Showing posts with label Winter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Winter. Show all posts


Hinter Lands

You guys! 


You see, I secretly left out the time bomb in that post about winter storms. I wrote about how there was an ice storm and a blizzard and I went to see Monsters and blah blah blah. All about where my life was two years ago, a little love letter to living in Uptown. The fact is, before the movie started there was a trailer that was so straight up bonkers that it stayed with me all this time, a time capsule of crazy that finally cracked open this past weekend. A Xmas extravaganza of gonzo proportions. 

Rare Exports. 
You know what? I'll save the gushing preamble and just link right to the trailer here

Look at it. Is it any wonder, with such a dark, mythological take on Santa that it would stick in my head so firmly over the last two years? Especially when you consider one of my favorite traditions is reading Last Christmas just for the spectacle? Amazing. It is so over the top and audacious there's no way it could be decent, right? Wrong. It is awesome. 
There is so much going on in this movie that could have quickly driven it off the rails. All of these potential problems end up working in its favor, though. Set in remote parts of Finland? Could be dreary and boring, instead becomes beautifully isolated and an authentic and logical setting. Mostly subtitled? Never a problem for me and I liked knowing the cast was using their native language. Grim and gory take on the essence of innocence and hope? It becomes an ominous, delightfully macabre story about our forgotten myths and shared history. Oh, and Santa being a malevolent force of doom? All. Kinds. of Awesome. 
This movie is so unique and fresh and absolutely appropriate for this holiday season. If you've had your fill of the usual holiday fare, look no further. If you want to scare yourself into your childhood sense of wonder at a world you don't understand, look no further. For real. It's not even an out and out horror movie. It's one of those bizarre hybrid movies that's somehow bigger than its parts. The soundtrack is also worth noting, because it has the excellent little motif that mixes music box levity with deep, foreboding bass. 
Do yourself a favor this Xmas. Check out Rare Exports. It stuck with me as a "oh yeah, I need to see that" kind of memory for two whole years and it totally paid off. Happy hunting.


Iced Out

So Xmas is coming, even if winter is barely here. 

There's no snow whatsoever. It's straight up a bummer for the holiday season. The situation used to be that I loathed winter and couldn't stand the omnipresence of snow. It was dark and miserable and painfully cold, but hey - that's life in the Middle West, huh? 

It still is, just not as severe these days. Last winter we hardly had any snow at all. Here we are on the 5th of December with nothing to show for it, save for the dead lawns and bare trees filled with lights. I guess the fact that it gets so dark at 4:30 in the afternoon tends to cover that up a bit but it's still a bummer when Xmas is on the way. It's hard to believe just two years ago we had a blizzard so severe the Metrodome straight up collapsed in on itself. That was an amazing storm. My (then) fiance and I spent the day cooking and baking and watching the world slowly succumb to the snow. At about one in the afternoon we saw all of the city buses line up on the street below our condo. We were confused as to why all the people were streaming off the buses until we saw the signs on the front of each one change from the route to 'Not in Service'. The city had given up. They knew when to pull in and close up shop, even if that meant stranding everyone at the Rainbow Foods in Uptown. 
Not even a month earlier an even crazier weather event happened. While my better half had gone out with her friends for a girls' night out, my younger brother and a friend of mine came over for a drink before seeing a movie at the Lagoon Theater two blocks away. On the short walk there we noted the steady drizzle and the dropping temp. I remember the three of us exchanging mutual concern over what was going to happen. We went inside and promptly forgot about all of that while we watched Monsters, an awesome yet underrated movie. Two hours later we left our seats, took one step outside and simultaneously grabbed each other for support as we slid down the curb on half an inch of glare ice. We were equal parts terrified of falling (and really hurting ourselves, as we were juuuuuusssst old enough to see the danger in icy walkways) and hysterics as we navigated the treacherous path back to the condo. I know I slipped at least twice, the slow, steady breakdown where you start standing and go down in stages, so by the time your feet fly out from under you you're really only a few inches high anyway. My brother tried to stop before hitting the crosswalk (and potentially being rundown by an out of control car or bus) only to slide into the street and almost to the other side, like a statue of a figure skater. 
When we got inside my building I made them promise they wouldn't try to leave. We all biffed it on the two block walk - no one was going to get anywhere without breaking a bone. So what to do? We sat at the windows and drank, five floors up and surrounded by a vantage point from which we could watch the chaos unfold. People were either boldly braving the roads or foolishly ignoring the conditions, staying out until bar close. Seeing the drunks stumble out onto the ice and skid around on shaky legs like a newborn deer had us all doubling over in laughter. That is, until we saw one guy go down hard and not get up. Our laughter quickly died down. "Oh. Oh, no. Alright, coats guys. Let's go help." Before we could leave, though, he made it to his feet and, with great trepidation, made it over to his friends. They hadn't even noticed he went missing. The joys of living somewhere the weather can kill you! 
So we stayed up all night watching the slowest, gentlest car crashes in the world. Blizzards that ruin buildings. Ice conditions that force us to hunker down indoors. I somehow fell in love with bolting the doors and watching the world turn white. Xmas is on the way, but there's nary a flake on the horizon. 

