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Things I Read And Watched While On Vacation

6 May

ImageLast week, I took a vacation from the internet. And from work! Which kind of IS “The Internet,” as far as I’m concerned. Where do you work, Kirk? I work at The Internet.

So, I took a week and unplugged from the internet entirely. Kind of like This Guy, who got paid to do the same thing over at The Verge, only he did it a whole year, and it sounds like it was a lot more intense than my week. I walked away from Twitter and Facebook, put up a fairly draconian-sounding gmail out-of-office message, and I was  good to go.

I focused on writing music and read a lot. I didn’t play any video games. It was a successful experiment; I wrote a lot of music and got a lot of reading done. (Remember reading? Reading is amazing. It’s like a party in your brain.) I also cheated and let myself watch some movies, particularly toward the end of the week when I had gotten a lot done and was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d pretty much just plug into the internet, watch the movie, and unplug. Breaking the rules? Sure. But hey, sometimes you want to watch a movie.

I thought I’d write a short post about the stuff I watched and the stuff I read, since a lot of it’s old and even a creative “how is this like video games”-er like myself can’t come up with a way to post all of this stuff on Kotaku.

Here goes:

THINGS I READ

His Dark Materials: A series that I had been stalled out on despite really liking the first two books. I finally went back and restarted the third book, The Amber Spyglass, and read it proper. Damnation, this is some good stuff. Philip Pullman is a hell of a storyteller, and Lyra’s world is the sort of fantasy that I just LOVE. It actually feels fantastical! There are so few tropes here, just genuine unbridled imagination. And my gosh, the scope of the storytelling here! How many kids’ (or teens’?) stories concern themselves with a WAR ON GOD and like, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ARCHANGEL and THE RETURN OF SIN TO SAVE THE WORLD? No wonder this shit was controversial. I loved each book, and was gutted to have to say goodbye. If you haven’t read these books, I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve never seen the movie, and I never will. Fuck the movie.

Cloud Atlas: I’m about halfway through David Mitchell’s book and… erm, wow, it sure is as good as everyone said. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s the kind of book where you can be like 200 pages in and still be thinking “I’m not really sure what to expect” and then you kind of round a bend and it all starts to slot into place and you think “oh, wow, holy fuck, this guy is kind of a genius!” Not that I’d even mind if it didn’t all come together – Mitchell’s writing is so damned inventive and joyful that I’d read a bunch of wholly unrelated stories, as long as he was writing them. His work reminds me how prosaic 98% of my writing is, and makes me want to be better. I’m not sure about the movie. Should I see it? I think I might watch it once I finish.

Oh, funny thing I noticed about Cloud Atlas comes via the “In praise of Cloud Atlas” bit at the front, where they quote book reviewers as they hyperventilate and work themselves into a tizzy over just how fucking brilliant this book is. I mean, check this shit out, from The Times of London:

“A cornucopia, an elegiac, radiant festival of prescience, meditation, and entertainment. Open up Mitchell’s head and a whole ecstatic symphony of inventiveness and ideas will fly out as if from a benign and felicitous pandora’s box.” 

And people give video game reviewers shit about gilding the lily!

THINGS I DIDN’T READ

Reviews of anything, after finishing. Which was nice! I didn’t go read recaps after watching Game of Thrones, I didn’t read book reviews after finishing Amber Spyglass. I didn’t read any movie reviews. I was surprised at how immediate my impulse to go and read critical discourse after finishing something has become. It was pretty cool to take a week and sort of stew in my own juices a bit, and think about what I really thought of each thing before reading the opinions of others.

Anyway. Moving right along…

THINGS I WATCHED

13 Assassins: Dude, I can’t believe I hadn’t watched this movie yet. Hoo buddy, is it good. Takashi Miike is the man, I’ve seen such an embarrassingly tiny sliver of the man’s oeuvre but I’m consistently impressed by what I see. And how great is Kôji Yakusho? This movie is  grand, and I loved it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This movie made me A) want to eat sushi and B) glad I’m not the son of this guy, and that I don’t run a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. A fascinating documentary, and almost entirely different than I was expecting it to be. I wound up getting sushi like a day after watching this, and I bet it wasn’t as good as Jiro’s sushi. But it was still pretty good.

Hugo: A surprisingly good flick. It was almost entirely off my radar, but I decided to watch it because as you may have gathered from my list here, I was going through good movies on Netflix Instant and watching them. It’s a good movie, though kind of a strange one – disjointed, in that it’s this whimsical kids’ film in the first half and a big-hearted tribute to the French pioneers of cinema in the second. I’m not sure kids would like it? But I did. An odd film, but an enjoyable one.

Rango: Hey, another surprise. Who knew that this movie, which by all appearances was a dumb cash-in flick that leaned on Johnny Depp too much, would in fact be a surprisingly soulful, enjoyably weird movie that leaned on Johnny Depp the exact right amount? Not I. Also, it’s basically Chinatown? I’m not really sure who this movie is for, as I can’t imagine most kids getting a good percentage of the jokes, but I sure enjoyed it. And Hans Zimmer did the music, and I… I really liked it! A wonderful soundtrack that was just good music, and didn’t feel like a feat of engineering. The scene when Rango walks across the highway… outstanding. Who would thought that my favorite Hans Zimmer soundtrack in forever would be an Enrico Morricone tribute?

