Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts


Proto Man

So I finally saw Prometheus last night.

It was heavily buzzed last spring. I had as high of hopes as anyone else - probably even higher, to be honest. While my initial reaction to the announcement had been low expectations at best, that changed the more I saw. The trailer looked crazy and there was honest to goodness potential in Ridley Scott going back to the well for more of the once-great franchise. They even had Lost-alum (the admittedly divisive) Damon Lindelof on board to re-write the script and build the world a bit more. There was a great cast in line. Everything was lining up to be pretty damn stellar. 

Then the movie came out and the world of nerds on the internet collectively soiled themselves in anger. 

Once the negative feedback started online, I decided not to see it in the theater as I had originally planned. Instead, I waited to consume it in the same fashion I had any other entry in the fading Alien franchise: at home with some junk food and no expectations. So how was it?

Not bad.

While Prometheus was certainly not on the level with the original Alien or other staples of the genre like Blade Runner, it wasn't the cinematic abortion people were claiming it to be. In fact, despite a flawed story with arbitrary motivation and some contrived coincidences, I found it to be a grand and profound science fiction movie the likes of which rarely get made these days. Far from perfect but still enjoyable, there were plenty of moments where the soul of previous success would bleed through. Ridley Scott has had hits and misses, but when he gets on a good streak in a movie it can really build some momentum. Sure, it can be dashed on the rocks of characters who quickly become shouting morons, but there were more than enough entertaining moments to warrant its production.

Additionally, in a bid to stop typing altogether I dictated my thoughts into my phone as I sat in the dark, eating Whoppers and nursing a beer. Below is a full list of my notes, along with the clearer insight of having slept on what I saw in parentheses:

- Even the opening logo is that weird blue tint to it. (Must we do the orange/blue color shift every time?)

- The opening panoramas actually have that the Scott feel. (Pretty grand vistas and sweeping, heavy shots.)

- So is the intro of the movie the crux of the whole plot in a bad way? (Like, was that it? From what I had avoiding spoiling for myself in advance, seeing the first scene made me think 'Yeah, that's probably it, I should turn it off and save myself a couple hours. I was sort of wrong?)

- Even for science-fiction this dream reading business seems bogus. (Immediately forgetting Inception and, you know, space monsters and robots.)

- It's got a good look but the problem is that even the retro looking things clearly are more advanced than what was in Alien. (It's that balancing act of a PREQUEL being made 30 years later. Tech we hadn't thought of could be explained away as better funding by the Weyland Corp. Also, in Alien they were just a mining ship.)

- God awful accent. (Rafe Spall. Seriously.)

- Old make up still looks fake. (No matter how artfully applied and blended with CGI, my first thought was 'OMIGAD YOUNG PERSON IN MAKEUP. Why have Guy Pearce do that? Why not, say, hire an elderly actor?)

- I want the white sweatshirt. (Alright Rafe - I'll forgive the accent if I can have your weird hoodie.)

- There better funded that's what they have better tech. (My hand-waiving the jarring juxtaposition of this movie and Alien. See above.)

- That is one stupid scientist. (Dude. Even I know - DO. NOT. TOUCH. This was apparently establishing a running theme?)

- The geologist is clearly from a lesser film. (Sorry man, but your over the top acting was not due to script problems.)

- The engineer head coming back to my life momentarily is genuinely freaky. (No joke. A disturbing moment. Also? Totally animatronic, I found out.)

- Ask God why do we need robots? (A real BSOD moment for me. Never stopped to think 'Wait, why ARE we making robots in the first place? Simply to serve man? That's a cop out. Still chewing on this.)

- Apple TV remote visible on Shaw's couch. (Nice future tech, you thing I have on my coffee table.)

- That just went from bad to worse. (Blugh, that snake-thing snapping an arm and melting the helmet? That escalated quickly.)

- In the map room the difference between practical effects and CGI is still stark although it's good to see more Geiger. (It's hard to blend them, even all these years after Phantom Menace. Geiger's art is still so distinct and creepy, when used sparingly.)

- That is a slow non-guaranteed way to die and Charlize Theron didn't want to do it. (Seriously, setting him on fire? Probably would suffer for hours from complicated burns. You have guns. Shoot him.)

- I'm obviously not the first person to think Prometheus take place in the same world as Inception. (Cue the linking of that movie's universe, which makes the combined fictional universes Inception, Alien, Blade Runner and Predator.)

- Body horror in the medical pod a glimpse of things to come. (That abortion scene was one of the most disturbing things I've seen on film in a while. The opened cavity? Awful. A horrible look at the wonderful, sterile, male-driven world of medicine yet to come.)

