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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!

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