Limitless: I think I was just super bored one night and this was sitting on Netflix so I fired it up. This movie is fucking stupid. I watched it up until he began to have weird side-effects from the mind-rewiring experimental drug, and decided that I didn’t really need to watch the Fall From Glory and the Eventual Redemption or whatever. It felt like watching a music video made into a movie, and it had really bad music. It felt like the guy who made it came up with that camera trick where it zooms over block after block of NYC and was like, “Okay, this is dope, how can I make a movie around this?” It felt like a sad fantasy movie for dudes who have super sad fantasies. It felt like… I don’t know, I don’t even care about coming up with more things it felt like.

Avatar: I re-watched Avatar for the first time since I watched it in IMAX 3D back when it came out. Well. The movie has certainly lost a lot in the transition from theaters to Blu-Ray. I’m not sure if that says more for just how well-suited it was to its original 3D presentation or how lackluster the movie itself is (both!) but there it is. Its many flaws are laid bare on the small screen, in particular the writing. (Could they not just hire someone to make the script better? I don’t even mean the story, I just mean the basic sentence by sentence dialogue. Christ, is it bad.) But it’s still got that enjoyable energy to it, and God help me, I like James Horner’s musical score, if you can call four dramatic chords a score.

How To Train Your Dragon: Hey, this movie is fucking great! I have a now-famous soft spot for Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon was almost as good. Well, okay, let’s not get carried away, it was about 75% as good as Tangled, and there wasn’t any singing, but I still really liked it.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I think I had already seen this, but I didn’t really remember it. Maybe I was stoned when I watched it the first time? Anyway. It was a lot of fun! I was impressed by how funny Jeremy Renner can be, dude is great. Brad Bird is such a creative director, though I do think that I missed some of the human drama that (weirdly?) made its way into past entries, especially JJ Abrams’ hilariously, wonderfully melodramatic “Alias on Crack” take in M:I 3. I bet this movie was fucking awesome in IMAX 3D, which is an annoying thing to think about a movie that’s no longer in IMAX 3D, but there you go. I was legitimately a bit breathless when Tom Cruise was running along the side of that incredible skyscraper. Most impressively, like 80-85% of the time I was totally distracted from the inexorable gravitational pull of Tom Cruise’s assy onscreen presence. I know I’ve written about how I like Michael Giacchino’s music before, but actually, I think my opinion has changed. Maybe I don’t really like Michael Giacchino’s music all that much anymore. I didn’t care for the music in this movie, anyway.

Silver Linings Playbook: Man, what a strange movie. I did not care for it. It was a mess, right? Half the time it was this painful and honest-feeling movie about the difficulty of living with mental illness. The other half, it was this clichéd romcom that was, more or less, Garden State but with more severe disorders and a more grown-up cast. It just didn’t feel cohesive at all, and the entire finale felt like it was the result of multiple rewrites. What happened in the end there, why did both of them get so much better? Was he on meds? Was she? How were they so healthy and well-adjusted? I didn’t get it. I’m almost shocked that this movie was Oscar bait. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jennifer Lawrence and whatever, but it just seemed like an odd movie to lavish with so many nominations.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read any criticism after finishing movies last week, but yesterday I found that amiga Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation totally nailed it:

A few scenes start to open a window into what that’s like to live with, to have responsibility for, for parents and significant others; when Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) answers the call during Pat’s freak-out, for instance, the script has managed to stop playing Pat’s obvious manic distress for laughs and let the spinning build to a scarier place. Soon enough, though, it’s back to the very important lesson about how we’re all crazy via Dad’s (Robert De Niro) OCD, ha ha…ha. It’s not necessary to treat the vagaries of Pat’s disease with funereal seriousness, but this is a guy whose untreated illness smashed his life to chips and dust. His decision to stalk his ex-wife via her syllabus may not qualify for the Kooky Kuts-R-Us editing treatment.

The Back Half of Boardwalk Empire, Season 3: I have a complicated relationship with Boardwalk Empire, or I guess it’s not complicated, it’s just that I get so fucking bored by the show that I stop watching. Until last week, I’d stopped watching the show precisely one more time than I’d decided to give it another shot. But watching the final 8 episodes of season 3 back-to-back proved an immensely good idea. Not only does the season go out with a cracking handful of episodes, there’s a terrific degree of continuity to the whole season. It helped to see everything right in a row, and I could really grok how well it all tied together. Also, they seem to have figured out that when it comes right down to it, all any of us really wanted was for Roger the half-masked Angel of Death to become a major character. And now I hear that George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane (of The Wirewill be joining the writing staff for Season 4? Damn. I have now given this show another shot precisely one more time than I’ve given up on it. I’m in, for now. (Though I swear to God George Pelecanos if you kill off Roger, I will never forgive you. You killed half the cast of The Wire and that groovy dude on Treme, please let your thirst for beloved characters be sated.)

Toy Story 3: I had so little memory of this movie, though I’m about 90% sure that I watched it already. It’s good, and really intensely sad at times, in that it’s articulating a sadness that films almost never go after – the way the world looks different to us after we grow up. But something about the film’s main prison break a-plot just kind of didn’t quite land for me. Still a good movie, but it felt at times like it was less inspired than its two predecessors. I think maybe it was a problem with Lotso, the villainous bear. They didn’t quite know what to do with him – his story was a retread of whatsername the cowgirl’s story from Toy Story 2, but with 100% less Sarah McLachlan making me cry all over the place. Still, good movie.

The King’s Speech: Okay so I watched this a little bit before my vacation but it was excellent and I loved it, so. What a film! I love movies about grown men discovering friendship. That’s such a rare thing in real life, and it’s so hopeful to see it happen, particularly when it’s a true story like this. I liked this bit from Ebert’s review:

Director Tom Hooper makes an interesting decision with his sets and visuals. The movie is largely shot in interiors, and most of those spaces are long and narrow. That’s unusual in historical dramas, which emphasize sweep and majesty and so on. Here we have long corridors, a deep and narrow master control room for the BBC, rooms that seem peculiarly oblong. I suspect he may be evoking the narrow, constricting walls of Albert’s throat as he struggles to get words out.