- Arbitrary monster...( arbitrary. Shoe horned in for a scare/action scene? Waste of screen time.)

- Idris Elba is the best part of this and maybe David. (Okay, clearly David is the best thing about this movie, but Idris was pretty damn solid.)

- I would've believed it if they killed everybody. (A psych-out that I was willing to accept. If any movie had the stones to go bleak and kill 'em all, this would have been it. But alas, no.)

- Final alien was gratuitous, redundant and poorly designed. (Sorry, just didn't dig it. Even after all the build up. Show, don't tell. It was clearly the same Engineers and world of Alien, do we need to be hit over the head with it?)

So there you have it. Despite the high snark level of some of those comments, I really did enjoy Prometheus and will defend it to fellow nerds. It aspired to be more than it could, but despite a strong pedigree could not overcome some complex script problems.  If you're curious, I highly recommend it.

Still worth waiting to see after all the publicity.


Mass Affect

Here we go again.

The last time I wrote about this band, they had a different name and only a single EP to show the world. I finished my last write up of them saying that I couldn't wait for them to put out a full album and wondered what strange new sounds they'd make. That full album by the rechristened Rags & Ribbons has been out for a bit now, and rather than keep it as personal treasure, I can't contain it any longer. 

You need to hear The Glass Masses. 

There's that sweet spot where a fresh band has clearly found their voice. I could name countless examples of bands that release some things, find their voice or niche and release a single iconic piece, thereby cementing their new-found identity. They hit the next level in their evolution, maintaining a core of self or DNA but growing and changing into a stronger, more fully formed iteration of themselves. That is exactly what happened with Rags & Ribbons on this heavy hitting album. All the same voices and styles are still present, but having taken another step in development. It's more nuanced, yet more sweeping. Heavier and more intense, but also showing lighter bits of delicacy that hadn't revealed themselves in prior songs. 
This evolution of ideas is present immediately in the first track, 'Even Matter'. In the first ethereal strum of guitar, the band shows they're playing with more dexterity and subtlety. It's an amazingly expressive track for how little sound they actually are producing. The quiet notes all add together into a dense, layered mesh of sound. To boot, there's a fantastic video for the track shot by Lucy Martin. The group has clearly been having fun with harmonies as well, as evidenced in the serene acapella breakdown of 'Marks You Make'. 
There is one particular section of a certain song, however, that I feel sums up not only the album but the entire ethos of the band. In the build up to the chorus in 'The Minds' all of the instruments drop out, except Neff pounding away a solitary, syncopated pulse. When everyone crashes back in to the proper refrain, it's everything turned up to eleven. Ben's guitar is low and crunching out thudding riffs. The drums are percussive blasts. Jon's cacophonous piano bangs away. It could be unrestrained madness but they deftly, elegantly tie it all together in a neat package, overlaid with wailing vocals. When Jon and Ben sing the line "You and me...", Jon's voice dove tails from this high point that illuminates how close they veer towards madness, only to drop right back into the pocket. It's all coordinated, detailed chaos. It sounds unbelievably good. 
As I hinted at in the beginning of this piece, I'm conflicted by the desire to keep these guys as my amazing secret while wanting to show them to the whole world. They've forced my hand though - they've been too relentless in their touring and too successful for me to try to shelter them at all. Rags & Ribbons are on an exhilarating ascent. In addition to this write up, check back tomorrow for a full interview I did earlier this summer. I've said before that I can't wait to see what they'll do, but if this is any indication, big things are already under way. Get on board while you can. 


Pure Menace

I went to see The Phantom Menace this weekend. Intentionally and with surprisingly high hopes, I should add. 

My reasons for doing so were varied, but I essentially wanted to see if it truly is as bad as the collective internet would have us believe. Though, really, it was a chance to hang out with a friend of mine and go to the movies, which happens so rarely these days. I had a great time with my friend, but the movie...what a fascinating misstep in the annals of film. 