I hope that changes. It's not the same without the white stuff.


Baby Sat

So I watched the Jonah Hill comedy The Babysitter recently.

It wasn't very good.

It was, however, a memory jogger for me. I had pretty much forgotten about the fact that I used to do a fair bit of baby-sitting in my pre-driving teenage days.

I don't really know why it strikes me as so odd to have spent as much time as I did taking care of other people's kids. I guess it strikes me as weird, and it must have struck others as weird too, just from the context. Some kids at school raised an eyebrow. A boy baby-sitting! Defying gender stereotypes! Imagine what the papers would say! It didn't even register for me at the time. Now I think back and laugh at the odd choice for me. I mean, yeah, I got paid for it...but I was never that big on kids.

You know how some people do really well with kids and can play with them and entertain them and be patient? Parents and kindergarten teachers, i think they're called. Not really my deal. I didn't dislike kids and I still don't, it's just as a 14/15 year old, they were mostly just noisy and distracting. Their parents always told me I was a good sitter and that their kids liked me, but I just kind of shrugged and thought "Okay, so I hang out at your house, make sure your kids are fine and you give me money to watch TV once they go to bed? Deal."

One time the parents said their kids liked me because I treated the kids like they were peers instead of kids, but really they weren't that much younger than me. I guess I was 15 and they were like...10ish? I don't recall, exactly. I remember thinking that it seemed like the right thing to do. Why talk down to them? Maybe that was it - I didn't really patronize them. Maybe not the best tactic as a babysitter, but then I don't recall any difficulties either. Kids listened when I asked them to go to bed after a night of goofing off. It's not like I fed them junk food and let them run wild, but in hindsight, what was I doing, anyway?

I think I started down that path because some family friends were in a bind and I was socially (and generally) awkward, which meant my weekends were open. Once I equated the money with the loafing around, I was down. Basically it was watching kids for a bit, then I could simply sit and watch TV or read a book I was way into while getting paid for it. On top of it (and I suspect this was the crux of it) I was in a new school and feeling super anxious about anything social. It was an easy out for a Friday/Saturday night - sorry, busy making money, can't hang out! I didn't feel like as big of a loser as if I was sitting at home doing nothing. I was making money!

My secret favorite part of it, though, was the walk home after the parents returned. It was always people in my neighborhood, so I could walk. In the winter, it would be super late (in my teenage mind 11:00pm was late to be wandering around the West Hill) and cold and dark, but the moon and streetlights would reflect off the snow, giving the quiet nights this strangely serene, isolating quality. I would walk home in the cold, money in my pocket, the whole town asleep. It was this secret little adventure I would go on by myself. That's what I thought of when I saw that mediocre movie.

Winter is never far off in Minnesota. When it comes, I think I'll have to have a redux on these weird walks, only now I have the benefit of a better half and a glass of wine. It's only August and I'm thinking of winter all because of a bad comedy. See what we put up with here?


Night Wares

Merry Xmas, gang.

Thanks for reading this. It really means the world to me that you would spend any time here. It's been almost a year since I started this project. Hopefully you've found some cool stuff as a result. I know the holidays aren't as fun for everyone else as they are for me, so that's why I broke down my Xmas Xceptions here, to give you a little relief and a dose of levity for the season. So how about one last Xmas Xeception?

Let's pretend, for a minute, that the Goth/Mall crowd didn't co-opt this one.

It's Xmas Eve, and you might be tired of all the Yuletide cheer. I've got just the thing for you. It's something dark, twisted and unlike anything else. Just try to forget about all the obnoxious Tweens sporting cheap jewelry and black nail polish. I'm saying turn off the lights and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I know, it's all old hand by now. But if you try to look at it through fresh, sincere eyes, it's a pretty remarkable and dynamic piece of work. Tim Burton's impeccable blend of Halloween and Christmas hits the intangible sweet spot between childlike wonder and sinister malice. The music is all kinds of amazing and Jack Skellington is an iconic, uniquely strange character that is unlike anything else you'll see around Xmas.

Happy Holidays, kids. Enjoy this weird, special time of year any way you please. All I ask is that you make it as awesome as it can be. It's your own day. Do what you want with it. I'll see you tomorrow!


Home Again

Kevin Mcallister must have been an anti-social nerd.

I realize that this stance on Home Alone sounds harsh, but hear me out. As is the annual tradition, we were watching the 21 year old movie tonight when I noticed a trend in the movie that hadn't picked up on before. You see Kevin building all of his gadgets and traps and have him talking about making ornaments with the forbidden glue gun and his dads new fish hooks.

This all makes for fitting foreshadowing to the madness that follows in the second half of the movie, but it also shows his ingenuity in Macgayver-ing his schemes. The whole thing with the mannequins as a faux party to throw the set bandits off his scent? Inspired stuff, I wouldn't have thought about that now, let alone at eight years old. So his gearhead/crafty nerd side is firmly in place.

