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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blog Labels

In incredibly exciting news that will change the world, I just completed the tedious process of adding labels to every blog entry I've written in the last seven years. For instance, if you look at the blog I wrote about X-Men: First Class the other day, it has been labeled "Movies" and also "Movie Reviews" at the bottom, so that if you click either link, you will narrow down the page to only entries I have written on those subjects.
This is incredibly easy to do: Just type whatever you want the label to be in the "Labels for this post" slot at the bottom right when you are composing or editing an entry. That way, if people are interested in reading more of a particular topic by you, they can get to it far more easily, instead of treading through all your other years of posts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tribute to Portishead

*About nine months ago, I de-activated my Facebook account. Today, I deleted it permanently. Here is the one worthwhile thing I posted in six years of Facebook activity.*

An Obsession
posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 5:14pm
Wow, I have a migraine right now. Some people know I once had a migraine for nine months straight. That was four years ago, and I only have them sometimes now. But tonight I have a migraine. And I am at work. But my head hurts so bad, I can't really get anything done. So instead I am writing a Facebook note. Anyway:
When I was in high school in the 60s I thought Natalie Portman was like the coolest person ever. One time I read this Star Wars Insider interview with her where she said her favorite band was Portishead. Wanting to immediately be as cool as she, I made it my mission to find all I could about this "Portishead" and get all their music. I immediately hit the Internet, the awesome late 90s Napsterless, ITunesless version, and went on an all night sojourn in which I downloaded an entire song of theirs from AudioGalaxy or some other MP3 site. In the time it took to download another one, I listened to the first one, "Sour Times", like 2,000,000 times. This was the amount of time required to find and download one 4 MB Mp3 in 1999. Anyway, the start of an obsession was born. From this moment I entered a new world, just me, my car, and my bootlegged Portishead cassettes. It is weird saying cassettes considering no one even listens to CDs anymore, but anyway.
I would spend all of my Wal-Mart work dinner breaks sitting in my car staring through the rain at the moon or some random streetlight and listening to Beth Gibbons haunting voice over Portishead's weird mélange of mashed up ghosts and empty spider webbed dancehalls and whatever other thing is spooky and cool and old but uninhabited except for ghosts and my ears.
Anyway, after 11 years of silence, nine years since they shook me all night long, Portishead is back with a new album. So go buy it and listen to it and get transported to a place called awesome while I think of my new copy (thanks, Crystal!) sitting in my car CD player (finally moving up technology-wise, though I wish I had the vinyl, too) while I sit here at my desk with a blinding migraine and the deafening noises of the helpless public.
Portishead, almost a decade later, are still magicians. Natalie Portman is an okay actress, I guess, though I must say, thanks Natalie and Star Wars Insider Issue 45 for sending me on this wonderful journey.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

X-Men: First Class, The Death of the Fight Scene, and Fast Five

X-Men: First Class is good, but not great. Entertaining, but not in any memorable way. Actually, it is like pretty much any other forgettable action movie of the last half-decade or so. It has a little substance, mainly in its depiction of the brotherly relationship between mutants Charles Xavier, and Erik Lensherr, two men who bond over their new-found mutant abilities. There are plenty of other entertaining minor characters and villians, but none leave much of a lasting impression, nor does the plot. It just happens and it's over. There are nice touches designed specifically to recall the James Bond films of the 60's, the decade depicted in this film, but they add nothing new to the table beyond homage.
The most egregious offense I can levy at the film, though, is the lacklaster nature of its action scenes. They are not bad, per se, but when $160 million is spent on a film, I expect to have the action replaying in my head later, and to face the temptation of driving my car much too fast on the way home, or imagining that that guy hogging the copy machine and me are about to get into an epic brawl over its usage. An entire submarine gets lifted out of the water in X-Men: First Class, and there are brawls, but the submarine is no greater an effect than the bridge relocation in the equally distressing X-Men 3, and the fights don't touch anything found in the first two X-Men films. Those two films worked hard to setup rivalries between the combatants, and each of Wolverine's battles at the ends of those films were balletically choreographed and shot with artistry. The third X-Men film did a great job of setting up a rivalry between Wolverine and Juggernaut, only to withhold a fight between the two and have Juggernaut literally deceived into running into a wall and knocking himself out by a little girl.
Now, I may not make movies, but I can easily tell you that a climactic, knockdown, dragout death-fight between two nearly indestructible foes is far more exciting than having the two not face off in a final battle, and having one incapcitate himself by being clumsy and outsmarted by a child. That's just good sense, and it seems like a lot of filmmakers don't have it these days.
You can boil what works best in an action film down to a simple, easily followed formula.
1. Introduce your heroes and villians.
2. Build tension between them.
3. Hire a top notch fight-coordinator.
4. Let them go at it, and try to stay out of the way.
Just throwing fancy special effects at the screen doesn't thrill anymore, and quick cuting between a few punches until one person gets knocked out doesn't do it, either.
So let me to take a moment to do something that in previous years would have been unthinkable:
Praise director Justin Lin, his screenwriters and coordinators, and their film, Fast Five.
They set up the two huge, bald foes, Vin Diesel and the Rock, show them to be evenly matched, work up tension between the two of them, then have them come together in a shack-destroying brawl. The camera doesn't get in the way of the punches. You can clearly see the mathematics of the fight. It looks like they are really throwing each other through walls. It actually lasts a few minutes.
Instead of simply saying, "okay, this is where they fight, just hit each other a few times and we'll cut it together," the director thought, people are paying to see these two hulks beat the crap out of each other, so I will show the audience respect and actually have these two men decently beat the crap out of each other.
Also, when it came time for the action scenes, the creators of Fast Five attempted to do some things that creatively had not been done, and if you think you can show me any car chase or action scene lately that can rival the vault-heist at the end of this film, you are probably thinking wrong. In fact, here is one of the craziest true things I will ever say:
Fast Five is art.
I am serious. There is an art to choreographed destruction, and while some directors think just CGI-ing stuff and quickly cutting through it gets the job done, credit needs to go to filmmakers who go to great lengths to ensure there is a beauty and a motion to what they are putting on the screen.
No, Fast Five isn't a great film in the way Citizen Kane is a great film, but it is extraordinarily well made, something so very little things are these days, and it needs to take credit for that.
Don't pretend that Fast Five is less of a film because it has "less meaning" than First Class. That film's trite, throwaway lines about acceptance and being different can be found in a thousand other movies and pamphlets, and they are only perfunctory. As I've said, the joy and poetry of Fast Five's chase and fight scenes are meaning enough. That's all I really want from a "simple" action film. Is it really that hard to deliver?
And on a final note, here is a quote from Fast Five's stunt coordinator, Jack Gill, which explains why the destructive, vault-pulling car chase at the end of that film was so much more thrilling than the sub crash in First Class:
There was never once a CG vault. We had 7 different vaults that each served a different purpose. We had 4 weeks of prep for the scene, storyboarded everything, and every camera angle was pre-determined. The tumbling safe on the first turn was real, not CGI. It was much more violent than we even expected.
(Thanks to Screenrant)

