Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
The more virulent a politician is at being anti-gay and persecuting LGBTQ persons, the more likely it is that they will get caught escaping from a 25-man orgy out a window. You cannot make this stuff up.
You can bet on it happening though.
You can set your watch by it.
Which will give you something to think about the next time you read about some politician drafting anti-gay legislation or finding new ways to strip rights from the LGBTQ community.
It's either that, or they're trying to distract you from even bigger skeletons in their proverbial closet.
Posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
David Prowse, the actor who embodied Darth Vader died this past Saturday.
A case can be made for Darth Vader being the best movie villain of all time. All you have to do is Google "Best Movie Villains of All Time" and you'll find that a lot of people believe this to be true (No. 2 is Hannibal Lecter, but I digress). He was menacing, powerful, and the best possible kind of cinema evil. And though he ended up having a bit of a redemption moment in Return of the Jedi (and was completely neutered in the awful prequel trilogy), he will always be remembered by me as The Only Villain That Matters.
David Prowse was half of the Vader equation.
But because James Earl Jones's voice is such a touchstone for the character, the contribution Prowse made is often overlooked. And that's a real shame. Last night I rewatched the Original Star Wars Trilogy and paid careful attention to how Prowse played the character. His every gesture oozed power. Yet it was never overplayed. At no moment did you get the feeling that Darth Vader was a man trapped in a suit. He was the suit. And that was true from the minute Vader first appeared walking through that smoke...
Even when he's just standing there next to Grand Moff Tarkin saying nothing, there's a menace to him. And though it would be easy to say "that's just the badass costume," it's what lead up to him just standing there that is actually what's working. And that was all Prowse. Just look at the way he's pitched forward, looking like he'll choke a bitch at any second...
Which, of course he does. He's Darth Vader!
The lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi is a bit tame. Darth Vader looks practically timid throughout everything, and I remember being a bit disappointed that we didn't get something more. But still, my young mind was suitably blown as I watching things go down...
Vader next appears in the battle on The Death Star in his cool custom T.I.E. fighter (of which I had a model when I was a kid)...
Interesting to note that in one scene where Vader is under red lights, the dark red lenses in his mask show Prowse inside. To my knowledge, it's the only time you ever see his face... well, part of his face... on screen...
The movie ends with Darth Vader being knocked into space. When I was a kid I had a T-Shirt that I ordered out of a magazine which proclaimed "VADER LIVES!"
Which, of course, he did in the sequel.
And this time we got a tantalizing glimpse at what's under that dark helmet...
In The Empire Strikes Back, the best of all Star Wars movies, Prowse provided two moments so iconic that my brain still fails to fully process them. The first is when he is revealed to be the dinner host at Cloud City...
"We would be honored if you would join us"...
What's always been interesting to me is that Vader begins and ends this scene... seated. I've never understood director Irvin Kershner's thinking behind that. There was no reason for it, and I think it diminished his power. It would have been far smarter to just have him standing the entire time. The more times I see him sitting down, the weirder it looks to me...
And the second iconic scene is, of course, that pivotal moment in cinematic history which follows a pretty cool lightsaber duel. Far more exciting than the one we got in Star Wars...
And here we go. If you watch Vader as he's confronting Luke here, you can really see how important Prowse was to making the moment so mind-blowing. He is physical, but restrained, which is far more menacing than had he been all over the place...
Then Darth Vader drops the bomb...
Admit it, I didn't need to type a thing. You saw this and immediately heard "Luke, I am your father!" (even though the line was actually just "No, I am your father!"...
Now, this was before the internet. I stood in line to see Empire on opening night. I knew absolutely nothing about the movie except what I had seen in commercials. There were no spoilers to be had. I walked out of the theater putting the pieces of my brain back into my 14-year-old skull. It was such an amazing moment, and it wasn't thanks to the heroes. It was thanks to Darth Vader...
Return of The Jedi was, for the most part, a disappointment to me. It jettisoned all the things that made Empire so great and replaced them with burp jokes and Ewoks so George Lucas could make billions of dollars selling toys. The only thing I like about the movie are what happens in-between the idiocy. That speeder-bike chase. That space battle. The Emperor revealed. And, oh yeah, that final duel...
What's so incredibly sad is that the evil Emperor Palpatine overshadowed Darth Vader in this movie. He was the evil this time. He was the memorable villain this time. He stole the movie this time. Vader was conflicted and embattled, and Luke handed him his ass. Happy Father's Day...
We did get one final cool moment with Darth Vader. Though I never really had a chance to study it until I bought Return of the Jedi on LaserDisc. They animated a skeleton as the emperor's force-lightening struck Vader's armor. I think they enhanced it for the Special Editions, because I don't remember it being this detailed through...
Just look at the mechanical parts in there!
I think I remember reading an interview with Irvin Kershner (who directed the far, far superior The Empire Strikes Back) that he thought it was a mistake to show Vader's face at the end. I agree 1000%. I didn't mind that Vader had found redemption... even though it seemed a little silly that he could walk back from all those murders he's responsible for... but I did mind them ruining a huge part of the mystique which made Vader so compelling...
I still think it's unfair that Prowse didn't get to play crusty old Anakin Skywalker in this scene. Lucasfilm kinda owed it to him, didn't they?
And that was the end of it. SPOILER ALERT! Vader dies and Luke lights him on fire in a funeral pyre. Thankfully with his mask on...
And that was the end of it. Vader was done.
Until he wasn't, of course.
In later years, Prowse had a falling out with LucasFilm. He claimed that they owed him money that was never paid. This did not go over very well, and LucasFilm were total assholes who them prohibited him from appearing at conventions, which was his primary source of income. Be that as it may, David Prowse left a legacy which will live long past his death, and LucasFilm can't ever take that away from him.
Thank you, sir, for filling my childhood with wonder and giving the world a villain that will quite probably never be eclipsed.
Even when Darth Vader is played by other actors.
Out of the trilogy of trilogie films, I only like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. The rest are just weak retreads with no added value. I do like the spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, however, as they seemed more invested in finding those things which made Star Wars so frickin' amazing. A mantle that has now been picked up with The Mandalorian TV show.
Interesting to note that it's in Rogue One where we finally... finally... get to see Darth Vader unleashed. The final scene of that movie leads to the very first scene of Star Wars, and it's glorious. No, David Prowse isn't inside the Vader suit, but he's got his stamp all over this terrifying moment as Darth Vader mows through the Rebel soldiers in an attempt to get those Death Star plans.
The sequence begins in an eerie nod to the original very first scene Darth Vader appears. But instead of him stepping out of white smoke, this time it's red...
In a genius move, the Rebel soldiers are shown to be horrified at Vader's power as he easily cuts a path through them...
And here's The Force being used as you dreamed Vader would wield it. No stupid-ass senseless hand-gestures with no consequences like the idiotic prequel battle on Geonosis... Vader is brutal and ruthless with it. Disarming his opponents and crushing them...
Finally. Finally we get to see Darth Vader exactly how you want to see him. Overwhelmingly ruthless and powerful. And that final Vader scene. Perfection...
Rest In Peace, sir. You'll always be Darth Vader to me.
Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
"A gentleman always opens the door for a lady." — Grandma Marie
My grandmother worked at a five-and-dime in town. Before each school year she would tell me (and eventually my brother) I that she would buy us a toy OR buy us school supplies. I could be wrong, but I believe I always picked the school supplies. Looking back, I should have taken the toy, because my parents were legally obligated to provide school supplies... but I was responsible at an early age and liked the idea of being able to pick out my own stuff. Posted at the store was a list of supplies required for your grade, and we'd go through the list together until I had everything I needed. Then I'd get to write my name on everything, which was almost like having a toy.
My maternal grandmother was an interesting woman. She was the first of seven sisters (Catholics, amiright?) and had a brother as well. Which meant a significant portion of her life was spent helping to raise her younger siblings. She was there as each of them came into the world... and, remarkably, she would survive long enough to be there as each of them left it. She was loving, kind, honest, hardworking, and made the best apple pie you've ever tasted. I grew very close to her over the course of my time on this earth and was holding her hand when she died. She was one of those people who fills such a huge part of your life that you don't know how to survive without them when they're gone. The gaping wound I suffered after her passing will never heal.
Grandma helping me with my drinking skills during those early years.
When I had sold movie rights for one of the books I had worked on (don't get excited... like most projects in Hollywood, it went absolutely nowhere) I was flying to L.A. once or twice a month to consult on the project. A couple times I took my grandmother with me and flew into San Diego. That way I could drop her at my uncle's house on the way up to L.A. so she could see her other grandkids. On her first trip I rented a convertable because the forecast was amazing in the way that only Southern California summers can be. We had just gotten to the beautiful red machine that would be our ride when I remembered that I had left the paperwork behind. It took me a couple minutes to run and get it, so I was surprised to see that my grandmother was still standing next to it when I got back.
"I'm sorry grandma, I didn't know they had locked it!"
"I don't know if it's locked, I was waiting for you to open the door."
Oops. I had made the grievous error of not opening it for her before leaving. Once I opened the passenger side door and got her settled, I hopped in the driver's seat and said "Do you remember that you were the one who taught me to open a door for a lady?" — "Yes, but apparently I didn't do a very good job!" It was one of those sick burns where she said it as a joke so as not to make her favorite grandchild (=ahem= ME, because I was her first!) feel bad... but she was 100% serious under the surface.
I was fairly young when my grandmother had taught me to always open a door for a lady. In some cases, when the door was heavy, I had to have help. But it was one of those things that became fun for a young child to do, so eventually it stuck. After a while it just got to be habit. A good habit (for once).
It's such a habit that the way that it finally sinks in that a relationship is over is when I go to open the passenger side door for her a couple times... and she's not there.
After a particularly brutal heartbreak I went to the passenger side door as I had a hundred times before... once again remembered that she had broke up with me... and broke down in tears in the JC Penny's parking lot.
But even worse than that, of course, was after my mom had to leave. I went to open the passenger side door after taking her to the hospital and being told she couldn't come home again. I went to open the passenger side door when I would visit her. I went to open the passenger side door after dropping her off at the care facility where she'd live out the rest of her days. I was always opening the door for her in the years I was taking care of her and didn't know how to stop.
Last night I went to open the passenger side door for her after picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. I don't know why. She's been gone for over two years. Any time I had to go out I would take her with me to get her out of the house and we made many, many runs to the pharmacy for her medications. So maybe something in my brain got crossed and I thought the pharmacy run was for her? No idea.
After I moved mom out of my house, my brain kinda broke down. I had been taking care of her for so long that I didn't quite know what I should be doing with myself once she was gone. It's quite possible that I never recovered fully. It's quite probable that I never recovered fully. And so I suppose things like this are going to happen.
Which sucks in some ways... but is kinda profound in others. I am so very lucky to have had the privilege of opening doors for these two amazing ladies in my life.
Posted on Friday, December 4th, 2020
I've been dealing with a persistent winter roof leaf for the past several years. When I first moved in, I thought the drops of water on my kitchen floor were being left by the contractor crew renovating my home. The next year I blamed it on the cats playing in their water dish. The next year I woke up to water pouring down through a lighting fixture, and was mortified that I had a major roof leak. For the next three years I tried everything... scraping snow off the roof... filling in the valley channel with FlexSeal... and back in October I even ran additional heating cables above the area giving me trouble...
But it didn't solve anything. I'd still wake up each morning and have to clean a small puddle of water off my floor and wipe up the water above my ceiling fixture so it wouldn't mildew. Finally I managed to find a roofing guy to come out and take a look.
Imagine my surprise when I found out it wasn't the roof. It was a leaky pipe.
Which meant a call to the plumber so he could come out and take a look. And, sure enough, he was able to look up through the lighting hole in my ceiling and confirm that it was a nice long split along the kitchen venting return pipe. Unfortunately it was not something that could be fixed through the lighting fixture hole. He had to rip out a big chunk of the drywall in my ceiling...
