oh it's so fun, and Marlin is frustrated. He begs for a bigger fish to swallow him.

I saw that trailer, and groaned. First of all, I'll admit I'm not a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres. I'm not a hater, by any means, but I don't think she's very funny. This trailer only reinforced that for me. Ugh, every line she spoke was irritating. I saw this trailer and thought, "Oh no, I think this movie may not be for me." I don't know what it is about Pixar's ad campaigns, but it seems like every time I see their promos, I fear that the film will be that first Pixar dud.

I went to the movie anyway, of course, because, well, I was already a hopeless fanboy by this time. Monsters, Inc. had ensured that I would be there for Finding Nemo on opening weekend. I remember going with my kids, and my daughter, who was only about two at the time, threw a fit in the middle of the jellyfish field crossing. I was so irritated to have to carry her out and miss part of the movie, because it had been so good so far. I gave her to a stranger and said, "here, you can have the kid, she's yours," and went back to my seat. Just kidding, but I might have considered it. Pixar is an obsession, you know.

Ellen DeGeneres was actually great in this film. She didn't grate on my nerves at all. The stupid lines that she uttered in the trailer were not a part of the film. Her character, which seems like the kind of character that could be off-putting, was loveable instead. Short term memory loss is not, in my opinion, a good flaw for a character to overcome. It's not something that people can relate to. It's a rare thing, like Narcolepsy or Abetalipoproteinemia. And, on top of that, it's a disease, basically, not a character flaw. It's not something you can change by your willpower alone. But they made it work. The friendship that she forges with Marlin is what it takes to change her from a complete scatterbrain to a somewhat useful companion. And, on top of that, her memory problems make her seem child-like, so she makes a handy stand-in for Marlin's son.

One of my favorite moments in the movie belongs to Dory. It's when we near the end of our journey, Marlin thinks it's the end of the line. He saw Nemo floating upside-down in the bag, and is certain that he is dead, and all this epic quest he's been on was for naught. He says goodbye to Dory, but she realizes what their friendship means to her, and is desperate for him not to go. She explains his importance in her life, and begs him not to go, but he is unmoved, and leaves her behind. Marlin may have been unmoved, but I definitely wasn't. I was totally impressed by the level of emotion that DeGeneres put into those lines. Her pleading and desperation was so moving to me. It wasn't the first time that the film brought tears to my eyes, but it was one of the many.

As a parent, I relate a whole lot to this movie. Dads get an awful lot of abuse these days. It seems to me that nobody in the world likes their father anymore. Fathers are all deadbeats anymore...or maybe that's not true, but they just play it that way on TV.

But being a father is hard. It's gotten surely a little easier as times have changed and we're to the point that most mothers are working as well as fathers, but it's still a hard job, and it's not a job you can be fired from (well, not really). Here you are, nothing more than a big kid yourself, but now you have beautiful, innocent helpless children that depend on you. They rely on you to supply them with their needs. Seeing the disappointment in their eyes when they are told that they can't get a toy or even a little candy bar because there isn't enough money, is a really hard thing to watch for the person who is supposed to be the one who provides that money.

I feel like I'm living in fear every day of letting the people I love most down. There are men out there who are ultra-capable. Men who will always have great jobs, and never lose their self-confidence. Men who know that their children will never lack for anything. I'm most definitely not one of those men. I can't do a lot of things well, and with the economy getting sourer and sourer, I live in constant fear of losing my job, and having to come home and look in the big eyes of my children and tell them that they're going to have to tighten their belts, because we'll be out of food soon.

It's hard to be responsible for someone. My wife could get by, but my children need me, they depend on me one hundred percent, without even knowing it. It's no wonder that there are so many deadbeat dads out there. It's so much easier to quit and run away than to keep going sometimes. It seems like that's all we hear about in the movies anymore, so it's nice to see the (almost unheard of) father who never quits on his child and will do anything for him.

As a father that lives in constant fear of failure and its consequences, the most resonant scene in the film to me is when the pelican, Nigel, is talking to Nemo about the adventures his father has been going through to find him. Nemo; who has never had a very high opinion of his father, considering him timid and overprotective; hears Nigel say that his father took on a shark. "It couldn't be my father," he says, "my dad's afraid of sharks, he would never have taken one on."

Then Nigel looks at Nemo, and with a flair meant to put the same respect that he feels for Marlin into the heart of his son he says, "I heard he took on three." Every man wants to be that father that is idolized by his child. Marlin already deserved it for having brought this kid up on his own, but his feats of bravery in the search for his missing child are what finally convince Nemo just what kind of a father he has. It's a beautiful moment, and my eyes mist up everytime I see it.

I could go on and on, I suppose, (this is already nearly as long as my last short story) and talk about the lesson that Marlin, the father of the film, learns. You have to let go and allow your children to grow up. It's a hard lesson to learn. Especially these days, when your child could be kidnapped by a psycho, or hit by a driver who's texting her friend about how awful the dress that Celine Dion wore to the Grammys was, or get buried in loose dirt at the construction site he was playing in, or get involved in any number of society's ills from drugs to sexual promiscuity to skateboarding. The news has stories every night about children dying in this accident or that accident. I remember the freedom that I had growing up, and compare it to what my children have to deal with, and it makes me sad. As Sting told us, "If you love someone, set them free," but when are they old enough to do that? Anyway...oh shoot, I wasn't going to go on and on about this.

