June 30, 2012

Back home again...in Indiana...

I may not have been in town for last week's NAHS reunion, but I'm in town now, schmucks...

June 29, 2012

100 foods to eat before I die

Here's how I'm doing so far...

1. Abalone
2. Absinthe
3. Alligator
4. Baba Ghanoush
5. Bagel & Lox
6. Baklava
7. BBQ Ribs8. Bellini
9. Birds Nest Soup
10. Biscuits & Gravy - the best come from The Girl
11. Black Pudding - Scotland, whatya expect?
12. Black Truffle
13. Borscht
14. Calamari
15. Carp
16. Caviar
17. Cheese Fondue18. Chicken & Waffles
19. Chicken Tikka Masala
20. Chile Relleno 

21. Chitlins
22. Churros - the best were at Xoco in Chciago
23. Clam Chowder
24. Cognac
25. Crab Cakes26. Crickets
27. Currywurst
28. Dandelion Wine
29. Dulce De Leche30. Durian
31. Eel
32. Eggs Benedict
33. Fish Tacos - outstanding in Madison, WI a few summers back
34. Foie Gras
35. Fresh Spring Rolls
36. Fried Catfish37. Fried Green Tomatoes
38. Fried Plantain
39. Frito Pie
40. Frogs' Legs
- I don't remember them well, but I know I had them at the Knotty Pine.
41. Fugu
42. Funnel Cake - always awesome but just with powdered sugar...who needs the fruit snot? not me
43. Gazpacho
44. Goat
45. Goat's Milk
46. Goulash
47. Gumbo
48. Haggis
- had it twice in Scotland - once fancy and once deep fried at a chip shop, dug 'em both
49. Head Cheese
50. Heirloom Tomatoes
51. Honeycomb
52. Hostess Fruit Pie - gimme the peach, especially
53. Huevos Rancheros
54. Jerk Chicken
55. Kangaroo
56. Key Lime Pie - a favorite around the house...one of my favorite desserts
57. Kobe Beef
58. Lassi
59. Lobster - a treat around The Homestead
60. Mimosa
61. Moon Pie
62. Morel Mushrooms
63. Nettle Tea
64. Octopus - remind me to tell you the story of my Christmas Eve dinner in Rome
65. Oxtail Soup
66. Paella
67. Paneer
68. Pastrami on Rye
69. Pavlova
70. Phaal
71. Philly Cheese Steak72. Pho
73. Pineapple &; Cottage Cheese
74. Pistachio Ice Cream
75. Po' Boy

76. Pocky
77. Polenta - meh
78. Prickly Pear
79. Rabbit Stew
80. Raw Oysters
81. Root Beer Float
82. S'mores
83. Sauerkraut
- tried it, didn't like it
84. Sea Urchin
85. Shark
86. Snail
87. Snake
88. Soft Shell Crab - loved it the one time I had it fancy, almost threw up when I had it low class
89. Som Tam
90. Spaetzle
91. Spam
92. Squirrel
93. Steak Tartare
94. Sweet Potato Fries - tough to get 'em crispy, too much sugar
95. Sweetbreads
96. Tom Yum
97. Umeboshi
98. Venison
99. Wasabi Peas - didn't like 'em
100. Zucchini Flowers

Only 37 taken care of...the rest need to be tried, but some of them kind of repulse me. Snails!?!? Sea urchin?!?!

June 28, 2012

Are you not entertrained?

I've been dying to visit EnterTrainment Junction (home of the world's largest indoor train display) since they opened up a few years ago. I mean it's the (self-proclaimed) world's largest indoor train display, and it's only like six miles from my house (maybe less if I could go overland).

When Groupon dropped in an offer of $15 for two all-features passes a few months ago, I snapped that right up. Sadly, however, the groupon expires in three days, The Girl is locked up with school, I'm leaving for the weekend, and Calen is out of town. So, solo I headed to the Junction yesterday. Might've been wasting a ticket, but at least I got to relieve my curiosity.

Here's what I found...

First off, the train layout is actually pretty cool. It goes through three time periods of railroad development - early (around the Civil War/Old West era), middle (1940's and '50's), and late (vaguely current time). Each has a massive arrangement with the latter two having city scenes and the oldest being entirely wilderness/small town.

(I warn you...lots of pictures coming...)

