Posted on Sunday, December 1st, 2013
Time to strike up the band and pour the champaign... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Walker. I was sad to learn that Paul Walker died yesterday. Not so much for his movies (because I'm not that familiar with them outside of the "Fast and Furious" franchise) but because he was a really decent human being whose humanitarian work helped a lot of people. His Reach Out World Wide is a wonderful organization, and I would hope he gets some recognition for all the amazing work he did in founding it.
I searched and searched for a picture with proper credit, but couldn't find one.
Why don't people credit their photos?
Rest in peace, sir. You did good.
• Comics. I don't read many comics any more... I just don't have the time... but Comixology had a sale on some "Avengers vs. X-Men" titles I've been wanting to read, so I went for it. And ran across this...
Now THAT'S some sparkling dialog right there! I know not every comic book can be Watchmen or Dark Knight or whatever... but this kind of blew my mind.
• Maps. My love of maps is well-documented here at Blogography. Over at Buzzfeed they made me love maps even more when they had Brits label American states on a map. The results are fantastic...
You can see the big version of this one (and many more) by following this link. And, because fair is fair, here's an even more fantastic look at Americans trying to name European countries on a map.
• iTunes Fail. I have numerous issues with iTunes. The biggest one being that I can't stream my movie purchases and am forced to download them if I want to watch... when every other company in the digital movie business allows streaming. Incredibly backwards and stupid, but Apple says "no." But even putting crap that iTunes can't do aside, iTunes is frustrating because it has so many problems with what it can do.
I have a MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It's display capabilities are beyond HD. Way beyond HD. And yet, I still get this ridiculous error message form time to time when trying to purchase HD content...
But even more shocking than that is iTunes occasionally telling me it doesn't support QuickTime... the fundamental video system of every Macintosh computer since video has been on Macs...
Stupid shit like drives me insane. Partly because it's so random, and you never know what's going to cause it... but mostly because it's Apple, and there's no way you can just call them up and have it fixed. Yes, they have "proper channels" you can go through to report problems, but I have never had a problem solved going that route. Hell, I've reported mistakes in Apple's "Maps" application that have gone completely ignored for months (years maybe?). Oh well. It's Apple.
• Nigella. I'm a massive fan of celebrity English foodie Nigella Lawson. She's bright, funny, smart, a heck of a cook, and drop-dead beautiful...
I searched and searched for a picture with proper credit, but couldn't find one. Again.
Why don't people credit their photos?
Lately she's been in the news for some not-so-pleasant things, and it's got me wondering where my breaking point is when it comes to famous people I admire (a more popular American example being Alex Baldwin's recent homophobic rant). Do I care? Should I care? Is it even true? So what if it is? I have the answers to none of those questions. It probably depends on what the issues are and how they affect things I care about. But that doesn't stop the "news" from telling me how I should feel about it. Which is everything "journalistic integrity" is not, but that's where we are now. It's what we erroneously call "being judged by the court of public opinion" when it is, in fact, the media which leads the public to their opinion. And you can be pretty sure that their judgement is going to be on the side of whichever option sells more papers (or whatever). I don't know how we got to this point, but it's been driving me crazy lately because I can't see anything else when stories like Ms. Lawson's hit the newswire. I guess all I can do is grit my teeth, wish Ms. Lawson the best of luck, and hope that she bounces back like Martha Stewart instead of crashing and burning like Paula Deen. I guess. Since all my information comes from the news media on all these people, what do I know?
Alas yon bullets now go gentle into that good night...
Posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2013
When planning my travel for this trip, I found that I had a nice gap of time between work in Atlanta and a wedding party in Portland. It was perfectly-sized for a quick trip to someplace new, and I was excited at the world of possibilities before me. But where to go? Usually, I just take a look at my Hard Rock Cafe map and see where there's a cafe I haven't visited...
Florence. I've already seen the major sights, so I thought that Florence was the perfect candidate. Just fly in for two days to see the Hard Rock and maybe visit the Accademia Gallery, then zip back to the USA. The problem being that all the tickets available for purchase with airline miles had horrible schedules that made a trip unrealistic. I could have gone with Ibiza, Nice, Budapest, Krakow, or Glasgow, but these are cities I want to explore for much longer than two days.
St. Maarten. Another place I've already been, so two days would be plenty. Except the mileage required to get a free ticket was insane for some reason.
Buenos Aires. Did you know that the visa entry fee to Argentina is ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? I ain't spending that kind of money for just two-days!
Punta Cana & Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic seemed ideal... a short flight and only a $10 fee to enter the country. Not only that, but they have two Hard Rocks on the island (three if you count the hotel in Punta Cana!). But, ultimately, the logistics of the trip were too time-consuming to work out, so I took a pass.
At this point, I was going to look into Costa Rica... or perhaps Brazil... or even Guatamala City... but these are all places I'd want to visit for more time than I had available. So what to do? A part of me just wanted to hang around Atlanta until my flight on Saturday. It's a great city and I've plenty of friends in town, so why not kick back and relax?
For some reason I glanced up and saw the souvenir street sign I had bought for Bourbon Street that was pinned to my wall.
A moment of clarity ensued.
Yes, I've been to New Orleans a dozen times. Yes, I was just there earlier this year in March. Yes, I've already seen the Hard Rock Cafe New Orleans (both of them). Yes, there are plenty of new and exciting places I could go.
But holy crap do I love The Big Easy.
It's a city I know well. It's a city I love to visit. It's a city where I can just relax for three days and do as much or as little as I want. It's the ultimate no-pressure mini-getaway for me and, at that moment, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. So I cashed in some airline miles, used a hotel voucher I had saved up, and that was that.
So away I go.
Posted on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
Gutted. Just gutted.
Catcher A.J. Pierznyski has landed a one-year deal with my beloved Boston Red Sox, leaving no room for my favorite MLB player, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, on my favorite team...
A moment of silence, please...
Rumor has it that Salty will be picked up by the Marlins, which is not so bad. At least with Miami I can still root for him... unlike if he ended up with the Yankees or something.
Ah well. I can still wear my Boston Saltalamacchia jerseys in remembrance of some good times.
And now? Onwards and upwards, I suppose.
BOSTON RED SOX BASEBALL RULES!
UPDATE: And it's official... Salty is a Marlin now. Enjoy that 21 million dollars, buddy.
Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Yesterday's flight was completely uneventful, which wasn't surprising given that it's only an hour long (which is a lot nicer than driving 6-1/2 hours, which I've done before).
At first I had thought that I would just stay in the hotel for dinner since I was exhausted from work and the drive back to Atlanta, but it's pretty tough to be in New Orleans and not want to spend time in the city. And so I hopped on a cable car to Attiki Bar & Grill, which makes a mean falafel wrap and has great hummus (with cajun spice!). It's also a nice place to sit and watch the French Quarter light up as the sun goes down...
This morning I decided to sleep in. One of the great things about being in New Orleans is that I've been here a dozen times before, so there's not compulsion to wake up at the crack of dawn and play tourist. The only compulsion I had was to make it to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Cafe Carmo. They have really good sandwiches (I get the Veggie King)... but the reason I love the place so much is for their Banquette Breads. It's a type of flatbread that's been smothered with Havarti cheese and scallions and it is absolutely amazing...
Then it was time to do one of my most favorite things in New Orleans... wander aimlessly through the French Quarter. There is always so much to see, and it's changing constantly, so it's an activity I never tire of. Along the way I saw an awesome ShopCat in the window of one of the Royal Street galleries...
After I walked past, I had to take out my camera because the painting behind the cat was pretty funny...
Then, of course, it was time for Cafe Du Monde. Absolutely no trip to Ner Orleans is complete unless you visit here at least once...
One of the things I keep meaning to do, but always forget to do... is visit the courtyard of the Napoleon House Bar & Cafe. This is one of the locations used in one of my all-time favorite movies, Undercover Blues, starring Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, and Stanley Tucci. I've been to most of the other filming locations on previous trips, but this one has eluded me for far too long...
This is where Jeff and Jane Blue went for oysters, only to have both Muerte and Novacek's men show up to spoil lunch. One of the funniest scenes in the movie... which is saying a lot, because there are a lot of funny scenes in the film. If you haven't seen it yet, I give Undercover Blues my highest recommendation...
Dinner was at a new pizza place called Dolce Vita that I was told was good. And indeed it was. The decor is very plain... almost depressing... but they make up for it with the food. Their pizza crust was wood-fired and perfect. I don't know that it will replace Slice as my favorite pizza in New Orleans, but it's nice to have options.
And there it goes... my first night in New Orleans.
Time. She flies too fast.
Posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013
Them: "It's too bad you're not there on a weekend when there's stuff going on."
Me: "BWAH HA HA HA HAAAA!"
Yes, things are busier on the weekend... but New Orleans doesn't shut down during the week. Bourbon Street, in particular, is up and running and open for business...
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Since this is my last day in The Big Easy, I wanted to be sure I hit Surrey's Cafe & Juice Bar for my favorite breakfast in the city, Bananas Foster French Toast...
From their menu... "New Orleans-style French toast stuff ed with banana-cream cheese. Topped with a classic Bananas Foster sauce of rum, brown sugar and butter, dusted with powdered sugar." And, yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds.
My main goal today was to hunt down stuff for my Holiday Gift Exchange present. It's kind of tough to do given the $20 spending limit but, luckily, I known where to get cheap crap for cheap in New Orleans, so I managed just fine. All that was left to do was dance, but One-Eyed Jacks wasn't open yet...
After an afternoon spent working, my Bananas Foster French Toast was wearing off, so I made plans for dinner back at Carmo. The food is just too good there to be denied. I had the amazing Vegetarian Rico and an order of Banquette Bread...
From their menu... "A breadless fork sandwich made of a grilled plantain patty topped with melted cheese, spicy smoked 'n' pulled pork, avocado, salsa fresca and our tangy sweet spicy "Rico" sauce. Served with organic greens drizzled with mango vinaigrette. Or have it Veggie: dairy cheese & vegan meat; or Vegan: vegan cheese & vegan meat." And, yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds. More delicious, even.
I head to the airport at 9:30 tomorrow, and was worried that I wouldn't wake up early enough to have one last plate of beignets at Cafe Du Monde... so that was my next stop for some dessert...
Yeah, they never get old.
I don't know that I've noticed this painting hanging in the cafe before, but it's pretty awesome...
"It seemed like an ordinary day until... I had coffee with Jesus at the Cafe Du Monde."
After dessert, I wandered through the French Quarter for a couple hours... had a couple Hurricanes... managed to stay out of trouble... and remembered all over again just why I love this city so much.
I haven't left yet, but I already want to come back.
Posted on Friday, December 6th, 2013
If only I could have stayed a few more days...
Alas, I could not, and so I had to bid farewell to The Big Easy this morning. Which ended up being a piece of cake, despite a lot of fog that crept into New Orleans overnight. Fortunately (unfortunately?) for me the airport was clear, and so the only thing troubling was watching the airport shuttle driver fume because a family of five with tons of luggage stiffed him with no tip.
The flight was a non-event.
Which seems an odd thing to say when you're talking about flying... up in the air... in a metal tube... but it was. I watched half of Despicable Me 2 and didn't even notice the time go by.
I was landing in Atlanta before I knew it.
