February 29, 2012

My choices...

EW.com's got a list of their 25 Greatest Working directors. Because it's my blog and I'm a narcissist, here are my favorite movies from each of those directors...
  • 25 - Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labyrinth (surprisingly tough call over Hellboy II)
  • 24 - Pedro Almodovar - um, who?
  • 23 - Spike Lee - 25th Hour (or Inside Man)
  • 22 - Brad Bird - Ratatouille 
  • 21 - Clint Eastwood - Unforgiven
  • 20 - David Lynch - The Straight Story 
  • 19 - Werner Herzog - Grizzly Man 
  • 18 - Peter Jackson - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 
  • 17 - Roman Polanski - Chinatown 
  • 16 - Todd Haynes - Far From Heaven 
  • 15 - James Cameron - The Terminator 
  • 14 - Mike Leigh - um, who?
  • 13 - Darren Arnofsky - The Fountain (Pi and Black Swan are pretty awesome, too)
  • 12 - Lars von Trier - Dogville 
  • 11 - Woddy Allen - Annie Hall 
  • 10 - Paul Thomas Anderson -Boogie Nights (with Punch Drunk Love a close second)
  • 9 - Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker 
  • 8 - Alexander Payne - Election 
  • 7 - Joel & Ethan Coen - The Big Lebowski (surprisingly stiff competition from True Grit, No Country for Old Men, O, Brother Where Art Thou, and Raising Arizona)
  • 6 - Terrence Malick - The Thin Red Line 
  • 5 - Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight (tough choice over pretty much everything else he's done)
  • 4 - Martin Scorsese - Goodfellas (tough over Raging Bull, The Last Waltz, Taxi Driver)
  • 3 - David Fincher - Fight Club 
  • 2 - Quentin Tarantino - Inglorious Basterds 
  • 1 - Steven Speilberg - 1941 (I was surprised how many of his movies I like but how few I love.)

February 28, 2012

Einstein on the Beach - reflections

We're a month out from having traveled to the northern, frozen wastelands of Ann Arbor, MI (though it won't be frozen for long) to see the opening night preview performance of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach, the first performance of the opera in twenty years, the opening preview night of only the fifth staging of the opera ever.

First off, I will say that it's an amazing piece of work - the music, the performance, the repetition, the experience, everything. The opera has to be one of the most unique, stunning, repetitive, meditative experiences that I've ever been a part of. I don't know that I understand the piece - even a tenth or a hundredth of the piece, but I'm absolutely thrilled that I was there.

The work was, admittedly, long - four and a half hours in length, top to tail, performed without an intermission, meaning that people had to make their own breaks. The Girl took two breaks in the performance, but I never left the theater. It made for a very odd, gorgeous experience with acts and scenes progressing with little connection from one to the other, something that I've certainly never experienced in my theater-going experience.

I keep struggling to use the term 'opera' to describe Einstein as my views of opera have always involved telling a story via song, acting, and dance, and Einstein certainly isn't any sort of storytelling. It is, in fact, the antithesis of story. Each act, each scene (?), each movement seems to exist in total independence of the others, utilizing the same performers but often without any relation to them having been on stage previously. The music is repetitive to a fault, something that I found meditative and gorgeous but something that The Girl found - and know going in that she would find - the music droning and tedious.

To me the repetition of the music allowed me to often slip away from the music, to let my mind drift and focus on the details of the performance. At times there was so much action on stage - a dozen performers each moving and singing, dancing or standing still but shifting their head or their hands or even one finger - that I found the visuals hard to follow. I had to choose to follow one performer for a time and then to shift my attention elsewhere, only to find myself shocked at the changes that had taken place before I could look back.

At other times, the repetition took place around a nearly empty stage with two, one, or - in one notable scene shown at the top of this post - no one on stage for twenty (?) minutes in which a single, brilliant, huge bar of light shifted from horizontal to vertical and then rose off the stage at a glacial pace. Neither - the action-filled stage or the person-less stage was any less fascinating. Both were utterly mesmerizing.

The above scene, for example (photo from the 1992 production), consisted of...
  • the man in red (front, right) writing on an invisible chalkboard with one repeated motion for twenty minutes without any other motion
  • the boy on the balcony holding and rotating a glowing cube for minutes at a time breaking his motion up only by pulling paper airplanes from his satchel and throwing them onto the stage
  • the two-dimensional train smoking for the full twenty minutes before finally sliding onto the stage while the engineer smoked his pipe, not speaking or moving otherwise
  • one dancer methodically dancing diagonally back and forth from the back right to front left corner, sometimes seeming to move slightly further left with each pass and sometimes seeming to make the exact...same...path with every pass...the pacing of the dancing, the other motion going on the whole time made it almost impossible to discern whether the progression was real or in my mind
  • the newspaper-holding dancer working his way across the stage in an labyrinthine but rectilinear pathway full of ninety degree angles
  • the shell-holding man on the left walking almost as John Cleese's Ministry of Silly Walks sketch across the stage
I wanted to watch every person to see what they were doing, to see if they would make some change to their action that would reveal something, but I couldn't watch them all so I found myself having to alternately split my attention among them all and focus on one to the exclusion of the others knowing that it was the only way I could  have any hope of being anything other than surprised by the changes I had missed.

Though every scene was both stunning and tedious, three scenes in particularly stood out to me:
  • The person-less stage with the light making progress with the music became an entirely meditative moment, knowing that the motion was so slow that I could turn away but knowing that there was nothing to which I could turn my attention. It was gorgeous.
  • One scene in particular had an extended saxophone solo played while the entire cast - twenty-plus performers - came onto the stage to stand in front of a scrim on which was painted a building (shown to the right in the 1992 production) with a man with chalk. The saxophone was so different from the rest of the music, almost something you would hear in a 1980's movie soundtrack over a long pair of legs - only if those legs were on screen for half an hour (maybe, I lost track of time repeatedly through the night) while every performer walked on stage one at a time, turning to look at the chalk-holding man before another performer entered.
  • The finale was a huge set piece with the whole orchestra and all the performers on a three-story set, each standing in front of a light design or circles, graphs, and lines while two identically-dressed performers shifted up and down, back and forth across the stage in glass boxes.The scale of the set was stunning after so many minimalist sets, sometimes no more than light on a blank stage with ballet dancers crossing the stage.