The pipe wasn't just cracked, it was really cracked. The split was over a foot long. For whatever reason... whether it's freezing or condensation or whatever, this wasn't an issue except in the Winter. The rest of the year, there was no leak to be had. Fortunately it was just venting and not a pipe actually carrying water. That would have been disastrous, likely flooding the entire ceiling in my kitchen and causing a collapse.
The hole left by the repair looks worse than it is. That's actually a pretty easy repair to make. I've done many a drywall project, and have all the tools to fix it. What I don't have is a way to transport sheetrock, and a texture gun. And so... I'm going to get a repair estimate from a restoration and repair company. If it's not outrageous, I'll just have the HOA pay somebody else to patch it up. If it's insanely expensive, I'll take care of it myself in the Spring. In the meanwhile, I've just piled the insulation back up there and stapled up some cardboard to save on heating bills.
I am once again shocked at how expensive it is to hire a plumber. To repair the pipe was $715.41... which is kinda crazy. But, once again, plumbing is an area where I am not going to gamble with a DIY repair. Since I live in a condo where I am only responsible for what's within the sheetrock-to-sheetrock space of my home, it's not like I'm having to pay for it. Well, technically I am... my HOA fees have to be paid every month... but I'm not the one cutting the check this time, thankfully.
This morning when I woke up to feed the cats I first ran to look at my ceiling.
No water on the cardboard covering. No puddle on my floor.
Just two very anxious cats wanting me to hurry up and feed them.
Kinda makes me regret that I didn't take care of it sooner, but since I couldn't diagnose the problem I never knew what it was I was supposed to be taking care of. Oh well. There were no mold or mildew issues, the problem was relatively minor, and all's well that ends well.
Weird how 2020 had conditioned me to anticipate a catastrophic issue that costs $10,000 to fix. I had almost forgotten how it feels to have something not turn out worse than expected.
Posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2020
Jake and Jenny have been spending more and more of their day sleeping. I guess Winter isn't very exciting time for a cat, so this is their coping mechanism. Not that I can blame them. Thanks to COVID lockdown, all I want to do is sleep the days away as well.
On Thursday I had the plumber come and rip open the kitchen ceiling to repair a pipe leak. The cats hid upstairs in my storage closet, as they always do when strangers invade the house. Once the repairs were complete, I called up to let them know that they could come back downstairs. It's amazing how they are able to understand me and immediately come running downstairs every time...
Not that they 100% trusted me. They had to go sniffing around everywhere to make sure the intruder was really gone.
Early in the week I was startled when BOTH cats ran out to the catio after one of them was in the Litter-Robot. I knew that the impending smell must be extraordinarily bad. But once it reached me and I was gagging and feeling my eyes tear up, I had to go to the video feed so I could find out which one of them was responsible so I could check to make sure that they hadn't blown their asshole out. Turns out it was BOTH of them! They BOTH took a dump at the same time!
I don't know that this has ever happened before! I was worried that my home would probably have to be fumigated... or possibly burned down... because it was just that bad. Fortunately the Litter-Robots cycled and got things under control.
There I was... working away at the office... when I get a PERSON ALERT! on my iPhone. I ignore it because sometimes my cats register as a person to the security system. Then, ten minutes later, PERSON ALERT! — Now I'm really freaking out because I've been convinced that there is, in fact, a person in my home. NOPE!
I guess it was my fault for leaving the kitchen blinds open and having a stepladder staircase left out for them. And I had JUST disinfected the countertops the night before! I had to steam them and scrub them clean AGAIN that night. Blergh. I wonder how come Jake and Jenny never seem to realize that I don't have time for these shenanigans?
And now I guess I had better get back to work. But quietly so I don't interrupt my cats' busy day of sleeping.
Posted on Sunday, December 6th, 2020
I may be spending my day celebrating, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten about this blog... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Happy Birthday! Jake and Jenny were feral rescues, so their birthdate is kinda-sorta estimated. I think. Maybe the person who found them knew the exact date and reported it when they got to the Humane Society, I'm not sure. In any event, December 6th is what's on all their paperwork and their insurance, so this is the day I wish them a Happy Birthday. And this year I am actually home to tell them "Happy Birthday" in person, which is rare. They weren't available for adoption until they got out of foster care and were fixed, and that was February 16th, 2016 (meaning these photos are of them when they were 2 months and 11 days old)...
They were both so scared that it took weeks before I was even allowed to touch them. Most of their time was spent hiding under the couch. Jake was easily motivated by food (and still is) but Jenny took much longer because she's so much more cautious (and still is). Adopting them remains one of the best things I've ever done, so happy birthday to my amazing cats!
• AutoSleep! Speaking of my cats... at 3:30am I was awakened by Jake really struggling with a hair ball. My cats rarely have hair balls since I brush them regularly, so I got up to make sure he’s okay and clean up the mess. I would have thought that I dreamed it all, except I've been using the AutoSleep app with my Apple Watch and can verify exactly when I got up...
AutoSleep is an app that has all the data that Apple's own Health app is missing... like the most basic of information, HOW MUCH SLEEP DID I GET? Health just gives you a start and a stop time, leaving you to have to mentally calculate it out, which is plain stupid. AutoSleep does so much more in addition to basic functions, which makes it well worth the $5 price tag, and I highly recommend it for Apple Watch owners who wear theirs to bed at night.
• Dysfunction? Since there are so many assholes still not willing to mask up to stop the spread of COVID, maybe this will motivate them... Another Reason to Wear a Mask: COVID-19 May Cause Erectile Dysfunction. We can only hope. Thanks to way too many people not being careful and acting like the pandemic isn't real... and even more of these people getting together for Thanksgiving despite the risks... hospitals are already starting to reach maximum capacity...
This doesn't just affect people who have serious COVID-19 symptoms and will die without hospitalization, it also affects anybody who get a treatable health problem... like a heart attack... who can't get into a hospital because all the beds are taken by COVID patients. Stop being an asshole. This virus doesn't just kill old and sick people, it can kill anyone. A vaccine is just around the corner (along with even more incredible treatments in the pipeline) and everything can just wait.
• Weight! On November 19th, I reached the heaviest I've ever been... 192 lbs. Usually I try to stay at 170 lbs. and not exceed 180 lbs. because that's when I feel my best, but gave myself a pass because of COVID shit happening. But enough was enough, and I started trying to eat sensibly again. No more Family Size Bag of Lay's Potato Chips in a single day... no more Pop Tarts for breakfast... no potato salad at midnight. Two weeks later I'm down to 186 lbs., which means I've got 16 lbs. to go to get to my goal weight. It's shocking to think that I managed to put on 22 lbs. since March, but when you sit around the house doing fuck-all day after day, I guess that's what can happen. I need to eat better and be more active, because I'm getting old enough that the weight doesn't fall off as easily as it used to. Bring on that vaccine! I want my life (and body) back!
• Mulan? Good Lord is the live-action Mulan a boatload of shit. Very, very beautiful and pretty... but shit. Thank heavens I didn't pay the $30 to see it early... which I was this close to doing because I love the Disney animated classic original so much. The story doesn't even make sense anymore. And they left out Mushu, which is just madness when they've given her magical powers from The Matrix which makes the whole thing fantasy anyway...
Ugh. What a waste of money that could have been put into another Star Wars series or Marvel Studios series for Disney+.
• HEADLINE! Warner Bros. Smashes Box Office Windows, Will Send Entire 2021 Slate to HBO Max and Theaters — In an unprecedented announcement, the studio will send 17 films — including The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad and Dune to its streaming service for 31 days the same day they hit theaters.
Look, as I've stated many, many times, I absolutely hate the "theater experience" any more. Between people texting and talking and letting their kids run around and generally being assholes, it's about the worst form of "entertainment" there is, and I'd rather do just about anything else for fun. The only movies I see in theaters are those that I can't wait for (like Marvel Studios films). Otherwise? No thanks. So, for obvious reasons, I am thrilled by the news that I will be able to watch Dune and The Matrix 4 at home with an HBO Max subscription. But, on the other hand, I wonder what this means for those massively expensive blockbusters that I love. Will they even be able to be made any more if theaters don't exist? My guess is that they will still make them because A) Streaming services are already paying insane amounts of money for movies... B) Special effects are getting cheaper, and expensive actors can be replaced if they refuse to work within the new budgets... and C) This is where the future was headed all along as the home viewing experience gets better and better. So I dunno. I am certainly not rooting for theaters to die off completely... I think they still have a role to fill... but I'm not going to complain about not having to suffer through a theater for the movies I want to watch, that's for sure.
• HEADLINE! Elliot Page, Oscar-Nominated ‘Juno’ Star, Announces He Is Transgender. — Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot,” Page wrote in a statement that he posted on Tuesday
And good for him. I'm thrilled when somebody figures out who they are and what it takes to live their best life at a cost of $0 to me. Because this is not about me! Who Elliot Page is has absolutely zero effect on my life what-so-ever. How great is it that he's got it all figured out, because many people never do. My gender identity was a cakewalk. I'm a man. I've always felt like a man. My genitals align perfectly with who I am at my very core. I've only ever been attracted to women. I've only ever had sex with women. And I can't imagine somebody telling me that I can't be who I am... just like I can't imagine somebody feeling entitled enough to tell Elliot Page who they are either. Whether you accept it or not, transgender persons exist. And when they have the strength to come out to the world, it will undoubtedly save lives. Far too many transgender kids are killing themselves because they can't picture a world that they could ever exist in. Elliot Page shows them that they can.
Now it's time to stop slinging bullets so I can go serve Ocean Fish Pate "birthday cakes" to my fuzzy kids. Be safe, everybody.
Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2020
I finally caught up on 2020 Hallmark Christmas movies this past weekend. I had been putting it off because after so many good ones (Christmas by Starlight, Five Star Christmas, The Christmas Doctor, and A Timeless Christmas), they were starting to go downhill. And, what's worse, they are not improving. Last night Hallmark finally debuted this year's Danica McKellar movie that I had been looking forward to for weeks... and it sucked. It sucked so hard. Not even my undying love for Danica McKellar could save it because it was just so bad. Not Christmas Coupon tragic-bad, but still... not so great.
Fortunately, other studios have been picking up the slack with excellent Christmas movies to watch while I'm working... like Netflix with Holidate and Midnight at the Magnolia. Even though I am essentially using my television as background noise, I still want my background noise to be good television.
Enter older "Hallmark-style" Christmas movies that I come across which I haven't seen yet.
There I was paging through the movies I get for free with my Amazon Prime membership and I see A Frosty Affair starring Jewel Staite. She's an actor I've had a crush on for near-decades thanks to her being in Firefly, and there was no way I wasn't going to give it a look...
Yeah, yeah, it's no Shakespear. These movies never are. But it's good fun and Jewel Staite was, as expected, perfect in it...
There were some very clever lines that made it well worth watching. "You should probably allow an inch or so for shrinkage... probably two..."
Make no mistake, this is one silly movie. But it's more charming than absurd, and I ended up liking it quite a lot.
In Canada (where the movie was shot and takes place) it was originally released with the title 40 Below and Falling... and was the first ever rom-com shot in 3-D. I don't recall it ever being shown in local theaters here (let alone in 3-D), so I'm guessing it wasn't in wide release? I dunno. I generally don't pay to see rom-coms in theaters, so it could be that I just never noticed it when it was playing.
If you're looking for a distraction, have Amazon Prime, and like Hallmark-style movies as much as I do... then A Frosty Affair just might be to your liking.
Posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2020
Last year some friends bought me an Instant Pot when they came to stay with me. This year they followed it up with a new cooking device... even though the pandemic lockdown made it so they couldn't visit.
It arrived yesterday and I've already been playing with it... the Instant Pot Vortex Plus Air Fryer!