Taking a MARTA train into town for dinner with some bloggy friends was pretty much my day.
Well... and this...
Now I want hot chocolate, because a torrential flood of rain soaked me while I was waiting for the hotel shuttle and nothing makes you feel better when you're cold and wet than hot chocolate. But I don't think hot chocolate is on the room service menu, so I guess this is goodnight.
Posted on Saturday, December 7th, 2013
The crap part of travel is the waiting.
Not that there aren't other crap parts as well, but it's the waiting that wears you down and makes you go crazy. Every moment spent waiting is time wasted because you're not going anywhere. And, odds are, you're doing your waiting in a place you really don't want to be with a bunch of people you'd just as soon not have to be with.
For me, today was mostly spent waiting.
Though I did manage to get a chunk of work done while I was waiting, so there's that.
And when my flight finally took off out of Atlanta, I was upgraded to First Class, so there's that.
And my plane didn't crash to the earth in a ball of flames, so there's that.
And I landed earlier than scheduled despite leaving the gate late, so there's that.
And my luggage wasn't lost... in fact, it was the third bag on the carrousel, so there's that.
And Portland's light rail from the airport has a stop just four blocks from my hotel, so there's that.
And I didn't get mugged or stabbed walking to my hotel in the dark, so there's that.
And my room is a nice corner spot that's very quiet, so there's that.
And the hotel has free internet, so there's that.
And... wait a second... what in the hell was I complaining about again?
Posted on Sunday, December 8th, 2013
Don't be alarmed by what transpires below... because a Very Special PORTLANDIA edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Outage. I awoke at 4:30am to get some work done, only to have the power go out a half-hour later. Turns out that twenty square blocks lost power in Downtown Portland, and though they said they would have it on at 10:30am, it never happened. Sure it made taking a shower and using the toilet a challenge because there was no light... but I made it out alive, so I guess it's all good.
• Brunch. I am amazed at how many tiny restaurants there are in this city... and they all seem incapable of serving bad food. Vahid and Sarah took me to a frickin' TEA HOUSE where I had some of the best falafel ever... perfectly seasoned and flawlessly cooked. Kudos to Tea Zone for a quality that many much bigger restaurants can't touch. I also had Black Monkey Tea, which is pretty darn fine tea, despite not tasting anything like a monkey. Thanks to Vahid and Sarah for taking time out of your busy Sunday to hang out... and buy me donuts!
• Outage. Back to the hotel and still no power. Luckily, they got the back-up generator running so there are hall-lights and elevators and hot water... but still no light in the rooms, which makes peeing in darkness a bit hazardous. So, turning to The Fifth Element as inspiration, I used a clever arrangement of mirrors to reflect light from the window into the bathroom so that I no longer have to pee in complete darkness. "AZIZ, LIGHT!"*
• Engage! The main reason I detoured through Portland on the way home was so I could stop in at the wedding celebration for The Spirit of Saint Lewis and Blair's Corner... two long-time friends from my earliest days of blogging. They've been together for sixteen years and, thanks to Washington's surprisingly progressive views on marriage equality, can now... at long last... make honest men out of each other!
Seriously two of my favorite people! Thanks so much for letting me share in your celebration!
• Tri-Met. For the first time in my life, I wrote a letter (via email) to a public transportation company. Portland's Tri-Met has long been one of my favorites but, on my bus-ride back downtown, the driver we had went above and beyond when he assisted a woman in a wheelchair who had some difficulties communicating. He was exceedingly patient, kind, and respectful while assisting her, and it's rare to see this kind of caring now-a-days. I thought Tri-Met should know how much it's appreciated. Not only by the people their employees help out... but the people they inspire to do likewise.
• Powell's. I went to the amazing Powell's City of Books so I could buy the latest Jasper Fforde novel... only to find out he didn't release a new novel in 2013! What cheek! So I ended up buying Leviathan Wakes, which is the first book in a sci-fi space opera known as "The Expanse" novels. This was originally meant to be a trilogy, but now I've learned that not only are Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (a.k.a. "James S. A. Corey") writing new "Expanse" books... they have also agreed to have it brought to television! I've heard good things about the series, so I want to get in on it before everything explodes...
So far, I'm kinda digging it. I just wish I had more time to read.
• Houses. Vahid mentioned that The Benson hotel puts out a gingerbread house display every year, so I stopped by to see it on my way back from Powell's...
Pretty impressive! They say that it took 500 hours of work to create.
• Restored. Power finally came back on while I was goofing around at Powell's. My room was toasty warm when I returned, and I was able to get all my various electronic devices fully charged for my trip home tomorrow. Thanks, PGE!
• Flaming. Years ago I got a little lost heading back to my hotel from Powell's, and ended up running across a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant called "Santeria." The music was thrashin' punk rock played at high volume, and I was served up a massively delicious, very spicy vegetarian burrito the size of your head. As if that weren't enough, their restroom is shared with the strip club next door, so going to the toilet comes with a side-order of naked ladies. Add it all up and, needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the place. After screaming with my server for a bit, I found out that the restaurant had been open less than a year. Which led me to think that a place this "unique" probably wouldn't last another six months. That was back in 2010. This being Portland where "unique" little places like this tend to thrive, it turns out I was (happily) dead-wrong, and Santeria is still around today. And since it is just a couple blocks from my hotel, I decided to pay a visit for dinner. This time I had the enchiladas, which were (as expected) very spicy-hot and delicious...
Just for fun, I tried a little bit of their "hot hot" sauce, which had delicious flavor... but makes you feel like your face is melting off. It also makes you worry that if you fart, the seat of your jeans is going to catch fire and blow out. But in a good way. So... if you're looking for excellent Mexican food with a little heat and a lot of noise while visiting Portland, this is the place.
And now, time for a long winter's nap in my warm hotel bed on a cold Portland night.
*Just to be clear, there is no young Egyptian boy named Aziz here watching me pee... I was just quoting a relevant passage from the film.**
**LEELOO DALLAS MULTI-PASS!
Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
The journey home pretty much sucked.
But I made it back alive, so I suppose that's what I should be focusing on.
And then there was this...
Makes you feel good to be alive, doesn't it?
Posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
Last night when I finally got home I had a heck of a time getting any sleep, despite being completely exhausted from a week of travel. One would think that I'd have a residual dose of Eastern Time Zone to speed me to Dreamland but, alas, no dice. I probably managed two hours of actual sleep, at most.
Tonight appears to be more of the same, which is unfortunate given that I've got a very long day ahead of me tomorrow. No matter what I do, how many remedies I try, doctors I see, pills I take... sleep just isn't in the cards for me any more. It's as if my insomnia was only playing around with me for the past decade, and now its decided to get serious.
Which means I'm undoubtedly going to end up seing more doctors... perhaps even a sleep specialist... because the excuse of "Maybe your body doesn't require much sleep!" doesn't play when you're getting less than two hours a night. Four to six hours? Maybe. At least then I wasn't tired during the day. But today I was dragging so badly that I ended up slamming a "Five Hour Energy" drink to get me through it. Which I don't usually do, because they throw off my sleep routine. But what difference does that make if I'm already off?
One of the doctors I saw several years ago believed that over-stimulation is the driving force behind so many people having insomnia now-a-days. We're constantly busy... constantly occupied... constantly connected to the internet... and constantly overwhelmed with information that winds up our brains and makes sleep difficult. This sounded logical, so I stopped all television/computer/electronics activity after 6:00, and spent the next four to five hours each night reading a book until I was ready for bed.
I tried it for two months.
And it didn't make a lick of difference.
Even when I added a cup of Sleepy-Time Tea to the deal.
But I did get a lot of reading done, so there's that.
And it was probably a better use of time than falling down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole while trying to remember all the Whoopi Goldberg movies you've seen.
Which has been what's occupied the last two-and-a-half hours of my evening.
Posted on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
And so I had to drive the three-and-a-half hours to Spokane today.
In the summer when the days are long, I prefer to leave around 3:00pm so I can miss the worst of the rush-hour traffic and arrive in the "Lilac City" around dinner-time. In the winter, leaving at 3:00 would guarantee that you spend most of your trip driving in the dark, since the sun sets so early.
Which is why I started out at 1:30pm, so I'd have at least three hours of sunset lighting before... PIZZA TIME!
And, since my brutal insomnia streak is still holding... I'm posting this at 1:00am while being both totally exhausted and wide-awake.
Maybe if I had eaten six slices of pizza instead of only five slices, I'd be in a food coma by now?
I'd give it a shot, but I think running out to my car in the 22° cold would just wake me up even more.
Posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
And lo, my work had been completed and it was time to drive across the Columbia Basin to return home.
I had thought that I would blog my way along Highway 2, but those plans were destroyed when I found myself leaving Spokane after 3:30. This gave me an hour of light, at most, which meant I got as far as the city of Reardan before the sun started plummeting towards the horizon...
About the only thing I know about the city of Reardan is that it is a huge speed-trap, and their police force is giddy about handing out speeding tickets in copious quantities (seriously... there's even a check-in for it on FourSquare!).
The first thing I saw as I was entering town? FIST-A-CUP COFFEE, where a cup of joe is just 50 cents!
After that I passed Dean's Drive-In. Where apparently somebody told Dean "Dude, your roof is leaking... you need to put on a new roof!" and Dean replied "Fuck that! I don't need no stinking roof! I have a better idea!
I'm trying to figure out how constructing a massive shelter over a building is cheaper than just fixing the building... but I'm coming up empty.
Then I saw a rather... interesting(?)... double-billboard display...
I mean, yes, I know what the display is trying to say... but this is kind of a weird approach.
I think I saw a bar and an abandoned restaurant of some kind as I was leaving town, but that's pretty much it.
Then I was off towards Davenport, across the Basin, into darkness, and homeward-bound.
Which is tough when you're exhausted. I really should have grabbed a 50¢ cup of joe from FIST-A-CUP when I had the chance.
Posted on Friday, December 13th, 2013
Sometime last night, my blog done broke.
It all started when I tried to change out the Google Map on my Travel Map Page. Google provides a link to custom maps you can build... and it totally worked for a while... but now it's just showing up as a blank space and I have no idea what's wrong. When I tried to change the template, Movable Type crapped out, and the entire back-end to Blogography became non-responsive...
UPDATE: This morning (Saturday) I started re-installing components one-by-one until everything magically started working again. The map is still blank, but at least I can post to my blog again.
Posted on Saturday, December 14th, 2013
I was very sad to learn that actor Peter O'Toole had died today at age 81.
He was an amazingly talented actor who could make the most of any role regardless of how grand... or how small... the part. The guy was a giant of stage and screen, having been nominated for eight Academy Awards (but, remarkably, never won). And though an Oscar eluded him, Mr. O'Toole received untold numbers of accolades and awards for his work spanning the 55 years of his career (including an honorary, and much-deserved, Academy Award).
He is, of course, best known from one of his earliest films... Lawrence of Arabia...
But if I had to pick a single Peter O'Toole film as my favorite, the choice would be easy... a little-known and terribly under-appreciated 1985 Ivan Passer film called Creator. Everything I love about O'Toole as an actor is vividly on display in this movie. It doesn't hurt that he had such wonderfully funny and touching material to work with. I give the film my highest possible recommendation (just $2.99 to rent, $4.99 to buy at the iTunes Store but, sadly, not in HD)...