So, now you know that Finding Nemo is my favorite of all the marvelously clever and creative Pixar films. To be the best of Pixar, it really has to be a great film, because every Pixar film so far has been a triumph. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend you do so. You may not have the same reaction to it that I do, but you'll still not be disappointed, no matter what. It's a great film.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Synergy

Liz Mierzejewski forwarded this link to me. This is Jonathan Coulton (along with Paul & Storm) singing "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants. I think it's probably not correct to call this synergy, but it's really cool to have one artist that I really like cover a song by another artist that I really like. It's like "Two great tastes that taste great together" (what was that the slogan for? I think Reese's Pieces or maybe Reese's Peanut Butter Cups). One time, this same TMBG song was sung by Olive Snook in the dearly departed show, Pushing Daisies. Synergy again, I guess. Since my last post happened to be about TMBG, I figured I'd include this video.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I'm Listening To Today - They Might Be Giants


In 1990, my older brother got a CD from in the mail from BMG. I'd never heard of the band, but my brother wanted to play it for me. I stood there, listening to songs like "Someone keeps moving my chair," and "Birdhouse In Your Soul," and "Particle Man." They were odd songs, but for some reason, I liked them all the same. At the time, my mindset was "If it isn't heavy metal or at least hard rock, then I'm not interested," but these guys were keeping my interest all the same.

The album was, as you've probably guessed by now, They Might Be Giants, Flood. As time went by, it got more and more popular. "Istanbul," became a favorite of many of my friends, along with other songs on that album. In my mind, Flood is one of the greatest 20 albums of all time, maybe even top ten (I've never actually sat down and made a list of my favorites beyond the top five list that I once did on Facebook).

Strangely, I'd never given any other CDs by They Might Be Giants a chance. Not even another song. I can't explain it. I love Flood to that level, but I'd never tried a second album by TMBG.

Then my wife one day picked up their kids album, Here Comes The ABCs. It was a kids album, but it was awesome. I found myself listening to it even when the kids weren't around. TMBG came out with a follow-up, Here Comes the 123s. We got that one for the kids, and found it to be of similar quality to the first. Again, here I am listening to my kids CD with songs about sevens and threes and the like, and the kids aren't even around.

So recently I decided to try out the rest of their stuff. They've been making music since well before 1990, so they must have other good stuff right? I've gone through the majority of their catalog, and I found that they maintain the same high quality evidenced on Flood, Here Comes the ABCs and Here Comes The 123s all the way through their parade of albums. So, below is a playlist that has highlights, several of my favorites, from their long career making great music. Listen to them, and then check out what else they've got to offer. I doubt you'll be disappointed.


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Monday, June 15, 2009

Monsters, Inc.

In my mind (and that's a dank and empty place from which nothing of worth or consequence proceeds), It was with 2001's Monsters, Inc. that Pixar's big red machine got rolling. Up until that point, they were making good, even very good movies. Toy Story was a masterpiece, a movie that was all-around great, but, while excellent, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2 were not of that same caliber. Monsters, Inc. was. And the machine was rollling now. The next one, Finding Nemo was even better. The next one, The Incredibles was again, a masterpiece. This string of masterworks could easily be equated to impressive feats of success in other realms, like the Chicago Bulls winning three consecutive NBA titles (twice in eight years), Secretariat's Triple Crown, Apple's unending releases of successful applications and devices (iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iMac, iWhateverthehellwecomeupwithnext). Anyway, I absolutely love Monsters, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. was directed by Pete Docter. Which marks the first Pixar film not to be directed by John Lassiter. After three amazing successes. He was able to hand the reins to his previous co-directors and sit back, producing instead of doing the day-to-day directing. He had already turned Docter into a clone though, as evidenced by the matching shirts that all the Pixar creative team wear. Clones of impressive creative talent are a good thing, though.

So, I wrangled all the kids into our TV room, and we sat down to watch the film. First off is the short, For The Birds, a film about fat, little round blackbirds sitting on a wire. Along comes a similar bird, but this one is large and gangly instead of little and fat. He wants to join in the fun with the little birds, but he doesn't fit in, and the little birds try to exclude him, like a nasty clique of high school mean girls. They make fun of his looks and his birdcall. They automatically assume that he is stupid and bad, because he is different (although maybe that isn't a valid point, because the filmmakers certainly made him seem stupid). When the big bird doesn't take the hint, and settles onto the wire in the middle of their clique, the blackbirds go on the attack. This, of course, goes badly for the fat little birds (if it didn't there'd be no moral to the story, I suppose).

I like this short a great deal. The message is valuable, and it's cute. The other thing that always impresses me, is how well Pixar can tell a story without dialogue. The blackbirds chirp and squawk, but they don't talk. And looking at the list of all the other Pixar shorts, only one of them has any speaking at all (that comes from the narrator on Boundin', the short that preceded Cars).