But here's the other thing - I don't think Kevin has any friends. Not once in the three day ordeal does he think to call a friend. I'm not saying I'm throwing a ripper the minute my family disappears (actually, I did do that in high school...once) but never in his folly did he think about calling a buddy? Sure, everybody in the immediate neighborhood was out but that doesn't mean Chicago was empty. Furthermore, are there no Jews in Chicago? Not everyone is tied down for the holiday. So no friends came over, not even the kid from across the street, the talky one whose fault it was anyway.

Poor, misunderstood Kevin Mcallister. No friends and a nerdy passion for building contraptions and booby traps. He endured his darkest hour, a Twilight Zone scenario that saw him unleashing his crafty talent to save his own life. The Looney Tunes action turned dark at the last minute, with Joe Pesci threatening to bite of Kevin's fingers. Yeah, it got kind of weird there as the Wet Bandits hit the end of their rope.

They never stood a chance against that adorable little nerd, though.


Did you guys know Juliette Lewis was in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation?

That still weirds me out whenever I see that holiday staple. I'm on vacation, taking in one nice meal after another, usually topped off with a Christmas movie. Today had me dining on some superb burgers and splitting a bottle of cab, followed by Christmas Vacation. It's no Citizen Kane or Dark Knight, but it has a lot of nostalgic charm. Since that seems to be my forte, lemme extol the virtues of this weird little movie.

It's really a patchwork affair. The movie plays out like an extended series of skits for the first 2/3rds, only to dovetail into a sub-par 'kidnap the boss and learn the meaning of Christmas' cliche. Still, the stuff that happens before that is a great bit of relatable, and insane moments.
The endless trek into the woods to find the right tree, forgetting the shovel of course. Helping your dad set up the decorations and lights. The sheer insanity of a whole slew of elderly relatives arriving en masse, filling the air with conversations about sores, symptoms and maladies. Pets making a ruckus. Sledding misadventures. Pretty much any horrible or awkward experience you deal with this season has been touched upon by this strange movie from 1989.
It is a strange movie, after all. There's a totally unrelated and unnecessary animated sequence in the beginning. Juliette Lewis is taking the role rotation of the Griswold daughter. Chevy Chase existed as a proto-Pierce Hawthorn. I'm not saying its the best movie, just a fun, cathartic and nostalgic way to deal with the holidays. Enjoy some slapstick and try not to think of all the stuff you have to do before Sunday.


More Untraditional

So yesterday I extolled the virtues of the Futurama episode Xmas Story. Huge fan, I'm all about it. It was a game changer, for sure. The only thing better was the follow up, released a year later. Titled 'A Tale of Two Santas', this episode was even crazier and more over the top than the last. You want to celebrate Xmas? Go over the top with this under the radar episode.
The last Futurama episode had introduced us to the seasons greetings
in the year 3000. This episode sees the cast and crew digging in for their most cathartic and destructive iteration yet. Why observe the holiday in solemn silence when you can see the withered remains of Neptune or the legally mandated execution of a robot in the name of Xmas?
Here's the gist: the Planet Express crew is tasked with delivering letters to Santa, no matter how evil he may be. When the Robot Santa becomes trapped in an ice block, Bender takes on the mantle to become Santa for a night, enduring all forms of torture and mistrust in the process. You come bearing Tri-Ominoes? Good luck escaping unscathed. When he's brought before a jury, everyone in the Planet Express crew has to step up and prove his innocence.
This episode ups the insanity from the previous years Xmas installment in the best way possible. It's bigger. It's badder. The world is more established. The Neptunians are a grim, sobering bunch. Santas workshop is a horrible relentless place. There are more explosions and gunfire. More violence and jokes. Basically the cast and crew figured out there voice and hit it at full stride for this Xmas episode. Plus, a lovely holiday tune that starts with the line "We are free and fairly sober." Super fun stuff.
When people talk about the 'golden period' of Futurama, like they do with the Simpsons, this is an episode that stands out. Just ask Santa's friend Jesus. It's insanity at the best level. Keep reading. We're gonna hit dirt in a couple days...



Well alright, then.