Friday, June 17, 2011

South Park -- You're Getting Old

A lot has been made over the intentions of this mini-finale for Season 15's midpoint. As South Park creator's, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have been busy with their Tony-award winning play The Book of Mormon and various other things, a lot of people assumed they wouldn't care much for their first child anymore. A cursory look at the episode's plot...okay sorry for such formal language in an episode where a duck defecates from it's mouth...I'll try to stop it...
The stuff that happens in the episode is:
Stan Marsh finally turns ten (alas, he was eight only 15 years ago). He has a big party, where Cartman has to get a present for every present he does, so as Cartman's mother says, "He won't throw a hissyfit."
Stan gets a CD by one of his favorite "tween wave" bands, which Stan's mom quickly confiscates because she says it sucks and she doesn't want Stan listening to it. Like any kid these days, Stan somehow gets the CD on his IPod and listens to it anyway, but instead of Justin Beiberesque music bursting from his earpods, Stan just hears the noise of someone taking a dump in his ear...literally. We all know that's not how Justin Beiber is supposed to sound.
Meanwhile, downstairs Stan's parents get into a huge fight because his father, Randy, thinks his mother, Sharon, is being too harsh on Stan, and that "teen wave" music is really cool and she doesn't get it. When Randy listens to it, he just hears someone taking a dump, too, but he pretends otherwise. He decides to start his own "tween wave" band where he essentially farts into a microphone for an hour at a local dive bar. This leads to a delightfully bizarre subplot where two old men decide to save Randy's pants (which only leads to their arrest by episode's end).
As Stan's dad makes an idiot of himself, Stan goes to the doctor to find out what is wrong with him. Stan is shown a series of childish images (including an advertisent for the upcoming film,"The Zookeeper"), but he only sees turds. The doctor first concludes that Stan is just growing up, but when he attempts to play some Bob Dylan for Stan, Stan only hears a man strumming a guitar and pooing into a microphone. The doctor sighs, and diagnoses Stan: because of some mental-wire crossing, Stan is now, as is a decent population of the world, a "cynical asshole." He now no longer has the ability to enjoy anything.
He soons finds his friends want nothing to do with him (Kyle would even rather hang out with Cartman!) because of his rampant negativity, and he ends up sitting dejected at Starks Pond, otracised from the world as a bee lands on a flowering stalk of poop.
On top of everything, Sharon, sick of Randy's immaturity and ability to fall for any fad or hype, gets in a surprisingly heartfelt argument with him and the two decide to divorce. This is followed by a tender, sad montage to Stevie Nick's "Landslide" as the Marsh family breaks up, Randy leaves town, Stan's friends bond without him, and Sharon and the children move into a new home, fading to black as Stan lies in his bed alone in an empty room.
The episode is over.
A lot of people are taking this to mean that Parker and Stone are sick of South Park, the whole thing leaves them numb and cynical now, and they are ready to move on...
Sorry dudes, you guys are all wrong:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Trey Parker & Matt Stone
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Matt and Trey still love the show, had as much fun as ever working on this past half-season, and are excited to figure out where to take South Park this fall.
So instead of trying to find some huge, over-reaching meta-explanation of "You're Getting Old," I think we can all just take it as a funny, poignant, poo-filled reflection on how sometimes everything seems to suck, especially when you are transitioning to a new stage in life. I really hope that South Park experiments with this Marsh family storyline in the fall, but if they just reset like nothing happened, as they often do, hey, it will still be South Park, and it will still be on TV, and what show has ever produced something this good in its 15th SEASON!?
Bring on more!!!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wishful Thinking