TL;DR... It's my favorite thing in my kitchen. It's essentially a little oven which can get very, very hot very, very quickly and fry foods without oil...
Except I don't want oil-free foods. I just want to be able to fry up some French fries without having to deal with the mess and expense of dragging my deep-fat-fryer out of storage. Fortunately, all you have to do is toss the fries in a bowl with some oil until they are well-coated and you're off to the races.
The air frying hood for my Instant Pot always worked well, but it was a pain to cook fries in it because you had to arrange them on a single layer so they cook evenly and get crispy all the way around. It's also a pain because you just can't fry that much stuff in it. The Vortex Plus completely solves this issue by including a rotisserie basket. You can load it up with fries and it will spin them around so they get evenly fried. It's very, very cool and works amazingly well. My fries were perfectly crisp and tasted fantastic. Practically as good as a deef-fat-fryer! Except a lot less mess and much easier to clean up.
Needless to say, I'm thrilled. It does exactly what I want it to do.
Overall, I'm very happy with this little oven. I'm fairly confident that it will be my primary method of cooking from here on out. Whatever can fit in it there is going to cook in there... and I may never use my deep-fat-fryer again. I was hugely disappointed with the previous air fryer I bought (so much so that I gave it away) but the Vortex Plus with the rotisserie basket addresses all the problems I had with air frying. Had I known this unit was this good I would have bought one myself ages ago. As it is, the fact that it was a gift makes it all the better!
The Instant Pot Vortex Plus Air Fryer retails around $120, but I'm seeing it on sale everywhere for less (a Google Search shows that it was $90 on Black Friday). There's a model above mine which has a better display for $20 more, though I don't know that it's an essential feature.
Posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2020
I didn't really do much for Black Friday despite it being the most important shopping day of the year for me in past years. But I did make a purchase on Cyber Monday that I had been wanting to make for a while now... new wireless over-ear headphones.
While I live alone and can blast music as loud as I want to, I don't actually end up doing this because it is tough on my cats with their sensitive ears. Sometimes I watch a movie with the sound loud and they don't seem to mind... or run upstairs if they do mind... but I generally don't do that because it's not really fair to them since they can't escape the noise.
Enter the Beats by Dr. Dre Solo Pro WiFi Headphones which were knocked down to $170 (from their usual $300 price tag). And since I had $50 in reward certificates piled up at Best Buy, that knocked the price down to a reasonable $120...
Sexy, aren't they?
Not in the same league as Apple's incredible new AirPods Max headphones, but those cast $550, which is half a mortgage payment, so they're out of my league.
Probably the easiest way to review these is to just run through the pros and cons, so that's exactly what I'm going to do...
And that's a wrap. Most everything I have in the "cons" column can be overlooked or dealt with except the tight fit. And I cannot for the life of me fathom what Apple was thinking here. Surely they had people try them on before releasing them to manufacturing? If I were to return these, it would be for that reason alone. It's absolutely infuriating that this is a huge concern and outright complaint on these cans by so many people yet Apple has chosen to ignore the feedback. Infuriating but not surprising... just look at Apple's idiotic "butterfly keyboard" that they stuck to like glue despite years of massive outrage by customers telling them it was shitty. Apple always does what they want and doesn't give a crap about how it affects usability or comfort. You either live with it or you don't. And what a shame.
I guess we'll see if having my head squeezed is a dealbreaker and I end up returning these. In the meanwhile, I sure do like the sound I'm hearing.
Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2020
Now that Apple has released their $550 AirPods Max, it seems fitting that I review my new AirPods Pro. I had done some work for a friend this past Summer who kindly showed their appreciation with an Amazon gift certificate. I never knew what to do with it until I bought a new heated mattress pad and had some left over to buy AirPods Pro. I wasn't going to get them because I didn't like the original AirPods, but they were on sale for $180 and reviews claimed that all the things I hated about the originals had been solved... and then some. And since I may end up traveling again one day, they seemed a handy thing to have. The sound, while nothing great, is good enough when you're traveling and don't want to cart around a big pair of headphones.
So let's get to it, shall we?
PROBLEM: AIRPODS FALL OUT OF YOUR EARS CONSTANTLY
This was my most hated flaw of the originals. It got to the point where I was afraid to travel with them because they would never stay in my ears. Fart with your head turned and you're guaranteed that at least one of them would pop right out, and I was furious that Apple screwed the design up so badly. Eventually I "solved" this by purchasing silicone cups to put over them, but it was a crap solution because I had to take them off in order to fit the AirPods back in the charging case. AirPods Pro, on the other hand, have silicone cups already on them (in your choice of sizes) and stay in my ears perfectly fine. In addition, the seal they make provides better sound.
PROBLEM: WIRELESS CHARGING CASE COSTS EXTRA
AirPods Pro come with a wireless case included, thus saving me from trying to track down the stupid-ass Apple "Lightning" cable with a USB-C connector. Considering I have ONE USB-C charging brick that I can never find (amongst a hundred USB-A bricks), I usually end up having to charge from my MacBook Pro. What kind of life is this? JUST SWITCH EVERYTHING OVER TO USB-C ALREADY!!! Holy shit. The dream scenario of just having to lug around ONE charger for everything will always be out of reach when Apple keeps forcing us to suck on their shitty, antiquated, idiotic Lightning port. But NOPE!. Fortunately the MagSafe puck I'll be traveling with can also charge these wirelessly, so at least there's one less thing to forget at home.
PROBLEM: NO NOISE CANCELATION
When traveling... especially on a plane... having noise cancelation is essential unless you want to blast the volume to insane levels. I really missed it when I upgraded(?) to AirPods, and am happy that AirPods Pro have remedied this. Not surprisingly, Apple did a great job and it works well. And when you don't need the cancelation, there's "transparency mode" which allows outside sound to come through.
PROBLEM: POOR CONNECTIVITY
The original AirPods used the W1 chip which had wonky connectivity problems which popped up at random. Apple then developed the H1 which improved on this greatly in their second generation AirPods. This was carried over into AirPods Pro and it is a far better experience. The H1 also features "Always On Siri" which means she's always listening and can respond to commands.
PROBLEM: SEALED, DISPOSIBLE DESIGN
Of course Apple hasn't solved this problem... they are in the disposable design business! Like previous versions, AirPods Pro are glued together so you can't replace the battery when it won't hold a charge any more, essentially making them landfill poison. About the only thing you can do other than toss them is take them to Apple for recycling. Apparently there's a battery program at Apple, but they don't actually replace the battery, they just give you a new pair and recycle the old ones for a price.
PRO EXTRA: SIZE
AirPods Pro are slightly smaller, but in a way that makes them look a lot smaller when you're wearing them... a good thing.
PRO EXTRA: SPATIAL AUDIO
And here's what convinced me to pull the trigger on the AirPods Pro... spatial audio. This weird, magical technology somehow simulates a kinda "surround" style sound where the speakers know when you turn your head in relationship to the multi-channel audio coming from your late-model iPhone or iPad. And it totally works! Turn to the left and your right AirPod has the center channel directed more towards it. The effect is actually best when your head is turned than when you're looking straight ahead... but it's still pretty good even so, because occasional head movement you're not even aware of keeps the illusion intact. I sincerely wish that this was a feature on the Beats Solo Pro cans I reviewed yesterday.
I would not have bought AirPods Pro if it weren't for the gift certificate balance I had. And I certainly wouldn't have paid the full price of $249 for them. But for "free" (relatively) and $180 (on sale)? They're still way overpriced, but ultimately worth it for travel or even just walking to work given that these ACTUALLY STAY IN MY EARS. These are what Apple should have released the first time, design-wise. On the plus-side, the sound is better than other wireless earbuds I've tried (but still not spectacular), pairing with Apple devices is effortless and the way everything works together is magical and seamless, the wireless charging case is great, the spatial audio is fantastic, and they work as advertised. On the minus-side the built-in disposability is awful.
Once I'm able to travel again, I guess I'm set for audio now.
Assuming I ever get to travel again.
Posted on Friday, December 11th, 2020
In the war for smart assistant domination... Amazon Alexa vs. Apple Siri vs. Google Google, I'm firmly in the Alexa camp. I was so impressed with what Amazon had done that I built my entire "smart home" around devices which were compatible with Alexa. And it's been mostly glorious. I have Alexa-enabled SONOS speakers everywhere and can tell Alexa to control anything and everything just by talking to her in any room in the house.
Then Apple dropped Siri and I figured that it was all over. As a massive fanboy of Apple's computers and smart devices, switching over to Siri was inevitable.
Or was it?
Siri wasn't even a fraction as capable as Alexa was at the time. Siri relied on "HomeKit" to control your home, and it was so utterly bad that I dubbed it "HomeShit" and gave up. I tried once again to get Siri and HomeKit working for me when I bought a HomePod speaker, but that was such an epic disaster that I returned the speaker and gave up a second time.
Google's smart assistant which, from what I can tell, is also named "Google" was never on my radar. I had a Google WiFi router mesh network that left me cold when Google dumped IFTTT. The only smart devices I have are Nest cameras which Google bought out. But I was fine using my phone and MacBook Pro to interact with the cameras and nothing further was required, so getting into the Google ecosystem wasn't in the cards. The only thing I didn't like about this was that the Nest Cam integration with Alexa is awful, and telling Alexa to display a camera feed on my Alexa Fire TV rarely worked.
Enter the Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame which was on sale for $50. Down from its regular price of $90. I don't really have $50 to kick around, but I ended up taking it out of my Black Friday money just to have a look. If I hated it, I could always return the thing.
Yeah, this ain't being returned.
My only regret in buying it was that I didn't buy two of them.
The Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame is designed to display photos which means the screen is of pretty good quality. And while it's nice to see photo memories from my Google Photos account flash by, but that's not why I bought it.
"Hey Google! Show me the front yard."
Now instead of scrambling for my phone whenever I get an alert, I can just glance over at the photo frame and Google will display the camera feed I asked for. Immediately.
That alone would have been worth the $50. But it gets better. Google Assistant is faster and more accurate than Alexa. I have thrown every ridiculous command I can think of at Google, and it simply does not falter. Compare that to Alexa, which has been getting increasingly finicky. I honestly don't think that Google misunderstood a command or query in the near-two weeks I've been using it. The difference is so nice that I'm seriously thinking about looking into how to bridge my INSTEON smart home devices to Google, convert all my SONOS speakers to Google Assistant, and train myself to say "Hey Google" instead of "Alexa."
The problem is my music.
I go with Amazon Music Unlimited which is ridiculouly easy to control with Alexa. Needless to say, Google doesn't play well with Amazon because the two companies hate each other. Which means I would have to switch to Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, or something. Since Amazon Music Unlimited is just $6.60 a month because I have a Prime membership, I don't know that it makes economic sense to switch. Apple Music, for example, is $3.40 more a month. In which case I'd probably just buy Apple One to keep AppleTV+ when my free subscription ends in February (gotta have my Ted Lasso!) which also gets me Apple Arcade and a bump in iCloud storage.
So I dunno. Something to ponder in March, I guess? Or in May when my Amazon Music Unlimited runs out.
All I do know is that I wish I had a Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame on my bedside table. And in my kitchen. Maybe next Black Friday when they go on sale again?
Posted on Saturday, December 12th, 2020
For whatever reason, my cats have started getting all anxious and agitated when the Alexa alarm goes off for their feeding. This morning Jake was wandering around in circles... Jenny was fretting and pacing... then Jake started squawking as I was dishing up breakfast which encouraged Jenny to start making those nervous meows she makes when she's frustrated.
Other than that? The cats have been pretty chill. Mostly because they have warming pads to sleep on...
Or stealing my heating pad...
How cats manage to sleep in the positions they get into is a mystery.
