Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Recap - Printed Words

I didn’t read a ton of books this year. I had cancer.

I was diagnosed in late July, and I didn’t crack a book until June. So for the first half of the year, I was simply lazy slash busy getting married slash I wasn’t really all that busy but that’s what grooms say even when brides do all the planning although there were various outings and meetings I did go to but not so many that it’s really an excuse not to read. I guess I was resting my eyes.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

So I finally kicked off my 2011 reading adventure at the airport, waiting for our first flight of our honeymoon. Nothing says, “Let’s start off this union with an adventure,” like the details of America’s first serial killer and his spree surrounding the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. You probably know this is a fine book, because normal people read it closer to its publication date in 2004, while some of us waited until they could borrow a coffee-stained copy from their friends’ bookshelf. If you’re unfamiliar, you should certainly read it. It’s a great example of what a nightmare life used to be, even moreso than the current nightmare in which we now reside. I mean, this guy faked his doctor credentials, failed to pay for most of his purchases - including work people did to build his huge house/business/murder castle, dispatched handfuls up fresh-faced young women, and it was pretty easy! You could do that sort of thing back then, just ride the rails from city to city and make shit up and be awful and it didn’t matter, because there was always another city that didn’t know you and policework was a joke. Yikes! The other half of the book, how the World’s Fair was organized and built, is understandingly less captivating than the guy who collected and murdered his prey, but it’s still pretty cool. And sad, considering the great buildings they describe didn’t survive (save for the Museum of Science and Industry), and I’m pretty sure much of the old fairgrounds are part of the scenery you experience on the world’s saddest bus ride from Hyde Park to Midway Airport.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Among the piles and piles of books I was given to occupy my cancer time, I only read one. New diagnosis, same laziness, I guess. I chose to read this one because two of my friends considered it among their favorite books EVER. Now, you may recall this idea I had a few years back, where I decide to poll my friends and read their favorite books - an idea that was permanently derailed after spending a few weeks with Adrienne’s pick, “The Brothers Karamazov”. It’s a prank that gets funnier and funnier with each passing year. Touche, Adrienne! You’ve made wormsmeat of me.

So in any case, here I was, nearing the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and reading a 9/11 novel. The film version of the book would be released soon, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.* A perfect storm of circumstances, right?

Again, I feel silly telling you about this book you read eight years ago, but this boy’s dad dies in 9/11, and then he finds a key in his dad’s closet that has a note attached to it - it says “Black”. The boy decides Black is the last name of the person who the key belongs to, and starts meet everyone in the phone book with that surname. And it turns out that it really was the last name of the person the key belonged to. I’m not sure if I groaned louder when the kid started his ill-conceived journey, or when his plan turned out to be precisely conceived. I may have actually started a groan that didn’t end until I completed the novel.

*Uh, and if you’re casting this movie, how do you pick out Hanks and Bullock as the parents? Nothing screams New York Jews like those two. Seesh. Who would you cast instead? Is Harvey Keitel too old? How about Ben Stiller? How about Adrien Brody? Julianna Margulies? Jennifer Connelly? I could maybe think of better actors but I don't want to do any work beyond googling "imdb jewish actors".

Monday, January 16, 2012

Film Fetish

After enjoying "Another Earth", I took to the internet to find some interviews with the director/writer. Film School Rejects had one such interview. You know that thing where you scroll to the bottom of the screen and Adobe Air or whatever slides in with a recommendation for what article you should read next?

Uh, I'm no Roger Ebert, but I'm pretty sure I didn't misinterpret "Another Earth" that badly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011 Recap - Motion Pictures

I didn’t see a ton of new movies this year. I had cancer.

Seriously, though, the cancer-related pain in my tailbone area made it hard to sit in theaters for a chunk of the year. Several movies I wanted to see are still not available for rent, so please settle for this incomplete list. As in years past, I have divided the films into appropriate genres, because there is no point in comparing “Thor” or “Win Win” to “The Muppets”. Just because they are all shown in theaters doesn’t mean they were made with the same goal in mind. So, within each genre, from most enjoyable to least enjoyable - an asterisk (*) denotes theater viewing, and the increased expectations that accompany those outings:


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol* 
As mentioned on a recent “Doug Loves Movies” podcast, this movie has far too many Apple product placements. It’s funny how Hollywood used to try to make certain characters’ cell phones futuristic - think about the slide-out Nokia 8110 phones in “The Matrix”, for example - and now they’ve given up. “You’d think our operatives would have a sophisticated satellite phone, but they have the same phone as your mom. We got them an unlimited data plan, though, and they aren’t weighed down by that at&t contract.” There is one scene where Jeremy Renner goes into his backstory, and for a second I was worried they were going to ruin this fun movie with emotional hubris. But they got back to jumping off things and fighting villains pretty quick. A nonstop thrill ride, I’d say.

Fast Five*
The most fun I had in a theater this year was at “Fast Five”. My wife (“Borat”, 2006) and I were laughing a lot more than the general viewing public, and I was a bit self conscious wondering if everyone else found it such a winning combination of absurdity and homo-eroticism. Another bonus of paying for this fantastic piece of trash was enjoying the podcasts dedicated to its ridiculousness. “How Did This Get Made” and “The B.S. Report” both covered it.