Yesterday's Xmas Xception was on some crazy, ultra-violent stuff, the completely out-there Last Christmas. It's an insane comic that warps the sense of the holiday. Let's continue down that weird tangent, only dialing down the bloodshed. Let's take a look at another of my favorite animated installments, Xmas Story from Futurama.
The best thing about this episode, besides Robot Santa, is that it doesn't even start off as a Christmas episode. Instead, it's set at a ski resort. You have the usual sight gags involving the sport, as well as everyone in ridiculous outfits and a surprise appearance by the head of Conan O'Brien doing a stand up gig at the Catskills. Things begin to switch gears, though, when Fry gets a hankering for Christmases from his past, like the eggnog his dad would make (bourbon and ice) or cutting down a (now extinct) pine tree. Of course, this being a thousand years in the future, no one has any idea what Fry is talking about. They figure he's using an archaic pronunciation of their holiday, Xmas. "You know? X-M-A-S!" The crew of Planet express batten down the hatches for the holiday, as is tradition. This is where things go from good to great. 
The biggest contribution to the holiday season Futurama has made is that of Robot Santa. Made by Mom's Friendly Robot Factory to make the yuletide season more efficient, a programming error put everyone on the naughty list. As a result, the homicidal robot spends every Xmas killing everyone in sight with festive weapons and some robotic reindeer. John Goodman's voice acting is deliciously evil and the imagery of Santa launching rockets on Christmas is too awesome to deny. So while Fry is out looking for a scorned Leela (having inadvertently insulted her and then bought an obnoxious parrot as apology) they both end up dodging missiles and machine gun fire. 
This episode (along with the dynamic follow up) are required viewing in my household every Xmas season. Murderous robots. Bender skiing in a ridiculous hat. Zoidberg on a pogo-stick. Amy and Hermes doing a groan-inducing 'Gift of the Magi' bit. The head of Conan O'Brien. There's just too much awesome on display here. Track it down and see what you've been missing.



This may get kind of weird.

Since I've started down the path of Xmas Xceptions I've tried to keep a loose yet cohesive set of parameters for inclusion. Some of it has been sweet, some of it has been irreverent. How about we get gross and grimy? Let's take a look at a holiday phenomenon that crosses the line when addressing Christmas. It's audacious and awesome. It's The Last Christmas.
Published by Image Comics in 2006, The Last Christmas is a twisted tale of holiday cheer turned vengeance. Written by comedian/writers Brian Posehn and Gerry Dugan, with artwork by Rick Remender, the six-issue series tells the story of the end of the world and how it affects Santa's desire to die. Yes, you read that right. You see, when the zombies rose up from the earth, mankind went to hell. People died off in the millions and marauders took to the highways, stealing all they could and pillaging the remaining clusters of humanity. Still, children believed in Santa so he was able to continue existing. When the marauders make their way to the North Pole, though, tragedy falls upon Santa's village and he falls into a deep, seemingly endless despair. Only after a letter from the last child believing in Santa does he sober up long enough to take action. He decides to kill the last child who believes in him, to bring about his own death.
Merry Christmas, one and all.

This book is deranged. Santa hits the bottle, and hard. The undead devour the living. Snowmen lob ornament-grenades at men in spiked helmets. It's the most original take on Christmas I've ever seen. While Santa may actually waiver on the whole killing-his-last-believers thing, even that it toes that line is bonkers. On top of all the madness is a heart that somehow is sweet and sincere amidst all the bloodletting and zombie-slaying. I don't know how they did it, but this book hits all the wrong notes at just the right time.
The Last Christmas is the perfect sort of cathartic release a person can get for the holidays. Feel uninspired or bored? Feel like you could just snap and knock over a pine tree, decorations and all? Pick up this bizarre, profane and undeniably fantastic comic before the big day. You will never forget it.


Terrace Tale

Well, hello there!

I'm rolling right through the season, having just returned from an early Christmas with my parents and siblings. Had a fantastic time and worked on a special follow up to a post I did earlier this year. But that's for a later date! Instead of that mysterious thing, I want to tell you about an underrated, overlooked Xmas episode from the Simpsons, Miracle On Evergreen Terrace.
Broadcast back in 1997, this episode from season nine is the kind of episode that hits the sweet spot for me. It's not too cloying, not to irreverent and dismissive. It falls right into the pocket of an episode wherein Xmas is a part of the plot, but not the center of the story, followed by a forced special moment. So let's break it down, eh?
Christmas Eve is ending and Bart devises an ingenious way to beat the system - when Marge confiscates all alarm clocks in the house, thereby nixing any chance of waking up and opening presents early, he chugs water like a dying man. His subsequent dream sequence is hilarious and dead on for those horrible nights where you wake up and stumble to the bathroom, by the way. So Bart is the first to rise and opens a present. When this radio controlled toy goes off the rails and causes a small fire, the tree and all the presents melt. Panicking, Bart quickly disposes of the evidence and tells the family they were robbed. Heartbroken and crestfallen, the family doesn't know what to do. Homer hits the guilty, sneaking subconscious urge on the head: "Can *sob* we *sniff* skip *sob* church?" We've all been there.
So Kent Brockman does a feel-good human interest piece on the family and the town opens their hearts and wallets. The Simpson clan make off like bandits. Bart's ball of lies, however, begins to crumble, and when the family finds out what happens, they struggle to maintain the facade. From there on out it's your classic series of misadventures and half-heart conceits, but it's pretty damn funny. It all leads to the townspeople stealing everything in the Simpson family home. Heartwarming stuff.
I love this episode - it's been a staple of my holiday viewing, both for the general plot and the fact that it doesn't play out like your typical Christmas episode. It's out in several forms, including a Christmas collection, single disc release and on iTunes, as well as less reputable places online. Just sayin'. Take a look and see if you get the same strangely fresh take on Christmas that I did from this old and forgotten gem. Xmas is coming, kids.