See, that kind of shit is why I like reading good film critics. I certainly didn’t notice that, even though it had a noticeable effect on me the entire time I was watching the film. He really will be missed.

Hemlock Grove: I tried to watch some more Hemlock Grove but man, this show is just pretty fucking bad. I initially said that I’d keep watching it to the end of the season, but it’s wandered to the point were I just Literally Could Not Give Less Of A Shit and don’t want to watch these mopey assholes wander around and smoke cigarettes and have nothing happen. It’s a laughable show, really. On Twitter one time (good story bro) I was like “This show feels like each line was written by a different person, like, they hired thousands of writers to write it.” And that’s about how it feels. Plus the characters are all assholes and it’s so over-filtered and fug. I might be out.

***

Hmm, that’s kind of a bum note to go out on. It was a great week, though, really! I’ll have some music to share here at some point, once I get the demos into shape, but I’m really happy with how it’s all coming along. I’ve finally taught myself to use Logic after a decade on Pro Tools, and I must say, the program is wonderful, and a much better fit for the way I write than Pro Tools ever was. I’ll probably write something about that when I have more time.

I hope you all had a good week, as well. And hey, you don’t have to go a whole year, but if you’re ever able, I recommend unplugging from the internet, even if only for a weekend or something. It’s a good exercise, and your Twitter followers will still be there for you when you get back.

A Kid on the Slope

2 Jun

You guys. Okay, you guys. No… hang on. You guys. Seriously.

You need to go watch Kids on the Slope. It’s this show, see? It’s a show that was essentially Custom Made For Kirk Hamilton. You will like it too though, I sense, even though it was custom made for me.

It’s about a group of high school kids in 1966 Japan who find friendship, love, and discover themselves, and it’s all filtered through the lens of jazz. Not only is it lovely to look at, funny and full of heart, it’s maybe the most right-on piece of “Jazz Fiction” I’ve ever seen. From the way the performances are animated to the tiniest details on record covers, the show has been lovingly crafted by jazz lovers and musicians.

The most recent episode, titled “Now’s the Time,” brought together all the struggles, trials and tunes of the past six episodes into one musical moment so cathartic and wonderful that I wouldn’t even want to attempt to write about it. You’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

I did, however, write about the show at Kotaku. I was thrilled to see my article introduce a lot of people, Bebop-fans and newcomers, to the show. Sometimes I love my job.

Each episode is named for a jazz standard—”Someday my Prince will Come,” “But Not for Me,” “Summertime”—that encapsulates the theme of the episode. When characters are fighting, they come back together around jazz, and it heals them; when they’re lost they find solace in classic tunes and old records. As Kaoru learns “Moanin,” he travels back and forth from the record player to the piano, wearing down the grooves in the vinyl while mimicking Timmons’ swing. Everything about it rings so true, and hits so close to home… as I devoured the show, one episode after another, there were times when I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

Go read the whole article here, and watch all the episodes for free at crunchyroll.

Seriously.

What we do is a calling, my dear

18 Jul

“I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better. You get better.”

-The one and only Joan Rivers on “Louie

Torchwood, In a Nutshell

10 Jul

AKA this gif

You Made A Bear

13 Jun

After reading Joe R.’s 100% justified anger about Logo’s whack-ass viewers’-choice list of the top 30 Buffy episodes of all time, I got to thinking about the general awesomeness of that show and decided to share one of my all-time favorite scenes.

Believe it or not, it’s from the S4 episode “Pangs” and it features Spike.

*SLICE!*

“Buh?”

“So your knife can kill you.”

“ROAAARRR”

“A BEAR”

You made a bear!

“I didn’t mean to!”

“UNDO IT! UNDO IT!”



Polarizing by Nature

1 Jun

“Crystal Bowersox is a lot more polarizing a performer than Lee is. Crystal Bowersox is a woman with a giant back-tattooo and dreadlocks. I don’t think that the problem was that girl (voters) were all, “Oh, Lee!” I think, just, Crystal is polarizing by nature.

It’s 2010, yes, but women with tatttoos and women with dreadlocks still face an uphill battle in the court of public opinion. And I think last year, Kris vs. Adam, Adam was the polarizing performer, he did outlandish, crazy things that not everyone could get behind.”

- Michael Slezak of Idolatry
on why Lee Dewyze beat Crystal Bowersox to win American Idol

“POLARIZING = AWESOME”

- Jason Averett, editor of Idolatry
on what the word “polarizing” means

TV Round-Up: Oh, The Dramas

28 May

Last post from the end-of-the-season TV round-up, this one’s for the hour-long drama-type shows. There were thankfully only a few of these, and I found myself getting behind on some of them and then gradually catching up.

LOST was pretty much the only sci-fi drama I enjoyed this year, as I lost track of both Fringe and V a few episodes back. Fringe seems to have gotten stronger in the second half of this season, and I’ve seen plenty of reports online that confirm that, but all the same something about the dourness of its vibe keeps me from ever getting too excited about it. V, on the other hand, has goofy and cool source material and a decent cast (especially the already-praised-enough-on-this-blog Elizabeth Mitchell), but can’t seem to get it together to actually be fun. It’s a show about lizard alien invaders who eat flesh! Why so serious?

Oh, go away.