There were very few things that I could definitively say reference Einstein, and none of those were ever made obvious or overt.
  • The concept of trains appeared numerous times, and I know Einstein initially described the theory of relativity, the concept that each of us moves in reference to our frame as two people on neighboring trains seeing the other begin to move and not knowing which of them was moving. Movement from either without a non-moving frame of reference would be impossible to identify as movement from either.
  • At one point the singers stuck out their tongues after furiously 'brushing' their teeth with toothbrushes. Einstein does have a famous photo of him sticking his tongue out.
  • The trial scenes took place in front of a backdrop of an eclipse with two pinpoints of light, one on each side of the moon. One of the most famous public proofs of the theory of relativity involved the lensing of a distant star around an eclipse, allowing us to see in action the lensing effects of gravity.
  • A scrim dropped in front of the three-story scene depicting an atomic explosion (a mushroom cloud) with scientific explanations abounding. Einstein certainly had much to do with the ideas behind the atomic bomb.
Other than those, I really don't know what much of the piece had to do with Einstein...which is both beautiful and frustrating.

There was a film booth in the theater lobby in which anyone could sit down and give their impressions - before, during, after the performances. We eschewed the booth, even as the opening night performance was held back half an hour due to the nasty, snow-covered roads. I did, however, get to spend some time in the lobby (we got there forty-five minutes before the intended curtain) watching the guy on the right of this video.

I couldn't tell if he was entirely there, somehow mentally off, or just eccentric. The Girl came down in the camp of eccentric.

I was amazed at how many times in the performance I laughed. Because of the constant repetition, even the smallest human moments were beautifully rewarding. When one performer, for example, stalked onto the stage with exaggerated, dramatic steps and turned toward the crowd flashing a huge smile, the entire audience laughed out loud. Such small moments because huge because of the lack of time frame, the disconnection from the passage of time - something that I imagine was referencing Einstein, as well.

There are very few photos - and no videos - from the 2012 performances that I can find online. Here are the few (all of which will make gorgeous desktop backgrounds at school) that I can find thanks to the pomegranate arts who put on this year's shows.

You can get some scenes from the 1984 production below, interspersed with interview clips with Wilson and Glass, themselves. The 2012 production was, from what I can see in all the images and clips on the web, substantively identical to the 1984 (and, I assume, original productions). Einstein - in a surprisingly small part, really - was played by an Asian women instead of a white man, but the sets, the costumes, the staging that you can see in the video are all very much like what we saw in Ann Arbor.

If you want to know more about Einstein, check out this documentary on the opera. You'll get to see footage from the 1984 production. It's uploaded to YouTube in its entirety but broken into four parts totaling nearly an hour long.

Everyone at a musical performance takes in the performance on their own. This work, however, seems even more so as there is no story, no path to take with your fellow theater-goers. To this end, I thoroughly enjoyed the reactions of the people near us.

The Girl was beside an older couple who spent large swaths of the performance dozing.

We had a couple behind us who leaned in as the bar of light tilted and rose and asked each other, "Do you know what this movement is called?"..."How to waste ten minutes."...Ten minutes later they leaned together and amended the previous statement to "twenty minutes"...

Beside me, sitting solo at the end of our row, was a man who knew the music backwards and forward, asking me why people would be leaving at this moment, if they had no idea what was coming next. I didn't admit to him that I didn't have any clue what was coming, that I'd never actually listened to the work in its entirety - or as entire as the three-cd set that I have (and that is apparently four cds).

To quote these people who were at the Saturday performance (I was at Friday's), "I think this is one of Philip Glass's best operas about Einstein."

I would certainly agree with that assessment, and I'm thrilled that I got to see this phenomenal work in its entirety.

...and I owe The Girl big time...

February 27, 2012

The Blanks or the Worthless Peons

Ted's band from Scrubs...turns out they're kinda a real band

February 25, 2012

The links of the weak

Short list of links this week...maybe more next week...maybe...

The City of Samba from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

February 23, 2012

From the weekend...

This past weekend's SNL was outstanding...enjoy 'em...

Can't go wrong with Justin Timberlake...

February 22, 2012

Vonne Gut Reactions: The Sirens of Titan

We continue to roll along with the second of Kurt Vonnegut's novels: The Sirens of Titan.

As I've mentioned before, spoilers abound.

You have been warned...
  • First, a quick summary of the plot...Malachi Constant is rich through no efforts of his own. Winston Niles Rumfoord is a wealthy man who through a MacGuffin of space travel - a chrono-synclastic infundibulum - which shifts Rumfoord's existence into a wavefunction, manifesting in different locations at different times as well as seeing his past, present and future. Rumfoord tells Malachi and Beatrice (Rumfoord's wife) their futures, and though both do everything in their power to stop it from coming true, both march toward their future exactly as Rumfoord forsees, taking part in an invasion of Earth from Mars, stopping on Mercury, living on Mars, and eventually returning to die on Earth.
  • There's a strong similarity here between the world view of Rumfoord - all future events have already taken place, there's no reason to fight them - and that of Billy Pilgrim (from Slaughterhouse Five) once he becomes unstuck in time. It's a semi-convenient conceit that removes any sort of guilt or responsibility from any of their actions. It means that all of Rumfoord's actions - uniting the people of Earth, leading an attack on Earth from Mars, manipulating Malachi's mind and entire future - aren't anything that we can blame on him. Everything that he's done has been - according to his view of the past and future already having happened - pre-ordained. He's not to be blamed. For some reason in Slaughterhouse Five this didn't bother me - maybe because Billy never acts immorally. Rumfoord, on the other hand, seems to manipulate nearly every single person on Earth. He destroys the idea of religion; kidnaps some people of Earth, brainwashes them, and send them to die attacking Earth. None of this seems too moral and everything, so I want to blame Rumfoord - but I can't because his actions have already happened, even his lying about Malachi's future.
  • The Tralfamadorians make an appearance here for the first time in Vonnegut's oeuvre. Yay!
  • Last time we checked in on Vonnegut, Calen had asked whether Vonnegut's female character would develop to be any more three-dimensional. Well, I'm not thinking this book is going to help Vonnegut's case with Calen. There's only one female character in the whole book, and she's pretty much entirely passive, letting the action happen around her. Beatrice certainly isn't passing the Bechdel test any time soon. Beatrice has married Rumfoord out of duty and not love. She gets abducted to Mars. She has a kid by Constant but doesn't love Malachi. She returns to Earth with her son through no initiative of her own. She heads to Titan because she's told she has to. She eventually falls in love with Malachi because he's the only one around. Wow...that's rich characterization. She's like a friggin' prop. There's no desire on her part; there's no impression that she's got any hopes or dreams other than briefly to resist the fickle hand of fate - and she fails miserably at that.