June 27, 2012

Another project

Because I need something new, I've started a new blog: Materials Witness

Over the summer I take a couple of weeks and travel the country - this year to Indianapolis and Houston - to help lead workshops for the ASM Foundation in spreading the gospel of material science. 

We show a lot of videos during the week - partially because it's a great way to start the morning and bring the teachers back from our various breaks. If they're straggling a minute or two, they miss the video and can hunt it down on their own. It's not losing lab or lecture time.

Some of the videos are embedded in the powerpoint presentations that we use to guide the week, but others are just ones that we like and that somehow illustrate materials science and/or an educational philosophy that we are trying to spread. Particularly for those latter videos - and for the ones that we find throughout the year - I didn't want them to slip through my fingers or to be lost to the workshop attendees.

Here's to hoping that this blog helps with those goals.

June 26, 2012

Fascinating minutia studies

Kerning...radial arching...these are the things that get me all worked up...

Which is why I love reading Todd Klein's blog studies of comic book logo design.

It just doesn't get much cooler than this because Klein did much of the logo designs himself.

Check the history of the All New Atom logo, for example.


June 25, 2012


I'm just giddy about the fact that one of the CBSSports writers has an article explaining why Indiana's men's basketball team should be the preseason #1 in the nation.

I'm only slightly less giddy about the fact that the three teams in consideration for their #1 preseason ranking are Indiana, Louisville, and Kentucky.

I remember the 80's when Indiana and Louisville split four national titles and even into the early 90's when they were still players on the national scene.

Looks like the center of college basketball might be moving back where it belongs.

Just a few reviews

Americana - Neil Young & Crazy Horse - I get that Neil Young likes these old songs. They're old songs that I've known for most of my life: "Oh! Susannah", "My Darling Clementine", "Tom Dula." But I know the songs as folk songs, acoustic guitar folk songs. These certainly aren't acoustic guitar arrangements.

Neil Young, of course, isn't the kind of guy to take the straight and narrow, predictable path. He's said, after his #1 single "Heart of Gold," "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there." He's a man heading constantly toward the interesting ditch.

This isn't exactly a ditch record by any means, but it's certainly a Crazy Horse record. There aren't any pretty, acoustic arrangements to support these long-sung songs. Instead we get fuzz and feedback and unexpected phrasings. It's certainly interesting, but it's not what I want when I hear these songs.

Boys and Girls - Alabama Shakes - One of my coworkers recommended this album to me on the last day of school this year. She makes an annual summer mix and spreads the mix around to some of her musically-interested friends and coworkers and also shares music she thinks we might find interesting. Luckily, her tastes tend to run true.

The Alabama Shakes have a spectacular soul sound, rich and true, rolling along full of mud and blood and bass and southern soul. These are sounds decades old returned in modern form and tapping into elemental guts and blood, bringing the south, the sound of Muscle Shoals, the echo of Booker T, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and a bloodline of American soul musicians.

This is music that feels real and rich and right.

Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - The Girl's been recommending this for a couple of years now as she has the entire trilogy on the shelves downstairs. Well, if I'm going to be laid up and flat on m'back for a week, I'll catch up on some reading. Once the Vonnegut was finished, I moved onward to the wildly popular Hunger Games.

I've seen the movie, so I knew what was coming throughout much of the book, but I still enjoyed the read, and there were enough differences that the whole thing wasn't too awfully predictable.

I dug the book enough that I'm headed into the other books in the series at least.

Just After Sunset - Stephen King - When you're trapped in an airport flying all day from Houston to Atlanta to Dayton, you're going to need something to read. I was halfway through Hunger Games, but the book was a hardcover and a little big to pack in the suitcase, so I was stuck picking from the airport bookstore/newsstand.

This one was the choice. I figured a Stephen King short story collection would be a good choice for broken up reading on the plane, off the plane, between snippets of naps, easy to drop into and back out of again. Plus I hadn't read this one - also a bonus.

I've enjoyed King's short stories in the past, and these certainly did a successful job of passing the time in the various airports. The best of the bunch were "Willa" (couple discovers they're ghosts)..."N." (OCD passes from patient to psychiatrist with demonic origins)...and "Stationary Bike" (man is hunted by the men of his metabolic work crew). They're not all hits: "Graduation Afternoon" (teen girl sees NYC destroyed in a nuclear explosion)..."Harvey's Dream" (premonitions with an older couple)..."A Very Tight Place" (man is locked in a tipped port-o-let by his nemesis and has to climb out via the toilet).