This year’s Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con show was Caprica, and after sitting through the entirety of the first season, I think I can safely say that it was the most boring, baffling thing I watched this year. Just endless plodding through an oversaturated CGI world filled with characters who all acted in inexplicable ways, teen drama and uninteresting corporate maneuvering and literally one explosion, all heading towards a climax that involved some matrix-like video game world and some stuff about consciousness. Okay. Bear’s music is great, and I really like a lot of the cast, but I just can’t get myself interested in the show itself.

A show that I was always sure to catch soon after it aired was Chuck, the third season of which stands as a great example of how to keep a light show fun while exploring some slightly deeper territory. The writers took some darker turns with the story and introduced Brandon Routh as a character that only got more enjoyable the eviler he became. Chuck also became yet another show to take the “will they or won’t they” romantic question, answer a definitive “They Will,” and keep moving right along. The fact that Chuck and Sarah finally got together came as a surprise to absolutely no one, but it was handled really well by the writers and the actors and the final few episodes after they paired up were really good times. The smaller budget was noticeable, and I didn’t love the first half of this season quite as much as the second half, but I’m happy that they’ve managed to secure a fourth season and am looking forward to the new ways they can pimp Subway sandwiches in episodes to come.

Onward to HBO – I actually haven’t finished out the new WWII documentary The Pacific yet, and I kinda feel guilty. It’s not that I don’t like it, but it feels sort of like eating my vegetables or something. I loved Band of Brothers to the point that I recently watched the whole thing again, but that series had a spark that The Pacific just seems to lack, at least for me. I don’t know – the cast is doing an outstanding job and the visual effects and setpieces are pretty mind-blowing… it really captures how much it would’ve sucked to fight in the Pacific front, it’s just… maybe I’ve seen it all before? The soldiers breaking under pressure, the crazy dude in your foxhole with you, the night ambushes and mosquitoes, the loss of humanity in the jungle – I know it’s all true, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like I’ve seen it all before in a dozen movies (though most of them about a different war).  In addition, many of the scenes have a sort of pro-America, We-Are-Brothers undertone that feels forced – the very true stories stand as a testament to the bonds these guys forged, and we’d get it without the string crescendos and the speeches. It’s still quite good, but it just feels like every episode is long and kind of dull. I dunno.

The other HBO show I’ve been watching is the lovely Treme, a show that I have an intensely difficult time being objective about. I just love it – it’s as heartfelt and true an ode to jazz as I’ve seen on screen, and there’s something in every episode that just does it for me 100%. Yes, some scenes in the early episodes fall victim to an over-reverence for the city and its real-life inhabitants, but I can’t really look past the fact that they’re willing to show a lengthy performance by Donald Harrison’s quintet just after a deep discussion of the differences between NOLA swing and NY swing. Then make a sex joke about McCoy Tyner’s left hand and play Giant Steps, all in the space of a few minutes. The plot kinda just rolls along at its own pace, and without the overarching cops vs. dealers conflict that The Wire had, runs the risk of feeling meandering. But I like it – it’s nice to watch a show with a different pace, and the writing, setting, and characters are so good that I’d be into it even if it didn’t feature so much amazing music. For regular analysis, I highly recommend reading Alan Sepinwall’s weekly posts about the show, as well as Dave Walker’s fantastic New Orleans-centric posts for NoLa.com in which he explains all of the various aspects of Orleansean culture depicted on the show.

Another Sunday night show that I’m actually way behind on is the amazing Breaking Bad - I’m only now closing out the second season, and from what I’ve heard about the new season, I’ve got some rocking good times in store. I think that a lot of people get scared off of this show since “Good, but intense and dark” seems to be the agreed-upon meme. And yeah, it is intense as hell and also dark, but it’s also funny and brilliant and so effing good that folks really need to be watching it. The acting is just nutbars, the pacing is relentless, and it’s simply one of the best shows on TV. So yeah, soon it’ll be time to catch up on that one.

Another great hour-long show that I’m happy to have back in my life is Friday Night Lights. My roommates are watching the first season of that show on Netflix, and it’s awesome to see that more people are finally getting into it – seriously, such good stuff. I can’t think of another show that could come stamped with a guarantee to generate tears (good tears) at least once per 42.5 minutes. The newest season is really good, arguably stronger so far than both the second and third season. Granted, we’re not that far into it – five or so episodes, but things seem to be at a turning point and it’s been really fun to see Coach brought so low, fighting his way back up with nothing but grit, hard work, and the love of a good woman. Some of the “evil” characters are a little bit TOO evil, and there are quite a few contrivances and logic leaps made in order to create an entire second school in Dillon, complete with some housing projects and a ton more minority characters than we ever saw before, but it’s in the name of telling a good story, so it works. And honestly, the show could just be a camera set up in Mr. and Mrs Coach’s living room and I’d still watch. Like, an episode could be: “Breakfast on Monday,” and it’d be them having breakfast talking over one another and doing their hair. And it would be riveting.

Speaking of awesome shows about people with southern accents, this one here is actually my favorite of all: FX’s new show Justified. Raylan Givens in the house!

At the beginning, I was just happy to see Seth Bullock finally get permission to bust some heads every week; I liked the pilot a lot and dug some of the other opening episodes. But it wasn’t must-see TV until about halfway through the current season. Suddenly, all of the serialized plots got their momentum going and the self-contained episodes turned out some great guest stars – Dan from Deadwood as a crazed hostage-taker, Milton from Office Space as a nutty judge and Johnny, also from Deadwood, as his would-be assassin. On top of the relaxed performances from the main cast, the writing is uniformly strong and really clever from episode to episode – so often they could go with an easy joke and instead toss off a genuinely great bit of wordplay.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that this show, set in Kentucky, and the Indiana-centric Parks and Recreation are my two favorite shows on right now – Midwest represent! A few episodes ago I realized that of all the shows I watch, I was really looking forward most to seeing what went down this week in Pawnee and in Harlan County.