For decades I've been secretly hoping that Peter O'Toole might one day re-visit the role of Dr. Harry Wolper... easily one of my favorite movie characters of all time.
Yes, I knew that the possibility was beyond remote, but it wasn't until today that I could truly accept it would never happen.
Rest in peace, sir, your incredible body of work will ensure you are not soon forgotten.
Posted on Sunday, December 15th, 2013
Oh my stars and garters! Hold on to your shorts... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Pass. This Saturday & Sunday was declared "SteetPass Weekend" by Nintendo. "StreetPass" allows you to have limited interaction with other Nintendo 3DS users you happen to pass on the street when you both have your 3DS sleeping in your pocket. But you can also interact with users via "StreetPass Relay Points." Visit a Relay Point (at places like McDonalds and Starbucks) and you can have limited interaction with the last six users to have been there. However... during "Street Pass Weekend" the six users you interact with are randomly pulled from Relay Points around the world! This is kind of nifty, because you'll get the chance to meet Mii characters you'd likely otherwise never meet. Very cool, and I tried my best to make the most of it. Sadly, countries in South America (plus Mexico!) I got don't have maps in my 3DS, which is kind of crappy. Why is that? I'll have to see if there's a way to download them.
• Theft? My first stop on a dreaded shopping run today was at Costco to pick up some things for my grandmother. Once I had unloaded her purchases into my trunk, I wheeled my cart across the parking lot to return it. As I was walking back to my car... I SAW A WOMAN TRYING TO BUMP MY TRUNK OPEN! It took me a second to process what I was seeing, but I finally managed to say "HEY! GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY CAR BEFORE YOU GET FUCKING SHOT!" (it's an easy threat to make here in Redneckistan, because most people are packing). She said "Oh! I thought this was my car!" and awkwardly scrambled off. Which was so, so stupid. It was painfully obvious that she watched me load my trunk, then tried to break in and steal stuff the minute I walked away. I'm not shocked that there are people out there breaking into cars... it's just how brazen they are about it. I was right there!
• Mickey Dees. I stopped at McDonalds for "StreetPass Weekend" and to get some fries and a Hi-C Orange Drink. After I got my food and was headed to a table, I ran across a group of people talking in the aisle, completely blocking it. I said "excuse me" and tried to get by, only to have them completely ignore me... THEN MOVE TO BLOCK ME FURTHER. Which was apparently high-larious to them. Rather than unleash a string of expletives in the middle of a kid-friendly restaurant, I decided to backtrack and go around them. What IS it with people? These were not some punk kids... these were adults! Adults still living in high school, apparently. I weep for the future.
• Starbucks. Another "StreetPass Weekend" stop... and this time I decided to order up some yummy peppermint cocoa, since I don't drink coffee. I ordered a "medium" and got a "grande" which looks like it's actually a large? What I apparently wanted was a "tall" which is a step up from a "small" and two steps down from a "venti." But since the "small" is not actually on the menu, everything shifts up a size. Starbucks is confusing. I think they up-size their sizes so they can trick unsuspecting people into paying big money for more beverage than they need. My cocoa cost FOUR DOLLARS!! Which is crazy. I can get blown for that kind of money! I guess now I know why Starbucks racks up billions in profits every year. I would have been happier with a 20¢ packet of Swiss Miss and a cup of boiling water from my microwave.
• StarBIGbucks. SERIOUSLY?!? FOUR DOLLARS for a cup of cocoa?
• Home Despot. Before I left for Wenatchee, I checked the hours of all the stores I needed to visit so I could form a plan of attack. Home Depot had the latest closing time of 8:00, so I put it last on my list because I have to return an item. I arrived in plenty of time, walking up to their front doors at 6:05pm. Only to find it wouldn't open. I doubled-checked the hours on the door and, sure enough, they don't close until 8:00. So I try pushing on the door to see if it will open... it refused to budge. So I triple-check the hours. And then... then... I happen to notice another sign all the way across the door from the hours...
This one says "Fuck you... but we're closing at 6:00 today! Sorry for the inconvenience! Oh... and Happy Holidays, SUCKER!" Except, no, they're not really sorry or else they would have put it on their website so their customers wouldn't waste their time. As I was taking the above photos, a woman came up to the door and I had to tell her the bad news. "But... I came all the way from Quincy!" Yikes. That's a 45-minute drive. If I had traveled all that way, I would have burned the mutha down. I can only hope that the reason they closed early was for something important... and not some kind of lame company Christmas party or something.
• Ten. The latest meme? "10 Books That Have Stayed with You." Not the "best books you've ever read'... but instead books that have stuck with you for one reason or another. Interesting. That's a very different thing then, isn't it? My picks...
Bah! Just as I finished this list, a dozen more books popped into my head. I guess I love books way too much.
• MIKE HUCKABEE: AGENT OF SATAN!!! And so there I was, running through my Facebook timeline, enjoying all the funtime activities of my friends, when I run across an ad for Governor Mike Huckabee's FREE Bible Story Cartoons DVD! I love Bible stories! I love cartoons! I even love DVDs (even though I buy everything digital now-a-days)! So I was absolutely going to claim my freebie! And then, just as I was going to comment my appreciation to the Governor, I saw that the number of comments left before me was 666... THE MARK OF THE BEAST!
ZOMG! CLEARLY THIS IS A SIGN FROM GOD WARNING ME THAT MIKE HUCKABEE IS AN AGENT OF SATAN! S-A-T-A-N-!!! Mike Huckabee must be indoctrinating children into the devil's army with these DVDs! And clearly he is an agent of SATAN since he charges $5 shipping and handling for this "free" DVD... and, as if that weren't proof enough of his allegiance to Hell, anybody ordering the "free" DVD is automatically enrolled in a subscription for even more devil-indocrinating DVDs... at $12 plus $5 shipping and handling! Praise be that I saw the sign that God provided me and was able to steer clear of this evil, EVIL minion of The Dark Lord!
Oh... wait a second... I've actually READ THE BIBLE! And The Bible clearly states that interpreting something as a "sign from God" is AN ABOMINATION TO THE LORD! It says so right there in Deuteronomy! And Leviticus! And a dozen other places in scripture! What was I thinking? I guess I must just get caught up in all these evil sorcerers like PAT ROBERTSON and MICHELE BACHMANN who are constantly seeing "signs from God" that support their evil, godless plans to tempt people into the service of SATAN!
So, my apologies, Governor. Turns out you're just an unscrupulous businessman who tricks people into buying your shitty DVDs. You're not an agent of SATAN after all! OR ARE YOU?!? Using "free" DVDs to scam people into buying your crap certainly SOUNDS like something the devil would orchestrate... hmmm?
Annnnd... I'm shootin' blanks. Until next week!
Posted on Monday, December 16th, 2013
As somebody who travels quite a bit... and encourages others to travel too... I'm always happy to help out when people want tips or information on visiting the places I've been. Generally, this involves pointing them to an entry here on Blogography but, since this isn't a travel blog and I tend to write about places in broad strokes, I'm happy to pass along more details if I have them.
Usually, people who contact me are very nice and grateful for the information.
But not always.
Sometimes there are problems because people don't understand the kind of traveler I am. I try not to waste a lot of money on lodging and dining, so luxury travelers get upset when I liked a hotel or restaurant that wasn't up to their lofty standards. On the other hand, I am not a budget traveler either, so cost-conscious travelers get upset when I liked a hotel or restaurant that is more expensive than they wanted to pay. And the list goes on and on. I'm a vegetarian, so I've gotten complaints that the menu wasn't to their liking. I usually travel solo, so I've gotten complaints that a place wasn't romantic enough for couples. I don't give a crap about coffee, so I've even gotten complaints that a location I recommended didn't have a Starbucks. You name it, I've had people take my experiences and complain that I suck.
So even though I am just trying to be helpful by relating my experience based on my interests, there's always going to be those who get pissed-off because it didn't relate to their interests. And that's fine. It happens.
But today's comment just has me baffled.
Somebody visiting Helsinki read about my little day-trip adventure to Tallinn, Estonia and decided to do it as well.
Then proceeded to inform me that I made Tallinn "sound far more exciting than it actually is" and that "the weather is horrible and we froze to death the entire time since you said we wouldn't need a jacket."
First of all, I just wrote about what I did and posted photos of what I saw. I did NOT say "my every waking moment in Tallinn was like having a continuous orgasm while free-falling out of a plane"... so I'm not quite getting how I made the place "sound far more exciting than it actually is." My total assessment of the city was this: "All in all, a great way to spend the day. If you're in Helsinki for a while, it's a day-trip worth doing." And I totally stand by that statement. Especially since I had just posted words and photos explaining why I thought it was worth doing. If you don't feel that what I posted is "exciting" enough for you, why in the hell did you go in the first place?
Second of all, I visited Estonia in JUNE. You visited in DECEMBER... that's like the difference between summer and winter. In fact, that's exactly the difference between summer and winter. As if that wasn't enough, I didn't recommend that people "not take a jacket." On the contrary, I specifically said "I sure wish I would have brought a jacket," because the weather ended up being much colder than forecast. IN JUNE!!!
YOU VISITED IN DECEMBER!!!
It's enough to make me want to write back and say "Look, at some point, you kind of have to start thinking for yourselves, people."
But, I try to be a nicer guy than that, and merely said "Sorry you didn't enjoy Tallinn as much as I did. Perhaps if the weather in winter was as nice as when I visited in summer you might have had a better time of it."
And yet... yeah... if you're reading this Person-Who-Thought-Tallinn-Was-Boring... at some point, you really do need to start thinking for yourself.
You can't please all of the people all of the time.
Or, more likely...
You can't please
all of the people at all of the time now-a-days.
Posted on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
So there I am working while Modern Family is playing on TV for background noise.
Suddenly I hear a voice that sounds familiar. I look up and Claire is trapped in her bathroom with a plumber. I'm thinking the plumber actor played some kind of wiseguy character in a 1980's comedy movie... and it's driving me nuts that I can't figure out who it is.
So I replay the scene.
Yes, the plumber is definitely familiar. But I can't remember from where.
Finally I can't take it any more, so I IMDB the Earthquake episode of Modern Family .
This happens to me all the time.
I see or hear an actor... have a vague recollection of seeing them in something else... can't remember what it was... and end up scouring IMDB for the answer.
And every time I feel the sweet victory of KNOWING... I can't help but think "What in the heck did I do before the internet and IMDB came along?"
I honestly can't remember.
And, unfortunately, there's no spot on the internet to help me figure that out.
Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Today was kind of weird in that I found out The Beatles: Bootleg Recordings 1963 was released. It popped up in my news feed and was reported to have two previously unreleased demo tracks along with a wealth of alternate studio takes for classic songs, plus a bunch of live recordings from the BBC. For a Beatles fan like me, it was a joyous event.
I mean, yes, it's 59 tracks... and it's The frickin' Beatles... but $39.95 when I have a lot of the material in already-released or alternate versions? Crazy talk.
So I bought the two demo tracks, listened to samples of the 57 remainders, bought a few more I liked, then put my wallet back in my pocket and walked away relatively unscathed.