It's a hit-or-miss collection here. Some good, some meh...

Because I Can - Daphne Willis - meh...

I'm digging the concept of rdio. I've got a long list of things to read, see, and hear built up on Amazon - things that pass through my media awareness but that I can't readily find to check out or that I don't have time to read through at the time. It's a list that's constantly building up and up and up but that rarely gets a whole lot checked off of it. Thanks to rdio, however, I've been able to check off a number of cds that I wanted to listen to - such as Daphne Willis's Because I Can.

Now, of course, I have no idea at all why I added this one. Must've been something I heard about on NPR or something. This isn't one I'll be checking out again. It's a'ight, but it's not anything special.

June 22, 2012

Makeup call

I missed last Saturday's links post, so let's count this one as last week's.

But then I'm not going to come back tomorrow with another one, so I'll just be further behind.


  • Animal Practice trailer - Is this thing for real? C'mon?!?! I don't know whether to line up or to be terrified.
  • Lake Pepto Bismol - apparently the high salinity is causing this gorgeous but freaky pink color
  • Badvertising of the Day - The Hoff goes gay. Is it homophobic? Maybe a little...
  • Bryant Park marriage proposal - stop it, stop it, stop it...at this point any proposal flash mob has to be ridiculously cool to make an impression on the intertubes (I'm sure the ladies being proposed to enjoy it)...stop it
  • Movie trailer of the day - Another choir movie? I blame Glee, but I'm also kind of tempted to see it. Anna Kendrick - is that her voice? Annoying British roommate sister from Bridesmaids...and is the smarmy dude Jason Bateman's kid?
  • Spherical flying machine - I want better lighting so I can see the details of what happens when it tips sideways and flies.

June 21, 2012

Vonne Gut Reactions: Slapstick, or lonesome no more

Let's see if I can name from memory where we've been so far in this quest...
  • Player Piano - interesting idea, moderately interesting book
  • The Sirens of Titan - mostly uninteresting book
  • Mother Night - first success, least sci-fi book so far
  • Cat's Cradle - outstanding, largely cohesive book
  • Slaughterhouse Five - excellent, great read
  • Breakfast of Champions - darker by far but still well written
  • Slapstick - bit of fluff
After checking to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, I find that I had forgotten God Bless You, Mr Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine. Not too bad a bit of progress through Vonnegut's bibliography so far. Easily on pace to finish in the calendar year and with the accelerating pace of summer, perhaps by the time school's back in session August 13 (blech).

I know Galapagos hasn't come up in this reading series yet, but I've read it before, so I'm going to mention it. This novel felt very much of a kind with Galapagos to me. Both are set in a quasi-dystopian future in which American (assumedly Earthin) society has dissolved. The main story of the book is told in reflection by an elder relating how the world that you and I know turned into the world that exists in the book.

Spoilers ahead (in case you hadn't noticed the spoiler-ific nature of most of my Vonnegut reviews)

In Slapstick our narrator is the last President of the United States of America, a mean who began life as a neanderthaloid (something similar to a Mongoloid but with a larger brow and assumedly without the corresponding mental deficiencies - though the doctors and parents assume that Wilbur Swain and his twin sister, Eliza, are mentally deficient at birth and for the first dozen or so years of their lives.The twins are soon shuffled off to a family mansion in Vermont where they live secret lives as geniuses, teaching themselves to read and write, to speak numerous foreign languages, and continuing to pretend to the servants taking care of them - and to their parents on the annual visit to honor the children's birthday - to be illiterate and unable to communicate beyond baby babbled of bluh and duh and the occasional fuffday. When the children do finally reveal their intelligence, they also reveal that this intelligence dulls considerably when they are separated from each other, even going so far as to name their separate, duller identities Betty and Bobby Brown.

The two are separated and put on drastically different paths, Wilbur heading to school and eventually university and medical school where he graduates last in his class of doctors in training. All of this happens while his sister is placed in a mental institution. When the two meet again later in life, they briefly and orgiastically (Vonnegut's description, not my addition) return to brilliance and part ways to see each other only once more before Eliza's eventual death on Mars. (yup, death on Mars - doesn't fit with the rest of the story in the least)

Wilbur is eventually elected President on the strength of his one apparently singular campaign promise to make each person in America part of an extended family by giving everyone a new middle name. These middle names will instantly give every American thousands of new brothers and sisters and hundreds of thousands of new cousins leaving everyone (as the title says) lonely no more.