So that’s that! Wow, lot of shows on there. Looking forward to this summer with So You Think You Can Dance returning in what looks to be fine form and season 3 of True Blood, which will no doubt be the best season yet. In the meantime, I’m gonna go outside because dude, it is beautiful out there right now. Take that, TV! You are not the boss of me!

TV Round-Up: Comedy Extravaganza

28 May

Okay, got that Idol and Glee-related grumpiness out of my system, time to do a rundown of all the great comedies I’ve been watching. I’ll admit to losing track of both The Office and 30 Rock a bit this season – I recently caught up on 30 Rock and thought that they got some really funny episodes out of the season, but The Office has kinda gone by the wayside for me. I’m six episodes behind and find myself getting kinda dispirited whenever I think of watching them. Not a good sign.  Good thing there were so many great new comedies to watch this year…

To start with, and I’ll just get it out there: Parks and Recreation is my favorite comedy on TV right now. It’s got its own whole vibe, a cast that’s as strong as any other TV show going, and writers who have pretty much mastered the art of the subtle joke. Every character is really well put-together, and most of the laughs come from what we already know about them. Plus, Chris Pratt has started to give the other actors a run for the “funniest performance on the show” title. Andy was a nuisance in the first season, but by last week’s finale he’d become a consistently hilarious character who’s even got his own low-key romantic drama going. And every time I think about him “capturing” that possum on the golf course I crack up.

Anyhow, I’ve talked about the show enough in the past that I don’t have a ton more to add, but I thought that the second season closed out really strong and am looking forward to what they do with Adam Scott in season three. Oh, and do yourself a favor and check out the ridiculously amazing Jabba The Hutt version of the show’s kicky theme song.

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TV Round-Up: Idol & Glee

27 May

So, the terrible Tuesday twosome, American Idol and Glee. What was supposed to be the ultimate two hours of guilty pleasure kinda blew it – between a seriously underperforming season of Idol and a generally weaksauce season 1.2 for Glee, Tuesday became a night of TV that I generally avoided.

I’m not sure I really have too much to say about American Idol. It was a really weak season filled with lackluster performers and horrendously boring, old weekly themes. The guest mentors were given too much screen time and weren’t all that helpful, Ellen was a bust as a new judge, and the self-congratulatory, manufactured pomp and circumstance in which the show specializes felt even hollower than usual. Lotsa threads showing throughout.

But I think it really boils down to the contestants – not a single one on the level of the best singers of past years. Big Mike was just a hot mess, barely watchable for me. Siobhan never got beyond her odd lower register and lack of musicality – she’s got a great voice and a lot of potential, but didn’t seem to have the knowledge or wherewithal to really ever really do anything with it. Casey had a strange vibrato and flat stage presence… and, like, the other guy with the guitar was so boring, and… I kinda forget everyone else. The little kid Aaron? Come on.

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TV Round-Up: Lost

27 May

Helleeww! Well, I knew when I started a second blog that it’d get tough to keep content going at both; poor Murfins hasn’t been seeing that much action lately. Unless you count the damn-near endless hits that my Reason #924 Why I Love Phoenix Wright post keeps getting thanks to the weirdness that is StumbleUpon.

Anyway, the TV season is wrapping up, and I wanted to do some posts about the shows I watch and how I’m feelin’ about them.  I’ll start with the big one – LOST.

I’m not sure how much more ink I want to spill on it, but suffice to say I liked the finale. I didn’t love the final season – as nice as it was to see Sol Star on The Island, I thought they spent way too long in the early episodes introducing pointless new characters and then summarily killing them off. More to the point, I thought that the answers that they decided to provide might’ve been better left unexplained, and some of the explanations they did give were unclear in a way that didn’t serve any purpose.

My general take on the mythology was that in the end, The Island was pretty much the tower at the heart of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. A sort of abstract (but real) metaphysical construct at the crux of existence where time and being are stitched together. The balance on The Island was maintained by the conflict between Jacob and the Man In Black. Because of their tumultuous past, there was great strife, both on The Island and in the rest of the world. So when our heroes were sent there, that was all real, and saving it was real, and some of them really made it off The Island, too.

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Here, There and Everywhere

3 May

I’ve got some new writing online this week that pretty accurately reflects the at-times hilarious breadth of my entertainment interests.

First up, my most recent game review for Paste magazine is online – it’s of the new stealth-action title Splinter Cell: Conviction. For all the issues I had with the patchwork quality of the design and the ridiculously terrible writing, it was a really fun game.  Thanks as always to Jason Killingsworth for being a great editor and groovy dude.

I also contributed to a super-fun round-table discussion at Low Resolution about the recently-announced changes to the format of So You Think You Can Dance. In addition to myself and LowRes maestro Joe Reid, the conversation included Tapeworthy‘s Vance and Lauren from TWoP.  Good times were had by all, and I think it’s safe to say we all share a cautious optimism about the upcoming season.

So yeah, badass stealth video games and So You Think You Can Dance. Slap a guitar on it and you’ve pretty much got me in a nutshell.

Treme – “Do You Know What It Means?”

13 Apr

It was hard not to go into Treme with crazy-high expectations. It’s David Simon, it’s jazz musicians in New Orleans, it’s David Simon making a show about jazz musicians in New Orleans… man. So I went in really, really hoping that I’d like it, but still tried to check my expectations at the door and watch the show on its own terms.