    Apparently we're still looking for Vonnegut's first rich female character. Maybe Mother Night will help us out.
  • In the long run The Sirens of Titan is a road movie. Malachi's on Earth and gets told he's going to Mars, Mercury, and Titan. The entirety of the book is just a case of getting Malachi to Titan. It's actually a little reminiscent of the old road movies, too, because the characters don't seem to grow or change much along the way. Malachi opens without any direction and ends the same way. He heads to Mars and gets his brain sucked out of his head but doesn't gain any insight, doesn't become any more...well, any more anything. Malachi is at the whims of fate, and he doesn't seem to have taught us - or himself - anything what so ever. 
  • If the characters don't change in any way and don't have anything to tell us, then they better be part of a pretty spectacular journey. Only they aren't. The stop over on Mars seems pretty pointless other than to have Malachi's brain wiped. The time on Mercury doesn't seem to change Malachi in any way other than to have him wander around in a cave pointlessly. The time on Titan seems pretty pointless, letting Malachi and Beatrice fall in love which is conveyed by them not living together, generally not liking each other, and sleeping together once every few months. If that's not love, what's going on?
  • Calen hated the time on Mercury. I'll let her explain in the comments.
  • There goes religion out the window at long last - long being two whole novels, though Player Piano wasn't exactly pro-religion, of course. Vonnegut was one of the world's more well-known secular humanists, and his anti-religion bent comes through loud and clear here as the entire point of the Mars (I won't say martian because the entire invasion force is displaced Earth humans - except for one human child born on Mars) is seemingly to destroy the religions of Earth, replacing them with the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, part of whose creed is "I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all." As Calen points out, however, the acceptance of a series of beliefs without proof is a religion whether it purports to explain creation or anything else is pretty much a religion. Looks like Vonnegut's destruction of religion seems to have created a new religion.

    Sort of defeats the purpose, eh?
  • In the end the entire purpose to the actions in the book seems to be a set up by the Tralfamadorians to get a repair part to a spaceship that broke down on Titan. The ship's been broken down for more than 200,000 years, and Salo - the robot pilot headed for a distant galaxy. Turns out that the Tralfamadorians have been directing our society pretty much forever all with the goal of getting messages to Salo. Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Kremlin - all directed by distant society on a distant planet to pass a message along. Of course, that had already happened in the future already. No reason to think they were being manipulative or mean. They were just doing the things they had already done in the future.
  • When I passed the book along to Calen (see, I'm checking out two volumes of each of the books and passing one along to Calen, typically at school), one of the English teachers at our school raved about this book. It's apparently her favorite Vonnegut book ever.

    She's weird.
  • Apparently, though, there are lots of people who love this book. Douglas Adams, according to Wikipedia, says The Sirens of Titan was a big influence on Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
    "Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it's very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual."
  • It's interesting that Vonnegut destroys religion after having one of his characters get filthy rich by following the first forty or so letters of the Bible.
Onward to Mother Night.

As I write this, however, I'm already a hundred-fifty pages into that one. With only two-hundred-two pages total in the book, this one shouldn't take much longer.

February 21, 2012

Lonnieburger Baskets: Sidetracks

Though it may appear that the quest for the perfect burger has stalled, the quest marches on.

Yes, it's pretty clear to me that Terry's has the best burgers in town with Senate and Cafe de Wheels in close second and third, respectively. There is always, however, the hope that we'll find another spectacular burger in the Cincy area.

Source: AnnArbor.com

And there's the hope that when we go on vacation we can find a great burger out in the non-Queen City part of the world. To that end we dropped into Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Ypsilanti, MI back in January. Considering that GQ named the Sidetrack burger one of the twenty burgers you must eat before you die (Sidetrack camein at #19), hopes were high. Should they have been? Let's look at the numbers...

Here's what GQ had to say...
19. Our Famous Burger,
Sidetrack Bar and Grill - Ypsilanti, MI
Here is one of my core culinary credos: The closer you come to a college campus, the worse burgers get. Sidetrack Bar and Grill—named for its location next to an old railroad siding—is an exception. This modern-looking pub, around since 1850, doesn’t seem concerned with pleasing undiscerning Eastern Michigan University freshmen. “We don’t get much of a young crowd,” my waitress said. The meat, a secret blend, tastes like chuck. The sesame-seed bun is small, soft, and grilled. I recommend a visit to the automobile museum across the street, although they won’t let you play drive-in and eat your burger in a vintage car.