Here's the short version for anyone not in the know: George Lucas was responsible (mostly) for some really great movies. He took a huge hiatus from a beloved franchise and when he returned to it almost 20 years later, he made a movie that has become synonymous with disappointment and fan-backlash. Since then, he made two more that only made incremental improvements, thus tarnishing the very series that brought him to prominence in the first place. Lucas cut a deep dividing line between his older work and his recent work, one body being heartfelt and the other being coldly focused at selling toys and crowding the screen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 
I loved the Star Wars movies as a kid. As a teenager, my focus shifted (girls, music, what have you) and I never even saw The Phantom Menace in its theatrical release. I eventually rekindled my love for the series a few years ago, the nostalgia fueling a passion for which little else holds such high regard in my eyes. So when the Blu Ray editions of the six film series were announced, I was on board from the get go. Yes, the whole thing, not just the good half. I wanted the whole set, not just for completion's sake, but to evaluate the series with fresh eyes and new presentation. I hadn't seen TPM in ten years, and the only time I saw it was on a VHS on a small screen TV on a sunny afternoon. Hardly ideal viewing conditions. When I watched the movies on Blu Ray a few months ago I simply skipped large parts of TPM, wanting to get to the movies I love instead of enduring what I assumed was absolute dreck. 

I was mostly right in doing so. 

Going to the theater on Saturday, I had a fresh viewing experience ahead of me. The hatred and fervor behind the movie had died down. It would not only be on the big screen, but in 3D as well. This was the big selling point for the re-release and I'll admit, I wanted to see how it changed the movie. As it turns out, not even a fresh, forgiving perspective could fix the missteps Lucas took in constructing TPM from the ground up. The 3D, while subtly applied, didn't add a great deal, just more depth of field and a darker, frustrating image. In my home experience it was bright and vivid, full of clear imagery. This was muddled and sleep-inducing - the bulbs are never turned up bright enough on 3D projectors. While I enjoyed the whole ritual of going to the movies, our immediate reaction upon leaving the theater was amazement. We weren't simply trashing the film for the sake of dog-piling. It really is just that bad. 

Mr. Plinkett's review makes every single flaw with the film abundantly clear, as it is nearly as long as the movie itself. What I can do, though, is give more concise insight. 

For starters, I still can't say with any certainty what the movie is about. I know, I know. Trade routes and Federation disputes, blockades and diplomats. It's insane. Three times, now, I've seen this movie and I still shrug at the actual supposed motivations. I can't event bother with paying attention to the nuts and bolts of the political process in the movie. I get so fed up with politics in my own life, I don't want to pay attention and get invested in ones in a fantasy world. Compare that to plots in IV, V and VI - rebel spies, revenge, running from the Empire. Simple, comprehendible motivations, despite the fantastical setting.

Wooden acting is another integral problem. The only lively elements were Jar Jar and Ewan McGregor, and even McGregor was limited to imitating Alec Guiness. He got much more loose with it in the following installments. Even here it was apparent he was the only one who seemed to know not to take it too seriously. Liam Neeson is stiff and distant, very hard to root for. Natalie Portman just didn't seem to know how to play her part. Ian Mcdermid at least had a sense from his prior experience to ham it up a bit.
On top of all it is the fact that the screen and the universe Lucas created was simply so cluttered at this point. While the first three movies suggested a rich, developed universe behind the story, here it was presented as a full on, unrelenting onslaught. Every inch of the screen was packed with action and detail. The clutter was mind boggling. Seemingly every character had had or eventually had a back story or a novel or a video game spin off. I don't want to have to know all that business - I want to be able to just watch the movie and follow the action on screen.
I know I'm being harsh. There were some cool moments. Seeing the Gungan city revealed in 3D in the theater was actually pretty breathtaking, as were some of the other establishing shots. The score was classic Star Wars. The lightsaber dual wasn't bad. There were moments where the original trilogy poked through, but they were so few and far between that they couldn't buoy the film out of slow, steady sinking process. It was, as I've said, fascinating to see how intrinsically flawed the movie is at every level. I also know I'll go see Attack of the Clones next year. I'm just a glutton for punishment and too quick to give second chances, I guess.


Indoor Life

Evening, gang.

The year is coming to an end, faster than I'd care to admit. It's been a huge year for me - getting married, a crazy honeymoon, starting this site, new job, new home. I've done more in one year than I feel I have in the last five. It's been damn good to me. I won't bother you with the typical year-end, best-of lists that are so pervasive this season, though. For me, it's been a time full of office deadlines that demand I keep my head down and just push through, processing invoice after invoice. Super fun stuff, let me tell you. So how do I get through this? By devotedly listening to one of my favorite podcasts - The Indoor Kids, courtesy of Nerdist Industries.
I had long been a listener of 1Up's Retronauts, viewing it in my own mind as a be-all, end-all for gaming. I had a big gap in my video game lexicon, ending in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era. I didn't go modern until last summer, and that was only because a friend gave me an incredible deal on a 360. That's the thing about getting older - money is no longer the scarcity; time is the valuable commodity now. Getting married and starting a new job consumed most of my free time. When I could steal a free hour, here or there, I would have to make the most of it. Bit by bit, I caught up on what I had missed out on - Biohazard, Arkham Asylum, Alan Wake. Lots of genre specific, niche-heavy titles. I slowly went modern. When my favorite podcast announced a satellite series, hosted by Kumail Nanjiani, I was wary but excited.