I was wrapping up some presents last night so I can get them sent out, only to have Jake drag Mufasa onto the table and lay across the wrapping paper box. I can only guess he was trying to help, but all he did was put off the task fifteen minutes while I waited for him to get out of the way...
Which he did... when he joined Jenny on the cat tree to watch television...
Mufasa was left behind. Which means Jake will be walking around crying while looking for his favorite toy because he always forgets where he had it last.
Posted on Sunday, December 13th, 2020
I'm set adrift on memory bliss... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Star Wars on Disney+! There were loads of announcements at Disney’s Investor Day 2020 event, and there was a lot of gold to be found for pop culture geeks like me. So let's dig in, shall we?
• Star Wars Movies! While there were some parts of the sequel trilogy that were okay, the movies as a whole were disappointing. A mediocre rehashing of far better stories that had already been told. And nobody was sadder about that than me. Then The Mandalorian came along and suddenly I was thinking that perhaps Disney+ was the best future for Star Wars. Until... Taika Waititi was brought onboard to create a new movie and I was excited again. No details have been released on that, but we did find out that Patty Jenkins (of Wonder Woman fame) is developing Rogue Squadron about the best of the best X-Wing fighter pilots, and I am understandably intrigued by the possibilities...
"The greatest fighter pilot movie of all time?" Um, yeah. Sign me up!
• Marvel Studios on Disney+! Boy oh boy were there a smorgasbord of tidbits dropped about upcoming Marvel shows on Disney+... and announcements of entirely new shows we hadn't heard of before...
• Marvel Studios Movies! Now that we're a year behind where we are supposed to be thanks to the pandemic, there's future news to be had to tide us over, I guess...
• Disney-Pixar! New movies Raya and the Last Dragon, Encanto, Iwaju, Luca, Lightyear, and Turning Red. New series for Disney+ built around Zootopia, Baymax, Tiana, Moana, and Cars. But the only news I really cared about was Dug Days, which looks fantastic...
• Alien! In one of the bigger surprises, Noah Hawley is creating an Alien series for Hulu?
All we know is that it will be set here on earth, and is supposed to be scary. Good enough for me.
• Kiss! Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair recreated their kiss from Cruel Intentions for the 2020 MTV Movie Awards...
Just makes me want to watch the movie all over again.
• Rook! My dad taught me how to play chess when I was fairly young. It wasn't really a game I was interested in, so I never played it much. In high school I'd play an occasional game for something to do, but I didn't really care enough to study so I was never terribly good. During my gap year I had a new found interest in the game and started playing via the internet. I got fairly good, read a few books on chess theory, and could hold my own by the time I started college. I haven't played a game since. It was for this reason I had decided to skip The Queen's Gambit when it debuted on Netflix. But the reviews were so stellar that I ended up watching it the following week...
It's a really good series. The acting is excellent and the way they communicate the strategy and energy of the game is terrific. But the best part is the production values. They are exceptional. They've recreated the 1960's right down to the last detail, and I ended up watching parts of it again last night just to look at the appliances, automobiles, dishware, music, clothing, and all the other things which made it such an experience to watch. If you've got a Netflix subscription and haven't seen it, I'd recommend giving it a look.
• Interview! I was Leah's guest on her podcast Finding Favorites where I talk about travel (my favorite thing) and you can listen to it right here. I really need to get a better microphone for things like this.
And that's an end to my bullets, Sunday.
Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2020
I've got a bit of a TikTok addiction going on, and finally had to admit to myself that I have a problem so I can limit the time I've been wasting on it. Now I give myself 15 minutes when I get up and 15 minutes before bed... though sometimes I pick it up while I'm waiting for a file to upload or clothes to dry or stuff like that.
It feels very much like wasted time that I could be using for something else... except not really.
Because my favorite thing to do with TikTok is look for recipes. I have grabbed a shocking number of meal ideas off the app and have made many dishes I've found there. Last night I made these Herb and Parmesan Crusted Potatoes, and they were magnificent...
I mean seriously delicious. So good that after I finished an entire carb-loaded plate full of them, all I wanted to do was run to the grocery store so I could buy more potatoes. Fortunately, I was too busy being a lazy potato to go get more potatoes because that cannot be a good way to lose my remaining lockdown weight.
My second favorite thing to do with TikTok is follow a bunch of woodworkers and home renovators to get tips on the projects I like to do. Since TikTok videos are so short... 15 seconds each (with up to four strung together for a total maximum of 60 seconds)... you are getting maximum efficiency out of your time investment. Unlike YouTube videos where people can pad them with stupid crap you don't need to know... or waste your time selling products and other irrelevant nonsense... TikTok has none of that. 99% of the time, it's just the information you're wanting. 15 minutes on TikTok can easily equal an hour on YouTube or recipe sites where the author posts stupid shit for pages about how this was the recipe their grandmother found while on a wine tasting tour in Tuscany and she gave it to you on her death bed but there was a page missing so you had to spend a week looking through all of her paperwork until you found it but the information was in Italian so you had to write to your Uncle Giuseppe to get it translated and he's doing so great with his two kids all grown up and married and it breaks your heart because your own kids are growing up so darn fast and you know that you're only getting a few more summers at The Cape until they are married with children of their own and then you'll be a grandmother and you hope that they call you "Nana Kate" but you aren't named Kate at all your name is Jenna and that's a totally different story for a different recipe because, boy you're going to want to cook this right away so I'll just get right to the ingredients and instructions but, before I do, I just have to tell you about the time I went clamming on the beach and got so sunburned...
Cannot tell you how many times I've wanted to throw my laptop against the wall while scrolling through recipes because ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY thinks that their life IS JUST THAT INTERESTING.
Unlike me, of course, who has such an interesting life that I put it on the internet daily.
But in a blog where that kind of nonsense belongs!
Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Falling in love is one of those things that most everybody can relate to. And it all comes down to a moment. That one moment when the wind gets knocked out of your lungs, your heart feels like it's going to explode, and you feel yourself falling out of the earthly confines of your body. There's no other feeling quite like it.
I've had my share of love... and loss. Though the one time I fell the hardest was the time it came back to bite me in my ass the worst. She destroyed me in the worst possible way and I don't think I ever fully recovered. I'd rather never fall in love again than go through that hell again.
The Hallmark rom-coms I have playing for background noise rarely have any kind of authenticity to them. You never see that moment where you feel that the characters have fallen in love. Forget Hallmark movies... you rarely see that in any films.
There are exceptions, however.
The most romantic moment I've ever seen in a movie comes from the most unlikely of places. A Michael J. Fox rom-com called Doc Hollywood. They give you that moment where you feel the characters have fallen in love. Up until that point, there was some clumsy flirtations and you get the sense they might like each other, but there's nothing really past that. Then Michael J. Fox asks Julie Warner to dance as Patsy Cline's Crazy starts to play. It's just a casual social kinda thing...
But then the mood of the scene changes. Colorful lights from the carnival rides start exploding in the background and their posture becomes more intimate...
The dance floor is crowded, but you feel that it doesn't seem that way to them...
And then... the other dancers start to twirl away...
All of a sudden they're the only people left in the whole world. Everybody else has... vanished...
And there's the moment. Their relationship has changed utterly, and there's no doubt they've fallen for each other because you feel it. Then, just like that, the song is coming to a close and the world fades back into existence again...
But they can't even see it. To them, they're still the only two people on earth...
I'm not the most romantic guy in the world, but that scene is about the most romantic thing I've ever seen. Director Michael Caton-Jones and cinematographer Michael Chapman knew exactly what they were doing when they crafted that scene. Something that good doesn't happen by accident.
Doc Hollywood was released in 1991. In the near-thirty-years which has followed, I don't think I've ever seen its equal.
And yet... I did see something recently which comes close. It's in the new gay rom-com Dashing in December (streaming from Paramount Network). And it doesn't matter how gay you aren't... or whether you can relate to their relationship at all... it's still dang romantic.
Peter Porte is a New York financial whiz who returns to his home at a small-town Colorado ranch so he can convince his mother to sell it because it's gotten to be too much work for her. Much to his surprise, his mother is being helped out by Juan Pablo Di Pace, a ranch hand that's living on the property. Naturally, they butt heads immediately. But after they start spending time together, you get the sense that they might be interested in each other.
Then one night after dinner, Juan Pablo Di Pace leads Peter Porte down to the gazebo where he's decked it out like a homecoming dance because he found out that Peter Porte had never danced with a boy before...
As if the setting wasn't romantic enough, one of my most favorite songs... Oh What a World by Kacey Musgraves starts playing on the radio. Despite having been out of the closet for years and having dated a string of guys, Peter Porte is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and goes to get a drink after telling Juan Pablo Di Pace to start without him...
But changes his mind pretty quickly...
Then they pan down to those boots again as they Peter Porte walks up to him, and you know their relationship is about to change...
Peter Porte is nervous, unsure, and every inch of it is written right on his face...
And there it is. There's that one moment...
"Your heart is beating so fast" — "Yeah, that's on you."
I think the reason that this hit me so hard is because it has such a resemblance to the dancing scene in Doc Hollywood. The difference being that, unlike in Doc Hollywood which takes its time, the Dashing in December scene was cut way too short... it's just a brief moment in the film. Less than two minutes. Which seems criminal for such a pivotable moment (not to mention the price they paid for that Kacey Musgraves track which is barely there). I guess either the editor made a terrible decision... or it was truncated so as not to get people too upset that two men would dare to dance together on television. Regardless, it hurts an otherwise good "Hallmark-style" flick.
It's a shame that we don't get more holiday movies with LGBTQ+ characters... or Person of Color characters... or anything other than the same straight, white, Christian stories we've seen a million times before. Because, like I said, the different is what makes it interesting.
Oh well. Hopefully having boundary-pushing movies like Dashing in December getting greenlit will lead the way for more new and different stories to be told.
Dashing in December is playing on Paramount Network or you can buy it for $6 on iTunes.
Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2020
Oh wow... hate comments! It's been months!
Yesterday I wrote about the most romantic scene from a movie I've ever witnessed... the dance at the squash festival in the old rom-com Doc Hollywood... then compared it to a similar scene from the new rom-com Dashing in December.
But because the latter film features a romance between two men, that was apparently a bridge too far for some people to take. And so... hate comments! I can only guess that I was put on some kind of watch-list ages ago because every time something like gets posted, whomever it is that's hate-reading my blog apparently tells their entire cadre of like-minded friends to come leave nasty comments that I'll barely read (and never approve) because life is just too short. The IP addresses are from all over the USA, so it must be some kind of online group (One-Dozen Moms... is that you?).
What the issue always seems to boil down to is A) My acknowledging that LGBTQ+ people exist and this is somehow considered offensive and dangerous, because B) My blog has "cartoons" on it which attracts children who might see such unholy perversions as this...
And all I can say is... you're welcome!
Because if your kid happens to be gay and does come across something as innocent as a photo of two guys dancing together on Blogography, then maybe it will be a little ray of sunshine which validates their existence and helps them to deal with the toxic atmosphere you've cultivated which lead so many LGBTQ+ youth into self-harm and even death.
And if you're one of those people who would rather have a dead child than a gay child, then fuck you sideways, because you're everything that's wrong with our society. Nobody "turns gay" from looking at a frickin' photo like this. I mean, you didn't. Or did you?
The truly telling thing about hate comments FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN on yesterday's entry is the fact that I regularly drop F-bombs in blog entries and never hear a single discouraging word about that. So it's not all the things I write about here... only some things. Maybe before I started blogging I should have asked the internet for a list of things that are and are not acceptable? Well, too late for that now.
I can no more relate to a movie about gay cowboys falling in love than I can relate to a movie about straight people falling in love (apparently, =insert cry emoji=)... but I find them equally entertaining. Actually, I find the gay cowboy romance more entertaining because it's something I haven't seen a million times before (at least not since Brokeback Mountain fifteen years ago). Happy people falling in love are happy people falling in love and I just don't give a crap so long as it doesn't involve children or unwilling animals. And, on top of it all, Dashing in December is GOOD. Really cute stuff if you are into the whole Hallmark Christmas movie rom-com thing like I am.