Much more enjoyable than I thought it would be, even a little better than
Captain America,
which was also pretty good for a popcorn movie.

Attack the Block
When aliens invade planets or buildings, and the SyFy network is not involved, it usually makes for good viewing. I expected more comedy, given the involvement Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, but was still pleased with this mostly straightforward thriller.

This was an action/comedy/drama, according to IMDB, but according to me it wasn’t funny enough or dramatic enough to fit anywhere but here. Not bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a fetish for Ellen Page dressed as a superhero. And it’s fun to see Kevin Bacon as a villain who is not invisible for a change.


Another Earth
For the first 30 minutes, I was sure I’d love it. For the next 30, I was afraid I’d hate it. By the end, I was relieved. It very successfully mixes mumbling indie drama with science fiction. The ending is possibly ambiguous, but also immensely satisfying.

Win Win
My oncology nurse and I both thought this was a sweet movie. This Paul Giamatti guy can really act. I expect big things from him.

John C. Reilly as an assistant principal? Of course I’m going to watch it - that guy is the best! If you are interested in seeing him briefly yell at a few kids, or if you want to watch him mentor a troubled youth as he comes of age, see this movie.


Cedar Rapids
John C. Reilly as an obnoxious insurance salesman? That guy is THE BEST! I’m not a huge Ed Helms guy, but he fit well with the cast. Low expectations, good execution.

I need to see this again, but for the best-reviewed comedy of the year, weren’t there several scenes that fell very flat? Anything with Wendi McLendon-Covey (blonde from “Reno 911”) and Ellie Kemper (Erin from “The Office”), was underdeveloped and could have been cut, for example. Any scene involving diarrhea can be cut from every movie from now until the end of time, for example.

I don’t remember a single joke from this movie, but I associate a general sense of happiness to it.

The Muppets*
The next time I see a Disney movie I’ll know not to take a seat in the theater until 30 minutes after the posted showtime. (I’ll hang out in the lobby and play Time Crisis, the arcade game that sits in every theater lobby and bowling alley game room.) If I want to see Buzz Lightyear making jokes I’ll invent a time machine or create a child. Or maybe rent a DVD. Just show me the muppets, please, and save your interminably long animated trailer about tiny beings that are discovered by regular-sized beings. But okay, the movie itself: this was the most meta movie since Wet Hot American Summer, right? Chris Cooper saying “Maniacal laugh” instead of laughing? Travel by map? Was this a movie for adults with stuff thrown in for the kids, or the other way around? I guess it tried to be both. I’d say it was 75% successful, but I’d have to ask a child if I’m correct.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
The documentary itself was good. I recommend watching all of the DVD extras and the director’s commentary (with Andy and Conan) to get your full quota of laughs. Lots of good stuff hidden in there.

30 Minutes or Less*
If you like seeing Danny McBride do his schtick, I recommend it. If you don’t love him or Aziz or Eisenberg, you will be disappointed. One side note: Nick Swardson is not terrible in this, regardless of how you feel about his sketch show or those “Bucky Larson” commercials (I say commercials because I know you didn’t watch the movie).

Horrible Bosses
This was fine, I guess. Charlie Day shouting lyrics to “That’s Not My Name” was the best.

Hall Pass
If I wasn’t on a plane, I wouldn’t have bothered. A little better than I feared. Go ahead leave it on while you dick around on your laptop when it's on TBS every Friday of November 2012.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Love Bites

I see this poster every day.

And every day, I think, "There's NO WAY that ADORABLE LITTLE PUPPY lying on the floor would EVER bite me! He's SO PRECIOUS!!!"

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 Recap - Bad Indie Rock Press Photos

Another year gone by, and I'm still somewhat obsessed with the sometimes horrifying, sometimes puzzling, always too-precious photos that accompany indie rock band stories on music blogs. Below are the images I hated most in 2011, in no particular order, except for the last two, because that guy is really the worst.

Dream Love (via I Guess I'm Floating)

Sure, you can blame him for putting ink in your mug -- but you can only blame yourself for that shirt.

inc (via Music For Ants)

I mean, what kind of music do you think these people play? Is "Androgynous hip-hop" a genre? Maybe the one on the left raps about baseball, and the one on the right raps about basketball?

Noah and the Whale (via Music For Ants)
I like some of their songs. I don't like the suggestion that these men have battered the only female member of the band so severely she required bandages and casts.

Radical Face (via Music For Ants)
Again, this guy has some good songs! But from this photo, you'd never know he wasn't a psychopath.

Spokes (via Music For Ants)

Would you like to enjoy some soulful harmonies? Cool, we'll start our set right after grab our pitchforks and chase the monster out of our village.

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (via Stereogum)
 God. Damn. It.

You Won't (via I Guess I'm Floating)

Young Man (via I Guess I'm Floating)
I saved the first photo in February, and the second in September. I discovered it was the same dude while composing this list. So congratulations, Young Man, you're the band so nice I saved you twice. Maybe if you didn't rub Hawaiian Punch powder on your face you wouldn't have to shower with your eyes open so much.