Out of everything, the demo for Bad to Me is the stand-out. It's peppy and fun with wonderful lyrics that bounce and sparkle throughout the minute-and-a-half track like only an early Beatles tune can. I knew of the song (written by Lennon), and knew it was recorded by Billy J. Kramer for release, but I had no idea this recording existed. So... yay.
A part of me continues to wonder if there are other tracks hidden away that are being saved for The Beatles 100th anniversary or something. Given the massive amount of material Lennon-McCartney created, it certainly seems possible. In the meanwhile, I suppose I'll have to be content that releases like this continue to find their way to Beatles fans.
Even if it costs THIRTY-NINE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS!
Posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013
Couldn't be happier!
"When Edgar Wright came to us with the idea of Paul Rudd, we felt a huge sense of relief because the first step in creating any Marvel Studios film is finding the right star. We knew early on that we had found the right person in Paul. When he not only agreed to do it but became as enthusiastic as any actor we'd ever met with about doing the work, we knew we'd found the right guy. We couldn't be more excited for our audiences to see what he's going to do to bring Ant-Man to life."
— Kevin Feige, President of Production Marvel Studios
Well, you do the math.
It works out to several magnitudes of awesome, I'm sure. Oh how I hope that Hank Pym (aka Ant Man) makes an appearance in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron! Seeing as how he's the guy who created Ultron in the comics, it should be mandatory. But something tells me that he won't, given that the Ant Man film will be released after the next Avengers movie. It also makes sense to have Ultron inadvertently created by Tony Stark, given the sentient armor that appeared in Iron Man 3. This way things are continued to be tied together in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh well. That'll give Robert Downey Jr. an emotional arc to play with, that's for sure.
Can. Not. Wait. 2015 is going to be a good year for movies!
As a side-note... whatever happened to crediting the photographer or artist of a work you use in your story? I searched and searched for photos of Paul Rudd and Edgar Wright that had credits on them... nothing. Then I searched for an epic shot of Ant Man with artist credit... nothing. That's really unfair to the people whose hard work deserves recognition. But I guess even "professional" websites disagree, seeing as how nobody is giving credit where credit is due. It's even more infuriating when there are sites making money off of somebody's work uncredited. Shouldn't we be doing better than that?
So thanks to whomever took those photos and drew that art! I wish I knew who you were so I could give you the recognition you deserve.
Posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013
There have been rumors for years that Apple is developing a "smart television."
I wish they would hurry the hell up about it, because none of the stuff released by Google, Microsoft, or any other companies I've seen have been worth a crap.
And I am so sick and fucking tired of this Charter TV pile of shit DVR that Im stuck with. They had been promising a TiVo box was coming... since January 2011... and yet a couple of months ago they pulled their TiVo test market in Texas and discontinued their TiVo Premiere service. Lying assholes. Sure you can still buy a TiVo directly and shoehorn it into their system, but it's hardly going to be the seamless experience Charter originally promised.
And since TiVo is the ONLY company to have gotten the DVR right, I'm pretty much screwed.
First of all, the Piece of Shit Charter DVR has one of the stupidest fucking user interfaces of any consumer electronic devices in the history of consumer electronic devices. It's ridiculously... almost comically... difficult to navigate their system. And given the eleventy-billion stupid-ass buttons on the Charter DVR remote, it's unnecessarily complex as well. And then there's the ads... fucking advertisements on every damn menu screen! I'm paying for my cable package each month, yet shows still have ads. I'm paying a rental fee for my DVR each month, and it has to have ads too? Assholes! I can't for the life of my understand why a company would want to buy ad space on somebody's DVR... all they do is irritate people and associate their product or service with something people hate.
But the worst thing about the Piece of Shit Charter DVR is that it does a piss-poor job of presenting your television shows. Watching a letterboxed version of a show on a non-HD channel? No option to zoom the tiny little window of programming to fill your screen! This is absurd. Even if it can't be done automatically, surely they could have a one-touch button to do it manually? I mean, the box knows I have an HD television... most people do... so why in the hell is it stuck in the 1990's?
And don't even get me started about how hard it is to find the shows you want to watch in the first place. You can't "hide" channels you don't get or don't want to see, so you're forced to scroll through hundreds of the mother-fuckers anyway. The closest they have to a fix is a "favorites" list... but it's not persistent, so you have to enable it every damn time you go to change channels. It's beyond fucking stupid and useless, but so is everything else to do with the Piece of Shit Charter DVR.
More and more I think about getting rid of television altogether so I can just use Apple TV to BUY everything I want to watch and not have to deal with Charter's fucking awful DVR at all. But I'd rather have a smart television that makes it a moot point.
Save us, Apple... you're our only hope!
Posted on Saturday, December 21st, 2013
Well, I put it off for as long as I could.
I don't watch Duck Dynasty. Before the recent media explosion around the show and its cast, I barely even knew it existed. To me, it was yet another piece-of-shit "reality television" program to ignore, just like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Bachelor, and whatever Real Housewives of... crap-fest is currently playing. No, the only "reality" stuff I watch is in the form of competition shows like Survivor, Top Chef, and Project Runway. But even those are more than I can stand sometimes because people are fucking idiots. And watching fucking idiots is not my idea of entertainment.
I'll just set the "reality" aspect of "reality television" aside for a minute, because I think we all know that it's a load of crap. Well, most of us, anyway.
But I digress...
For those living in a cave somewhere, there's an A&E Network "reality television" show called Duck Dynasty which follows The Robertson family and their real-life business "Duck Commander" which makes duck hunting gear (like duck calls). Where the entertainment factor comes in is that the family plays up the Southern redneck stereotype to the nth degree, complete with ZZ Top beards, guns, and camouflage...
Photo from AP/A&E by Zach Dilgard
And people eat it up. It's one of the most popular shows in A&E Network history.
The recent drama being that the patriarch of the family, Phil Robertson, made some pretty heinous comments in an upcoming GQ Magazine interview. Most notably, espousing his Biblical-inspired world-view which equates homosexuality with (among other things) bestiality... and that African Americans were perfectly happy living in America under Jim Crow segregation laws. A&E decided this reflected badly on their brand, so they suspended the guy from his own show on their network indefinitely.
Duck Dynasty fans go nuts. The Christian Right goes nuts. Idiocy ensues.
I'd quote the regular stable of talking heads who are crying out for blood over the suspension as "an attack on free speech," but it's all so damn stupid that I just can't. There was no government intervention. Phil Robertson was not imprisoned for speaking his mind. Phil Robertson is free to keep giving bigoted, homophobic interviews in the guise of "his religion" for as long as he wants. Freedom of speech was in no way hindered... and people who think that way need to understand the difference between "freedom of speech" and "consequences of utilizing your freedom of speech." Much like MSNBC jettisoning Alec Baldwin before them, A&E made a business decision in an effort to disassociate themselves from an employee they feel has broken a clause in their contract by being offensive, and that's it.
But that's not it, because it's more exciting if we can make it into something bigger and get people all riled up over it all...
First of all, A&E is being run by hypocritical assholes. They carefully constructed a cast of characters around the "straight shootin' loose-canon Bible-thumpin' redneck" image that was developed for Phil Robertson... then essentially fired him for being everything they wanted him to be... nay, needed him to be...so that Duck Dynasty would be an entertainment success story. I don't care what moral clauses or contracts A&E had the Robertson's sign... they knew exactly who Phil was when they hired him.
Second of all, this is not some kind of "attack on religion" or "effort to criminalize Christianity" or whatever ridiculous "freedom of religion" argument is being drummed up in the headlines. Nobody is being told that they have to abandon their faith. No Bibles are being ripped out of the hands of Christians to be burned. Nobody is being prohibited from attending their church. A&E is simply drawing their (arbitrary) lines as to what moral clauses are being enforced this week (and what they are willing to air on their network), then acting accordingly. Again, I'm not saying this isn't hypocritical... it absolutely is... but it's also not any kind of "attack on religion" any more than prohibiting penises to be shown on your network is an "attack on men." Phil Robertson signed a contract concerning his behavior, then broke it. That contract wasn't with God, it was with A&E, so let's try and remember that.
Thirdly, the fact that society is moving towards tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians means that society is going to tolerate intolerance towards gays and lesbians less and less. I'm sorely tempted to just play the "tough shit" card here, because I honestly don't give a fuck about hurting people's feelings when it comes to their bigotry and hatred... but this is America and, much as I may not like it, people are entitled to their homophobic bullshit (whether they attribute it to their religious beliefs or not). So whatever. You can choose to believe that the earth is flat, the moon is made of cheese, the sun revolves around the earth, two consenting adults falling in love is akin to bestiality, and being forced to sit in the back of the bus is a laugh-riot good time. But don't be shocked when people laugh at you or don't want to hear your antiquated views.
And, lastly, people DO realize all this hoopla is over a fictional version of a real family, right? A family of multi-multi-millionaires exploiting a stereotype for money, fame, and ratings? They call it "reality television" but nobody really believes that. Situations are artfully arranged. Dialogue is meticulously scripted. Images are carefully constructed. Entire "stories" are built to keep things interesting. Which brings us to this recent YouTuber rant which puts the whole situation in vivid relief when he says "Enjoy your fake shit, America... you dumbasses deserve to be conned!"
WARNING! This video is profanity-laden and probably not safe for work...
Ultimately, I don't give a shit about the actual issues at play here because I don't watch Duck Dynasty, don't care that some multi-millionaire got fired for saying bigoted crap, and think a company can make whatever stupid, hypocritical decisions they want to when it comes to employee conduct that conflicts with a signed contract. What I DO give a shit about is all the manufactured drama being built up around A&E's decision to shelve Phil Robertson. Because all this "FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS UNDER ATTACK!" and "CHRISTIANITY IS UNDER ATTACK!" bullshit is yet another round of idiotic propaganda that's dividing society and distracting us from the real problems that actually matter.
So somebody let me know when Phil Robertson is detained by the military for saying bigoted nonsense or is imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for being a Christian... because until then, I've had enough of this idiotic Duck Dynasty drama-fest.
And besides, I'm willing to bet Pigeon Lineage or Grouse House will be coming to A&E any day now...
Posted on Sunday, December 22nd, 2013
Times to put down that snow shovel and grab a mug of delicious hot chocolate... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Thrice Nine. I am very happy to announce that today we have released the ninth issue of THRICE Fiction Magazine, featuring a bevy of talented writers and artists all wrapped up in this stunning cover by the amazingly talented Katelin Kinney...
Do yourself a favor and go download a FREE copy at the THRICE Fiction website... you'll be glad you did!
• Light. If I ever come up lacking blog fodder, all I have to do is drive down Wenatchee Avenue (the main drag running the entire length of the city of Wenatchee). Today I nearly ran over a guy crossing the street against the light while hauling a filled body bag! Filled with what, I have no idea. But that's not all, as I also saw... two white guys poppin' and lockin' on a street corner... a woman in a motorized wheelchair dragging a wagon filled with Christmas presents... a little girl twirling like she just don't care in front of an Indian restaurant... Santa Claus... a guy in shorts and a fur parka sitting on the trunk of his(?) car smoking a cigarette and drinking from a giant coffee mug... AND this...