And if you think that a bunch of hate comments is going to get me to change my mind about posting innocent photos of LGBTQ+ persons merely existing, read this entry and get back to me.
(hint: the answer is "no")
And now, because I love y'all more than sandwiches, here's the song Take Me Home For Christmas by Dan + Shay which plays at the end of Dashing in December. It's a totally great song... and doesn't have gay cowboys in it, if that's important to you for some reason...
Awwww. Santa puppies are the best puppies.
Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2020
Last night it snowed. Not a ton, but enough to turn the world white here in the foothills of the Cascades.In the Northeast, of course, it's another story entirely. Which means even if there wasn't COVID happening, I'd likely be unable to get to my annual December work trip in Maine. Assuming I could even fly into Boston and the roads are open, there's still a matter of 2-4 inches of snow falling per hour... followed by rains which will freeze at night. Not a pretty scenario.
Back on my 2014 trip, similar conditions were brutal, and it took a half hour to scrape the ice off my rental car and get the tires free from having been frozen to the ground...
But I can't complain too much. Being stuck in Portland in the bitter cold gave me the opportunity to go exploring with my camera and I got some really nice shots that trip because so few people were out braving the weather...
It will be interesting to see how my travel goes in 2021. Now that the charity has shuttered and work travel has halted indefinitely, it's entirely possible that I'll take just one or two trips a year for vacation or visiting friends and that's it. Quite a change from the dozens of trips I was making each year pre-pandemic. Though when you consider I had zero flights in 2020, even one flight will be a huge change from where I'm at now.
Oh well. I guess the frequent flier status and upgraded seats were good while they lasted. I had 5 years of good status followed by 25 years of amazing status and nothing lasts forever. Still... I will surely miss getting International upgrades. Domestic flights are no big deal. Seattle to Hawaii is just over 5 hours. Seattle to Orlando is around 6 hours. I can tolerate just about any seat for that long. But those 11+ hour flights? Having legroom and comfy seats makes a world of difference.
2006-2013 were my best travel years. When both you and your mom (who has zero status) regularly get upgraded to World Business Class for international trips... you know you are flying a lot of miles. An absurd amount of miles...
Those were the days.
In other news... hate comments continue to trickle in because I dared blog about the movie Dashing in December and showed a photo of two gay cowboys dancing together. I hardly ever read hate comments and delete them the second I know what they're about... but this morning I awoke to a comment which merely said "YOU WILL BE DAMNED!" and I had to really appreciate the artistry in that. A comment short enough that I had read the entire thing before I realized it. If I were to respond to this kind of idiocy (and I don't) it might be along the lines of "Settle down there, snowflake! It's not like I posted images of the gay cowboys kissing!"
Well I'll be damned. I actually did do that!
Please keep your hate comments short and to the point.
Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2020
I didn't think that this week would ever end.
Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2020
Today would have been my mom's 76th birthday. Despite the fact that I tell myself over and over that this was a long life by a number of metrics... it still seems so short. Technically she died at 73-1/2 years old, but the person she was had been dying for years before then. That's the way dementia works.
It's impossible for me to overlook that the reason I have a Caturday at all today is because I got Jake and Jenny to keep mom company while I was at work. She was confused most of the time, but she seemed far less agitated when she was hanging out with Spanky, an abandoned cat we took in to save it from starving or freezing to death...
Never-before-shared video of mom sharing her popcorn with Spanky, who was such a great cat...
When mom's second-story apartment became too dangerous for her and I had to find a safer home, my intent was always to bring Spanky with us. Alas, he disappeared before I ever had the chance.
And so... a week after moving in, I was off to the Humane Society to adopt two feral rescues that warmed up to mom before they ever warmed up to me...
Her life was so much better with constant companions in it. I'd come home to check on her and find her curled up with the cats sleeping, or playing with them, or even just talking to them. They had one job... keep my mom occupied... and they did it perfectly.
After mom left, Jake and Jenny kept me going. And 190 Caturdays later, they're still keeping me going. More or less.
Check in with me tomorrow.
Posted on Sunday, December 20th, 2020
Christmas is coming, but there's magic happening tonight... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Hallmarked! And... tonight was the last new Hallmark Christmas movie of 2020. I've watched and reviewed them all, as usual, of course. Now I just need to wade through a bunch of the other movies from Lifetime, Netflix, and such, and I'm done for another year. Surprisingly, I think this was the best year in a while. Even so, I'm done. I've been Hallmarked out. Until next year.
• RickVertising! If I was a company, I'd have Rick & Morty do all my advertisements...
Serious bang for your buck.
• Adopt! Speaking of ads... why is it that I can watch all the so-called "emotional" movies and not get emotional, but a commercial like this has me struggling to keep it together?
Just weird, I guess.
• Tater! Please tell me that I'm not the only one who has tried Martha Stewart's baked potatoes. Take LARGE YUKON GOLD potatoes... NOT russets... DO NOT poke holes in them. DO NOT oil or butter. Put a wire rack on the middle rack of your oven (so potatoes don't fall through) then bake at 325º for 90 MINUTES. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN TO CHECK. Just have faith. — After cooking, smash them on a counter, pry apart, then add your favorite topping (I went with salt, pepper, butter, sour cream, and chives). — Remarkable. So creamy it's more like dessert than a potato. And that paper-crispy skin is like candy. Truly the best baked potatoes I've ever had. I won't be making them any other way ever again.
• Jangle! I am not into musicals, or fantasy, or kid films... so I've been putting off Jingle Jangle on Netflix. That being said, the production values and costume design? Holy. Shit. This may very well be the most beautiful film I've ever seen. I will be very disappointed if no rewards are won. Even the smallest details are fully realized... and EVERYWHERE...
Worth watching (on Netflix) just for the visuals.
• Cop Doctors! One of the most demented (and hilarious) shows to ever air on television was Children's Hospital on Adult Swim (you can watch on Hulu, I believe). I just found out today that Netflix had a spin-off series with a lot of the same cast that aired back in January...
I binged the entire season and loved it. Boy I hope we get another season.
• Swap! I look forward to this every year. It never disappoints. I just wish they did even more of it...
Poor Colin. Though I won't feel too sad. He does get to go home to Scarlett Johansson.
And that's a wrap. See you after Christmas!
Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2020
"Get used to disappointment."
— The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride
If there's one thng I can count on, it's that any celestial event worth getting excited about will take place in the Winter when the region in which I reside is completely obliterated by cloud cover. It happens all the time.
This year it's the "Great Convergence of Jupiter and Saturn" which happens every 20 years, but hasn't been this close in nearly 800 years. The last time it was like this for us earthbound natives was March 4, 1226.
Foolish mortal that I am, I did attempt to take a look though.
What I wanted to see...
What I actually saw...
Typical. I don't know why I expect to experience anything but disappointment this year.
Or most years, if I'm being honest.
Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020
Because of my travels, I've been vaccinated many, many times. Going to Asia? Vaccinations. Going to Africa? Vaccinations. Get run down in France and are at a risk for tetanus? Vaccinations. And, of course, my mom had me fully vaccinated against polio and all that crap when I was a kid. And I've gotten a flu shot for the last several years too. I've had all kinds of crap injected into me because I trust the science that developed it and want to be safe.
And now there's the COVID vaccine. As I've said previously, you can bet your ass I'll be first in line to get that injected into me too. I am far, far less concerned about this vaccine than I have many of the others I've received.
Am I worried that the vaccine will "rewrite my DNA?" — No. That's a load of fucking misinformation bullshit spread by fucking dumbshits. Am I concerned that the COVID vaccine will give me COVID? — No. There's no COVID in the COVID vaccine and you can't get it that way. Am I worried the vaccine was "rushed?" — No. This kind of speed is what happens when science has all roadblocks removed. Am I concerned the vaccine might make me sick? — No. It's just an instruction set that teaches the body how to battle COVID then disappears. And THAT is what's actually pretty darn cool about how Messenger RNA vaccines work...
Oh yeah, baby. Inject me with that shit! Inject it nice and slow. Hit me up with some immunity immunity!
Better that than COVID.
Posted on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020
One of my favorite things to do when I am not traveling is to do a little virtual travel via Google Maps and their "Street View" technology. As you can imagine, I've been doing a lot of armchair traveling in 2020. Earlier in the year I was making my way through a list of remote islands of the world. On that list was South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. Back in November, South Georgia Island was in the news because a massive, massive iceberg called "Iceberg A-68" (which broke off of Antarctica) was on a collision course. The thing was larger than the state of Delaware and weighed around one trillion tonnes. Ecologists were worried that this would cause serious environmental problems for local wildlife, but there wasn't much that could be done. The iceberg was larger than the entirety of South Georgia Island itself...
Map from British Antarctic Survey
I've been keeping up with the iceberg and, fortunately, the iceberg has started breaking up. Now the largest part is called "A-68A" and the little ones (which are still quite huge) are named "A68B" through "A68F." Scientists are still concerned because that much fresh water being dumped into the local ecology could be damaging... but they are not as paniced as they used to be, thinking that South Georgia will not suffer any major catastrophe.
Surprisingly, thanks to cruise ships stopping by in the Summer months, there's actually Google Street View for the settlement of Grytviken on South Georgia...
If you look closely, you'll see that there's a Taco Bell and a Pizza hut... but not really. Grytviken is an old whaling station and is largely abandoned except during tourist season when the museum is open. People just think it's funny to put famous brands in ridiculous places. If you go further up the coast, you'll see that the island also has an Apple Store, Cold Rock Ice Creamery and Cryobank, IKEA, and (of course) a McDonald's...
And the businesses are changing all the time. Google will remove them, then somebody will come back and put entirely new ones...
It's sobering to think that even though South Georgia Island escaped disaster this time, Antarctica could send even larger icebergs its way in the future. Thanks to climate change, massive pieces breaking off of the seventh continent are prtty much a certainty, and the continuing impact of this on the world's environment can only be guessed at.
Alas, much of what scientists are guessing is not good at all, so I don't recommend going down a Google search rabbit hole on the topic unless you have a gallon of ice cream and some cake with you.
tl;dr... we're fucked. Happy holidays, everybody.
Posted on Thursday, December 24th, 2020
Most years, a third of my blog (or more) is travel stories. I'm constantly on the road, so there's a steady stream of things to blog about. This year, of course, none of my blog was travel stories because I never went anywhere.
Finding stuff to blog about is never difficult for me. Once a day I pick up my laptop and type out whatever is on my mind... whether it's commenting on current events or blogging about memories of stuff I did or just talking about my cats. Even though 2020 has been far more boring than other years, there's always something to be said.
Except when there isn't.
Yesterday there just wasn't anything to blog about, so I went to my "unfinished drafts" and picked out the iceberg story I had been working on since late November, changed it from current-tense to past-tense, and there you have it... a fresh new blog post. Kinda sorta.
Yesterday there were thirty-eight unfinished drafts. I posted one, deleted a bunch, and now have eighteen left...
These entries may be posted one day... or they may never see the light of day. Some of them are complete and ready to publish. Some of them are skeletons of entries that need some work. Some of them are just notes... like my annual yearly summary posts (Video20, Audio20, Tube20, and Video20). Those will likely be published (why break with tradition?), but right now they're just stuff I've jotted down that I've liked and aren't actual posts yet.
My list is ranked by completeness. Those at the top are done, but I've been hesitating to publish them for one reason or another. Song of The South Clearly Has An Agenda, for example, talks about the horrifically offensive and antiquated content of the movie, but also talks about the great performances, songs, and animation used to sell its agenda (which makes it worth watching if you are able to contextualize the film for what it is). I haven't published it because A) Much has been written about the topic already and I'm not entirely sure I'm adding to the conversation or just creating noise... and B) I don't know that my love of animation and Disney films is enough qualification for me to wade in on the movie's racist agenda when a true ally who is seeking to dismantle racism should be amplifying instead of overwriting Black voices. Maybe one day I will rewrite the entry so that I feel better about making a contribution instead of creating a distraction... but odds are it will be delieted because it's really long and would require a lot of work.
