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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TGTOTI Updater

There's a new "The Greatest Thing On The Internets!"
Check out this amazingly cool website. They've made it possible to listen to customized radio at work or home. It's tailored to your specific musical tastes. You start by giving them a band name and then it's mostly a matter of clicking yay or nay to a few tunes to further hone its search parameters. I started by entering The Dirty Three. I then heard three tracks by three different artists that I'd never heard of, all of which were great. Then another Dirty 3 track, then a Red Stars Theory favorite, and then back to more stuff I'd never heard before. This is wonderful... assuming it has a catalogue of thousands, rather than hundreds, of tracks. Thanks to crack blogger Laurence Dunn for the tip! _Music


Blue Christmas

The listening station now features a track by Devotchka, the guiltiest pleasure since Dead Can Dance. And just like DCD, Devotchka features big talented voices (male and female) over the top of various ripped-off world music. If DCD are the trancy version of this formula, Devotchka are the rock. This track is a lament however, so expect little rockery here. It's a nice sad song to help you wallow in the collective buyers remorse that defines the week after Christmas. _Music
Also: I've added a link to Diane's protoblog. I'm sure she'll be making a big splash any day now.

And: Thanks to everyone for submitting words for my new game. Mel, you get the award for actually looking through a dictionary. Oddly enough, one of the first adjective cards I made was crepuscular, and both Walter and Jon also submitted that word. So I think our only repeat was a three-peat. Analyze that!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Words Schmerds

So I'm stealing a game. No, I'm not downloading more pirated software!

The deal is this: I once played a storebought game called Apples to Apples. The game requires each player to try to match a card with an adjective printed on it to various cards with nouns printed on them. I liked the gameplay and the concept, but I was frustrated with the selection of words that you get to play with. This is similar to enjoying a game of Trivial Pursuit but thinking all the questions were stupid. Now imagine deciding to write all your own questions!

OK, that would be way too much work. Luckily, in this case, all I need to come up with is a loooong list of adjectives and nouns (and then print them onto cards.) Whereas the storebought version gives us nouns like Chocolate and Bill Clinton... my version will have nouns like Southpark and Electro-Convulsive Therapy. And instead of adjectives like Tasty and Wise, I'll print adjective cards like Fallacious and Ephemeral.

So here's where y'all come in. I can't possibly think of all these words on my own. Please send me email (or better yet post a comment) with a list of favorite words to add to the list. I like words that make you feel something, but probably mean different things to different people. Vaguely obscure, fifty-cent words are also good.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful submissions. You are helping make the world a better place.

And so is this. Well, for Walter anyway.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Doubleshot of Cinemus Maximus

This weekend brought two films rather epic in their ambition: Ang Lee's gay cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain and Peter Jackson's remake of the "What do women really want?" classic King Kong. _Cinema

I knew it... the Marlboro Man is totally gay!

Bareback Mountain, which is how this film will surely be remembered, surprises by being remarkably "ungay". There is nothing fabulous here (no musical numbers!) and little in the way of steamy scenes between screen-lovers Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Not one penis makes it to the screen. Gay urban audiences will probably decry Lee's understated use of the two Hollywood heartthrobs. In this sense, I feel that Brokeback is actually a gay movie for straight audiences. Given how many films have shown full frontal male nudity (feel free to submit your favorites in the comments section!) Lee's choice to avoid it feels like a deliberate attempt to keep the film's appeal as broad as possible. Some might view this skeptically as a marketing decision, but I prefer to believe that Ang Lee believes this film is important... That it has potential to help change the climate of homophobia in which we live.

Where the film succeeds brilliantly is in its portrayal of the self-imposed terrorism of middle America. Fear of intolerance (and its violent repercussions) is a steady riff throughout the film. Secrecy, shame and internalized oppression are the ingredients Lee taps to draw tragedy out of this tale of the love that dare not speak its name. Heath Ledger triumphs as he embodies this tragedy. He's self-loathing, repressed and awkwardly shy, but simultaneously strong, loyal, and tender. And more important than being moved by the "starcrossed lovers" cliche, we empathize with Ledger's internal turmoil. This is why film can be important. If, because of this movie, a few more Americans can learn to empathize with (rather than fear) the homosexual element among (and even within) us, then it will succeed. This is why Ang Lee's hero needed to be an average American: not too bright, ingrained with ideals about hard work, frugality, loyalty, etc. He needed to be the all-American boy in every way except one. Otherwise, America would too easily label and disregard him.