High Pitched Noises


Xmas Xceptions. Let's do this.

How about a thing that revamps a classic? Sound good? Cool. This may not curry favor with some readers, but I actually am a sucker for the Chipmunks song 'Christmas Don't Be Late'. I don't even know how this happened, to be honest. I think it just happened to be on a holiday collection my mom had and I picked it up through osmosis. My brothers and I used to have a good laugh over how ridiculous it was. Somehow it grew on me and now I find myself singing along when that insipid piece of strangeness, made by one guy back in 1958, comes on the radio. What makes it more palatable is an equally obscure cover of the novelty song by Powder, a long-dissolved Britpop band.
Powder only existed for a few years in the mid 90s, releasing a handful of singles before throwing in the towel. At some point during their brief existence they cut a heavy, melodic (and substantially less cloying) version of 'Christmas Don't Be Late'. Featuring Pearl Lowe's lush vocals, the song became a more relatable, plausible holiday song when re-contextualized. Now instead of pitch-shifted (actually just sped-up) one-man harmonies, it was a heavy, rocking version featuring fully fuzzed, bloated bass lines and the occasional squealing guitar lead. Actually, when they get to the hula-hoop line, it's pretty damn catchy. 
I only came upon this version of the song years after the fact, first as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Now, though, I don't like to think of things I like as guilty pleasures. I just like to own up to what I dig, including an oddball revamp of an oddball song. Sure, call it cutesy or not relevant, but it's a damn sight better than hearing the same 15 or so Christmas songs ad nauseum. Give it a spin and see if it doesn't add a little fresh air to your Xmas Xceptions. Less rodents this season, more guitars.


Controlled Chaos

Well, hello there!

Just gonna pop in a drop a quick post for the day's Xmas Xception. Had an insane week at the office, the kind wherein you find yourself looking forward to a break, not only to stop the madness but to allow the steam to vent. I feel as though there are jets of vapor shooting out of my ears from sheer over exertion. Bad enough it's a crazy week, but then adding the holidays to the mix makes it even crazier. You can't just come home and relax - you've got to finish wrapping presents and start gearing up for holiday travels. No rest for the wicked! 

So how do we unwind? The best way. Community. Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas.
Community is that rare breed of TV show that trusts the audience. They know that if they supply quality writing, a stellar cast and a passionate production team you can hold a steady, devoted audience despite the efforts of a desperate network. They'll shuffle the show all around in the hopes of pulling in blockbuster ratings, but Arrested Development never got huge ratings and it's become the modern hallmark of 'Cancelled Too Soon' despite having ran for three full seasons. So appreciate Community while it lasts! This week had us seeing an encore viewing of last year's Christmas special, Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas.
I adore this particular episode, even within the canon of this amazing show. In it, pop-culture junkie and TV addict Abed loses his grip on reality as the stress of the season gets to him. He beings seeing the world in the manner of the old claymation/RankinBass holiday special. It. Is. Awesome. The study group embraces his madness, if only to gain perspective on how to talk him down from his delusions. John Oliver makes another fantastic appearance as a smarmy, smug wizard. Characters are transformed into holiday archetypes -Pierce a teddy bear, Jeff a Jeff in the box, Annie into a Ballerannie and Troy a toy soldier. Abed's detailed, unhinged world is beautifully sculpted and lovingly made, at once aping the style tongue in cheek and becoming downright poignant by the finale. Plus there's a fantastic dig at Lost's inability to stick the landing that still makes me laugh.
This is one of, if not the best, Christmas special in recent years. It's actually quite sincere despite the pervasive snark. Dan Harmon's little show that could cemented itself as a legitimate force of the medium with this episode, showing there's really nothing they couldn't do when they set out for it. It's available on Hulu for the time being. Do yourself a favor and indulge in some smart, engaging TV for a change this weekend. You deserve a holiday treat.


Little Monsters

Evening, kids.

How about a trip down memory lane? After all, hasn't that become a de facto theme to this site? I breakdown something we've all forgotten about while giving you a personal anecdote? On board? Good? Great. Let's do this. Today's Xmas Xception is Gremlins, a film like no other.
If you are roughly my age, there's a strong chance this movie gave you a serious case of the creeps when you were young. It was terrifying despite being oh so appealing to the youth market. Gremlins was part of that microgenre that blends horror and comedy in a subtle way. Ghostbusters was another prime example, as was the modern iteration, Shaun of the Dead. How could kids not get suckered in by the adorable Gizmo - voiced by Howie Mandel, nonetheless. Still, you break those three inscrutable, arbitrary rules and all Hell breaks loose. Nothing seemed safe as a kid after that. The little monsters were so devious! So malicious! The original draft of the screenplay was even darker, with decapitations and animal mutilations abound. Nasty stuff, eh? Of particular note was the over the top gore of the finale when a melting gremlin becomes a horrendous, dripping mess. It broke my mind as a kid. Hey, as an adult it still elicits a visceral reaction from me. Pretty killer Christmas movie, huh?
Oh, what's that? You forgot Gremlins was a Christmas movie? That's right, world. This nasty little staple of 80s horror was planted squarely in the midst of yule tide madness. I found myself forgetting that fact, only to see a clip of the movie online and I recalled all the snow and realized "Oh man, I have to watch that again! I haven't seen it in years!" Well, by a bit of serendipity that actually happened to me last Christmas. There had been some conflicts with my Christmas arrangements last year, and I ended up spending the holiday here in Minnesota while my better half saw her family in Arizona. I had to be back at the office the next day, so when I got back to my place in Uptown I grabbed my mail and headed upstairs. There, in a now defunct Netflix envelope, was Gremlins. By some excellent coincidence my DVD queue had synced up perfectly with me being all alone after Christmas. So I did what any twentysomething would do - popped it in and cracked a bottle of wine.
It was awesome.