  • Man, I didn't get any particularly impressive 'secret blend' of spices here. The burger was a burger. There's a little pepper in there I can see, but I didn't taste much of anything outside simple, decent quality burger meat. The patty was a little on the shiny side but not unreasonably so. Burger - 6 

  •  For winter, that's not a bad tomato slice. The lettuce is lettuce. The bacon was well done but not as crisp as I would like it. The bacon was flavorful. The cheddar was amply applied with a large slice melted all across the patty and even onto the bun. The toppings are solid but unspectacular, something that's pretty much what I can say across the board about this burger. Toppings - 6 

  • Fries are offered either plain or with cajun spices, garlic, or salt and pepper (each for an extra fifty cents). They also have sweet potato fries for an extra back. The Girl chose the regular fries, and I went for the garlic option. If you're not gonna splurge on vacation, when are you gonna splurge? My fries came out without any garlic, however, so I can't speak to the spice options. Both my fries and The Girl's fries came out hot and well cooked. They could have been crisper, but they weren't greasy or limp by any means. Fries - 6 

  • This is easily the best part of Sidetracks. The main bar feels authentically old, and the whole place has gorgeous woodwork, a fireplace that was roaring fire when we were there, a beautiful huge mirror behind the old bar, and nice windows showing the snow-covered streets of Ypsilanti. The ceiling is old tin, and the place feels right. We ate at an off time, around 2-3pm, so Sidetracks wasn't crowded, but it still felt like home. Ambiance - 8

  • A burger is just $9.25 with fries and bacon. I added cheese (50 cents) fries spice (50 cents but not actually served). The diet coke was $2.25. That's...um...$12.50. Not good...Cost - 3 

Other Schtuff
  • When I ordered a Diet Coke, they brought me an extra carafe of Diet Coke. That's very cool. +1
  • Seriously, love the woodwork all around. +1
  • Um...that's about all I've got.
To the totaling...totalization...adding crap up...

+1 +1 +3 +8 +6 +6 +6...That's like a zillion...Or 31...One of the best burgers in the country, one of the burgers you have to eat before you die only got 31 points?

Kinda disappointing...

  • Terry's Turf Club - 45
  • Cafe de Wheels - 44
  • Senate - 43 
  • City View Tavern - 40 (scaled from 32/40)
  • Stuffed on Vine - 38
  • Five Guys Burgers and Fries - 36 
  • Roxy's - 36
  • VanZandt - 34
  • Gabby's - 34 
  • Oakley Pub & Grill - 34 
  • Quatman's - 32 / 34.5
  • Troy's - 32 
  • By Golly's - 32
  • Wildflower Cafe - 31.25 (scaled from 26/40) 
  • Sidetracks - 31
  • Virgil's Cafe - 28
  • The Pub at Rookwood Mews - 28
  • Smashburger - 28
  • Habits Cafe - 28
  • Graffiti Burger - 27
  • Arthur's - 26
  • Sammy's - 25 
  • Gordo's - 20
Even though there are only 18 better burgers in the nation according to GQ, we have fourteen better burgers in Cincinnati.

I'm thinking GQ lied.

February 20, 2012

Late Late Show bits

I swear, if my life didn't require a 4:30 wake-up call every day, I would watch every episode of the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

'Cause it's awesome...

I can pretty much randomly choose any clip from the show and find it hilarious.

So I did...

February 18, 2012

Posted from remote Gatlinburg

I'm somewhere lost in the mountains. If new posts don't resume after the next two weeks of crap I have cued for your enjoyment, please send help. I'm Beyond Expectations.

February 17, 2012

A little cartoon comic

I'm always on the lookout for good, funny webcomic about comic books, especially with a DC theme.

So I'm happy with the recent emergence of Little Justice League and its theme of the Justice League in kindergarten.

Great characterization, excellent age-appropriate dialogue, inside references to the personalities of the DC heroes...good stuff...

And major props for cleaning up Power Girl's costume for the kindergarten set.

February 16, 2012

Vonne Gut Reactions: Player Piano

(I apologize for the title. It's the best I could come up with right now. If you can come up with a better pun, suggest it,  please.)

I'm not a resolution kinda guy, but I was looking for something else to do this year than focus on work. The current choice is reading all of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. My goal is to get them finished by the end of the summer. Fourteen novels, seven and a half months - that seems reasonable.

Luckily, Calen is reading along with me.

First up, Player Piano, Vonnegut's first novel.

Be warned: Here there be SPOILERS
  • I don't know what a first novel is supposed to read like. Somehow I expected sloppiness, errors, ham-handed dialogue. I didn't get any of that, so I guess I was happy.
  • Calen commented that she was curious as to whether Vonnegut's characterization of women would continue to be as negative as they were in this book. The women portrayed here are absolutely pathetic. They exist only to gain status via their husbands' accomplishments and social status. She brought up that in Slaughterhouse 5 (she's apparently cheated and read ahead) Billy Pilgrim's wife is shrill, Montana Wildhack is a porn star, and Vonnegut's war buddy has a wife who hates Vonnegut's visits. It's one thing for a male author to struggle to represent female characters, but admittedly the female characters here are all but worthless. The only skills they have are in seducing their husbands (the main character's wife is particularly noteworthy for her sexual prowess according to Dr Proteus, himself), socializing while the men get together to work, taking secretarial notes, or redecorating the kitchen. I'll be curious to see whether this issue continues throughout the other thirteen novels.

  • Vonnegut's theorem in the book seemed a little unsubtle, admittedly. He even had a reverend - who would go on to become a somewhat major character - lay the entire theory out about fifty pages into the book. The book centers around the idea that technology, machines in specific, are taking the positions and jobs - but more importantly the usefulness - of people. People, then, find themselves without anything to do but pass the time in unuseful pursuits - standing around on government jobs, betting on television music, and just generally malaising. It's not a Brave New World style malaise where the proletariat is boffing themselves into a stupor; it's just people being displaced by computers running things a little more efficiently. There simply isn't the concurrent effort by the government to make sure the people are happy / blissful / ignorant.
  • One of the clumsier parts of the book is the use of the visiting Sheik who is a little too obviously the reader's chance to ask questions about the society.Vonnegut tours the Sheik around the US, stopping in at typical American citizen/slaves and asking the questions that an outsider would ask about the society. Yes, the Sheik eventually crosses into the main storyline, but it's a very brief encounter and clearly one not worthy of the Sheik's inclusion in the book. To a large extent, I felt the same about the football chapter. Why was it there?
  • The wrap up of the story was also a little off with the battle about to be joined then the main character all but passing out only to be revived days later when everything was already wrapped up. We built and built toward a war and got a recap of an unsuccessful war. Sort of anticlimactic.
  • I did enjoy the book but am happy to know that Vonnegut did much better work later.