This doesn't work quite perfectly as plagues - both bacterial and caused by miniaturized Chinese people (but you can, of course protect yourself by eating fish guts - seriously, I'm not making this up, it's all part of Vonnegut's plot in the book) - decimate the world population.

So, what'd I notice?
  • After reading Slaughterhouse Five Calen asked me if I knew whether Vonnegut came from a religious background and whether that religious background had been challenged by Vonnegut's experiences in World War II. I think Vonnegut cleared this up pretty well in Slapstick's introduction where he describes his family from a generation or more before his. He explains that his family was of German descent and so tightly bound to Indianapolis that any relatives who left town returned to the bosom but that his generation had lost its German heritage in light of World War I and become more mobile with both he and his brother leaving town and not returning except for funerals. Vonnegut's quote regarding his family is "They were all religious skeptics, by the way." (page 6)
  • Throughout the book Vonnegut's literary technique of repeating a phrase - "And so it goes" or "And so on" - is replaced here with a simpler and more nonsensical "Hi ho" which ends well over half of the book's paragraphs.
  • Vonnegut dedicates this book to his sister Alice and writes this about her, "Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had lead a blameless life, she had never thought of her awful luck as anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her." Again, nothing that happens is directed from above or from some actors of fate. Our world is the way it is because it's the way it is. (page 13)
  • This book is largely free of the recurring characters that Vonnegut had used throughout his previous books - with two minor exceptions. He brings back the lawyerly Norman Mushari, Jr. who we last saw in Rosewater trying to take a little piece of the Rosewater fortune. (page 111) The last President of the United States is also flown back to Indianapolis (or as it's known by then as Daffodiltown) by Captain Bernard O'Hare who we last saw in Slaughterhouse Five. (page 197).
I finished Slapstick and don't know what I'd just read. It's a nice enough read, pleasant, funny read, but it's a diaphanous tale, one that slips right through the fingers upon further examination.

Was Vonnegut bemoaning the loss of connected families? Was he eulogizing his lost sister? Was he turning away from then personal narratives of Slaughterhous and Breakfast? Was he just writing a simple tale to clear his head?

I would say yes to all of those.

Next up, Jailbird...

June 20, 2012

Vonne Gut Reactions: Breakfast of Champions, or goodbye, blue Monday

From Tom Conoboy's Writing Blog...
I’m never entirely sure whether Vonnegut is an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist but, whichever, it is a stance that allows no certainties except, perhaps, this: the ingenuity of man means that, however aracadian the situation we find ourselves in, sooner or later we’re bound to find a way of screwing it up. But then, being ingenious, we’ll find a way of remedying it. But then, being ingenious, we’ll find a way... And so it goes.
Vonnegut's position as optimist or pessimist is always in doubt. He states with no doubt that he isn't against war because being against war is like being against the weather. Mankind will war, ad we will use our babies to fight those wars. He sees religion as a pointless opiate and writes his surrogate character, Kilgore Trout, as an author whose works are appreciated only by crackpots, whose books are only stocked in pornography stores and then only as seldom-sold window dressing, and whose only friend is a pet bird who chooses his cage over freedom.

I contrast Kurt Vonnegut's position to that of one of our other great modern philosophers, Randal Graves, who once stated 'I hate people, but I love gatherings.' Vonnegut seems to hold the opposite position in that he seems to have loved people but hated gatherings. His faith in people is nearly unflappable, but his lack of faith in gatherings of people, in institutions and governments, religions and societies, is almost equally as complete. Throughout my tour of Vonnegut up to Breakfast, this pessimism about human groupings has been presented with levity, and the few times when it wasn't - the anti-religious, post-Mercury return to Earth scenes in Sires of Titan, for example - have made for the least enjoyable portions of Vonnegut's books for me.

Along these lines Breakfast of Champions was a tough read for me because the levity, the light-hearted, hopeful tone with which society's flaws were presented is almost entirely absent. In Vonnegut's own admission from his preface here, this is the work of an author turning fifty and clearing his mental bilges. He has spent much of his first six novels building up a quasi-connected world populated with Rumsfoords, Campbells, Trouts, Pilgrims, Rosewaters, Pefkos, and other denizens of Indianapolis and Illium. Vonnegut has spread these characters around his literary world, rewriting their family and personal histories, reshaping their careers and relationships as they were needed to fit the current story. In this novel then Vonnegut wipes the slate clean, dropping himself into the story's climax as a not omnipotent author shaping his characters to his whims, filling in identities and backstories as his characters interact with each other - as though he were both all-powerful creator and passive observer at the same time.