Turns out, my curiosity was rewarded.

I had been a fan of Kumail since I had seen his stand up on Comedy Central. He's hysterical and sweet, the kind of comic who can make you howl at jokes about the depths of the ocean ("It's when God says "...and here's all these mistakes I've made!""). His obsessive, devoted appreciation for the world of gaming is so pure and sincere that hours of fantastic content spring forth from his discussions he hosts, both with friend Ali Baker and wife Emily V Gordon. In particular, hearing the married couple's take on gaming is both endearing and fascinating - you get a glimpse not only at how their relationship as writers and comics work, but how gaming is a force in the course of their lives. 
On top of the great hosts, some of the themes and guests they've had for episodes have been unparalleled. There have been down-the-rabbit-hole discussions on Gears of War with voice actor Carlos Ferro, entire episodes dedicated to the discussion of music in gaming, and the overwrought notion of girl gamers. Tom Lennon lead an eye-opening episode on addiction and the time sink that is gaming. I was agog at how Paul Scheer consistently (and without fail) backed the wrong technological horse. Dan Harmon extolled the virtues of evolution and story telling around the merits of Skyrim as it consumed everyone's lives.
I love this podcast and look forward to it every week. Kumail and Emily are top notch and open minded in a field that too often yields nit picking and negativity. If you have any interest at all in the idea of games as a commodity or cultural phenomenon, or just the guests themselves, listen to an episode. I guarantee you'll learn something.



Aw man.

It's always hard to go from vacation mode to work mode. Being a Midwesterner, it was a shock to my system to see so much sun during December, even if it was barely a week. Getting up and going in the total dark, only to return home in said dark, is a wearing task. It forces you to look for solace and comfort in the sunny, exuberant things you wouldn't normally turn to. 
For me, there was relief in digging out an old standard from the oddball days of the alternative 90s. Blasting 'Cannonball' by The Breeders gave me an awesome distraction from the bleak, oppressive and never ending darkness. Also, it's a punchy pop song that may have been cutting edge 20 years ago. Now it just seems like a bit of hipster power-pop. Curse you, ravages of time! 
Screw it. For a year now, I've been realizing, bit by bit, that I have an extreme fondness for all things early 90s. Some of it is so widespread and general that it becomes too hard to connect the dots. Other times, there is a distinct pattern that emerges. I feel like this song, with the loopy bass and clean guitar lick that builds to a wall of distortion, is right in that wheelhouse of songs that stand out as codifiers of the period. All the more amazing is that fact that this legend of alt rock was (at a time) comprised of former Pixie Kim Deal and her sister Kelley. It seems like it wouldn't be fair or possible for someone to make more excellent music after being in such an influential band as The Pixies. We got lucky, apparently.
Look, you think 90s alt rock, you think this song. Probably some Doc Martens in there, and a wacky montage of Gen X-ers painting the camera and doing wacky, ironic things. Sort of a genetic precursor to hipsters. Fitting, then, that this fantastic song would fit in so well in a similarly jaded playlist. Who cares, I love it. Gets me through a dark night to the weekend on the other side.


Game Off


So that's it for me. The holidays are wrapping up. I'm heading back home after visiting the in laws in their homestead. They've been great hosts and I've had a lot of fun, including an epic round of charades. There's been a plethora of good food with a slew of fresh things for me to read, enjoy and review. In the meantime, while I gear up for tomorrows flight, let me tell you about something fantastic you may have missed.
I didn't have a specific introduction to Lana Del Ray. I was simply driving through uptown, getting ready for the big move I recently endured and listening to The Current on 89.3. A song came on by a young chanteuse that possessed, as the singer chides herself, a certain "gangster Nancy Sinatra" aesthetic. The somber, haunting tune had the young woman moaning and groaning over an idealized but less than perfect vision of love that she was enduring, as chronicled in the track 'Video Games'.
This song kind of caught me off guard. The way Del Ray almost sleepwalks through it gives an air of otherworldly kind of old-timey sadness and melancholy. It can kind of kill a raucous mood if you hear it at the wrong time, but when your own mindset syncs up with this piano-driven number it's solid gold.
'Video Games' is the lead-in to Lana Del Ray's soon to be released debut album. Here's hoping the rest of what she has to offer is just as fresh and moving. I don't care if it all varies from this killer track, I just want the same world weary sound.