February 15, 2012

Why the long face?

I thought about a picture of Julia Roberts there, but that would've just been mean when it's a playlist of songs about hoses. I avoided a lot of songs that just have 'horse' in the title ("Horse With No Name", "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses") or vaguely mentioning a horse ("If I Had a Boat", "Beer for my Horses") in favor of songs about a specific horse.

February 14, 2012

Update: Realignment

A while back I mentioned the various realignments in college sports.

Today it was announced that Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference will form a new association, sort of merging the two conferences into one.

That means Hawaii and East Carolina will be in the same conference.

Because that makes sense...

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.

I'm glad you're a part of my life in whatever way you are.

(Source: Neatorama)

Demo videos

I have no clue who Mr Kent is. He's apparently a chemistry teacher somewhere in New York state who teaches forensics, advanced and AP chemistry. At least that's what his online schedule says.

I dig his online demo videos, though.

February 13, 2012

My thoughts...a cartoon...

Thank you, Sci-ence.org for summing it all up for me.

February 12, 2012

Nature redemptive

It's been a rough week as Casa de ChemGuy.

The Girl is buried in school work as am I.
The job has been a challenge in more ways than I feel like discussing.
The rec team got whomped yesterday, closing the season on a down note.

But luckily, nature was there this morning to make me happy.

I looked out the kitchen window and saw this...

Damn, nature, you redemptive...

February 11, 2012


The #3 University of Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team beat the #13 Georgetown Hoyas by a score of 80-38 today.

I get that the spread from the best women's teams to the next batch of good women's teams has historically been HUGE, but I was under the impression that the gap was getting smaller.

What the hell, then, was this?

Still time...still time...

There's still time to get that last-minute Valentine's gift...

  • Stock photos of women looking awkward after sex - There's got to be a subtle message here. I'm just missing it somehow.
  • Pina - The best part of this review is the last line "Disclaimer – the first twenty minutes of the mostly foreign language film were presented at my screening without subtitles. This glitch was eventually corrected, and the effect was negligible considering the how little speaking goes one in the film. But all the same, I still walked out without having seen the whole movie."
  • Look at this hamster dog of the day - Lemme go grab my screwdriver...I'm gonna make myself one of these.

February 10, 2012

A little mariachi music

I love a good gimmick...a quality schtick...and Metalachi has that in spades.

February 9, 2012

Being social: part 2

If you need to take a moment to look back at my previous posting about all the identities that are officially, unofficially, or absolutely not representing Princeton High School (PHS) (or Princeton City School District (PCSD)), go right ahead.

Now, what's to do about it.

First off, it's not my job to look out for Princeton's online identity. I am, in fact, making a point of divesting myself of some of the non-necessary parts of my Princeton life at this point. Teaching at Princeton High School is my job, and there's a lot of things about PHS and the PCSD that aren't my job. I've also been hired to do a special project in managing the PHS website for the 2011-12 school year, but that special project wasn't defined to include anything like 'watch out for PCSD's online identity', it's a whole lot closer to 'just post some stories from time to time and update some of the stuff if anybody notices it.'

But, in case you wanted to know...

Marketing today isn't marketing in the pre-intertubes era. Back then, a company controlled its image and could sue the living snot out of anybody who tried to take control of that image who wasn't a part of the corporation. Coca-Cola produced ads for Coke. They picked their colors (red, white, black), their images (American, fun, young, nostalgic), their spokespeople (Santa Claus, Mean Joe Green, Selena), their iconography (the Coke bottle). If somebody started making unofficial Coke products (drinks, shirts, whatever), Coke simple sicced their lawyers on the offenders. With Coke's deep pockets, they could simply out sue any monolithic copyright offenders into submission and protect their image that way.

In the interweb age, however, it's far tougher to keep control of an image. Anyone offending that image is likely to be far less monolithic, far tougher to squish like a bug. Parodies, video commentaries, tweets, Facebook statuses are all very quick to spread around the web and almost impossible to remove once they're created and shared. This all means that an organization has far less control and has to be willing to open things up to web users. The best organizations turn this into an opportunity rather than a frustration. The worst thing to do in such a situation is to rant and rave pointlessly at any web user who decides to do something creative.

Steps I think PCSD/PHS should take...
  • Have a plan - Somebody needs to have some vision for Princeton's online presence. That somebody used to be the PR director (with varying quality as the position's gone through three incarnations/office holders in my eleven years in the district). Now, with less money, PCSD has no PR director but needs to have the work done somewhere.

    This could be a single individual (somebody at central office, I would think, because otherwise an individual building would likely be favored if a person at that building were chosen - this is a skoo district, not a district of skoos, after all) or it could be a group of people (somebody from CO, HS/MS/Elem reps, tech savy parent and/or student maybe). In this case I would suggest most of the work be done by employees. Our district makes a huge attempt to include parents and students and non-parent community folks on every committee, and that has its place. It keeps everything open and allows non-employees to provide important input. In this case, however, there is value in having PCSD folks determine how/what PCSD wants to market themselves.

    Then, put together a plan. Figure out what the Viking is supposed to look like (a consistent coloration), figure out what our online red and grey are (this has been done for the new school's interior but not for the web), what the important phrases/graphics are going to be, what the policies are going to be about online Princeton, who's going to search the web once or twice a month to see if a new Princeton persona or website has come into being.
  • Centralize the official presences - The PCSD website is already in place. There are aspects of it that I like, and others that I don't like quite so much. It's in place, however, and I don't think it's going away even with the district's money troubles. The central office folks - or the committee or person in charge - needs to tell the entire district (principals, staffers, whoever) that anything put online using the Princeton brand belongs to Princeton. If it has a Viking on it or says Princeton or PHS or whatever - and absolutely, positively if it's being run by an employee - it belongs to Princeton. That means the account info and password and link info for any of the official Princeton things needs to be handed over the moment the thing is created. If it's not given to the committee (I'm going to stop saying 'committee or person or central office') within one week of the site/persona being created, it gets shut down as soon as the district finds out about it. There needs to be some incentive for quick compliance.