It says "CHURCH THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD"... but they drew a streaming pile of shit in the middle of it? Which is covering the secondary brake light, rendering it useless. Oh... and if you think that I managed to get into Denny's at 2:30 on the Sunday before Christmas? NO! No I did not! Which makes me sad, because that Hobbit Specialty Menu ain't gonna last forever.
• Mango! I'm a Kool-Aid kid. I would rather have a cold glass of Kool-Aid than soda pop any day. Tropical Punch is my favorite flavor, but I try to shake things up by making classic flavors like Orange, Grape, Lemon-Lime, and Watermelon. I also have tried specialty flavors that pop up from time to time like Purplesaurus Rex, Arctic Green Apple, and Sharkleberry Fin. And then this week I found Mango, which I almost skipped because I worried it would be too weird like the Pineapple flavor I tried last month. But, sanity prevailed, and I thought I'd give it a try...
Delicious! Really good color, aroma, and flavor! If you like mango, then this is absolutely worth a shot.
• Reel. I've mentioned a couple times how I'm really stoked to see the Russian film Stalingrad, which takes place during World War II in the middle of one of the bloodiest battles in world history. The trailer looks absolutely amazing, even though I'm not a big fan of war movies. And now they've released a special effects real showing how they were rendered for 3-D. It's pretty mind-blowing...
Needless to say, I want to see the movie now more than ever. I guess it's in limited release, because I haven't seen it playing anywhere yet. It'll be a pretty big bummer if it leaves theaters before I can see it.
• Bittersweet. On one hand, New Mexico and Utah have joined the marriage equality bandwagon...
On the other hand, Uganda has passed an "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" which mandates life in prison for anybody having gay sex. I suppose we should all be thankful that the punishment wasn't set to "death," which was their original idea for a sentence. But I'm too busy being absolutely horrified. Even more so because anti-gay abominations of humanity here in the USA played a part in it. The very ideal of "The United States of America" is one of a beacon of freedom and hope known throughout the world. What in the hell happened? Our government is spying on its own people. We're passing horrific laws allowing the indefinite unlawful detention of American citizens. Our politicians are bought and paid for by Special Interest money with no consideration given to the people they profess to serve. Our media so thoroughly polarizes us that we've become a country hopelessly divided in venom and hate. And now? Now? We have assholes so filled with blind hatred and homophobia that they're exporting it to other countries because their efforts are finally failing here at home. Hardly a new concept, to be sure, but still fucking abhorrent given that these people are professing to be spreading hate in the name of religion. God bless America.
Because somebody has to.
• Pass. And lastly, in what I can only describe as a Christmas miracle come early, BARRY EFFIN' GIBB actually made an effin' appearance on The Barry Gibb Talk Show on last night's surprisingly funny Saturday Night Live...
Ordinarily, I wouldn't spoil the surprise like this, but... 1) he's right there on the video frame, and 2) The show featured guest host Jimmy Fallon and musical guest Justin Timberlake... was there any question that The Barry Gibb Talk Show wasn't going to make an appearance? Not the best installment of the long-running sketch, but certainly one of the most eventful! And a sad reminder that Robin Gibb is no longer with us, having died May last year.
And... time to make some holiday magic happen, people...
Posted on Monday, December 23rd, 2013
There's no fate but what we make for ourselves.
The process of putting together an issue of THRICE Fiction seems simple... the editor hands you a stack of stories, you paste them into a document, you add some pictures, and BLAM! a magazine is born.
Except it's nowhere near that straightforward. And most of that is my own fault.
When R.W. and I first began discussing how THRICE was going to work, I had a very clear direction I wanted for the design of it all...
Of course, had I known three years ago what I know now... I probably would have done things differently. A lot differently. I'd hack stories apart, add art only if I could find it, and just cram stuff in any which way. It would have made my life much easier going forward.
But then THRICE Fiction wouldn't be THRICE Fiction, so I guess everything happened as it was meant to all along.
Which brings us to Issue. No. 9...
As always, the cover was a struggle. Originally I had done painting for it, but I had already done the past three covers and really wanted something different this time. I was working on an alternative, but that didn't come together this time around, so I was back to my design again.
I remembered an incredibly talented artist named Katelin Kinney that I was lining up for Issue. No. 10, and decided to throw a Hail Mary pass in her direction to see if she might have something available. Lucky for all of us, she was perfectly happy to let us borrow some works for her portfolio, and we ended up with this amazing cover to close out our third year. It's a photo art composite titled Seed of a Soul, and the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly favorable, so thanks, Katelin!For a look at the first half of the art included in this issue, click onward to an extended entry... → Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
And... I'm back!
But before I continue with a look at the art appearing in the second half of THRICE Fiction Issue No. 9, you might want to go read Part One from yesterday first (if you haven't already).
Oh, and if you haven't downloaded your FREE copy of our latest issue, that should be your first stop!
Now then... before I get started, I was going to talk a bit about what it means to be closing out three years and nine issues of THRICE Fiction. On our Facebook somewhere, I was joking about how "People said we wouldn't last... shame on them." But it was more than a joke. People were literally saying that we wouldn't last. Apparently there's past precedent: "New magazines rarely make it past a year... two years if they're lucky," they would say.
At the time, I didn't know why that would be. I guessed it was because the magazine ends up being more work than people realize. You start out strong with the best of intentions... but life gets in the way, and eventually the time between issues grow longer and longer until you realize you just don't want to do this any longer. Or maybe the people who quit started their magazine to get rich (ha ha) and the money never came. Maybe they didn't feel enough people were reading to make it worthwhile. Maybe the experience just wasn't what they expected. I dunno. And while I can't speak for our Editor, RW, I can say that it has never occurred to me to pack it in. I'm as enthusiastic about THRICE Fiction now as I was at the beginning. More so, even, because the response we've received has exceeded my wildest dreams.
So many thanks to all our contributors who have made us look so good these three years... and also to our readers who continue to download issues by the thousands. We're so very grateful, and there's more to come in Year Four!
The art for Issue No. 9... Part Two!
You can find that in an extended entry...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Wednesday, December 25th, 2013
If you celebrate the holiday, I hope you have a Merry Christmas!
If not, have a great December 25th!
And no matter what holiday you call your own this season, thanks for dropping by!
Posted on Thursday, December 26th, 2013
Happy Boxing Day to all who celebrate it!
I'd wish you all a Happy St. Stephen's Day, but why should the "War on Christmas" stop at Christmas? Surely we can drum up enough imaginary drama to drag the battle out a few more days?
And now? Pudding time.
Posted on Friday, December 27th, 2013
This is my second year trying to put together a list of my favorite comic books, which isn't easy given that I just don't read many comics any more (my reading has taken a dive now that "The New 52" has kind of died down). But I still love comic books, so it's important to me to put some good books out there in the hopes that more people will support them.
As always, I'm doing most of my reading digitally on my Retina Display iPad, because I just don't have room to store any more comics. Comixology makes it so simple... and they regularly have sales that actually make comic books affordable. So here we go...
THE TWELVE BEST...
How in the heck can a non-Batman book take the top spot in my list of 2013 favorites? When it's this tale of continuing brilliance by Matt Fraction and David Aja. It's just the whole package. Fantastic writing infused with enough action and humor to keep the pages blowing by... paired with some beautiful Giffen-esque art that services the story flawlessly. If I had to point to one thing that pushed this series over the edge for me, it would have to be issue #11. This one issue which... stay with me here... was told entirely from the perspective of Hawkeye's dog, illustrates beautifully just what makes Hawkeye the best book going in 2013.
My favorite comic book character of all time continues to chug along with some of the best Batman stories ever in his signature book. While the title has been a bit uneven compared to 2012, Scott Snyder still knows what makes Batman tick, and Greg Capullo still knows how to thrill with his jaw-dropping art. With "Death of the Family" wrapping up at the start of the year, I was wondering what could possibly come next... the answer? A prequel once again retreading Batman's origins? Really? And yet "Zero Year" kept things entertaining for the rest of the year.
#3 Jupiter's Legacy
This book was hyped as "The Comic Event of 2013," which would normally cause me to roll my eyes and move on. But it's by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, so you couldn't help but take the buzz seriously. Yes, the book is basically a coat of fresh paint slapped on The Authority which has been fused with Watchmen-esque elements and injected with high Americana... but it's a really good paint job. The story is kind of a Greek Titans / Greek Gods situation, where an older generation of super-heroes are having to deal with the emergence of their super-powered offspring. There's only been three issues released, but you can already tell that Millar is building up to something really special.
#4 Batman, Incorporated
My number 4 from last year is my number 4 again this year... even though the title was canceled mid-year at issue #13. The reason is simple... Grant Morrison kept on doing what he was doing right up until the bitter end, and it worked beautifully. Even when he killed Damian Wayne, which was probably my favorite Robin ever. It's still a bit of a shock that there's no Morrison Batman to be had any more.
#5 Wonder Woman
Still love the book. Probably even more than I did last year, even though it was in the No. 5 spot then as well. What Azzarello and Chiang are doing is taking Greek mythology to epic heights which, given how epic Greek myths already are, is pretty frickin' spectacular. Gods, monsters, and surprises permeate Wonder Woman, and with every issue I have to check my disbelief that somebody isn't building a movie franchise for her. Screw the upcoming "Batman/Superman" cameo... everything you need for an amazing film is right here.
#6 The Sandman: Overture
More Gaiman Sandman? Yes please. And while the story for this mini-series isn't up to the lofty standards of the original book, it's absolutely the most beautiful presentation of the character I've ever seen thanks to the jaw-dropping art of J.H. Williams III. And what else is there to say? It's Sandman.
This is one of those titles I've enjoyed for a while... but it's finally gotten to the point where it's essential reading material. Police detective Tony Chu has the unique ability to get psychic impressions from objects he consumes. Including people. Which means he's got an inside-edge in solving murders... all he has to do is start chowing down on the corpse. But the title is so much more than that, and very much worth your valuable time.
Okay... okay... even though it was written by Matt Fraction and drawn by the incomparable Mike Allred, the wacky premise behind a substitute Fantastic Four in FF was just too much for me (a woman in a Thing-suit named "Miss Thing? Ugh). Until Marvel gave away the first issue for free and I actually read it. I should have known better. I should have given the creative team a chance. Because Fraction (who writes my #1 book, Hawkeye) is at his most unique right here, and Allred is Allred... churning out his magical art page by page. The sheer surprise of how much I enjoy this book should probably rate it higher on my list, but I've settled in and am "just" loving it now.
#9 Superman Unchained.
What happens when Scott Snyder sneaks away from his awesome Batman book to dip his toe in the Superman universe? Well, some pretty great stuff, as it turns out. And it doesn't hurt that he has Jim Lee onboard to illustrate the thing. In many ways, Unchained, should have been the title that anchored "The New 52" all along... it's just so much more streamlined and entertaining that what we've been getting from the launch titles.
#10 Adventure Time.
Yes. All the things that make the Adventure Time cartoon so awesome are perfectly translated to a comic book series. If you love the wacky insanity that defines every episode of the show, this book is a must-read. And if you don't love the cartoon, then you don't love life. Get onboard, will you?
Robert Kirkman continues to pump out issue after issue of the most consistent quality super-hero book there is. And even with all the storyline ups-and-downs of 2013, it was still a book I was anxious to read every month. If you want to rediscover what makes super-hero comics such an enduring genre, this is probably the best place to start.