Big-bellied, hairy dudes make a film about a big-bellied, hairy dude.

Peter Jackson knows how to bring a world to life. Every moment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was lovingly created. Where a normal film maker uses two or three shots to establish a setting, Jackson uses twenty. Just like the beautifully rendered worlds of Hayao Miyazaki, Jackson fills in nuance and detail that noone else would even imagine. He succeeds in doing what Tim Burton tries to do. He succeeds at the expense of brevity however, and King Kong is no exception. At over three hours, King Kong is overlong but absolutely grand in scale. Everything about this film is colossal.

Despite a beautiful opening montage, setting the scene in depression era New York City, the film doesn't really kick until the motley crew of urban movie makers arrive at Skull Island. Looking like leftover set design ideas from Mordor and populated with natives scarier than LotR's orcish armies, Skull Island is amazing. The action flies full tilt for the next hour as Naomi Watts, playing heroine Ann Darrow, is kidnapped by the natives for sacrifice to Kong. Kong takes her, defends her from a host of prehistoric monsters (here Jackson really has fun,) and eventually loses her to the cunning humans intent on her rescue. Now smitten with Watts (just like those of us in the audience) Kong gives chase and falls prey to the exploitative film crew setting up the finale as the great ape escapes his chains during a Broadway show and smashes up NYC.

The taming of Kong is skillfully and delicately portrayed. Rather than a screaming helpless beauty, we have an updated female lead that only survives because of her endurance, intelligence and humanity. Ann Darrow's relationship to this hulking symbol of primate masculinity recalls A Streetcar Named Desire. And her genuine affection for the brutally noble Kong is juxtaposed with her confused admiration for Adrien Brody's geeky playwrite character. Ultimately there's little insight into this dilemma, except to paint it with grand strokes that pay honest homage to a masterpiece of monsterfilm tragedy.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Musical Update

Continuing the Calexico collaboration theme... I've posted another track on the Good Listens station. This time Calexico is remixed by exiled tango maestros, The GoTan Project, as part of a six-track EP called Black Heart. The featured track, Quattro, transforms a southwestern dusty folk track into a sultry tango stomp. _Music


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Been Seeing Some Funny Lookin' Bible Quotes...

And then I discovered the source: The Message. A new translation of the Bible that brings The Word up to date and lets the common man relate to Jesus and his mom and dad. Now when you quote the Bible you don't have to stumble over all those big words. Now it's all up front, in yer face and keepin' it real. And most importantly, The Message only translates the New Testament, so you don't have to worry about modernizing all those crazy laws in Leviticus.

Here's a review posted on the site that sells these things:

"It's like Jesus and all the peoples of the Bible were there with you!
I just have to tell you about this Bible! You just have to get a copy for yourself, it's just that great! [Emphasis mine] When I read mine, it's like I was right there-in the very center of things, hearing God's Holy Word, being with Jesus and really, I mean REALLY [OK, I get it!], understanding it! You can almost hear the sounds and see the sights of that day in time when you read! Everything comes to life! You see the people running out of the temple when Jesus chased them out with a whip and over turned tables! You can see the animals running and the money rolling about! [OK, so now we know which part of the Bible you really dig] This is the very best Bible to use for reading [as opposed to... uh... throwing at people] that I have ever come accross [sic], I highly recommend it! Try it for yourself and see, then feel free to email me and share you [sic] feeling about it! I'll be waiting to hear from you! Don't forget to leave a review of your own so others will see how great it is! God Bless you!" [You could try ending at least one sentence with a period rather than an exclaimation point.]
Posted by: Sherry Jones

All I can say is thank God. It's about time someone updated that thing... what is it... like a thousand years old? _Rants


Monday, December 12, 2005

The Bait, the Switch, and the Wardrobe

Tilda Swinton's sweet ride

Billed as Lord of the Rings Junior, The Chronicles of Narnia is supposed to carry the fantasy baton for the next seven years or so (seeing as how there are seven books' worth of material to mine and LotR and Harry Potter seem to be following a one movie per year formula.) That's a whole lotta Narnia and the big question on your mind should be: Can they possible capture the public imagination enough to make that viable? The answer, sadly, is no.