It’s far too early to share any thoughts on the show as a whole, but I really liked the first episode. And damned if they didn’t get just about every little musical detail right. The only two works I’ve seen that match it in terms of musical authenticity are Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and Clint Eastwood’s often-overlooked Lush Life.

If track record is anything to go by, getting jazz “right” onscreen is a really tricky proposition. But the minute Antoine (played by Wendell “The Bunk” Pierce) put his trombone to his face and started to blow, I felt relieved. It looked right, it sounded right, and it felt right.

Props to Pierce for working that sequence out – the first fifteen minutes of the show relied heavily on him nailing those parts in order to seem believable as a trombonist, and he pulled it off. Almost as though they were testing me, Antoine ripped into it as the parade wound up, and in the process hit some weird notes. I thought “…ooookay, that was a strange note…” And sure enough, right afterward,  the band bellies up at the bar and everyone starts giving him shit about the note he just biffed. He’s trying to play it off, and his ex at the bar calls it the clam it was. Nice.

I wouldn’t have expected anything less from David Simon, but all the same, it was cool that in the first fifteen minutes of the show, Simon stepped right up and said, “Screw talking about it, I’m just going to show you this music.” And for the rest of the episode he did just that. Musical instruments weren’t held up as shining, tailsmanic objects, they were just everyday things, tools of the trade. Horns and strings dotted the fringes of every scene, and it felt good to see the well-worn bells of the marching sousaphones, the guitars that lay around Davis McAlary’s apartment, strewn amongst boxes of cassette tapes and drums covered in Mardi Gras beads. Antoine carries his trombone without a case, ready to play at the drop of a hat, cabbing and bumming about the city looking for gigs.

Despite taking a diegetic approach similar to that of The Wire, Treme had much more music than The Wire ever did. Which makes sense, when you consider that New Orleans itself has more music going on than Baltimore. It’s also helpful that McAlary spins vinyl at a local radio station, which will certainly allow for more “montage cheating” a la Prez’s Johnny Cash-inspired montage in The Wire’s second season. I thought that Treme’s first montage, in which Davis defied the station heads and blasted Louie Prima’s “Buona Sera”, was absolutely brilliant.

And there were so many more cool little musical touches – the head of an upright bass poking out of a car window, a trombonist goofing around with his young son by buzzing through his mouthpiece… they even managed to illustrate the stylistic divide between New York jazz and New Orleans jazz. The clear, twisting lines played by Delmond’s quintet at The Blue Note stood in stark contrast to the second-line horn music on the streets of The Big Easy – even to an an untrained ear, it would’ve been clear that we were hearing two different dialects of a musical language. I’m expecting to see more of that contrast as Delmond gets back into the New Orleans scene.

And, of course, I loved any scene involving Kermit Ruffins.

McAlary: “Can you just stand there telling me that all you want to do is get high, play some trumpet, and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?”

Ruffins: *exhales* “Yeah, that’ll work.”

Sure, jokes like that are broader than most jokes on The Wire, and yeah, maybe a little bit more contrived. There were a couple of other little things that I thought the show didn’t quiiite pull off, as well. The jerk-off British interviewer seemed like a straw man, haughtily proclaiming jazz to have “had its day,” and dismissively stating that New Orleans wasn’t a city worth saving. I liked Melissa Leo’s feisty attorney, but thought that the scene in which she finally lost her temper felt a little forced. And as great as it was to see Kermit, his scenes were written and framed a bit too much through the worshipful eyes of an outsider. But it’s gotta be hard not to look at him that way – I mean, it’s Kermit Ruffins! The world must know!

But yeah, I’m really looking forward to the next nine episodes. It would appear that Treme is going to rely less on plot and more on character than The Wire did, and the characters felt much easier to get to know as a result. It’ll be a nice change, I think – not that it would’ve been bad to have another incredibly dense, difficult-to-unpack show, but I’m interested to see what Simon & co. do when working with a broader palate.

And more than anything, I’m relieved that Treme is getting the music right, and I can’t wait to see how Simon and Eric Overmeyer start to tell the story of New Orleans. If “Do You Know What It Means” is any indication, it’ll be a story told through music, and I can’t wait to hear more.

Hey, Last Night’s American Idol Didn’t Suck!

7 Apr

Your mileage may vary, but I have been bored to sobs by this season of American Idol. And it’s not the judges, either, it’s the contestants. Yeah, Randy is still generally useless, but has had the odd moment when he’s stepped up and offered constructive musical criticism. And maybe it’s the imminent departure of Simon, but Kara has done the same – to be honest, if you can ignore her somewhat off-putting demeanor and weird proximity issues with Simon, she gives the most consistent musical criticism of anyone on the panel.

I also like Ellen, mainly because she makes jokes that are actually funny. Though allow me to throw out there that I detect some hate-vibes directed her way from Ms. DioGuardi. Interesting. Simon seems to be speaking the objective truth far more consistently this year, without any of those “For Some Reason I’m Going To Trip Balls About This” moments that he has had in seasons past. Maybe it’s because he’s already moved on?

But anyway, all things considered, the judges have kinda stepped it up this year. So I can only conclude that my gripe is with this season’s contestants, who up until last night hadn’t shown me one thing. Not a single thing. Okay, Siobahn’s “House of the Rising Sun” was pretty great, and BowerSox is one of those people who has proficiency and stage presence and a great voice. I believe we in the industry refer to them as “talented musicians.” I really like her, her whole vibe and her awesome baby and her super fun name. But even so, she towers above the rest of those amateurs like a killer whale in the world’s smallest, boring-ist pond.