#12 The Wake
What does Scott Snyder do when he's not crafting some of the best Batman and Superman stories running? Oh... he dabbles in a series that leaves the super-heroics behind with The Wake, a 10-part series that explores the ocean depths... with a survival horror twist that's a mind-bogglingly good read. Half the fun of this series is speculating where it's all leading to... the other half is just grabbing hold and enjoying the ride.
ALSO WORTH LOOKING AT...
Science fiction cut with politics cut with action... all of which rolls together in a surprisingly fresh way. In this book, the super-wealthy own the world, but the world is not enough, and epic battles between families is only survivable by genetically-engineered protectors.
Indestructible Hulk #6-8
Walt Simonson returns to Thor... in the pages of Indestructible Hulk? Wha-?!? But, yes, it's true. Mr. Simonson takes on the art chores for Mark Waid and blows the doors off, much as you'd expect he would. As if that weren't enough, the storyline was pretty darn entertaining.
East of West
I was late coming to this series because Westerns are not my thing... but then the praise-laden reviews started rolling in, and I was compelled to take a look. More like a "Sci-Fi Western," Jonathan Hickman's East of West is a battle between the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at the end of the world... with Death as mankind's only hope. Really good writing in an imaginative work that's worth checking out.
Posted on Saturday, December 28th, 2013
And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year. As usual, many of them were viewed on an airplane screen or my iPad since I rarely get to the theater now-a-days. Not the most engaging movie experience, but I wouldn't have seen a fraction of these films if not for killing time while traveling. Not having to deal with idiots talking and texting on their mobile phones at the theater is just a bonus.
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Iron Man 3
Another flawless performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, without which this movie would have been half the film it was... even with Shane Black writing and directing it. Marvel truly has a handle on their cinematic universe, and the fact that their films just keep getting better and better makes no sense at all. Comic book movies usually suck, after all. But Black did exactly what he had to do to keep Marvel moving forward... which included giving Iron Man a case of post-traumatic-stress syndrome (after the events in The Avengers) for Robert Downey Jr. to flex his acting chops. The story was great, and this is probably the first time in history I haven't been annoyed to death by a kid-sidekick. Please, please, please, somebody get Downey Jr. onboard for Iron Man 4.
#2 Star Trek Into Darkness
I shouldn't like this film as much as I do, because I absolutely hated the unnecessary Khan re-tread. I mean, why? Yes, they added a few new twists to the story, but that's all window dressing. The simple fact is that we've seen it all before, and I'm not convinced this was a better version than we got years ago from Space Seed. But boy did it look good on-screen. And man was it entertaining as all get out. And wow did they nail the characters. And it's frickin' Star Trek! So I loved it, of course. Here's hoping Star Trek 3 boldly goes in its own direction rather than continuing to re-write the past.
A stunning film by Alfonso Cuaron that has more sphincter-puckering moments than should be legally allowed. Yeah, it dragged a bit in spots, but that didn't pull me out of the movie at all. Kind of makes me wonder how anybody could possibly follow with a "disaster in space" film now that Gravity is out there. If I have one criticism, Sandra Bullock's escalating fear should have started at zero. Instead they start at 5, which means it gets a little irritating by the time they crank it up to 10.
#4 Thor: The Dark World
The first Thor film was a wonderful exploration and introduction of the character. This sequel tries to do one-better by playing with the more mystical elements of The God of Thunder... and it mostly succeeds. What's missing is character development, which seems as though it was so far on the back burner that even The Avengers did a better job (and that was an ensemble film!). Regardless, it's a gorgeous spectacle with fantastic performances... some truly humorous moments... and yet another opportunity for Tom Hiddleston to chew up the scenery as Loki. I just wish that it was a little tighter in ramping up the impending doom and a little better at exploring what makes Thor and Jane tick. Still, I'm completely onboard for Thor 3.
#5 The World's End
Holy crap does Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost know how to make an entertaining film! The third (and final?) film in the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy" (preceded by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) takes things to another level entirely... this time in the science fiction genre. Well, kind of. The real element that makes this movie so compelling is the characters, all of which have stories and interactions that are not only critical to the storyline... but also provide a genuinely moving look at friendship and our transition into adulthood. Here's hoping that the team behind three really good films realize there's more than three flavors of Cornetto out there!
#6 Sound City
In an age of shitty reality shows like American Idol telling us what music is, Sound City comes along to tell the real story. This documentary by Dave Grohl is a love letter to actual MUSIC that every music-lover needs to see. I've watched it three times and am just as caught up the last time as the first. I have always appreciated Grohl's talent, intelligence, and creativity as a musician... but his film still hit me as something incredibly smart and unexpected. I hope he continues to raise my expectations, because there's a lot more stories he can tell.
#7 American Hustle
Despite having a killer cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Robert De Niro... I had really low expectations for this film because I just don't care much for 60's and 70's period films (X-Men: First Class being a notable exception). But I needed to kill some time and American Hustle was there, so away I went. And I ended up loving the movie. David O. Russell has crafted a mafia con epic that is about as compelling a film as I've ever seen... and did it with an unexpected level of humor that was like piling gravy on top of gravy. But what I loved most was just how amazing Jennifer Lawrence is in her role. She's hands-down one of my favorite actresses because she comes off as incredibly likable, smart, and funny in "real life"... but she's got jaw-dropping talent as well. I can't wait to see where she... and David O. Russell... go next.
#8 Saving Mr. Banks
Yes, yes... I know. This is a highly fictionalized account of Walt Disney and how he managed to get the film Mary Poppins made. I've read the press and I've seen the rants over the unreality of it all (including the Harlan Ellison smack-down). But none of that changes the fact that Saving Mr. Banks is a really good film with a terrific story and some great performances by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would, and the fact that it's more myth than fact doesn't take away from that for me. Mostly because I know it's fiction... but also because I've tried to get to the root of all the atrocities that modern pop culture attributes to Walt Disney. Ultimately I ended up feeling quite badly for him, because the things I've read about these claims of fascism, racism, anti-semitism, and the like, seem to be mostly exaggerated. Yes, it was a different time and, yes, he even stepped over the line of what was disgustingly considered "acceptable" back then, but there's a lot of research showing that he was hardly the rabid racist, anti-semite, fascist, Nazi he gets painted as even today (he's a big target in Family Guy). But I guess that's the way it goes. Heaven only knows I'm not attempting to excuse anything he actually did here, but it's disheartening to know that there's a lot of evidence against the severity of these claims that's widely overlooked. As for "ignoring" Mary Poppins author P.L. Traver's bisexuality... why is it that a person's sexuality is so critical to their make-up as a person that excluding such information in a film portrayal is some kind of travesty? Had she been straight, would anybody even care? No. It's only because she was bisexual that suddenly it's CRITICAL that her sexuality MUST be splashed on screen. Absurd. There is more to a person than their sexuality, and it actually seems a bit bigoted to suggest that a bisexual can't be an interesting character without their sexuality being explored in the story. And... blargh. I've rambled on way too much. This is a good film and terrific entertainment. I hope that doesn't get lost in the shuffle here.
#9 The Heat
YES, I'VE PUT THE HEAT ON MY BEST MOVIES LIST FOR 2013! And the reason is simple... it was funny. Much funnier than I thought it would be. And despite Melissa McCarthy going off the rails a few times, Paul Feig ended up using her to brilliant comedic effect as a rough-and-tumble police officer on the mean streets of Boston. As if that wasn't enough, Sandra Bullock was pretty much perfect playing a by-the-book FBI officer having to team up with her. AND, YES, I WANT A SEQUEL!
I've voiced my concerns over parks, zoos, and animal captivity many times. On one hand, I realize there are places that do their level-best to care for animals and create a habitat that they can feel at home in (Disney's Animal Kingdom and the San Diego Zoo come to mind). But, on the other hand, I know that these animals would be much "happier" outside their captivity. And yet... if not for animal captivity, species like the Tasmanian Devil are sure to go extinct. So I'm not sure what the answer is. Animals as entertainment seems wrong, but a lot of times it's this entertainment which pays to save them. That being said, Blackfish sure makes a compelling argument against Sea World. This is absolute must-see material, and the ramifications of the film's popularity could be far-reaching. Especially if you own stock in an animal entertainment park...
#11 World War Z
Anybody expecting that this film will in any way resemble the brilliant novel by Max Brooks (or the even more brilliant audiobook of the same novel) is in for severe disappointment. This is an action flick which just happens to share a name with the afore-mentioned book, and that's all. However... if you are able to put that behind you, it's a pretty good action flick. Gone are the lumbering zombies of old, these zombies are shockingly fast and virtually unstoppable. Lucky for us, Brad Pitt arrives on the scene to save us all as a United Nations investigator intent on scouring the globe for a cure. What ensues is an intense and dark thriller that relies on really good special effects and some surprisingly good acting talent. At times the combo proves lethal, sucking you in and suffocating you with a plague that never seems anything less than overwhelming. It's for this reason that I enjoyed the film so much, despite fully expecting to hate it. As if that weren't delicious enough, there are scenes that won't leave your head any time soon, and I can't offer bigger praise than that.
#12 The Way Way Back
Every once in a while you tune into a movie on a long plane ride simply because it's the least unappealing option out of the crap you haven't seen. In this case, I picked The Way Way Back because the cast included Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Steve Carell, and the amazing Sam Rockwell. Turns out it's a really good "coming of age" story about an awkward kid named Duncan who is forced to accompany his mom, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's spoiled daughter to a summer resort town. There he meets the slacker manager of the local Water Wizz theme park, learns what life is really about, and has his life forever changed. Yeah, it sounds like a movie you've seen a hundred times before, but it's surprisingly fresh (despite the ending, which falls back to more familiar territory). The great cast and smart performances were just the icing on the cake.
What a great film! I'd recommend it, even if you're not a baseball fan. The movie focuses on Jackie Robinson's struggle for acceptance as he becomes the first African-American to play for the major leagues. In that respect, it really does the job, and the casting is flawless. Chadwick Boseman, who I've never heard of before, plays Robinson with an enthusiasm and dignity that is essential to the character, and his performance anchored the movie beautifully. The biggest surprise to me was Harrison Ford's role as Dodgers President and GM Branch Rickey, which is probably one of the best performances of his career. Maybe it's because I fully expected John Goodman to get the part, but I honestly didn't think Ford was going to work as well as he did. No less shocking to me was seeing Alan Tudyk (my favorite actor from Firefly) as racist Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, and I have to give him credit for taking on a part that is the polar opposite of the lovable roles his fans love him for. If I have one bit of criticism, I wish the film had dug even a little deeper into Robinson's life outside of the game. Yeah, I know that's not the focus of the film, but I can't help but feel it would have been a much stronger movie if they had added more dimension to Robinson's personal life. Still, a film worth seeing.
Make no mistake, Monsters, Inc. is my favorite Pixar film by far, and the idea of getting to revisit that world had my expectations running high. And I wasn't let down. Mike and Sully were just as funny and appealing as ever, and Pixar's attention to detail was shining through stronger than I've seen in years. So why did this feel like a sorry retread of Revenge of the Nerds via a made-for-TV animated special? Probably because it didn't really break any new ground. Since it's a prequel to Monsters, Inc., characterization actually takes a big step backwards so you can start from the beginning. Not that it wasn't cute to see a young Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan pal around, but I'd rather see what they're doing now instead of looking back at where they were. Still, the story isn't all bad. After starting out as rivals, Mike and Sully team up with the nerds of a forgotten Monsters University fraternity to prove they have what it takes to become "scarers" at Monsters Inc. Except they don't, which means the entire premise of the story was moot. Oh well. It had funny moments and was beautifully imagined... that alone from Pixar is better than most movies you'll see.