The problem is that this movie tries to have it both ways in the court of public appeal. It's pandering to the massive Christian demographic ala Passion of the Christ, while simultaneously wooing the same fantasy audience that made LotR a box-office hit. If you have any doubt of this, just take a closer look at the marketing strategy Disney is using. Of the film's 180 million dollar budget, 80 of that goes to promotion. They are pumping the youth ministers of the country to get their flocks into the theaters for this "Christian-friendly" fare. At the same time, they have a secular sales pitch trying to get the fantasy geeks into the seats. Like most results of a split agenda, they fail to satisfy either need convincingly well. The film feels like a crossover Christian rock band... One that fails to rock and fails to be compellingly Christian as well. While I liked the film, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed in what I was eventually sold.

In making the film suitable for Christians and especially Christian children, they've taken away the naughty bits. No blood, no sex. It feels more like some bemused children parading around a renaissance faire. Harry Potter is edgier than this. Conversely, there are talking animals, mythological critters, and a Christ figure that bites someone's head off (literally) and also freely operates under the rules of the old religion (read: paganism.) This somewhat mystical interpretation of the bible ought to give protestant clergymen a few fits.

As a whole, the film is decent enough for fantasy fans. A fair amount of love went into bringing the griffons, centaurs and minotaurs to life, but I couldn't help but notice how they paled in comparison to the cave troll or the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring. And the characters (especially the non-humans) fall short of lovable. We barely get to know Aslan before he's being sacrificed. I remember being devastated when I read the novels, but here we are given little reason to care about the Lion King before his death. And the centaurs, while looking awesome, hardly get a line of dialogue. Also, the world of Narnia isn't deep enough... Glib explanations by an exiled Santa Claus serve for backstory. (BTW, does anyone remember if it was Santa that gives all the boys and girls their weapons in the book? I don't remember it happening that way.) Conan the Barbarian had a more detailed world to inhabit than Narnia. Lastly, the story keeps smacking me in the face with parable. The Christ story is a good enough tale to transform and tell in this manner, but the filmmakers conjure Christian imagery too frequently for my taste. They've drawn a careful line, making sure never to use the word God or Jesus, but I think they inserted a whole Christmas subplot to make sure we know who the real hero is.

The film will have it's fans, but it will never find a place alongside LotR in the fantasy hall of fame, and I imagine that Christian scholars will find it equally lacking (when compared to The Passion.) It's no sin to attempt to be a crossover hit, but in this case, it is a bit of a shame. _Cinema


Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Squid and the Whale

Stave It Off loves Wes Anderson. And if you're a Wes Anderson freak like we are, you're probably jonzing for the next installment of his "bad dad" dramedy series. So far he's gifted us with Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and the Life Aquatic. He has propelled Bill Murray into the spotlight as America's favorite fat old man, using him (and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums) to riff on his pet issue: inept fathers.

So now comes The Squid and the Whale, and while Wes Anderson only produced it, it fits his formula if not his directing style. Jeff Daniels plays the obnoxious father figure, but this time the gloves are off. Unlike typical Anderson fare, he isn't a lovable screw-up trying to figure out some parenting skills 10 years too late. He's mostly just a prick. The film has a bit more edge than you might expect. This plays out as the two young boys of a recently divorced couple struggle with sex, drugs and plagiarism. They fight, they hate their parents, and they flail around trying to grow up, all the while afraid of the epic battle pitched between their parents (symbolically interpreted as a giant squid and a sperm whale.)