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Abed Nadir Knows What Time It Is

28 Mar

I love Community. Honestly, it might be the funniest show on TV right now. I know I just said that about Archer, but man, Community is just killing lately.

Troy is probably my favorite character – I hope that they have him break down in tears every episode (last week’s “It’s a cookiewand!” outburst still has me laughing). But it’s hard to deny that Abed is the show’s heart and soul.

Just like Community itself, Abed bridges the gap between meta humor (his are by far the most overtly meta of all of the characters’ jokes) and surprisingly earnest stories (his side stories usually involve him surprising everyone by not being the clichéd antisocial dork that his “character” would be on a TV show).

It helps that Danny Pudi is rocking it, knocking out of the park every new challenge the writers throw his way. His “Gruff black police sergeant who reams the loose-cannon detectives” last week was amazing, and essentially lifted straight out of Beverly Hills Cop, minus about a billion swear words.

And last week’s episode also contained a little character detail that sealed Abed’s status as the Über-Geek. If you need any further proof that the man truly, deeply Knows What Time It Is, might I direct your attention to Exhibit A:

That’s right: Milk Duds. Dude could’ve been eating Doritos or corn-nuts, sour-patch kids or popcorn, but no. As would any truly seasoned movie-watching veteran, Abed goes with the single most delicious, effective, and long-lasting snack on the face of the planet. He chooses the Duds.

Well played, Mr. Nadir. I expected no less.

John Casey Cuts To The Chase

10 Mar

"Because the only thing I hate more than hippie fascist neo-liberal anarchists..."

"...are the hypocrite fat-cat suits they eventually grow up to become."

(Via)

TV Round-Up

4 Mar

Remember, like, six years ago when Friends ended and everyone was saying that the sitcom was dead? HA! Maybe we can finally learn to never listen to those people who say kinds of things again.  At the moment, in addition to a few hour-long dramas, I feel absolutely swamped by quality half-hour comedy programs. Some are great, and actually, a few upstarts have dethroned the reigning champs.  To start with…

Archer just might be the goddamned funniest show on TV at the moment. No other show cracks me up as consistently or hysterically.  If you’re not watching, it turns out that FX on demand has three trailing episodes, so you can kind of catch up if you have Comcast.  And since what might be the show’s funniest episode yet, “The Honeypot,” is still up, you don’t have to miss out. The voice cast is outta sight – H. John Benjamin, Chris Parnell, and Arrested Development vets Jessica Walter and Judy Greer, the latter of whom has like the sexiest voice ever. For some reason they’ve become obsessed with having her character sit around and fantasize about being choked, and it is… uncomfortable. And hilarious.  And.. hot?  Um.  Anyway. If my re-enactment of one of the pilot’s most obscure jokes didn’t convince you, hopefully this will: don’t miss out on the funniest show on the air right now, and the one with the best catch phrases. “Thank yew.” “YUUU*p*” “Nice Read, Velma,”  and, of course, “Daynja Zone!”

And, in keeping with the “new shows unseating old ones,” theme here, it’s time to look at the old champs – for a long time, The Office and 30 Rock fulfilled my Yin/Yang comedy needs. It seems as though comedies always come in twos – one show is the character-driven, occasionally warm-hearted one, and the other the zanier one that relies on jokes.  The first, and hugest, duo for me was Friends and Seinfeld.  And then, for a long time, it was The Office and 30 Rock.  But The Office has fallen on tough times for me lately, with Jim and Pam being increasingly revealed to be kinda mean people who have no life outside of work and yet insist on holding themselves as better than those around them.  And 30 Rock will never be truly unfunny or anything, but all the same, it hasn’t been really working for me for a long time.

Which brings me to my new comedy Yin/Yang team: Parks and Recreation and Community.  Oh, man, are you watching these shows?  Because you should be.  I’ve listed the reasons why you should be watching Parks and Recreation before – and those reasons still stand, and then some.  But at the same time, there’s one more – Ron Effing Swanson. Nick Offerman is doing some frigging outstanding work here, bringing an incredible level of humor and heart to TV’s gruffest character. He and Amy Poehler are gold together, in a way that actually rivals Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.  Watch this show!  Watch it!

Community, on the other hand, you’re probably already watching.  It started out okay, but has gradually evolved to be second only to Archer in laughs-per-minute. The show is blessed with a ridiculously good cast – every single character is hilarious, though of course the biggest laughs go to Troy and Abed every week.  Couple the great writing with some genuinely sweet character notes (and the fact that over the past few weeks, Brita has gone from irritating to really nice/hot as lava) and we’ve got a must-watch show.

Chuck remains a really fun show, even though I’m a little disappointed with this season. It’s always hard when a show cuts back on its budget – even when the magic is still there (and with Chuck, it certainly is), it’s hard not to feel a little deflated by the smaller cast, re-used sets, and lower-budget look of everything. Same thing happened with Buffy in later seasons.  Anyway, I couldn’t believe the whole freak-out that hardcore fans had over that episode from a couple weeks ago. Don’t these people understand that writers write whole seasons? Obviously Chuck and Sarah are going to get together, who cares if they don’t get together RIGHT THIS INSTANT?  Sheesh.  Anyway, always enjoyable, but if you’re not on the bus by now, maybe there’s no reason to go out of your way.

Lost enters its final season, and I don’t have much to say about it yet… I do recommend checking out Joe R’s posts on Low Resolution, since he’s been posting after just about every episode, and also managed to get a screenshot of Kate that sums up the season so far more hilariously than I ever could.  (Screengrab is to the right. Thanks, Joe.) I haven’t seen this week’s Sayid-centric episode, though I heard some good things… but I have been pretty frustrated so far.  I’m sure it’s just a slow start, and things’ll get moving soon, but the show really does feel like its returned to the energy of season one, and that’s not a good thing for me.  But they won enough points by bring the show back from suckitude in season four that I’ll see it through.