This was a tough read because it is the first of Vonnegut's books to be largely joyless. That doesn't mean, however, that the book isn't a good one, however. I'll come back to my conclusion about the worth and quality of the book after I go through the details that I noticed along the way.
  • As we have seen in nearly every one of the novels so far, Vonnegut gives away the ending of the novel within his opening line, "This is the tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. ... Dwayne Hoover was on the brink of going insane." (page 7 in the volume pictured at the top of the page)
  • Throughout the book, a number of Kilgore Trout's novels are given summaries, some a sentence or two, others as long as a page or so. Each one reads like an interesting idea written by a second-rate writer, both all show some aspect of Vonnegut's view of the world. Is this simply a further effect of Vonnegut's age fifty clearing of the ideas in his head? Did he draw each of these from some card catalog of book/story ideas that he'd been building up for years? If so, were they ideas for Kurt Vonnegut stories or for Kilgore Trout stories?
  • Trout's future is foretold throughout the book. We see that he will win the Nobel Prize for Peace and become the most famous, most well-respected writer and philosopher in the world. This is remarkably far from the small, disheveled, utterly unknown man that we meet in this story. His ideas, however - those that would eventually bring him the Nobel Prize and fame, are fully seen here. We even get to hear his Nobel acceptance speech:
    "Some people say there is no such thing as progress. The fact that human beings are the only animals left on Earth, I confess, seems a confusing sort of victory.
    All of the glimpses of Trout's work that we get show mankind as destined to, in some way, poison the universe or our planet, make it uninhabitable or just short of so. I wonder if this is simply Vonnegut trying to distance himself - if even slightly - from his negative thoughts. (page 25)
  • Welcome back, Eliot Rosewater. We'd seen the first piece of fan mail that Kilgore Trout receives before. We saw Eliot Rosewater write is a few novels ago. Again we see that Trout assumed the letter was from a child because of the awful handwriting - which we get to see from Vonnegut a few pages later. (page 30)
  • The drawings from Vonnegut are somewhat new, as well. There have been occasional sketches from Vonnegut throughout the first half dozen novels, but here the drawings take on a far more prominent role, showing up in the dozens. It's interesting to see a man who clearly has very little skill in drawing putting his works out there so openly.
  • Vonnegut clearly doesn't believe in fate or destiny, at least not in any deterministic plan sort of  way. If we do have a destiny, it isn't because any higher power set that destiny into motion but rather because we can't effect any change in the direction and arc of our life. Even when, late in the book, Trout arrives in Midland City and meets his creations, he isn't able to control them absolutely but rather to nudge them here and there, to set things in directions where he hopes his desires will be enacted. On his truck travels from New York City to Midland City (in a state that is never named in this book but that I assumed to be in Indiana), Trout thinks to himself...
    [H]is head no longer sheltered ideas of how things could be and should be on the planet, as opposed to how they really were. There was only one way for Earth to be, he thought: the way it was.

    Everything was necessary. He saw an old white woman fishing in a garbage can. That was necessary. He saw a bathtub toy, a little rubber duck, lying on its side on a grating over the storm sewer. It had to be there.

    And so on.
    I'm happy to see that Vonnegut didn't fall back on "And so it goes" as some sort of greatest hit from one of the kings of catchphrase comedy. (page 106)
  • Vonnegut relates that the theory of plate tectonics - or at least the use of plate tectonics to explain the creation of all the coal under West Virginia - was just announced/proven/publicized as he was writing this novel. He uses the movement of geologic plates as an analogy to describe the forces underneath the surfaces of his characters, causing them to move in directions that they had never intended. (page 147-8)
  • Vonnegut writes...
    I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works on either the painter or the novelist. ... I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, test to be passed, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for themt o behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in storybooks. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

    Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

    And so on.

    Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be as important as every other. All facts would be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out.Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

    If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the word around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos, instead.