There is nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking sometimes. When my wife was not yet my wife, I had a lot of wishful thinking moments. Sometimes we need those just to get by. I like that kind of wishful thinking, though too much of it can drive you crazy.
Then there is the bad wishful thinking--the kind that replaces the truth. I mentioned that in my post about gas prices a little while back. If we replace facts with wishful thinking in the way we make decisions and live our lives, we are in for a heap of trouble.
Likewise with our faith. As a Christian, the guideline for my life is the Bible. If it was not, then I would not be a Christian. I feel strongly that many Christians now base their faith more on wishful thinking than what the Bible says. To be spiteful and extremely Internet-ish, I will just call someone out in particular in the hopes that they see this and comment so I can argue with them because they inspired this post.
That person is whoever went by the signature "pf o" on the comments block for Christianity Today's review of David Bazan's new album, Strange Negotiations. David Bazan was a Christian once, but is not a Christian anymore.
How do I know this?
Because he says he is not.
That is pretty much the easiest way to tell if someone is not a Christian. If they confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is not Lord, they are not a Christian. Pretty simple.
I love music, and most of the music I listen to is by non-Christians. I don't see a problem with this in general. I do see a problem with me personally listening to David Bazan's current music. The Bible tells us that it is worse to come to know Christ and then become an unbeliever than to just be an unbeliever. I don't just wish that it says this. It ACTUALLY SAYS THIS. LITERALLY. All I did in response to Christianity Today's glowing review of Bazan's work is quote scripture, 2 Peter 2 to be exact. The scripture says that Bazan is eating his own vomit. The scripture is true. Thus Bazan is eating his own vomit. I don't want to hear him sing about it. There is no way this can be beneficial to me.
Christianity Today has a time window for comments to be allowed. Right at the end of the time limit, this "pf o" person posted this in response to my comment,
"I think the majority of his work is in response to reactionary comments like yours as the same author(s) the Psalmist that you quote with pious conviction, questions their Creator, sin, death, pain, faith, and suffering"
Here is my comment to this person, posted here since the window expired before I could respond on Christianity Today's website. Might as well make it a letter:

Dear pf o,
Thank you! Peter is my favorite Psalmist! Wait, my bad, bro, actually David wrote the Psalms and they are in the Old Testament. Dang, that is confusing since all kinds of people wrote the Bible and stuff. I'm sorry for being "reactionary", though, by quoting scripture literally. I guess since David Bazan doesn't believe in God, His Son, or the Bible, he probably would have a negative response to my comment, just like you did. Thank you for teaching me the word "pious", as well. Since I wasn't sure if you were being ironic, since you apparently don't like literal things, I looked the word up and found it meant, "having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for god or an earnest wish to fulfill religious obligations." Of course, that was just the first definition, so if you were being ironic and calling me "hypocritical" or "sanctimonious" as the second definition states, I find that interesting. I'm not sure how actually believing what the Bible says is "hypocritical." Actually, how about I drop the dumb shmuck stuff.
Let's be literal.
You, my Internet acquaintance, are ignorant. You are ignorant of the Word because you have demonstrated you don't even know the difference between a Psalm and an Epistle, let alone their context, intent, or meaning. You are ignorant because YOU became a judge with your comments, something I never did because I used Scripture and not OPINION to back up what I said. You are ignorant because you do not know the difference between questioning the Creator, sin, death, pain, faith, suffering and flat out denying the Creator exists. If you say that He does not exist, you aren't questioning Him, and questioning Him IS something that "the Psalmist" did indeed do frequently, just as I do every single day of my pious life.

Anyway, in conclusion, if you are going to have an opinion or live your life a certain way, back it up with something. Wishful thinking won't work.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Dubstep vs Techno

Lately I have noticed that any electronic passage of music from any song has been referred to as "dubstep," as well as any completely electronic song. I came across this awesome re-mix

of Bat for Lashes' "Daniel" by Mt Eden the other day. When I was in high school and people were doing lots of ecstacy and having raves in three story houses with different themes for every floor, this would have been called techno. Since that was like twelve years ago, it's called dubstep now, but I guess there is a difference.
Dubstep should have a fairly slow beat and lots of wobble, wobble bass. Techno should have a constant, steady beat and more fluid bass.
That's about all I can come up with. I know all you young fellers just don't want to use the term "techno" because it is old, so everything is "dubstep," and I guess that is fine and finally proves that I am not that hip anymore, but whatever.
Then again, considering that everyone thought this

was the best song ever back in the day, maybe dubstep IS cooler.
Do you guys still do cuddle puddles? Or I guess you kids just smoke weed now like a bunch of stinky hippies! Get a job!