    I don't know if class-specific websites would be included here. For example, I have a Facebook group for my honors chemistry classes that doesn't necessarily represent Princeton but that I have called PHS Honors Chemistry. If I was required to give the control up to the district, I would rename the group to not include PHS or Princeton in the name, but I recognize that the district has a right to know/approve what I'm doing.
  • Reach out to the unofficial presences - Ask every coach to contact their sports boosters, every music teacher to contact the music boosters and communicate to them to district's goals and expectations for any online presence that says Princeton. Ask them to work with the district and be careful about what they do online when using Princeton's name.
  • Try to shut down anybody who won't comply - The Facebook profiles that say they're Princeton but aren't Princeton and don't necessarily represent Princeton well should be reported to Facebook. So should any Twitter feeds or anybody else who isn't Princeton but says they are. At the very least, those feeds should be monitored, and the real Princeton personas should be posting there to make sure everybody knows they're not real.
  • Be vigilant - Somebody needs to be searching the web on a regular basis to see if Princeton's online presence is changing. Google notifications make this a little easier, but there's no substitution for straight up, diligent web searching. Look for Princeton and PHS and Vikings and Vikes and Evendale and Springdale and Sharonville and PCMS and every other school out there in various combinations.
So, where did I go wrong? What did I forget? 

February 8, 2012

I'm in

Alphabet game: 80's movies

Neatorama had a post of Stephen Wildish's 80's alphabet. His site also has alphabets for 60s, 70s, 90s, 2000s, and Bond. Here's what I've got from this one.

February 7, 2012

Let's look back

Things I've seen, read, and heard of late...

Methland by Nick Reding - One of the things I'm working on this year is actually reading some books that don't have bunches of pictures. This was #1 toward that goal...

I remember reading an article about crystal meth in Rolling Stone almost nine years ago now. It was a terrifying look at something I had never heard about before and that I was ever so hopefully I would never have to know about later on. A couple of years ago, then, The Girl read Methland and suggested that I give it a try.

Reding looks at a lot more than just crystal meth addiction in the small town of Oelwein, Iowa. He explores the underlying causes that have bit by bit rotted the heart out of small town, rural America which makes for a much richer book than it would have been if he had only looked at addiction and drugs and poor people and guns. Instead, Reding explores the underlying causes that weakened the structure and left a hole that could only be filled by addiction and drugs and poor people and guns.

It's not always cheery - though there is a hopeful finale to the book - but it's well written and an impressive exploration of a far more complex problem than I knew.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (unedited) - There's some online discussion about the value of the cuts to this direct-to-video release that came out in the middle of the Batman Beyond run on television, and there's good reason for that. The movie is surprisingly dark and violent. It's nothing that wouldn't probably air on television right now, but it certainly runs a darker tone than did the series.

The series, if you aren't aware, was an underrated little gem that updated the Batman mythos for the mid twenty-first century with an aged Bruce Wayne hiring Terry McGinnis to take on the mantle of the Batman now that he has become too old to carry the wings himself. Throughout the series, the writers managed to tie in numerous touches from the 'current' era of the Batman cartoon, one of the finest to ever be produced. In this tale, the Joker seems to have reappeared in spite of the fact that he was killed more than two decades ago.

The mystery, of course, must be solved as McGinnis finds out that there's a very dark history to how the Joker initially disappeared / was killed those many years ago. It's that flashback that is the primary source of darkness in this film with the Joker having kidnapped and brain washed Batman's second Robin, Tim Drake, to take on a Joker personality, intending to have Drake kill Batman. It's a scene that clearly couldn't be shown within the more child-friendly scope of the television series (in spite of B:tAS having shown the phenomenally dark "Over the Edge" episode), but it's what provides a strong emotional tone to the film.

The entirety of Batman Beyond was a wonderful exploration of to effects Bruce Wayne's career as Batman - on himself, on Barbara Gordon, on Gotham - and his eventual emotional rehabilitation through the growing trust in McGinnis. The coda of the series - "Epilogue" from the Justice League Unlimited series - brought all of these together into a masterful, well, epilogue.

Do yourself a favor and watch this series in its entirety - and this film in the middle where it belongs. (I have all the series episodes on DVD if you wanna...I'm not saying, I'm just saying...)

Bad Teacher - I was a little surprised at how poor the reviews for Bad Teacher were. Sure, it's not exactly Shakespeare, and the actions of the titular bad teacher are reprehensible and unreasonable to imagine a teacher getting away with in this day and age of increasing administrative oversight, but it's actually a fun film.

Cameron Diaz's lead character is a true piece of work, teaching only until she can find a sugar daddy to take her away from the school in favor of a life as a kept trophy wife. When her first attempt falls through, she turns her attentions to the new-to-school Justin Timberlake, finding a naive but wealthy target. In the process she finds a foil in the crazy to teach and just plain crazy 'better' teacher across the hall.

Diaz dishes out bad messages, lazes her way through a semester of movie showing, slips a state testing official a mickey to steal the state test, drugs and sluts her way around, and finally realizes that what she's been doing isn't the right way to get through life. She eventually and predictably falls in love with the schlubby gym teacher (Jason Segel) and turns over a new leaf becoming a good guidance counselor. In the course of her messy journey, Diaz headed my favorite film with her in a long while.

South Park: Season 14 - Finally, Muhammed came back to South Park.

Well, at least, Muhammed supposedly came back to South Park. In episodes 200 and 201, Trey and Matt explored the lampooned the threats of violence for depicting Muhammed - even though they've already shown Muhammed back in the Super Best Friends episodes. Turns out there Comedy Central does have a limit as they chose to cover up Muhammed's appearances and bleep out any mention of the prophet in the second of the two-part episodes as well as a lengthy, summative monologue from Kyle at the end of the episode - even the DVD versions of the episodes are so censored.