    It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.
    I am stunned at how much of himself Vonnegut puts into his books. He doesn't just wear his heart on his sleeve, he explains every bit of his feelings and emotions in his books. I feel honored to be invited into Vonnegut's world. (page 214-5)
  • Again, Vonnegut writes...
    As for myself: I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we are all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide. For want of anything better to do, we became fans of collisions. Sometimes I wrote well about collisions, which meant I was a writing machine in good repair. Sometimes I wrote badly, which meant I was a writing machine in bad repair. I no more harbored sacredness than a Pontiac, a moustrap, or a South Bend Lathe.
    Again, heart on his sleeve all over the page, and very much in line with things that Vonnegut's books have been saying about the world and his characters. No one of us matters more than any other. This isn't hopeless to me; it's empowering. I am as important as any other person on the planet. I must be treated with the dignity - or with the same lack of dignity - that every other person deserves and gets. (page 225) 
  • Apparently Vonnegut recognizes that he doesn't write female leads. It's not something that only Calen and I have noticed. Vonnegut's surrogate, Kilgore Trout, has only written one book with a female lead character. (page 238)
  • Near the end of the book, Vonnegut explains his use of "and so on" or "and so it goes". He explains that every person, every character's story continues on beyond what he writes, that none of them start and end their time while they're characters in Vonnegut's books, so he writes 'and so on' because their story continues.
So, Breakfast of Champions is a big downer. It's not funny. It's not entertaining or fun. It's serious and a glimpse into Vonnegut's darker thoughts.

Luckily, it's an outstanding book along the way. It's an open, honest exploration of an author's thoughts about his world, his characters, and his works. One of the things that I - and so many people - love about Kurt Vonnegut is that there is no artifice in his works. He isn't hiding behind his works. Every word, every page, every story reveals something about himself, and we love him - and his books - for that honesty and openness.

I'm really curious to see where Vonnegut goes from here because his writing has been following a significant arc, and I'm not sure that the arc can continue from here. His writing has been getting more and more personal, more and more frustrated and dark along the way. At some point, there has to be a turn away from the darkness. If we continue in this direction, I'm not going to enjoy this trek nearly as much as I have so far.

June 19, 2012

Do you YouTube?

Yesterday's free movies from Hulu can be bookended by today's free movies from YouTube.
Man, there are a lot of dogs among their selections. Lots of films with titles almost like the one you're hoping for (Gone with the West, Fright Club, The Waterfront, The Hunt for Gollum, The Fast and the Furious (1954), Moulin Rouge (1952)), covers meant to make you think of other films (Going Down Under), and second-rate films with late-career A-listers. It's like walking through a sad, sad, VHS-era video store.

June 18, 2012

Do you Hulu?

I'm a desperate cheapskate with a lot of spare time and yen for flicks. Let's see what Hulu has to offer for free.
  • Marie Antoinette - never seen it, Katydid's pretty hooked on it...probably worth a try
  • The Brothers Grimm - It's got Monica Belucci, and it's from Terry Gilliam. Those are two factors that draw the eye.
  • Gangs of New York - Marty Scorsese's always interesting. This one didn't do much for me, though.
  • Strictly Ballroom - Criminally underseen here in the US (probably in its native Aussie, too)...very early Baz Luhrmann...I'm watching this one as I type this entry. Fun stuff.
  • Swingers - I hate this movie but very much enjoyed it when I saw it the first time. If you haven't seen it before, give it a try. Very much a time capsule of an era.
  • Hero - Best movie I've ever seen. If you haven't watched this before, set aside two hours. Do Not Miss This.
  • The 5000 Fingers of Dr T - Dr Seuss's lone non-animated movie. It's weird and odd and surreal. Check it out.
  • Chicago - One of the better modern movie musicals.
  • My Sister's Boyfriend - My guess is that this is horrible, but it's got Alyssa Milano, on whom I have a massive crush.
  • Highlander - Also very much of an era here. I love this flick and am particularly impressed with the cinematography and score by Queen.
  • American Meth - Never seen it but fascinated by the subject
  • Meet Bill - The trailer looked intriguing a few years back, so this might be worth a try.
  • Frida - It was critically well received, so maybe I'll check it out.
  • Weird Science - The 80's...one of the canonical films of the decade
  • Revolver - I enjoyed the first two Guy Ritchie flicks (Lock, Stock and Snatch). For free, this is worth checking out.
  • The Secret of Kells - I figure if it was nominated for best animated feature, it's worth a free look.
  • Rifftrax: Night of the Living Dead - I've never seen the original...might as well see it mocked for free.
  • Hoop Dreams - one of the finest sports documentaries ever...tough to see because it's not all happy, but it's spectacular
  • The Kid - Never seen it, but it's supposed to be a classic.
  • Koyaanisqatsi - this one's certainly arthouse, but the soundtrack is brilliant and mesmerizing
  • Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods - The man's bonkers - not Alan Moore bonkers but still - and he's willing to talk about comic books for an hour plus. I'll try that.
  • The Woman in Green - I remember this fondly from a Saturday afternoon when I was young.
  • Charade - It's criminal that this is on the 45th page of Hulu movies as ranked by popularity. This is a classic Cary Grant film. Brilliant, hilarious, funny, charming, lighthearted.
  • Slacker - never seen Richard Linkliter's first film...maybe I'll give it a try
  • Wordplay - for a documentary about crossword puzzles, it's very enjoyable
  • Rifftrax: Reefer Madness - Another schlock classic...worth seeing it even if you don't listen to the gags
  • Little Shop of Horrors - For Jack Nicholson's part alone, this one's worth checking out.
  • Dil Se - I only know one song and production number from this film, but it's one of the more impressive ever. Wonder if the rest of the movie's worth watching.
  • The Man With the Golden Arm - One of the only glimpses we ever got of Frank Sinatra as a dramatic actor. Supposed to be impressive...