Despicable Me 2
If you liked the first one, this is more of the same. Steve Carrell and a cast of hundreds (of Minions) make for smart fun that's perfectly realized cartoon entertainment. While not reaching the heights of the original, this sequel manages to keep things funny while moving in a new direction. Evil genius Gru is back along with his adorable trio of adoptive daughters... who are intent on finding Gru a wife so they can have a mom (Kristen Wiig!). But Gru has bigger fish to fry, as he's been recruited to use his talents for good by tracking down another evil genius. The result is a bit scattered, but worth your time.
Well imagine that... another X-film that somehow managed to not suck. Who knew that X-Men: First Class would set such a precedent? This film pretty much ignores all the previous shitty X-Men film travesties (including the first Wolverine film... X-Men Origins: Wolverine) to forge onward with a story that actually bothers to stay faithful to the source material. The result is pretty darn good, playing into the Japanese roots of the character. If this is the kind of thing we can expect from future films in the X-Men Cinematic Universe, then there's hope after all. And I need a little hope seeing as how crap director Bryan Singer (responsible for much of why the X-Men movies suck so badly) is heading up the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Now-a-days, more often than not, black & white films are a pretentious effort at creating "art cinema" for projects that are anything but. Happily, sometimes that's not the case, and Nebraska was a refreshing return to actual art. Bruce Dern is receiving a lot of praise for his portrayal of a cantankerous old fart who wins the lottery and has to travel through four states to claim his prize. But his role seemed the easy one compared to Will Forte's fantastic turn as his son who's along for the ride. While not quite as great as the reviews would lead you to believe, this is still a very good movie that manages to be entertaining in all the right ways.
In a World...
Seeing this movie was a complete accident, and it ended up taking me completely by surprise. Lake Bell (whom you may recognize from The Practice and Boston Legal) wrote, directed, and produced this comedy which revolves around the life of a voice-over artist. Hilarity ensues. Well worth a rental on video when it comes around.
DIDN'T SEE, PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE MY LIST...
This movie just came out, so I still have a chance to see it. Spike Jonze's latest film is a futuristic tale about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the advanced operating system of his computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) who is more than a little human. The trailer looks fantastic, so I can't wait.
Twelve Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of my favorite actors, and I would watch a movie where he did nothing but open mail for 90 minutes, because I know he'd do it in the most interesting way possible. But give him a compelling story that actually means something? Boy do I regret not getting to see this in the theater.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
My comments on the first Hobbit movie still stand... "WTF?!? I mean, seriously, how could Peter Jackson manage to condense the fucking massive Lord of the Rings trilogy into three films... but not keep a short story like The Hobbit as a single film? I probably could have forgiven stretching it out to two films... but THREE?!?" The Hobbit was a pretty simple and straight-forward story. There was no need to pad it out to such a ridiculous level. And yet... Desolation of Smaug is when we get to the good stuff, so I'm sure it made for a much better film than the first one. If nothing else, I bet it looked amazing, so I'm sad to have missed its theatrical run.
The buzz out of Cannes was that this was the most powerful movie to play at the festival, so it made my "must-see list." I remember hearing the news that a man named Oscar Grant had been shot and killed at a BART station on New Years Day in 2008, and this film follows his final 24 hours leading up to this tragic moment.
Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan? Sign me up.
I was aware of this movie, but it didn't sound like it was something I wanted to see so I passed it by. Then I started seeing reviews heaping praise on the film, saw friends were talking about it, and ended up wanting to see it after all once I had taken a closer look. Sadly, I waited too long.
I enjoyed The Hunger Games novels well enough... but the film adaptation of the first book left me cold. They changed the ending, skipped over some pretty important points, and generally made a watered-down version of a better story. So I was going to pass on the sequel... until everybody started talking how much better it was... how it was so faithful to the source material. Well, darn. Another one to catch on video, I guess.
The Man of Steel
I hated just about everything to do with Man of Steel, and am horrified that this abomination is the cinematic future direction for the character. This is not Superman. Not the Superman I know, anyway. This imitation origin story begins on planet Krypton where scientist Jor-El is predicting doom and gloom for the planet, and decides to salvage the legacy of his people by stealing "The Codex"... a wholly unnecessary plot device masquerading as some kind of genetic program that breeds Kryptonians. This raises the ire of General Zod, though who knows why. Anyway, Zod is exiled to the Phantom Zone, Krypton goes boom, and baby Kal-El is rocketed to earth where he is raised as human Clark Kent by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane (easily the two best things about the film). The death of his father results in Clark wandering the earth... saving lives and trying to find his place in the world. Meanwhile intrepid reporter Lois Lane tries to track down this "mystery man" and stumbles upon one of the worst-kept secrets ever. But that's not Clark's only problem, as General Zod has escaped and returned to Earth to reclaim The Codex and remake our planet into a new Krypton... destroying everything in the process. Loads and loads of laughable super-battles and disaster porn ensues. None of it even remotely worth watching. The controversial moment in the film comes when Superman chooses to kill General Zod because humans are too fucking stupid to run away when somebody is trying to vaporize them with heat vision, at which point I didn't give a shit if Superman, Lois Lane, Perry White, or any other idiotic characters in the film lived or died. And why should I? The people behind this atrocity aren't writing about Superman and don't give a flying fuck about maintaining the integrity of the characters. Next up? Imitation Superman vs. Ben Affleck Batman. Oh how thrilling.
Now You See Me
Holy crap what a stupid, stupid film. The movie begins as four D-list magicians are recruited by a mystery man to band together to become the hottest magic act in the world, "The Four Horsemen." Of course, absolutely no explanation is given as to how they actually become the hottest magic act in the world... all of a sudden they just are. With their fame escalating, they perform their biggest show yet (or one would assume, since you don't see a single magic trick before the finale), where they proceed to "magically" rob a bank. Thus begins a tedious game of cat and mouse between The Four Horsemen and a special investigator (Mark Ruffalo), his Interpol collaborator (Mélanie Laurent), and a famous magician de-bunker (Morgan Freeman). With each new show the foursome become inexplicably more famous... and understandably more wanted by the law for the crimes they perform on stage. Along the way they perform elaborate but unnecessary magic tricks which make -zero- sense to the plot (why in the hell pretend to rob a vault and come back later for the money when you can just JUST TAKE THE FUCKING MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE?!). And that's the problem... nothing here really makes sense. Even the things that might make sense go unexplained, which doesn't make sense. Regardless of whether or not the magicians get away with their crimes... they're still going to be wanted by the law. And for what? To join some secret society that nobody gives a shit about except them? And the ending is about as stupid as it gets... the nonsensical "trap" set for one of the characters can be defeated in five minutes if the character calls a lawyer... or ANYBODY... to explain who set the trap and what happened. Dumb. SO dumb. I'm embarrassed for everyone involved.
The Lone Ranger
Marry a flawless cast with a script that's filled with action yet incomprehensibly dull, and you get this turd of a film that was my biggest disappointment of 2013 (I already figured Man of Steel would be shit, but this was a shocker). The whole project was inexplicably more complex than it had to be... but not in an interesting way at all. Both Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer were completely wasted, and I'm still trying to figure out how Gore Verbinski could have fucked-up such an un-fuck-uppable franchise. Even so, I still have to say The Lone Ranger had moments that saved it from being the horrific failure that the reviews would lead you to believe. But not by much.
Posted on Sunday, December 29th, 2013
And now is that special entry where I wrap up MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS OF 2013!
At first I was just going to copy my entry for 2012, because it seems that I'm watching mostly the same stuff as I was last year. But then I actually read my entry from last December and was shocked at how much had changed. So here we go again...
THE TWELVE BEST...
#1 The Blacklist
Say wha-?!? I had this show stacked up on my DVR because I knew anything with James Spader would be gold, but didn't start watching until five episodes had aired. I devoured all five and was left hungry for more. This is a mystery inside a riddle inside an enigma that just keeps getting more and more fascinating with each new installment. Mostly due to Spader, who is at the absolute top of his game as former master criminal turned FBI informant.
The chemistry between Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu is better than ever, and so are the mysteries. This show is "comfort food" pure and simple, and yet it's never content to stand still. This season we've gotten Sherlock's scheming brother (played by Rhys Ifans!), a bad situation for Detective Bell, and the impending return of Moriarty. Good stuff.
#3 Breaking Bad
I honestly didn't see a way that this series could wrap up in a satisfying manner, as Walt seemed beyond redemption... certainly beyond forgiveness. And yet... that last amazing episode was so deftly handled and compelling that it made me want to start watching all over again from the very beginning. Congrats to Vince Gilligan and everybody involved in going out on top.
Still a contender for the best show on television. The show is so fully realized... so nuanced... so layered... and so well-written that just about any cast could step in and make a good show out of it. But they didn't get just any cast, they got Timothy Olyphant and a stellar team to bring the show to life. Hardly anybody I know watches this show, and I just don't get it.
This show was really good last season... and, impossibly, it got even better this year. I wasn't into the whole "Moira on trial" subplot that dragged on... but the resolution was good, and the deepening ties into the DC Universe just keep getting better. Black Canary? Deathstroke? A.R.G.U.S.? Ra's al Ghul? Yes please. But the best thing about the show is that it takes no prisoner. Roy Harper getting out of line? Shoot him in the leg! Classic.
Jim Jeffries, an Australian stand-up comic who's rude, crude, and a genuinely horrible person plays Jim Jeffries, an Australian stand-up comic who's rude, crude, and a genuinely horrible person. But not intentionally... that's just the way he's wired. After moving in with his friend Steve and Steve's disabled brother Billy in the US, Jim works on becoming a nicer person. Hilarity ensues. Seriously laugh-out-loud hilarity. Surprisingly there's genuine heart in the show too... usually centered around trying to create a normal life for Billy (played flawlessly by DJ Qualls). If you can handle the crudeness and vulgarity, it's definitely worth a look.
#7 Sons of Anarchy
Holy cats. Kurt Sutter has demonstrated again and again that he doesn't give a shit about the status quo, and he's take the SAMCRO story wherever it needs to go... regardless of what the consequences may be. Characters are dying left and right, and you get a sense that some of those who survived would be better off dead. If you're looking for take-no-prisoners television, here's your show.
Shonda Rhimes creates some messed up television. Many times it doesn't work for me (Private Practice, Off the Map, later seasons of Grey's Anatomy). But sometimes it does. And the dirty politics of Scandal definitely works. Every episode has at least one crap-your-pants moment, and the cliffhangers are lethal.
#9 House of Cards
While it's technically not "television" since it's on Netflix, I just don't care. This is the brutal big brother to Scandal that takes dirty politics to new heights. And while it's a great show in its own right, having Kevin Spacey as the headliner is reason alone to watch.