Gremlins was cathartic and mischievous, a fantastic way to vent after the stress of the holiday. A little Cabernet Sauvingon didn't hurt either, but hey! Monsters terrorizing the town and ruining Christmas! What better way to indulge my inner (but most likely outer) child! While obviously dated and intentionally hokey and B-movie-esque at times, it still held up really, really well. I had a lot of fun poking through the memories of my previous experiences watching this movie and being do damned scared. Sounds like good holiday fun!


Oi Noise

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

My countdown of Xmas Xceptions got off to a negative start, didn't it? How's about we flip that business right on its head? Sound good? Cool, we're gonna get a little manic positivity in today's post. Coming at you from the late 90s benefit compilation, A Very Special Christmas 3, it's The Vandals' 'Oi to the World', as covered by No Doubt.
I used to love this compilation. There was a holiday season that was full to the brim with my brothers and myself jamming out to the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Blues Traveler and Run DMC as we made our shopping runs and trips to elderly relatives. Tons of fresh takes on the old standards that were actually fun to listen to, at least back in the 90s. Good gravy am I dating myself. Anyway, one of my favorite tracks on this compilation, despite Craig's protests, was the frenetic and exuberance No Doubt cover of 'Oi to the World'.
Don't get me wrong - I love me some Vandals. Funnily enough it was my younger brother that turned me on to the legends of punk. Still, the clean, horn-infused mania of No Doubt interpreting the tale of gang rivalry totally sold the story to me. In it, we have a gritty, grimy tale of inner city punks and skinheads trying to settle their rivalry in a bloody rumble on Christmas day. Men are left beaten and broken in the gutter when a miracle happens and peace breaks out between the tribes. Gwen Stefani bleats out the tune in typical, joyous fashion. The band embraces the upbeat tone with abandon. The festive horn breakdown in the middle is unabashedly corny and awesome.
I love this song, even if it defies the holiday convention. No, scratch that - I love it because it does. It's violent and manic, intense and irreverent. The harmonies on the chorus are insane. It's unabashedly sincere, to the horror of jaded hipsters everywhere. It's the kind of thing you don't hear on the holiday station, to say the least. Need some Xmas Xuberance? Look no further.


Homeward Bound

Here we go, kids!

I mentioned something I had up my sleeve - I decided to sneak in one last themed series before the year is out. The theme, this time around? Things about the holidays that aren't insanely cloying and overdone. Things that don't adhere to the rule of making you want to bash you head in when you're forced to endure them in shopping malls. Strap in, kids. We're gonna take a look at the 12 Xmas Xceptions. First on the list? Something cynical.
I may not be the hugest fan of Blink 182 these days, but I sure used to have a soft spot for them. You get older, your tastes change. Duran Duran weren't made into mega stars by hipsters and adults - it was teens with disposable cash and incessant radios. Point being, I listened to a lot of melodic punk in high school, and I loved me some Blink. They were super catchy and accessible and irreverent, back in a more innocent time before domestic terrorism, three wars and an endless election cycle. Justification? Maybe. But I still like their holiday song 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'. It's cynical and  passively aggresive in that "just leave me alone" sense. Perfect for the Xmas Xceptions!
Back when I first got into the band, they didn't have a huge catalogue and tons of airplay. You had to make do with what you had, which was pretty much their first two (secret best) albums and possibly some bootlegs if you could find them. I listened to them to death, waiting for more stuff to come out. When I heard about a holiday single, I was baffled. Even more so when I actually heard it on the radio. It was awesome, but infuriating - how was I supposed to track it down when it was in limited pressing and barely in any music rotation? It wasn't until years later, and some widespread commercial breakthroughs, that I heard it with any regularity. Once I got into the mp3 scene I tracked it down. It still is a staple in my custom Xmas playlists.
It's catchy, it's snarky, it's everything you'd expect from Blink in a holiday single. Major-key riffs. Palm-muted guitars. A half-time chorus. Tales of emotional distress culminating in being sent to jail and violated by cellmates. Plus, there's chimes and bells! It's good, old Xmas fun, minus the cloying, heartwarming tone. Sometimes you want to skip the festivities and ditch the obligations. We all want a night to ourselves, now and then, even around the holidays. I get it. We're just getting started, gang. Eleven more Xceptions. See you on the countdown!