June 15, 2012

June 14, 2012

Don't look here

That video's from a CNN story about Brett McGurk, President Obama's nominee to be the new US ambassador to Iraq. To sum up, it looks like - as of my writing here on Saturday - that the man carried on an at least flirtatious if not possibly/probably consummated relationship with a New York Times reporter outside the bounds of his marriage. He has, however, since divorced and married the woman with whom he had extra-martial relations.

From my position of deep and thorough knowledge of the situation now that I've watched the whole four-minute video, I don't know that I can provide any sort of authoritative analysis of the situation. He might be a spectacular ambassador. He might know more about Iraq and the tenuous government situation there than I know about DC comics. He might sleep his way across the entire Fertile Crescent for all I know. (By the way, I'm really proud about that last sentence there. Google Fertile Crescent if you don't get the gag.)

What I'm here to announce today is the fact that I don't give a crap about the private lives of our public servants.

If a president wants to kick back and sign bills while an intern is under the desk, I don't care.

If a Congressman wants to send photos of his fully-clothed junk via twitter to a dozen media members, I don't care.

If the mayor wants to hire a prostitute and pay her with a rubber check, I...don't...care.

And pretty soon we're all going to have to stop caring because otherwise we won't have any leaders left because either they're all flawed human beings or because no one is going to want to have their lives examined at such a ridiculous level of scrutiny. We're going to have to let some of this stuff go because our secrecy and privacy are just shy of entirely disappeared. We use private companies for all of our modern communication - gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Skype - and they all have policies saying that anything we put out there is theirs forever. And the Patriot Act has given the government the rights to look at all of those as well as our phone conversations.

The concept of private life is dead, and we're going to have to move beyond that notion and stop punishing our elected officials for being human beings with the same flaws that we all have.

Or we're going to have to fight back phenomenally hard if we want to keep our private lives private.

June 13, 2012

Controling the media

Man, I have time in the summer. I really should be accomplishing more things instead of taking this bag of dreck into my headspace.

Let's get the worst out of the way first...

Super - This movie is awful, boring, and needlessly violent.

It takes a moderately interesting premise - man's wife leaves him, and he cracks, turning into a stupidly, insanely violent 'super hero' who wanders around hitting people with a really big wrench.

The climactic 'battle' scene is the most ridiculous, improbable, and violent mess of the whole movie, and that's saying something because the rest is pretty atrocious getting there.

The ending is awful and ridiculous and entirely out of character with the rest of the film.

This movie should have never been made.

The Brothers Grimm - This one is at least pretty.

The movie is boring and the cast mostly uninteresting.

The premise is moderately intriguing as the titular Brothers are cast as charlatans bilking villagers for capturing bogeymen that they've faked into existence based on local legends and stories. Heath Ledger's Brother (whichever he is) has more belief that there might be something magical, so when they find something actually magical, he more freely accepts the possibility. Matt Damon's Brother is far more cynical and skeptical, accepting the reality of the magic only when it is forced upon him.

The movie wastes Jonathan Pryce, Ledger and Damon, and Noomi Rapace.