Beyond the substantive portion of the film, Billy Baldwin gets some laughs as an 80's tennis pro. Anna Paquin plays a convincing Lolita, and the soundtrack, always a strength of Anderson's films, mines some classic Bert Jansch material, as well as a Dean Wareham (see Galaxy500 & Luna) version of Pink Floyd's Hey You. This is a well-made, quirky little film. It's not absurdist or grandiose like Anderson-directed films and because of that, it probably packs more punch. _Cinema


Mean Scrabble Guy?

Last night, I got on the best Scrabble roll ever. After having to pass in the opening round because I had drawn all consonants, I racked up 429 points (a personal best) in a two player game, punishing Diane mercilessly. Everything fell into place perfectly. When I had to settle for making "quint" because I couldn't place uber-word "quartz", I was immediately rewarded with an "s" on my draw so on my next turn, I created "squint" and got to the triple-word score. It was a thing of beauty. Diane was positively rolling her eyes when I made "electron" to use all my letters for the second time. To be fair, we split the blanks and she drew at least one of the 8+ point letters in her hand... But, I consistently drew "s" tiles throughout the game, and Diane maybe got one all night. That made for a huge advantage.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Resistance Is Useless!

Lately the cosmos keeps smacking me in the face with the leitmotif of resistance versus change... Represented gaily (or Greekly) by the ohm and the delta.

After last week's all-night debate about Buddhism with Dan, Dingo and Jimi, this week started off with a critical reading of a couple of chapters from Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now. Tolle, a new age spiritualist who borrows heavily from Western Buddhism, endorses a personal enlightenment in which we eschew the painful past and the worrisome future and dwell entirely in the now. According to Tolle, we can all be happy as mollusks if we can transcend our "pain body" and our "fear mind" and other such loathsome pieces of ourselves. And when we transcend, we'll achieve a nirvana where expectations aren't part of our daily equation, where disappointment is no longer possible, where we embrace the eternal moment and bask in radiance of godly (pure) love. Okay, sounds pretty good on the surface.

According to his introduction, his own transformation occurred by grace. After being suicidally morose for most of his life, his mind just snapped one day. I guess that could happen if you've spent a dozen years (I'm guessing his depression started during puberty) as a desperately unhappy person. And I reckon that distancing yourself from your mind would seem like a good idea if it kept telling you things like, "You're a worthless turd who can't do anything right," or "Mary from homeroom will never love you because you're such a wuss," or "Why don't you burn down that prissy neighbor girl's house?"

"So what about those of us who have a happier relationship with our minds?" I asked Carole yesterday.

"Those kind of people probably don't look for books like this one," was her pithy reply.

So is misery a prerequisite for enlightenment?


Yesterday I went to see Aeon Flux, an arty science-fiction flick that attempts to expose the folly of creating a homeostatic society. Flux (meaning "constant change" and not coincidently the titular character's last name) is celebrated as a necessary ingredient for healthy living. Peter Chung, the creator of the original MTV Aeon Flux cartoon, has a clear vision of villainy: stagnation. When nefarious onanists seek to create a perfectly-balanced utopia, Flux is there to expose the corruption that thrives in such climates. Flux represents generational change, reform, revolution, risk of failure and most-importantly: growth.

The film resonates with me because of the truth of this argument, and I think it applies to the psyche as well as the polis. Flux in the mind is just as critical as flux in society. Eckhart Tolle and other spiritual guides are selling a kind of mental homeostasis. They promise a release from the chaos of life. Now we can check out of the bipolar daydream we used to think was consensual reality. But in doing so, we trade in our capacity for growth and change. I readily admit that the push and pull of daily living is difficult and, for many people, unbearably so. There are certain activities (sex, drugs and rock n' roll) that offer wonderful short-term reprieves from that stress. Perhaps reading Tolle is a similar experience for some. But I can't enjoy it because I can't accept the premise that there is a good, permanent, static solution. I think I need to accept change and all its painful consequences. Resistance is useless.

So I embrace the delta. And with it, I guess, the delta blues.
_Rants _Cinema

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Snow Day!

After many prayers to the snow gods, I finally got my wish. All you readers living in warm climates can just stew in your jealousy.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

True Stories of Social Work 2