The Right Choice


I watched a movie recently that made me sideline any music post I had coming for today. It was damn good. So good, in fact, that I kicked myself for not checking it out sooner. There had been plenty of buzz around it when it was first released in 2008. Hey, before I even saw it there was a localized, near shot-for-shot remake. I figure for the setting and mood of the picture, it's a perfect fit for this site. Strap in, kids. It's gonna get weird.
Based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is a Swedish film that blends the poignant coming of age tales we're all familiar with and the creepy, skin crawling discomfort of the uncanny and horrible. It's not spoiling much to say there is a vampire involved in the story. The promotional artwork pretty much spells it out for you. Rather, like any good story it's not the set up that's so remarkable as it is the manner in which events unfold. On top of it, the setting and performances are stellar. The cast, dominated by child actors, turn in amazing performances that are painfully real. Director Tomas Alfredson has created something truly strange and scary in this quiet, menacing movie. Let's take a closer look, eh?
12 year old Oskar is a lonely, frustrated boy. He lives with his divorced mother in an apartment in Blackeberg, outside of Stockholm. Bullies torment him mercilessly and he feels like an outcast. Through painfully raw moments we get to know the quiet boy, seeing his dark side as well as his lingering childhood innocence. When a new neighbor moves into his apartment block, a cautious friendship is struck. Unfortunately, at this same time horrible murders begin occurring in the area, culimating in a suspect being apprehended. The man in question has burned his face beyond recognition, though, to protect the one he was committing the crimes for. As the story unfolds, we learn about Oskar's lonely life, the pale and tormented Eli and how the two become horribly intertwined at such a tender age. 
Let the Right One In is the rare film that easily exists as art as well as entertainment. The cinematography is simultaneously bleak and beautiful. The performances are genuine and affecting. The pacing is masterfully plotted. What we perceive as horrendous violence is actually often only hinted at, rather than explicitly shown. Interestingly, I noticed the effect the soundtrack had on my viewing experience. What was ostensibly a horror movie felt very much like an adolescent tale of romance due to the score. It very much accentuated the contrasting light and dark elements of the film.
Forget the American remake, Let Me In. Too literal, too much of the same. Go to the Swedish version. They're the ones who know cold, bleak emotional turmoil. This movie is a crazy way to step into the winter mindset. Sick of the holidays? This is the opposite of a Xmas movie. Pick it up or stream it on Netflix, either way - keep the lights off. It's fantastic.


Cold Cut


I am writing this having been on the business end of a Power Hour with my better half and my sister in law. Such is life. You gotta make your own fun in the burbs! But long before I got down to business carousing and drinking to a timer while jamming out to local artists, I was out on a series of requisite errands. While doing so, one of the first major so falls of the season came upon the metro area. While I was winding my way through the snow I found myself cranking up a thoroughly amazing song that I credit hearing solely to the local indie station, 89.3, The Current. The tune in question? 'Surgeon' by St. Vincent.
It was kind of a beautiful moment. I had made a productive round of the area, crossing all sorts of things off my list. I was headed back to base camp. The snow was falling slow and steady, the lackadaisical kind of weather that begs you to pull over and start wandering through the adjacent woods. Had I been in my parents homestead, I would have just strapped on some snowshoes and wandered off and seen what the world had in store. In the outer ring, though, it means cranking some indie tunes and barreling through the snow, feeling the song crafting the atmosphere around me.
'Suregoen' by St. Vincent is a trip of a track. Hailing from the album Strange Mercy, it's comprised of seemingly disparate pieces of music, all glued together under the guise of some out-of-synch guitars and fuzzed out bass. St. Vincent is a young woman, barely a year older than myself, who has cut her teeth supporting some of the titans of the independent music scene. Her songs are breathy, ethereal things. This tune is no exception. It's a phantom of a track that makes any day, especially one with an isolating winter storm, all the better. Your mind gets wrapped in a blanket. You get a warm, fuzzy feeling from the bass and off kilter elements.
It's been a crazy, weird night out here in the outer ring. A night like this, far from the bars and restaurants I know, you gotta make your own fun in the outpost. When the snow started falling, it felt a bit like I was headed to my Hoth encampment. The strange air lended by St. Vincent only made it more wonderful and odd. Listen to St. Vincent, for real. She is an amazing artist with a great, distinct sound.


Shell Shock

There it is. 

There's no knowing if it will last for an extended duration, but the first legitimate snow of the season sneaked in last night. When confronted by the sight of my car huddled under the inch-or-so dusting, I found myself slightly confounded. I forgot how to proceed for a moment. Then I remembered I still had brushes and scrapers in my car from last winter. Never even took 'em out. After catching the bus into Minneapolis, I stepped down onto Nicollet Mall and started the cold walk into the office. Even knowing the cold and snow were going to last for at least another five months, it was a gorgeous way to start the day. The sidewalks were full of people pulling their coats tight against the brisk air, breathing into their scarves and gloves......we're all going to go mad from cabin fever in two months, aren't we? 