The only thing to recommend this film is the presence of Monica Bellucci. She's pretty at least.

Superman/Batman: The Sorcerer Kings -  Likely the final collection of this series which varied wildly in quality with each story arc as writers and artists wandered onto and off of the series.

This collection gathers together seven issues, one stand-alone, a two-issue arc, and a four-issue arc. All three are pedestrian, sending the two superheroes into various moderately interesting challenges but never taking advantage of the strength of the best issues of the series: the interaction between Batman and Superman. Instead, the single issue focuses on Powergirl and the huntress and the titular characters' surrogates. The two-issue storyline puts the two together but makes them secondary characters in the storyline, time hopping to have the villain take on versions of Superman and Batman from various eras, versions who are familiar from previous storylines but who lack the interesting dynamic of the main. The four-issue arc entirely separates the two leads, defeating the only thing that makes the series interesting.

This one's worth skimming, but you won't find anything memorable or revelatory.

Justice League: Generation Lost - I loved the late-80's Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League.

Loved it, because it was hilarious and because it kept the great focus on the characters who jelled to form a family. When the series expanded from JL to JLA to JLI to JLI and JLE, it lost its strong character focus, struggling to hold things together with an expanded roster, shifting team membership, and new creative teams and directions.

Here Giffen tries to get the band back together, but there have been numerous changes to the characters in the decades since - Rocket Red changed identities, Ice died but came back, Blue Beetle died and was replaced, Booster Gold was discredited again and sent through the timestream, Maxwell Lord died and came back.

The magic is gone. Sure the plot works well enough to get the band back together, placing them as a quasi-team and the end of the twenty-four issues (delivered bi-weekly), but the original tone of the series was completely abandoned along with my enjoyment.

Animal Man - Here's another one that's looking to go back to an earlier era of DC comics, harkening back to both Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison's Animal Man. The tone here is closer to DC's Vertigo line with Animal Man taking on agents of The Rot as he and his newly powered daughter fight to protect The Red. By the end of this collection, Buddy Baker (Animal Man) is on the run to get help from The Green in the personage of the Swamp Thing.

I respect the different tone that the series is taking as there are very few superhero comics taking a darker turn. I'm curious to see where things continue to go, but I'm not desperate to know. I'm intrigued, but I warn you that there's a lot of grotesquery here.

Strictly Ballroom - I saw this back in college and enjoyed the heck out of it.

Saw it again for free over on Hulu and wasn't disappointed.

Bax Luhrmann's sense of style carries through the story from the brilliant, engaging opening through the more traditional love story second half of the film.

We open with the male lead choosing to dance his own steps rather than take the more staid route to winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix dancing Championship. In the insular world of movie ballrom dancing, this is apparently the moral equivalent to killing a man, leading to the dancer being nearly disowned by the dancing community, needing to find a replacement partner, and having to find his own way - the traditional, orthodox route which 'guarantees' success or dancing the steps that he feels in his own heart.

If you can't tell which way the story's going to go, you need to read up on cinema storytelling 101.  Luckily, though, the journey is lots of fun along the way to the predictable and heartening outcome.

Check it. It's funny and very much quotable.

Secret of Kells - The best media offering of the last bit was this animated feature, nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2010.

This movie tells the fictional tale of the creation of the Book of Kells, one of the greatest illuminated manuscripts of Irish Catholicism. Here the book is brought from its home abbey on the Island of Iona to the fortified Abbey of Kells where Abbot Cellach is building the walls around his abbey higher and taller to fight off the eventual attack from the Vikings which destroyed the Abbey on Iona, nearly destroying the yet to be completed Book of Iona (later of Kells).

In Kells the illuminator from Iona finds a talented young man, Brendan, who wants to learn at the shoulder of the master illuminator and also wants to see the forbidden world outside the ever-growing walls surrounding the abbey and village of Kells. When Brendan does eventually find his way to the forest, he discovers a spirit of the forest in the cat/girl, Aisling, with whom he falls in chaste love and who eventually saves him from numerous dangers - in the forest and the abbey.

The story is moving, and the artwork is absolutely stunning, taking its theme from the illustrated manuscripts of the Book of Kells, itself. The use of bold lines and wonderfully detailed backgrounds, particularly in the greens of the forest and the menacing reds and blacks of the terrifying Vikings make for a visually stunning experience.

And two from the original Book of Kells...as it looks now then as it probably looked originally.