All in all, it's a good season and one I'm happy to have added to the collection. The three-part Coon and Friends/Cthulu cross-over episodes left me with my jaw on the floor in the shocking climax and particularly the exploration of Kenny's knowledge that he continues to die and be reborn every week. Kenny's scenes in these episodes are among the finest moments that South Park has ever put together.


Green Arrow: Year One - I'll admit that I didn't have any thoughts that we needed a retelling of Green Arrow's origin. Admittedly Green Arrow is a solid B-level DC hero, and I was pretty sure I knew his origin story, but I found myself pleasantly surprised at the quality of this volume. It's a good read.

The team of Diggle and Jock - the team behind The Losers series - produce a very lean, rugged look which works very well for a shipwrecked, drunken playboy forced to survive and find his real identity. The female villain is drawn exaggeratedly nubile and stands around in inhuman poses, but the rest of the mini-series is well enough crafted that I can't see that as anything more than a slight annoyance.

Worth reading even if it doesn't recast any of the events as anything other than what we've seen from Oliver Queen before.

Ides of March - There's nothing revolutionary about this film. A charismatic political staffer (Ryan Gosling) is managing the campaign for a presidential candidate who isn't just his boss but who is also his ideal, someone in whom he actually believes.This is perfect because he's running the campaign of someone who he clearly sees as a hero.

Then things all go to hell, and the candidate turns out be less than perfect, to have faults of his own.

Shockingly, politics isn't the place for the faint of heart, and anyone who hopes to succeed - either behind the scenes or as a candidate  running on his own - is going to have to get his hands dirty, and the most successful have their hands a little bit dirtier.

There's not much joy here, but there is a well acted, well told flick.

Great cast all around, too - Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall -Apparently there's something about Jason Segel. First he gets Cameron Diaz, and now he gets Mila Kunis. Big props to mack daddy Segel.

Great top four actors, especially Russel Brand who knocks his part as a free loving rock star out of the park. Kristen Bell, Segel, and Kunis are also pretty good as they manage all the meet cutes and mistrust scenes and romantic missteps that a standard romantic comedy requires. Yeah, it's just a standard romantic comedy, but it's one done with light-hearted goodness and without too much heaviness at any point and done with a lot of charisma.

Plus it has a puppet musical number at the end...

Friends With Benefits - I can't remember the last crappy rom-com that had me in tears by the end. This is pathetic to write, but this one wrecked me. This one worked for me. I think it was the chat between JT and his dad just before the grand finale.

It's funny and touching and has pretty charismatic leads. It's a whole lot of fun.

And it doesn't hurt that there's a great poster for the flick.

Diving Bell and the Butterfly - When The Girl first described this one to me - one of her profs in the speech-language pathology program showed the opening scenes in class in early January - I was admittedly pretty leery of the film.

Let's see why - entirely in French with subtitles, the story of a man who loses all ability to move any part of his body except for blinking his left eye, a book written by him blinking his eye when the correct letter was spoken aloud. There's nothing there that suggests anything I wanted to see.

And that would have been a crime...

This is a gorgeou, inspirational film that opens from Jean-Dominique Bauby's - the aforementioned stroke victim -  point of view, presenting us with only what he could see from his one functioning eye and continues to allow us into his thoughts while he moves from shock and fear into depression and eventually acceptance of his life as it has come to be. Bauby travels the world in his imagination and memory, allowing us to see his dreams and hopes in spite of the fact that he would never leave recover any increased motion, remaining clinically 'locked-in'.

The film is beautiful, impressive, and moving. Give it a try.

Spider-Man/Fantastic Four - Horrible...bad story paired with poor artwork..it's not Widening Gyre bad, but it's very poor...

Batman: Noel - The pitch for this one had to be pretty awful. Let's give it a try...
So, there's a narrator telling the story of Dickens's A Christmas Carol and at the same time we have Batman in pursuit of the Joker using Bob as bait. And Bob's got a sick kid, and Batman gets visited by three 'spirits' - Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker - but finally recognizes the error of his ways, finding a charitable spirit.
It sounds awful and actually turns out to be pretty good. It shouldn't work at all but does.

Songs and Stories by Guy Clark - I wasn't expecting too much here as it's just a late-career collection of previously-released songs from a busted old singer-songwriter.

Turns out, however, that I got a live recording of a spectacularly loose and rewarding live recording of a master storyteller doing some of his most meaningful songs and letting his band members and friends take a little bit of the stage, as well, when they sing some of the songs that they wrote but that Clark had recorded and brought to bigger popularity.

The songs here are absolutely marvelous, knock-out great ones. I'm particularly caught with "The Randall Knife," "Maybe I Can Paint Over That", "The Cape", "Sis Draper" and "Out in the Parking Lot." They're all amazing, however. Clark - a singer-songwriter who has stayed true to the singer-songwriter/country territory even as country has moved into poppier territory in the decades of his career - comes out with a late-career (he's 70 years old now) highlight here that is as easy as it should be.

Check this one out.

Moneyball - Finally! I've now seen a second film up for best picture this year. This one's far more accessible than the other, Tree of Life. It's also far less ambitious, seeking only to tell the story of the building and playing of the 2002 Oakland A's and their General Manager, Billy Beane.

For those of you not in the know, Beane became the General Manager of the A's in 1997. In a great run of success, particularly for a small-payroll team, as they finished first or second from 1999 through 2006, averaging almost 94 wins a year through the stretch run. Beane's run was based partially on the idea of exploiting market inefficiencies in the baseball talent market, choosing to pay for players who could get on base rather than players who could slap singles and bomb home runs. Beane - and his player evaluation staff - saw this as their only way to compete with the larger-payroll teams who would constantly be able to outspend the A's and would certainly beat them if both teams looked for the same value in players.