Big Sur is Not So Big, Sir is my review of Apple's laest operating system. I was accumulating notes all through the beta testing and was going to create an entry when MacOS X "Big Sur" was released... only to lose interest and never finish things up. Now it's so old as to be irrelevant, but I may retool it on a critique of the visual elements that Apple revised (which I detest).
And so... there you have it. If you ever see any of those entries pop up here on Blogography, you'll know that my life at the time was even more boring than usual and I didn't have anything else to write about.
Here's hoping 2021 we'll be more exciting for my blog... but in a good way this time.
Posted on Friday, December 25th, 2020
Not the best holiday season, but here's hoping you're making the best you can out of it.
Posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2020
A few quibbles aside, the first Wonder Woman movie was a triumph. Beautifully realized and brilliantly told, it was everything you want out of a super-hero comic book movie. And that scene where Princess Diana of Themyscira crawls out of the trenches and becomes Wonder Woman is one of the best scenes of any movie ever made. I enjoyed it a lot, and feel it sits with The Dark Knight and Superman: The Movie as the pinnacle of of what DC Comic movies could be but often are not.
So obviously I was eagerly anticipating the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984...
The short non-spoiler version... I absolutely HATED this film. Easily one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It's garbage from start to finish and trying to find something good to say about it boils down to Gal Godot looking as amazing as ever as Wonder Woman. That's it. That's all I got.
My thoughts are in an extended entry, which will include spoilers...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Sunday, December 27th, 2020
Christmas may be over, but the greatest gift of all is right here... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Snow! This is such a wonderful, beautiful, heartwarming video and I suggest you drop everything and watch it immediately...
• More Snowy! We were supposed to get snow for a white Christmas here and, sure enough, it happened. I can't help but wonder how many of those we have left. The snowfall in recent years pales in comparison to what we got when I was young. And that pales in comparison to when my mom was a kid and people jumped off roofs into the snowfall. Thanks, climate change!
• Wonder? As my post yesterday elaborated, I absolutely hated the new Wonder Woman 1984 movie. It was a huge disappointment after the first one, and I wish I had never seen it. Then I read today that Patty Jenkins is getting another chance to either redeem herself or ruin the franchise further with a third Wonder Woman film. I guess since Diana is all about hope that I will hope for the best. It would certainly take a lot of effort to do worse.
• Two! I swear, if Coming 2 America disappoints me like Wonder Woman 1984, I may have to swear off movie sequels altogether...
It certainly looks like they made all the right moves. Guess we have to wait a few months and see.
• SANTA! And now I'll leave you with one of my favorite Christmas movie moments in any movie ever. Stephen Huszar's reaction to seeing Santa is the absolute best (even though the movie it's from "Mistletoe Magic" was pretty awful)...
Obviously hasn't lost his childhood enthusiasm for the holidays.
• Lexus! Though... I think the mom's reaction in this SNL parody commercial comes in at a close second...
• Robe! And yet... there's Kristen Wiig's reaction in this SNL parody commercial...
Okay. I can't decide on a favorite. But probably Stephen Huszar's reaction to seeing Santa.
And that's my last Bullet Sunday of 2020.
Posted on Monday, December 28th, 2020
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 The Old Guard (Netflix)
In a year where Marvel Studios and Disney pushed their entire slate of features into 2021, the saving grace for movies this year was thanks to streaming services like Netflix. And it's there we got the best super-hero movie of the year by a massively huge margin. Adapted from a terrific comic book series, The Old Guard is about a group of immortal warriors who have to be increasingly careful in a world where surveillance and social media can expose them. And when that happens? Hoo boy. I was bummed that Charlize Theron hasn't filmed a sequel to Atomic Blonde yet, but if she keeps churning out brilliant alternatives like this epic movie, I guess I can be okay with it. But of course now I want a sequel to The Old Guard, so I have twice as many things to be disappointed about. Would this have been my #1 if Black Widow or Shang-Chi or The Eternals came out in 2020? I don't know. But I would have loved to have found out.
#2 The Gentlemen
Guy Ritchie has an impressive number of films I enjoy... but that's never guaranteed (I didn't care for his previous two efforts Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword at all). This one had me worried because I could not figure Matthew McConaughey in a Guy Ritchie film. But then he's got Colin Farell, Hugh Grant, and Henry Golding in the mix and I'm like "Maybe?" Then Hugh Grant completely steals the movie, Charlie Hunnam pops up with the best performance of his entire career, and I was totally okay with it. American Michael Pearson is a massive marijuana dealer throughout London and becomes a very wealthy man. Tired of the game, he decides to sell his drug empire for $400 million and retire, which sets the wheels in motion for all kinds of new games. And watching it all unfold is a cinematic treat that is the best kind of Guy Ritchie film... possibly his best since Snatch. If you're a fan of his work, this is what you're likely a fan of.
#3 Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime)
I'm not exactly sure how I ever stumbled across this movie. I think that it was recommended while I was on Amazon Prime Video. In any event, it's about all you can ask for in a film. Paul Bettany unleashes an award-winning performance as a gay man in 1973 who travels back home with his niece to attend his abusive father's funeral. But when they are unexpectedly joined by his lover along the way, the past will catch up with him in a way he can't escape. This is a wholly wonderful film that's made even more wonderful when you understand how important it is. Showing acceptance 50 years ago just makes un-acceptance now seem all the more backwards and stupid. I ended up liking the movie so much that I wanted to know more about it and was shocked that it was written and directed by Alan Ball, which means I must have missed the credits. This made perfect sense, given his magical touch on so many amazing television shows (including Oh Grow Up! which I am still begging somebody to release on DVD or digital). Of all the movies on my list, this is probably the most important.
The first time I saw Tenet, I genuinely hated it right up until the end where a few things slammed home for me. Thinking a second viewing would have me appreciating it more, I jumped in again the next day. Feeling I had a better handle on it all, I went ahead and watched it a third time a few days later. Finally the more subtle elements started making sense to me and I felt that I was able to appreciate it in a way I missed completely the first two times. And that's the thing... sure there are special effects sequences in this time-bending rollercoaster ride which would be great to see in a movie theater... but I think experiencing it that way only sets you up for disappointment. With all due respect to Christopher Nolan, home video is what this film was made for. All the things that make it a good movie will completely blow by you until you have a chance to see it at least one more time.
#5 Sometimes Always Never
This is a beautiful character piece that entirely relies on the performances of Bill Nighy and Sam Riley to work, and they do not fail. I have yet to see Bill Nighy in a single role where I wasn't completely absorbed in his character, and this was one of his best yet. He plays a father who has been desperately searching for his missing son who walked out in the middle of a game of Scrabble... while ignoring the son who stayed. While playing online games of Scrabble, he becomes convinced that it's his missing son who's been playing games with him. He sets out with his son to find the truth. Heartbreaking but funny in all the right ways, this is a wonderful (albeit slow) film that I can't recommend highly enough.
#6 The Lovebirds (Netflix)
In all honesty, I did not give this movie a snowball's chance in hell of being as good as it ended up being. But I tuned in because I love both Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Ray, so a movie starring both of them immediately moved to my "Must Watch List." In The Lovebirds they are a married couple who have grown bored with each other and their marriage and have been going through the motions for a while. Then, just as they decide to divorce and go their separate ways, a chance accident happens which changes everything... and sends them on an adventure that's bigger than the film's concept might otherwise imply. I loved this film and have told Netflix to play it more times than I'll ever admit. Because in addition to the stellar performances from two fantastic actors, we get fantastic New Orleans locations, fantastic cinematography, a fantastic story, and some genuine humor that was... well... fantastic. I will be the first to admit that it takes a particular mindset to truly appreciate this gem for what it is. Lucky me, it's precisely the mindset I often find myself in.
#7 Palm Springs (Hulu)
A new take on Groundhog Day is nothing very new at all, as they seem to pop up every couple of years. This version, however, it really well done and adds a few twists to the formula that make it worth visiting. While attending a wedding, the maid-of-honor gets trapped in a never-ending cycle of never-ending days along with a slacker living his best life over and over again (played by Andy Samberg). Things are complicated as new facts behind the wedding are revealed, the maid-of-honor wants out, and an enemy set on revenge gets trapped with them. The humor is ever-present, but doesn't overwhelm the story being told... getting the balance just right.
#8 The Invisible Man
This was a smart take on the classic tale, combining genuine thrills with horror beats that land surprisingly well. And then there's the special effects which elevate it all to new levels. This new version of the story has a woman trapped in a controlling relationship from which she succeeds in escaping. Then, much to her relief, her now-ex-boyfriend comits suicide and leaves her $5 million. Unable to enjoy her new-found wealth because she feels she is being haunted by her ex, she is forced to try and find answers. What she finds out is far scarier than a ghost, and the ensuing battle is an edge-of-your-seat affair that is exciting to the very end. Although it's not exactly the end because a sequel is in the works.
#9 Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
It's a Spike Lee Joint, so you know you're in for something interesting... if not outright genius. This time he's telling the story of four Black Vietnam vets who return to find the remains of their squad leader... and also recover some gold they buried. And while the cast is fantastic, I die inside a little when I heard that it was originally to star Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, and John David Washington. What a movie that would have been (though, to be honest, the remarkable Delroy Lindo deserved this movie and has more than paid his dues to get it). Ultimately this is a darn good film that suffers from being wildly off-balanced, trying to be a commentary on the Vietnam War, a look at Vietnam from the perspective of Black soldiers, a commentary on contemporary America, a comedy, and an action movie... all at the same time. And while it mostly succeeds at most of that, it can also feel a bit disjointed and is long. Regardless, this is a smart, well-crafted, important film that only a director of Spike Lee's caliber could make. As if that wasn't enough, it's got Jean Reno and an appearance by Chadwick Boseman in it.
#10 WolfWalkers (Apple TV+)
Given that The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea are two of my favorite animated features, it's not shocking that Tomm Moore's third film, WolfWalkers made my list. Featuring his hallmark Celtic art style, this is a gorgeously animated film follows a young girl and her father as they travel to Ireland to eliminate a pack of wolves. As they begin the hunt they encounter magic, danger, and mystery in the forest which opens their eyes, alters their perspective, and changes their lives. This is a masterpiece of art and storytelling which has to be experienced to truly be believed.
#11 Bill & Ted Face the Music
While deep down I think that it would have been better to just let this franchise go, I was happy to dive in once again, hoping to get better closure than what came from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey 30 years ago. The result is indeed better than the sequel but, thanks to the absence of George Carlin, didn't feel like it was ever complete to me.
#12 Dashing in December (Paramount)
As diversity continues to creep into Christmas rom-com movie offerings, we're getting so much more than the same old rom-com stuff that keeps being remade over and over. This time, it's a gay couple at center stage, and it makes for a really good story because there are added layers to the standard girl meets boy plot we keep seeing. Repeat Hallmark player Peter Porte is a successful Manhattan financial advisor who heads home to his family ranch in Colorado to convince him mom to sell it. But when he arrives he finds that Juan Pablo Di Pace has been employed as a ranch hand and is definitely opposed to selling. After initially butting heads, their relationship becomes something more as they come to understand each other better. What makes this one work so well is the dialogue which feels honest and true in a way that's usually lacking. After talking about their past relationships and how things never seem to work out for either of them while gluing back some wicker reindeer decorations that fell apart, we're treated to this passage: "They still look broken." — "Broken, but happy to have each other." which so beautifully summarizes what they've been through and where they're at now in this moment together. And it's that kind of clever dialogue that makes Dashing in December a cut above other rom-coms... gay or straight. Andie MacDowell is just the icing on the cake.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
TOTALLY SHIT THE BED...