I’ve been doing a Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con with my cousin and sister, and we’ve been watching Caprica. So far, I’m not really into it. It’s pretty much just a drama with no action, sort of like Dallas with Cylons… and there’s a lot of teen angst, and a lot of the performances seem a bit… off? Or maybe it’s just a prequel problem. Anyway, it’s great to see Eric Stoltz up there, and I love Paula Malcomson (aka Trixie from Deadwood), but her character is a cipher who, in a recent episode, did the single dumbest, most poorly-explained thing I’ve seen in a while on a show.  If a show is going to make its characters do self-destructive things, it at least needs to make us understand the character enough to get it – I think that so far, Caprica’s characterization has been weak, and as a result, none of the drama feels compelling. I’m probably spoiled from Battlestar, but so far, I’m not willing to use my imagination to take the show the final few yards to “Truly Engaging.”

I could not be more excited for David Simon’s new show, Tremé, to premiere next month. A show by the creator of The Wire about jazz musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans? IN. It’s starring a ton of real local cats, headed up by the super cool Kermit Ruffins (who I’ve gotten to see do his thing live a couple of times, and is the real fucking deal.) Actually, I’m planning on blogging about the show each week, so I hope that if you’re watching it, you’ll come on by.

I’m also excited about The Pacific. I rewatched Band of Brothers recently and was amazed at how well it’s aged – I guess that sounds kind of stupid, huh. Of course it’s “aged” well, it’s an incredible story, well-told. Anyway, that miniseries was a freaking landmark achievement, and is as emotionally powerful now as ever. I recommend watching it again, too – you’ll probably have an easier time keeping track of who’s who, and Alan Sepinwall’s recaps are really good.  I bet he’ll have some awesome stuff up about The Pacific, too.

In the “catching up/rewatching” department, I rewatched some of Deadwood Season 1 and Veronica Mars season one.  Both were remarkable for different reasons – Veronica was such a gritty show in its first season, I’d totally forgotten. It tackled some hardcore topics, and allowed its characters to react to them like real people would… very cool. Deadwood was amazing simply for the language – the second time through, the fact that I knew who everyone was and where it was all going really let me sit back and enjoy the incredible writing. However, I could already sense things losing focus halfway through the first season, and the show never really did capture the magic it had during those first few episodes.  Call me a heretic, but knowing that it’s not going to end (ever) makes it pretty tough to really be stoked about a re-watch. I’m also catching up on Breaking Bad Season 2, and that show is totally, utterly amazing, but I can’t really write more, since I haven’t finished the second season. Jaegle tells me that until I’ve done that, I don’t deserve to have any opinions about the show.

Last thing: American Idol. I haven’t written much about the show yet because, well, there hasn’t been much to say.  I’ve seen all the contestants perform, and my overwhelming impression has been that they are all just super green. So many little high schoolers who don’t seem too different from the kids I teach at Urban… maybe I’m just getting old, but it’s been hard to get very excited about anyone.  Some of the girls this week stepped to, and I’m interested to see if Krystal, Siobhan, and Lilly could get more interesting… but at the moment, I just don’t really care. EW’s Idolatry videos are still fricking hilarious, though, and Jacob Clifton’s recaps at TWoP are the stuff of legend, as usual.

I think Ellen is doing a good job, and seems to have found her angle in addressing whether or not the performances felt true. Randy remains as useless as ever, and last night seemed actually kind of frustrated with his worthlessness. Ha!  Randy! You’re frustrated because you’re not doing a good job!

But can I just ask the internet at large: what is up with Simon and Kara? They are like crammed together in each others’ personal space for every single episode… they almost seem joined at the hip.  Kara will be giving feedback and Simon’s big hairy elbow will be right up in her face, like, he is entirely visible in her shots… it’s really weird.  I’m imagining what it would be like to spend the entire hour sitting that close to someone, and there’s no way they don’t think it’s odd, or that they’re not doing it on purpose.  What the hell is going on?

To prove I wasn’t imagining things, I grabbed some screenshots from last night:


Amiright? Simon is like halfway out of his chair. Weird.

Anyhow, that’s it for me and TV-land. Anyone out there watching anything else of interest? Everyone stoked for the return of Glee? It’s an embarrassment of TV-riches out there right now, folks. Hope you can find time to shower.

Welcome to Veridian, America

22 Jan

An apple is not an orange. My wallet is not a tree. A truck is not a pair of jeans. And a corporation is not a person. This is not a letter/spirit of the law thing, this is just… true.

If there’s really nothing to be done about Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, then it really is just a matter of time until day-to-day life becomes an unfunny version of Better Off Ted.

ABC’s (hilarious) corporate send-up takes on a bit of a new flavor now, doesn’t it?  While the writers get a lot of mileage out of ironically having Portia Di Rossi anthropomorphize a corporation (i.e. “The Corporation would rather you didn’t do that.”), Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas have just literally anthropomorphized corporations. As if by some black alchemy, they have made them People.

So. Prepare for a world in which every day is casual Fribsday and all scientists (even the funny ones) are evil; where each of us is placed in his or her own cat- or space-themed cubicle and all the stolen coffee creamer in the world can’t set things right.

ABC may be canceling the show, but in a few years, we’ll get to live it.

Welcome to Veridian, America. The Corporation has been waiting for you.

“You’re a Marshmallow, Veronica Mars.”

20 Jan

“A Twinkie!”

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