Instead, Beane found a front office staff - Paul DePodesta, assistant Oakland GM, foremost among them - that was able to look beyond the 'good face','ugly girlfriend', and a dozen other cliched ways that baseball scouts predict the future performances of the same players that the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, and every other team was trying to predict as well. Instead, Beane and DePodesta - played as a fictional character, Peter Brand, by Jonah Hill - took a serious left turn, challenging every scout in the A's organization and went after a team of misfit toys, a catcher who couldn't throw turned first baseman, an outfielder well past his prime (who happened to go to elementary school with Calen, by the way), and dozens of other players who had been passed over by the wealthier teams because their skills weren't appreciated, weren't valued - taking a walk, seeing dozens of pitches per at-bat, not walking batters as pitchers - but their valued skills - hitting home runs, driving in runs, stealing bases - had eroded or were never there.

The book focused more on the changing culture, the economic ideas behind finding market inefficiencies and used Beane and DePodesta as the means to tell those stories. The movie, instead, brings in Beane's daughter from a prior marriage, eliminates Beane's then-current wife, and makes this Beane's story, which Brad Pitt knocks out of the park, showing a man whose charisma isn't as easy going as he would like it to be, who struggles to maintain relationships with his players and grows through the course of the film as he softens and realizes that he has to be a little more human, a little more open, while also being a little more confident in the numbers.

It's a great film and an excellent character study. This isn't a sport film. It's a character piece that just happens to be set in baseball. Check it out...

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - The first new Sherlock Holmes movie was a'ight. It wasn't any sort of knock out, particularly because it didn't feel like any sort of Sherlock Holmes story. It was a fine Guy Ritchie film that happened to be set in some sort of Victorian/Elizabethean/Queeney England and had some character who was named the same as a detective in a bunch of detective stories back in the day. There was a good give and take between Holmes and Watson. As a buddy flick with slow/stop-motion Guy Ritchie fighting, it was enjoyable.

In this sequel Holmes actually feels like Holmes. Yes, the fight scenes are still there, as is some pretty impressive cinematography in the forest scene, but what really kicks this flick in the backside is the competition between Holmes and his arch foe, Dr Moriarty, an open, above-board, horribly nasty but gentelmanly nasty battle between the two most brilliant English minds of the era. The conflict between the two, with Moriarty being Holmes's opposite number - academic, predictable, wildly respected, wealthy, straight laced and EVIL! - drives the film and provides just what the first movie was missing.

It's cracking fun, and every anachronistic - or seemingly anachronistic - weapon and plan and explosive can be set aside because the fight scenes are just friggin' cool - especially the aforementioned forest battle scene - and make it all worth while.

It's not spectacular - because it's silly at times and deadly serious at others, because Holmes is just a little too crackers to actually some through with what he understands about the world, because Holmes is a little too chatty - but it's fun.

GI Joe: Cobra -  Really? GI Joe comic books?

This is what I'm down to reading just because I've read pretty much everything else in the Sharonville library branch's graphic novel situation. Volumes 2-4 were hanging in the section, and I went and requested volume 1 because I'd read something online somewhere (I can't find the reference right now, sorry) said that this series was actually pretty enjoyable.

Turns out they were right. The series takes a trio of story arcs and ties them together under the grand arc of Cobra recruiting some of the Joe's soldiers and contractors through duplicitous means, hypnosis and drugs, torture and cognitive dissonance. It's a fascinating turn of events, particularly as Chuckles - the infiltrating Joe - finally gets his payback in the end. Good stuff.

February 6, 2012

Kick butt artists of kick butt women

The blog DC Women Kicking A$$ has been running a series of polls about the best artists drawing the best DC female characters. My choices...
  • Oracle - Ed Benes...to me Oracle is Birds of Prey, and Ed Benes is the BoP artist...
  • Donna Troy - George Perez...Wonder Girl belongs in the Teen Titans of the 1980s, so that has to be George Perez...
  • Supergirl - I would take Ed Benes if he was in the running...of those, I'll take Leonard Kirk...I hate Michael Turner's work on anything...
  • The Huntress - Dustin Nguyen...I LOVE Nguyen's watercolor work...gorgeous stuff...
  • Harley Quinn - I prefer the work of Terry Dodson, but I get that Bruce Timm created the character
  • Lois Lane - none of those really look right to me...I like the work of Cooke, Sale, and Quietly, but they're all too distinctive to seem definitive to me...Merino looks right to me, though...
  • Black Canary - Cliff Chiang or Dick Giordano...I prefer the work of Chiang, but Giordano is how I see the character because he drew Canary when I was growing up, so that's what she looks like in my head
  • Cassandra Cain / Batgirl - Damion Scott, no question there even though the James Jean cover is gorgeous...
  • Barbara Gordon / Batgirl - Chiang's work is so pretty, but the first three are the artists of my childhood, so I'll take Infantino because that image shown is the definitive Batgirl for me...don't like Adam Hughes's chin strap on that image, always bothered me...
  • Zatanna - the Rick Mays makes her look like a little girl, absolutely not how I imagine Zatanna...totally take Adam Hughes here...
  • Power Girl - I haven't looked at the choices yet, but there's a certain distinctive feature that I'm curious to see how each artist draws...Amanda Connor is the run I've liked best, though that is one of my favorite Adam Hughes drawings...
  • Stephanie Brown - I hate Damion Scott's image here, especially Stephanie's hair...go with Pere Perez here...
  • Catwoman - tough calls here...the chosen Jim Balent isn't a great one, but I loved that costume and run...Tim Sale and Daryn Cooke are gorgeous but again, too distinctive...Cooke, actually is the best run of Catwoman, so I'll choose him...this is one character who's had so many great costumes that every look has been unique...
  • Big Barda - I loved that JLA run, so I'll go with Howard Porter, but I know that Kirby created her and deserves my vote...he's just not the one I like best...
I assume we'll get a Wonder Woman choice up next...maybe Poison Ivy, Hawkgirl. We're at fourteen characters so far, so I'm assuming there'll be two more to make it a sixteen-character tourney.

Oh, and I love the promo image of the Silk Spectre issue of the Before Watchmen series. (Great coverage of Twitter reaction to the announcement of the prequels, by the way...)