Intresting to note just how many of the films on my list are from streaming services. Yes, some of them would have likely dropped out of my Top Twelve if there wasn't a pandemic and studios had released their 2020 slate... but the good movies would have definitely gotten a mention regardless. I think this is very telling about the future of our entertainment. Odds are that theaters will fully open up again in Summer or Fall of 2021 (assuming we achieve some semblance of heard immunity by then and assuming theaters manage to survive), but big-budget movies bankrolled by streamers are likely here to stay. At least if the rising cost of my Netflix sumbscription is any indication.
Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2020
In 2020 more than ever I found myself listening to old favorites rather than seeking out new stuff to enjoy. 80's pop, classic old-school rap, and 80's metal were all reminders of easier times, and that was where my refuge lay. And yet... there was some new stuff which crept into my listening, so here we go...
THE TEN BEST...
#1 Plastic Hearts by Miley Cyrus
I have made zero apologies of my love of all things Miley Cyrus. I loved her through her Hannah Montana years. I loved her as she went full-on rebel mode to escape Hannah Montana. I loved her when she dipped into country. And I love her now that she's taking a welcome plunge into classic rock with a pop edge to it. You can feel her influences for Plastic Hearts which is free of missteps but definitely has a stronger set of tracks to it. And if you don't think I lost my mind when she performed Blondie's Heart of Glass at the iHeart Music Festival, then you don't really know my musical tastes very well, do you? In any event, she's still got that million-dollar-voice that I'm completely addicted to no matter what form it takes.
#2 Shore by Fleet Foxes
Playing right into my dream-pop-loving hands, Fleet Foxes decided to craft an album that comes dangerously close to the sublime dreamy headspace that sends you to another world so effortlessly. I am scared to look at the play count for Shore but I'm sure it's substantial, as it inevitably gets requested when I'm sitting down to work. I work quite a lot, and so...
#3 What's Your Pleasure? by Jesse Ware
I am not really sure if this dance-pop miracle is reaching so far back that it's got disco in its DNA, but it sure feels as though that's the case. Filled with one great track after another, Jessie clearly had a vision for this album which paid off beautifully. Nothing here is going to blow you away lyrically, but the tracks transcend any failing by compelling you to move while you listen to them.
#4 Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
And speaking of disco DNA, look no further than Dua Lipa's latest to hear exactly how pop tracks can plunder pop hits from the past to create songs built for heavy radio rotation (not that there's anything wrong with that). This is dance-pop wrapped up in everything bright and pretty but somehow still satisfies.
#5 Southside by Sam Hunt
As Country music starts adopting a pop sensibility, I find it popping up in my music more and more (Kacey Musgraves's album Golden Hour was my second favorite album of 2018). Sam Hunt not only has a great voice, but he is really inventive in how he crafts his songs. Some of it could almost be described as contemporary Country blended with 70's soft rock blended with 80's hip-hop blended with 90's pop, and I'm here for it. I remember that the single Downton's Dead actually dropped a long while back(?) but was apparently a single release until it found its way onto this album.
#6 Fun City by Bright Light Bright Light
Rod Thomas has blessed us with another retro dance-pop creation that sounds as if it was lifted wholsale right out of the early 1980's and, though it is a pretty great album in its own right, much of the time it had me reaching back for 2016's Choreography immediately after listening. I don't know that it's because I prefer the earlier album... or if it's because this album just isn't enough. Regardless, I found myself addicted to Bright Light Bright Light most of the year. As if that wasn't enough, Rod dropped what has to be one of the gayest mainstream music videos I've ever seen. And I mean that in a good way. No, seriously, it's super-cute.
#7 Notes on a Conditional Form by The 1975
Their first two albums, The 1975 and I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, cemented the band as one of my all time favorites. Track after track after track they were powering through some of the most brilliant pop I had heard in ages. But then... A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships gave me pause. It was enough of a departure from formula as to be jarring, and I wasn't sure I liked it. Sure there were tracks that fit nicely into what I love about their music, but it just wasn't enough. With Notes on a Conditional Form it's like they took a half-step back maybe? Still not capturing the magic of their first two albums, but there's enough within this 22-track(!) release once the introduction, musical interludes, and faux Marilyn Manson track People are deleted to keep me happy.
#8 Hotspot by Pet Shop Boys
Add another album to 2020's disco album train. I have long since accepted that I will never again get a Pet Shop Boys album where Every. Single. Track, is my favorite song ever. The last one of those was Yes in 2009, and before that was Very in 1993. And yet... this hasn't kept them from continuing to be one of my favorite bands of all time. Fortunately they are prolific enough that I can pretty much just smoosh the best of two releases together and come up with enough tracks to create an album I enjoy (I did this with Elysium and Electric from 2012 and 2013). And here we are again. By combining the best of Super (2016) with the best of Hotspot, I once again have another great release from Pet Shop Boys (though this one took a while to complete given their timing).
#9 RTJ4 by Run the Jewels
Every time Rap or Metal hits my list, people are somehow still surprised to learn that I listen to it, let alone like it. Probably because it's the complete opposite of the pop musings that dominate my musical habits. Well, what can I say, there are times I want to have my utter contempt and disgust of this fucked-up world attacked with a viscious melodic beatdown, and that isn't coming from any pop album. Run the Jewels remains one of my favorite groups, and every reason why can be found on RTJ4. Socially relevant commentary rarely sounds this good.
#10 folklore/evermore by Taylor Swift
My favorite album of last year... by a wide, wide margin... was Taylor Swift's Lover. The woman just knows how to craft a pop song that knows how to push every one of my buttons. So imagine my delight when she unloaded folklore as a surprise album release in July! Then imagine my actual surprise when she released yet another album this month! But, alas, they are not what I'm really looking for from Taylor Swift, so neither of them really did much for me. I mean, sure, there are some tracks that I enjoy (see below) but folk and folk-pop are just not something I enjoy, even when they're really pretty and well-constructed like this. Oh well. Maybe after the pandemic is on its way out she'll resume her "pop reinvention" phase and I can go back to hanging on her every lyric. In the meanwhile, I deleted half of the tracks from folklore and half the tracks from evermore and got an album strong enough to still make my list.
FAVORITE VIDEO OF 2020...
Take Me Home for Christmas by Dan + Shay
Being barely familiar with Dan + Shay (they're the "Tequila song guys" to me), you might as well have knocked me over the head with a snowman when I was watching the holiday rom-com Dashing in December only to have this infinitely catchy Christmas track pop up. I've listened to it at least a hundred times in the span of a month and love it more with each new listen. AND THEN I found this really great video, which is about the sweetest thing ever. I really have to remember to look up more of their stuff, because if this is any indication I've been seriously missing out...
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN...
A few more albums I found myself enjoying in 2020 can be found in an extended entry.→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2020
And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of TV shows that came out this year.
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of TV shows I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of shows I never got around to watching that might have ended up on my list... and (more likely) shows I loved but have forgotten about. And here we go...
THE (HUNDRED AND) EIGHTEEN BEST...
These are my favorite television shows from this year that I actually saw.
#1-101 Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Let's just say it... this year was shit and it was hard not to feel like shit because of it. Most years I watch a lot of television, but this year I watched at least double as a way to distract from the horrors of 2020. Thankfully, there were some truly remarkable shows to occupy my time in quarantine. And none were more remarkable than Ted Lasso. Based on a couple of clever promos from NBC Sports, it seemed impossible they could turn it into one of the funniest, sweetest, smartest, most heartfelt, uplifting, and most surprisingly deep shows of the year. American football college coach Ted Lasso gets a job coaching an English football club, leaving his son and troubled marriage behind. He was recruited because the owner of the team won it in a divorce and she wants to destroy it because her now-ex-husband loves it. And what better way than to hire a coach who doesn't even know the game? Yes, this is pretty much the plot of Major League, and the trajectory of the series is the same as the movie, at first... but it is so much more. This story would not have worked without Jason Sudeikis and his ability to display the kind of genuine sweetness that his character requires... but to put the success of the show on his shoulders alone would be a grave error. Every single character is sublimely realized and flawlessly portrayed. That alone would make it good television worth watching. But it's how these brilliant characters progress through the ten episodes that make it great. Nothing is what you think. You think Ted Lasso is an ignorant "ugly American" redneck who doesn't know what he's doing. You think the club owner is a one-dimensional villain bent on revenge. You go through the entire cast and think you know who they are. Then they all prove you wrong. And you'll never be happier being wrong. Thank God that Apple renewed the series for a second season... then, remarkably, a third season... because who knows what awful shit is in store for 2021. Seriously the best show of 2020... or any other year.
#102 The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Once again Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni make it perfectly clear that they should just take over running Star Wars because they seem to have a singular understanding of what makes Star Wars work. The first season of The Mandolorian was compelling television and the best thing to come out of the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. The second season was even better. Strip-mining the very best of the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, Favreau and Filoni beautifully imagined live-action versions of fan-favorite characters like Ashoka Tano and Bo Katan. And the result was glorious. Thrilling action sequences, an incredible story arc, and a finale that blew my mind, THIS is everything I love about Star Wars, and I cannot wait until all the new series in development hit Disney+. If they are even half as good as The Mandalorian, they will be some of the best shows on television.
#103 Transplant (NBC)
"Oh joy. Yet another medical drama." Is what I thought sarcastically when a friend in Canada forwarded me Transplant to give it a look. They (naturally) assumed it would never make it to the USA because foreign television shows never do. After devouring every last episode, I understood why my friend thought I should see it... the show is fantastic. Then a pandemic shut down production and networks started looking abroad for content to air. NBC (wisely) snatched up Transplant to air in the USA, where I immediately bought a Season Pass through iTunes because of course I wanted to support the series with my hard-earned dollars. And I wanted to own the show so I could watch it again. A Syrian refugee immigrates to Canada with his sister. He's an excellent doctor, but has trouble getting hired, so he works as a cook at his uncle's restaurant. Then one night a truck crashes through the building and everything changes. Now working at a hospital in Toronto, he has to reconcile his personal trauma with the trauma he sees every day. The performance turned in by Hamza Haq and the rest of the cast is exceptional, and while the show is much the same as every other medical drama on earth, their performances elevate it far above your usual fare. It makes you wonder just how many other amazing shows are trapped in foreign countries that we'll never see. It's so ridiculous that licensing and other stupid crap get in the way of being able to find out. Fortunately, from time to time one manages to get through.
#104 What We Do In The Shadows (FX)
You hear the expression "There is no bottom" a lot. For this show, there simply is no top. It was amazing in its first season. It's just as amazing in its second season. And I never expected to be saying that since TV shows based on movies I love are rarely any good. But What We Do In The Shadows is a happy exception, and I'm thrilled to keep watching the hilarious saga of incompetent vampires and their much smarter familiar for as long as we're lucky enough to keep getting them. BAT!
#105 The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)
Based on a super-hero comic book series I enjoy, the first season of The Umbrella Academy was a pretty darn good show even though it strayed quite a bit from the source material. The second season went next-level and is a fantastic expansion to the story. Yeah, Vanya's story arc was boring as hell, but you can't have everything. Thrown back in time after failing to stop Vanya from destroying the world, our favorite family of heroes land in different years and are forced to adapt to the times in order to survive. Then it's up to Number Five (again) to try to save the world (again). And it's a wild ride with more of all the things that makes this such a great show, but was actually better than the first season. I cannot wait to see what we get from the third, and the final shot of the series sets up some seriously cool ideas.