First thing in Monsters, Inc. is the opening title sequence. It's 2D animation, accompanied by a jazzy up-tempo version of the Randy Newman theme song for the movie, "If I Didn't Have You." The title sequence reminded me of old school Disney animation from the '60s, jagged lines, angular shapes, and garish colors. It is particularly reminiscent of the opening sequence for 101 Dalmations, which features dancing spots, a lot like the dancing doors. On the commentary, the filmmakers said they needed that credit sequence to make sure people knew what kind of a movie this was, because the next scene was the rather creepy intro where the monster comes in to scare the child, which of course turns out to be nothing but a job training simulator.

There is a bit of a formula for Pixar films, it seems. Start out with an attention catching first scene, in Toy Story it's Andy playing with his toys, in Finding Nemo it's the death of Nemo's mother Coral, and in Monsters, Inc. it's the job training simulator. After the attention grabbing scene, we then move into the world building exposition scene. Pixar films tend to be about things other than the world we know--Bugs, Toys, Monsters, Fish. So they introduce you to the world you're exploring with simple scenes that are loaded with gags and jokes. Whether it's Mr. Potato Head's Picasso joke, or the kids playing in Mrs. Flounder's yard, or the blob monster falling in the street grate, it's a non-stop gag fest for about five minutes or so as the main characters give us all the exposition we need in their dialogue.

Monsters, Inc., seems to be the first film that Pixar did in which they truly explored the depths of relationships and love, not romantic love, but the love for a parent to a child. In this film, Sully, the monstrous main character, is in the role of the parent, although obviously not the real parent. And there is Boo, the human girl, playing the role of the child. Sully grows to love this little critter (it's amazing how kids grow on you like that, even the naughty ones), and it comes to the point that he will do anything to keep her safe and make her happy. The relationship that Sully and Boo create is the most special thing that Pixar had captured on film up to this point. When we get to the end, and it seems as though Sully will never see Boo again, their goodbye is very touching. It's the tear-jerking scene of the film. But wait, there's more! Mike Wazowski manages to make it possible for them to see each other again, and with the look on Sully's face that the film ends with, the tears flow once more.

When I watch this film, I'm always amazed by the audio they managed to get out of the girl who played Boo. How many hours in the recording booth did those poor guys spend trying to coax a two-year-old or three-year-old to say something that they could use? I've worked a little with children and audio, and, depending on the kid, it can be hard. I guess Mary Gibbs is just one of those kids. She probably had to be a very precocious little kid to have produced the audio she produced. I have one kid who is precocious, and she could probably make all the giggles and nonsense phrases that Boo said in the film, but getting her to say lines, that's a little more difficult. Then I have one kid who is too embarrassed to speak loud enough on the mic to be heard.

Another really cool thing about this movie is the extras that came with the DVD. The tour of the new Pixar facility makes me want to work there so bad. I wish I had a skill that they valued. I suppose that some of the things that we see in the tour were just set dressing, obviously the chimp doesn't really work there. And how many of those people riding Razor scooters around the building normally leave their scooter at home, but brought it in to make the video cooler? I have an old acquaintance that works at Pixar, maybe I should ask him. Then again he stopped responding to my emails...he must have gotten sick of my fanboy prattle.

One of the reasons I think this film is as fun as it is has to do with the people they chose to be their main characters voices. Billy Crystal and John Goodman had already made a career of being funny. In fact one of my favorite movies of all-time is Billy Crystal's When Harry Met Sally. Several of the funniest parts in the show are things that Crystal and Goodman improvised on the spot, including the songs for "Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me!" The good thing about Crystal and Goodman is that, while funny, they aren't manic and annoying like others who have found their way into CG films, namely Robin Williams or Jim Carrey. Yes, Crystal throws in some annoying New Yorker-isms, but for the most part, he and Goodman are funny when needed, and low key otherwise. Their antics never overpower the story.

I suppose here is where I should rant about the injustice of the Oscars. Monsters, Inc. is an Oscar Winning film, but the only statuette it has is for Randy Newman's song, "If I Didn't Have You." While that song is good, especially the version sung by Goodman and Crystal, it isn't the best thing in the film. The goodness of the song doesn't even come close to the goodness of the overall film, and there is an Oscar for the overall goodness of an animated feature. But no, Monsters, Inc. did not receive the Oscar for that. Someone thought that Dreamworks' Shrek was superior, several someones I suppose. Shrek was the darling of the year, and continues to be the darling through two sequels, going on three. I personally am not a fan of Shrek, but I'll save my rant for another time (if you haven't heard it before, well you're one of the few). In fact, I'm going to take it another step further. I've decided, now that I've gone through and watched the ten Pixar films, to give a few of the others, the pretenders as I call them, a second (or first in some cases) chance. Maybe I'll blog about them as well. The best of the rest.

For now, know that I think that Monsters, Inc. is a masterpiece of modern animation and filmmaking. If you haven't seen it, you should.