#10 Dr. Who. I thought I'd lose interest when Amy and Rory left, but Clara Oswald is a companion for The Doctor who is working perfectly. I never needed to have her "grown on me"... I liked her from day one. And now that Matt Smith is turning in the keys to The Tardis, I'm happy Clara will be sticking with the NEW Doctor. Many thanks to Matt Smith for his dedication to the role. I may not have cared for you at first, you you definitely changed my mind!
#11 Hawaii Five-0
After losing me, then getting me back, I was fully expecting for Five-0 to lose me again. It hasn't. The chemistry between McGarrett and Dano keeps me tuning in. And if it weren't for the whole "Kono on the run" subplot that JUST WON'T FUCKING DIE, I probably would have ranked the show higher on my list.
#12 The Walking Dead
I admit it... this show is definitely starting to wear on me. Unlike the comic, it feels like it's "stuck." And I seriously have to wonder if the creative team is ever going to find their way out. More and more I question whether I want them to, because the easiest solution would be to dump it.
THREE MORE WORTH WATCHING...
This modern-day Murder She Wrote still has me hooked. I thought Castle and Beckett hooking up will kill the show for me, but it really hasn't.
Game of Thrones
Still hoping that George R. R. Martin figures out a conclusion to the books before the show catches up, because this is some terrific television.
Orange is the New Black
I never in a million years thought I'd have any interest in a show based on women in prison. But a friend pretty much demanded I take a look, and now I can't stop.
ANIMATION WORTH YOUR TIME...
Still brilliant. Still relevant. Still must-see-television for me.
The most bizarre show to ever air on television is still going strong.
Couldn't possibly love this show more than I do. They just kill it each and every episode.
Posted on Monday, December 30th, 2013
And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of music I liked this year. Which is not easy for a guy who's perpetually stuck in the 1980's when it comes to what he listens to.
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite albums this year...
#1 English Electric by OMD
I pretty much love my top-three albums equally, so I had a tough time deciding which one would end up on top. After a lot of back-and-forth, I settled on English Electric because it had the highest play count on my iTunes (probably thanks to Night Café, which is a song I can't seem to get enough of). And while I don't think it's as great an album as their previous release, History of Modern, there's a lot to love here... even if I would just as soon skip over the experimental crap they sandwich between actual songs.
#2 Electric by Pet Shop Boys
Last year, Pet Shop Boy's Elysium took the top spot on my list despite the love/hate relationship I had with the album. This year was pretty much a repeat of last year, with half the album hooking me worse than a heroin habit, and the other half leaving me cold. Which got me thinking... if I took the half of Elysium I liked and added it to the half of Electric I liked, it would end up being one of the best Pet Shop Boys albums ever. As it is, both are merely "good" for the band... which means Electric is still better than 99% of the stuff that got released in 2013. Getting to ACTUALLY MEET NEIL AND CHRIS WHEN I WENT TO THEIR PHILADELPHIA SHOW was just the icing on the cake.
#3 Dynamics by Holy Ghost!
After falling in love with their self-titled debut, I fully expected to hate Holy Ghost!'s follow-up, because isn't that the way it always goes? Apparently not. Yet another heavy contender for my #1 spot, Dynamics is more 80's-inspired pop genius from a band who knows how to keep cranking out something new that feels as though it's been around for decades. Don't Look Down may very well be my favorite song of 2013. And I'm still mad at myself for not seeing them in concert yet.
#4 The Movement by Betty Who
And speaking of 80's-inspired pop genius... Betty Who came out of nowhere with an EP that I haven't stopped listening to since the minute I learned it existed. Her instant fame was mostly due to the use of Somebody Loves You in one of the best marriage proposals ever... but the three remaining songs are every bit as good (and an argument could be made that High Society is even better). Needles to say, I am anxiously awaiting Betty's first full-length album and an opportunity to see her live.
#5 In a Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities
This release could have made my list based on their smash single Safe and Sound all by itself. Fortunately, the album had more to offer, as it arrived jam-packed with enough addictive synth-pop dance tracks to choke a horse.
#6 Native by OneRepublic
I don't know what it is about OneRepublic, but there hasn't been an album out yet that I haven't played to death... and Native is no exception. Yes, it's more of the same, but I'll take it. Especially when it has such a hauntingly beautiful tune as Can't Stop.
#7 When The Night by St. Lucia
Jean-Philip Grobler, better known as the "band" St. Lucia is someone I discovered from a Victoria's Secret commercial, instantly falling in love with his breezy music and fresh sound...
His self-titled EP ended up being #4 on last year's list, and I ended up playing those six tracks many, many times. So you can imagine my excitement when his full album finally dropped in October, as I had been waiting an entire year for it to arrive. The result is more of the same of what I love about St. Lucia... even if a few tracks abandon his relaxed vibe and go a bit more frantic (the track Too Close comes dangerously close to being a mess). If I have one complaint, it's that I ended up paying for three songs I had already bought on the EP. But a quick listen to beautiful tracks like Elevate has me not caring quite as much as I probably should...
#8 Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
I was tempted to leave Random Access Memories off my list because it's on everybody else's list... but that's not exactly fair, is it? And while "the sound of Summer 2013"... Get Lucky... has been played to the point of nausea, there's plenty left on the album to keep you listening. And I do. Even though it's much more disco than 80's pop.
#9 Free Your Mind by Cut Copy
With each new album, I become a bigger fan of Cut Copy. Their last effort, Zonoscope, was a flawless album that I didn't even know existed until nearly a year after it had been released. I swore I wouldn't make the same mistake next time, and I didn't... I kept up with the band and bought Free Your Mind on day one. And love it. It's big pop fun that's interesting enough to keep me coming back.
#10 New by Paul McCartney
As a massive Beatles fan who fell in love with the band long after they had their run, I suppose it's no big surprise that I had a hard time getting into Wings, who was also done and gone by the time I was into McCartney. His solo projects didn't fare much better... until New, which is a fantastic album with all the hallmark signatures that makes Paul McCartney one of my favorite artists in music history.
#11 Palms by Carousel
Dreamy synth-pop magic that stays in almost constant rotation in my iTunes playlists. This was a discovery made off iTunes Radio, which is always a pleasant surprise.
#12 Delta Machine by Depeche Mode
Given that Depeche Mode is my favorite band of all time I'm pretty much obligated to put their latest effort on my list... even if I'm not sure it really belongs here. Probably because I didn't fall in love with any songs off of the album and am still trying to understand how things could have gone so terribly wrong (seriously, ENOUGH with the songs about angels, heaven, and redemption! Pick a new topic... ANY new topic). I did a write up on the Delta Machine tracks played on their latest tour (which I saw in Tampa), so if you want the gory details of my confusion, here you go.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR...
Volume 3 by She and Him
If I had the guts to deep-six Depeche Mode off my list, this is the album that would take their place. Just when you think you can't love Zooey Deschanel any more than you already do, THIS comes along...
This is Icona Pop by Icona Pop
Some addictive tracks here... but too many of them sound to much the same, which made it a tough pick for my list.
Prism by Katy Perry
Now, heaven only knows I love Katy Perry... her Teenage Dream was an explosion of bubble gum pop perfection... and her first single, Roar, off Prism sure grabbed ahold of me... yet the album just wasn't enough. Maybe it's because she's dating John Mayer now and I can't get the horror out of my head, I dunno.
Swings Both Ways by Robbie Williams.
And... color me shocked. I had -zero- confidence that Robbie could pull off a swing album, but he totally nails it. How he got the inspiration to even attempt this is a mystery, but I'm glad he did.
VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS 2013...
Metroland by OMD
I'm gonna love just about any animated music video... even if the song is shit. But this terrific video is what happens when the song is awesome. Equally amazing is OMD's animated video for Night Cafe (above).
Roar by Katy Perry
The video was so great that it made me love the song. Or maybe it was Katy Perry's outfit. At this point it's hard to tell.
Somebody Loves You by Betty Who, Spencer, and Home Depot
Okay, it's not her official video for the track... but it's hands-down my favorite music video of the year!
And now I'm going to sit back and hope that Pet Shop Boys will go three for three and give us another album and tour in 2014!
Posted on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As usual, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.
It wasn't the greatest year for me, but there were some definite highlights worth remembering. I'll probably stick mostly to those...
• Wrote a five-star review for one of the greatest books ever written...
• Made a case as to why Scotty (from Star Trek) is one of the baddest mutha-fuckers in the galaxy...
• Threw my tall hat into the ring in an effort to become the new Pope...
• My second tattoo! Had the first part of my forearm band inked...
• Partied like a rock star at Jester's birthday party.
• Wrote a rap about my bitter disappointment in receiving a Eggo waffle that was half missing.
• Finally found a broadway musical I didn't hate in The Book of Mormon...
• Took my first of two trips this year to one of my favorite cities on earth... New Orleans, Louisiana.
• Celebrated the earliest years of my impeccable fashion sense...
• Flew to Salt Lake City to take in the latest brilliant tour by one of my favorite bands, OMD, with Marty of Banal Leakage fame.
• Flew to Los Angeles for a job and ended up getting to be Virtual Iron Man at Disneyland...
• Took a quick work trip to Washington, D.C. and ended up wandering around the city... and fighting Mr. Shiny over hummus.
• Flew to Pittsburgh to spend time with one of my most favorite people on earth...
• Had a life-changing experience when Becky and I went to see Ke$ha LIVE in concert...
• Flew to Boston for one day to attend a party for a friend... and find a few surprises.
• Flew to Atlanta for some work... and say a farewell to Dante's Down the Hatch restaurant with my bloggity friends...
• Had a stop-over in DutchyLand for a trip to Maastricht and one of my most favorite foods on earth...
• Took a day-trip to the city of Tallinn in Estonia (and visited The Depeche Mode Bar at long last)...
• Flew to Las Vegas for my very first Elvis Wedding Experience...
• Back to San Francisco for Part Two of my forearm band ink...
• Found out that if the heterosexual thing doesn't pan out... apparently, I've got other options...
• Off to Philadelphia to see my second-favorite band of all time, The Pet Shop Boys, and hang out with some bloggity friends...
• Ran down some of my favorite recent video finds on the internet...
• Flew north to Hội An to experience an all-new culinary adventure...
• Went on an amazing photographic adventure in the Vietnamese countryside...
• Explored the famous caves of the Marble Mountains...
• Flew to Hanoi, where I learned how to do tai-chi...
• Flew to Laos, for a bit of relaxation... and to see the beautiful sights...
• Finally had the opportunity to check Cambodia and Angkor Wat off my bucket list...
• At long last got to see P!nk live and in concert...
• Cry me a river, next-gen video game adopters. Wrote about videos games THEN vs. video games NOW...
• Money NOT well spent... my five most regretted purchases... EVER.
• Ranted against a massively flawed attempt at anti-GMO legislation.
• Disclosed Ten Things You Probably Don't Know About Me.
• As if flying wasn't bad enough... I'm completely against allowing mobile phones in-flight. The homicide rate on planes would suddenly be horrific...
• Was devastated that Saltalamacchia left my beloved Boston Red Sox for Miami...
• Flew back to New Orleans, again, because I just can't help myself.
• RW and I closed out our third stellar year with our ninth issue of THRICE Fiction magazine!
And... that's a wrap for 2013!
Thanks to everybody for stopping by. I hope your 2014 is a very good year!