What made the morning journey even more enjoyable was the soundtrack supplied by the inscrutable Tortoise. Their surreal and genre-slipping album TNT added a wonderful touch of the ephemeral to the sojourn. I don't even recall acquiring the album - at some point it found its way onto my hard drive from my sister in law. The two of us are always exchanging musical pleasantries; this must have been one she left for me that I hadn't found for some time. I'm really glad she did, though, because I was looking for something relaxing and intriguing to listen to as I went about my day. I feel like I've exhausted my usual ambient/triphop/downtempo canon. Tortoise make a fine addition to what I think of as personal soundtracks. 
Released in 1998, TNT is an album that never stops shifting. It's not a hectic defiance of convention or an all-encompassing project like Gorillaz. No, TNT is an album that not only evolves as you listen to it, but shows you a band evolving. At this point in the band's career, they had recently brought on board their first guitar player and second bass player, in addition to a multi-membered percussion section. The unorthodox lineup afforded the already eclectic group to create more far-out songs and soundscapes. The music never quite hits a firm pocket, but it subtly shifts in tone every song, just enough to make your ear perk up. The phaser-based jazz of the title track. The espionage-inciting mood of 'I Set My Face To The Hillside'. The bells and bones playing on the eerie 'Ten-Day Interval'. 

What a great find. I wish I had found it sooner, though. Just goes to show what good things lie in store for you when you start spreading around good music. It comes back to you in the best way possible. Now I have a great soundtrack for the walk to the office, or any other time of potential contemplation. It sure made today a better day, thanks to this divergent start. Winter's here, it seems. Good tunes will help me get through the next five or six months. 


Fur Is Murder

Evening, all. 

These cold, dreary days that linger between the fall and winter, but existing completely in neither, get me to thinking about what I was listening to when dealing with some of the worst I can recall. There was a particular time frame spanning a late fall/winter/early spring that was brutal. It was really hard for me to persevere. The strange thing was that it didn't really stem from any particular factors - instead it sprang seemingly from the depths of my mind, some horrible monster clawing its way up the walls of my head and having reign of the place while I waited it out. I think in hindsight I was just terribly unhappy with who I was. It seems (from the comfort of a distant mindset) that I just wasn't realized as the person I suspected I could be or was going to be. Even in my darkest days now, I can acknowledge that not only am I kind of really awesome, but that in general I am happy with the person I've turned out to be. Similar to what I'm experiencing now, being in an office during all daylight hours and almost never seeing the sun, I vividly recall what little social activity I partook in to involve a great deal of darkness, both real and imagined. My mind was a reeling, loopy thing that was reaching out for any kind of cathartic comfort, something to exorcise the demon from inside. In my darkest hours I reached out to a band I didn't understand - the Deftones. 

Sporting what is possibly my favorite band name ever, the Deftones were (and still sort of are) an alt-metal band that flourished right around the time of the dreaded Nu-Metal that brought us all sorts of terrible music I shamefully enjoyed. The Deftones always seemed a bit removed from that unfortunate label, though. They had an unusual (forgive the word choice, please) deftness about their musicianship and presentation that gave off a slightly more nuanced air. Sure, it was still scream-till-your-throat-is-raw metal at times, but there were also moments lighter, more subdued sounds that suggested a more artistic flair. As I said, their cathartic music was a release for my frustrated adolescent mind. A large portion of that unhappy time was spent driving around listening to their end of the millennium album 'Around the Fur'. 
'Around the Fur' is an album that is both sharp and slick, a sonic blade delivered from the CA-born band. Vocalist Chino Moreno vacillates between tense, anguished whispering to open-throated howling, never quite technically singing yet creating oddly unique melodies nonetheless. The first track, the blistering single 'My Own Summer (Shove It)' uses a twisting, descending riff coupled with a driving bassline to make one hammer of a track, especially when the chorus blasts out and Moreno's screaming takes center stage. The title track thumps away with heavy, propelling kick drums and guitars that grind and slice your ears. 'Headup' still makes appearances in my workout mixes due to its sheer frenzy and near-indecipherable rapping, but to be honest most of this album appears in workout and running mixes. If you want to read a longer breakdown of my love for the spacey metal of 'Be Quiet and Drive', follow the link to an older post. 
I leaned heavily on this album when in a bad space, which I suppose is odd, considering the abrasive and unsettling sounds it contains. What does that say about me? I don't know, maybe I was just a cliched angst-ridden teenager venting through alt-metal that my own band at the time couldn't produce. Whatever the case is, I still get a lot of sneaking satisfaction out of listening to this album on a cold, dark day like this, knowing that everything seems to have turned out alright. I like me, and I like the me that can listen to this and shake my head at the distant memory of the troubled teenager.