#106 Long Way Up (Apple TV+)
I was completely enthralled by the Ewan MacGregor & Charley Boorman series Long Way Round and Long Way Down which chronicles their motorcycle journeys over a very long way indeed. Then this year we got the gift of Long Way Up which has them going from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to Los Angeles, California, which would have been cool enough... but they did it with electric motorcycles and electric vehicles for the support and camera crew. This added a whole new wrinkle to the series, as a lot of time was spent worrying over running out of battery juice and finding a new place to charge up. But what makes the show so remarkable to me is just how amazing a guy Ewan MacGregor is. He has zero ego. He is happy to meet fans. Happy to abide by whatever he is asked to do no matter how inconvenient it is... all without playing the "movie star card." Never complains about conditions or hardships. Never criticizes people who live differently from him. Is always game to sleep where he can and eat whatever he's offered. And is genuinely happy to be experiencing new cultures and new people, and seeing new places. Traveling through his and Charley's eyes is a treat unlike any other, and I would be happy to get another Long Way series if they have it in them to do one.
#107 Schitt's Creek (Netflix)
And... one of the best shows on television is over. The tale of a very wealthy family losing everything and having to move to a quirky town with even quirkier people has taken a bow and walked off the stage. This last season was entertaining, as expected, and had plenty of heartwarming moments which made me more than a little upset that this is the end of it all. If there's a criticism, it would be that everything felt in a rush as they raced to the finish line, and it was a bit disjointed trying to put it all together. Most of the characters got a satisfying end of their story arc. Some of them (sorry, Ted) did not. For me, the back-end of Season 3 and the entirety of Season 4 was the absolute peak of Schitt's Creek's run, and I'm kinda glad that they decided to end it before it slid into a parody of itself. — But not really.
#108 Upload (Amazon)
This series about a digital afterlife was primed to be my favorite show of the year. It had some quirks at the beginning, but never so damning as the ruin the show. But then all the distractions started piling up and became impossible to ignore. The whole drama with Nathan's (living) ex-girlfriend. The drama with Nora's father. The drama with Nathan's extended family. And while I still enjoyed Upload very much, it just kept slipping further and further down my list. Then we got to the last episode with that freak ending and I was seriously questioning if I even wanted a second season. If only they could have spent more time with crazy misadventures that Nathan had with Luke and Dylan... and explored the class dynamics of the digital afterlife... this could have been a five-star series. I am hopeful that Season 2 jettisons all of the things that were distracting and not working and gives us more episodes like The Grey Market which are far, far more interesting. Nobody cares about Nathan's niece or Nora's co-workers. They just don't. Interact with the outside (living) world, yes. That's a big part of the show. Just don't let the outside world take away from what we're tuning in to see.
#109 The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
I saw an ad for this series and took a big ol' pass because it just looked like a repeat of Kaley Cuocco's character Penny (from The Big Bang Theory) except she's a flight attendant that's trying to play Murder She Wrote or something. But then the acclaim started piling up, and I was compelled to take a look. Turns out The Flight Attendant is smart, exciting, funny, well-crafted television (sorry, not television... it's HBO) that put Cuocco on a completely different trajectory than what I was expecting. Those eight episodes blew by so quickly that I was absolutely left wanting more, but settled for rewatching all eight episodes in an attempt to spot all the things I missed the first time around. And it was quite a bit more than I thought it was. This series is an adaptation of a book, and is now out of material, which is a bit worrisome. Will they be able to come up with something as interesting as the first season? I'll absolutely be tuning in to find out.
#110 After Life (Netflix)
Ricky Gervais is an acquired taste to be sure. I happen to really enjoy his work and was going to tune into Afterlife regardless of where it went. The story of a guy being a bastard after his wife dies didn't sound particularly interesting but, with Ricky, who knows? I ended up being shocked at just how beautiful a show it is. That first season was a revelation, and spoke to me more than I would ever admit. This second season didn't seem like it had anywhere significant to go... then proved me wrong in a big way. It seems too good to be true that Gervais can be this talented and this smart and want to share it with us, but here it is. Easily eclipsing everything else he's done, and Netflix has renewed it for a third season, so here's hoping.
#111 Medical Police (Netflix)
When Adult Swim debuted Children's Hospital it was a demented but hilarious black comedy that ended way too soon (and, yes, I know it got seven seasons). Four years later we get this equally hilarious spin-off with a big chunk of the original cast returning. It debuted in January, but I somehow missed it all year until accidentally finding it in December. I have no idea how this did for Netflix, but I am hoping against hope that it did well enough that we'll get more. The story of police doctors... or doctor cops... or whatever they decide to call themselves... is too genius to end now.
#112 Lucifer (Netflix)
The first three seasons of Lucifer were unexpectedly amazing, and watching Tom Ellis chew through every episode with an appetite that seemed impossible to sustain was an absolute joy. Then the show was canceled on a cliffhanger, so they aired a couple episodes meant for something else, which made the cancelation worse because things got so confusing. But then Netflix stepped in with a fourth season (which was good but not great) in order to tie things up. And they did. But the show did so well for Netflix that they decided to give it a fifth season. This felt like a horrific decision given how everything was already concluded, and I was scratching my head wondering what they would do that didn't cheapen what had come before. Turns out it's a lot. After basically undoing the ending of the show without truly undoing it, they found a way to make things interesting again, and I was as invested as I had ever been. Then COVID happened and they had to air only half the season, pushing the other half into 2021. And now we're getting a sixth (and final?) half-season. Or something. A part of me wishes they would just make up their damn minds and stop jerking me around like this. But there's also a part of me that wants them to keep it going since they are churning out some fantastic television (confusing as it has all been).
#113 Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
I am an "Original Series" guy when it comes to Star Trek. I liked Kirk and Spock and most of their movies. I didn't like Next Generation, I didn't like Deep Space Nine, I didn't like Enterprise, and I REALLY didn't like Voyager. Then they unleashed Discovery and I was bananas over the first season... then increasingly let down on seasons 2 and 3. Once Paramount said that they were going to sequelize Next Generation I decided I was out. But then... they started slowly releasing information about where they were going with the show and I was intrigued. Then I tuned in and was happy to see that they found a way to make Next Generation relevant in a way the original never was to me. Sure they didn't stick the landing (WTF?!?), but with Discovery shitting the bed, I was happy to have a Star Trek series I was (mostly) enjoying, and that was enough.
#114 Lovecraft Country (HBO)
When I watched the first two episodes, I thought for sure this would end up being a top-five series for me. It was just SO good at combining truly entertaining horror with an even more horrifying look at racism during 1950's segregation. I was a huge fan from the very start. But then... it started changing. The story starts piling on way too much distracting stuff. The thrills started getting less thrilling. The situations started getting over-the-top outlandish. There were boring stretches that didn't seem to move things forward. And I was quickly falling out of love with it. Then things got good again in episodes 8 and 9 and I was certain they would stick the landing in a big way. But it was a swing-and-a-miss for me. Good television, not great television, and I was disappointed all over again. With a little more thought and a little more consistency, this was the show to beat. In the end it was mostly just a show with an underwhelming end. And yet... those series highs were about as good as it gets.
#115 High Fidelity (Hulu)
I came onboard to this show very late. I was binging it just as the second-to-last-episode was airing, and loved absolutely everything about it. Zoë Kravitz gave us one of the best, most relatable characters to ever hit television, and I was a big fan. It didn't trample over the 2000 film. It didn't desecrate the original Nick Hornby novel. It forged its own stylish path making it something rare and beautiful, and I was anxiously awaiting a second season to see where they would go with it. Then Hulu canceled the show and it didn't matter any more. Still, this was an entertaining touchstone with fantastic characters and fun stories that makes me more than a little sad about its passing. But those ten episodes still exist so I suppose that I'm happy to have had them rather than nothing at all.
#116 The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)
This is one of those shows where I ended up scratching my head trying to figure out how they made it work when it really shouldn't have. It's decidedly dark... but has moments of light that pull it up. It's shockingly violent... but has an overriding tenderness about it. It's funny... but it deals with pre-Civil-War slavery in a way that's no joke. It's strange... but the characters are so beautifully defined that they transcend it to become all too real. It has all the hallmarks of falling into the "white savior" trap... but escapes it rather quickly. And then there's Ethan Hawke's performance, which was exceptional to the very last. And though it is 100% pre-Civil War in its trappings, what makes the show so brilliant is how it has excruciating relevance to the time we're living in right now (and, as if that weren't amazing enough, it's mostly a true story). The line-up of guest stars... from Daveed Diggs to Orlando Jones... insures that there's always acting excellence when all else fails. And while a part of me accepts that there's very likely no chance of a second season given that the book it's based on has been completely adapted and its history has been played out, a part of me wouldn't mind seeing where some of these characters go after the final episode has aired.
#117 Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix)
No, I really don't understand how a show about two teen girls who end up being accidental bounty hunters got on my list. No, I honestly don't know how a series with Dwayne Wayne as one of its stars ended up being so good. No, I have no clue how they managed to make something so funny when the topics it deals with kinda... aren't. Yet here we are. One of my favorite shows from 2020. And, no, I cannot comprehend how Netflix could cancel something so brilliant.
#118 Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet (Apple+)
This show was doomed to failure... until it wasn't, thanks to some truly great writing and note-perfect performances. At its core, this series runs roughshot over the entire billion-dollar gaming development industry with a wit, charm, and humor that just didn't seem possible... until it was. But it's actually about relationships between very different people, which is what makes everything work so well. AND THEN they managed to pull one of the best possible quarantine specials out of their ass which made the wait for a second season even more difficult.
MUST SEE TELEVISION SPECIALS AND DOCUMENTARIES...
AWESOMELY ANIMATED SERIES...
TELEVISION HONORABLE MENTION...
SHITTING THE BED...
And, on that note, once again here's to all the crap shows that will end up replacing good shows in the new year.
Posted on Thursday, December 31st, 2020
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 customary, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.
This past year was not an easy one. But I made it though in (mostly) one piece, so I guess that's worth something.
• Found out that I actually like mustard after all.
• Design my very own tiny house in case I need to move into one of them with my cats one day...
• Started cooking with Martha Stewart.
• The Coronavirus arrives in force and it's the beginning of the end of traveling for my volunteer work.
• Wrote probably my most important entry of the entire year and talked about death, depression, loss, and remembrance...
• Decided to take a pass on the Welsh Pork Cake when making my mom's Applesauce Bread...
• Like half the people on earth, apparently, I became addicted to Animal Crossing...
• Like many others in 2020, I baked a lot of bread and talked about my Dutch oven of choice...
• Replaced my aging iPad with a brand new model so I could get some work done... and some other stuff...
• Just another day in the life with cats...
• Took a look at The Hookup Plan with the [woman sings in French] and a beautiful piece of music that went with it...
• Here we go again... What Are Little Girls Made Of?
• More Mufasa drama...
• Took a look at my favorite movie of 2020, The Old Guard.
• Said good bye to one of my heroes: Rest in Peace John Lewis...
Photo from Representative John Lewis via Facebook
• Waded deep, deep into politics... but it's okay because I relate it all to a movie.
• How big of a moron do you have to be to start renovations in the middle of a pandemic? Apparently it's this big right here.
• Oh look! There's a raccoon party on my patio!
• Finally bit the bullet and got an Apple Watch...
• Reflected on the passing of Eddie Van Halen, and learning to look with your heart...
• Started a love affair with my new best friend: Monosodium Glutamate.
• That time I tried to show a spider some love and accidentally went outside in my underwear...
• Ended up in a place where I never thought I'd find myself... buying a "phablet." But here I am with an iPhone 12 Max.
• On the passing of David Prowse, I took a look at all things Darth Vader...
• Unleashed a flood of hatemail because I dared to show a still frame of two men dancing in Dashing in December, one of my favorite films of 2020.
• Thank God I didn't show a still of them kissing.
• Took a look at how the COVID-19 vaccine works thanks to "Messenger RNA."
And that was the end of that. Not a very exciting year to be me. Or any of us, I'd imagine. See you again in 2021...