Hope all has been well. Hope it's been a swell couple of days for you. I indulged in a rare day off, which hopefully hasn't betrayed me as a slothful layabout. Truth be told, though, there was a sinful amount of lying about today. I took an epic morning nap. I read a long overdue chunk of the Steve Jobs biography. I also had a massive, indulgent meal of sushi with my better half and her sister, photog-extraordinaire Kate Engelmann. It was the kind of meal where they were stuffed and insisted I finish all that was on the table, which is the best kind of present to me - there is no joy like an abundance of sushi to be personally devoured. Usually it comes in smaller, more reasonable portions. Not today. Today I wallowed in fresh fish and rice. 
All of this lay in stark contrast to what happened last night. I was permitted to participate in the in-law's tradition of an annual Xmas movie, this year's choice (or perhaps resignation) was The Descendants. I phrased it as such not because I didn't want to go (to the contrary I adore going to the movies) but because there seemed to be no strong option this year. Having perused the trailers, though, this George Clooney flick seemed to be the strongest contender. Two hours later, the four of us left the theater with somewhat disparate but converging opinions. 
The Descendants is, in a way, your quintessential indie film. You've got Clooney as the charismatic and cantankerous, conflicted lead. There are his troubled, rambunctious daughters who actually provide quite remarkable performances. The plot and setting are both centered around the practical reality of Hawaii instead of our idealized Eden. Then there is Clooney's wife. She's in a coma, having suffered a boating accident that has seemingly brought her life to an end. What unfolds as a result is both terrifyingly visceral and human as well as poignant and funny. It was, though, not a soft and rolling ride.
I really enjoyed the film but I seemed to stand alone in my assessment. My better half didn't really have the wherewithal for this film, especially on Xmas. Her sis was more open to it's tale, with their mother falling closer to my sensibilities. The general consensus, mine included, was that there too little in the movie that served as relief from the soul-crushing sadness. There were times the movies was proudly genuine and heartbreaking. The trailers sold it as more of a quirky comedy, and while there were the occasional moments of levity they were few and far between. A bit more humour would have brought balance to the sine wave of emotional resonance.
Please don't take my callous take on the movie as a total dismissal. There were some great, powerful moments. In particular, Clooney is on fire here as a father, as are the girls playing his daughters. There is a scene early on where he confronts some friends about the futility of his wife's situation that gave me chills due to his delivery, which should be credited to the writer as well. The end was terribly sad, but genuine and believable. It's not a full-on uplifting movie, but The Descendants was a human story with a lot of heart that cut thought the noise and clutter of the holiday offerings by granting peace and silence in its emotional story. Check it out, if you're interested.


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!



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.



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.


Video Clipped

Moving right through the week. 

Just a short bit today, very full life and schedule. Lots of obligations. I've got many debts to keep and miles to go before I sleep. In contrast to yesterday's in-depth look at Purple by Stone Temple Pilots, today's post will be a simplified look at a song from the same era. 

Before the days of DVRs and YouTube, it was darn near impossible to find something illusive on TV. If, like me, you only had MTV to serve as an introductory source of music you had to pay rapt attention, lest you miss the little info box on the small of the screen at the beginning and end of the clip. Good luck if it was a more obscure song, too - while there were still videos on MTV at the time, they were becoming fewer and farther between. A sick day from school was a guaranteed marathon of MTV at that stage in my life - it was the only way to see some of the videos I wanted to see so badly. That's how I saw the debut of the Mentos-themed clip for 'Big Me' by The Foo Fighters, or the premiere of Green Day's dual release 'Brainstew/Jaded' when I was an obsessed young teenager. 

This unfortunate catch-as-you-can modus operandi made me into a rapt viewer. Of course, I was too stupid to write anything down, instead relying on my own intellect to recall anything worthwhile. It may have been a vain, foolhardy technique, but hey - I was 13 and it might be responsible for whatever powers of pop-culture recollection I possess today. Anyway, point is - one sunny spring afternoon I saw a video for a band called Stabbing Westward. The lead singer sounded a bit more like Ozzy than I would really prefer, but the song, at the time, was incredibly heavy and rocking. The video for the song was interesting as well, a bit of performance footage interspersed with the band watching a movie for what may have been an earlier version of the clip itself. Unfortunately the name of the song was a bit generic, to the point that I pretty much forgot it as soon as the text disappeared at the end of the clip. All I had was the band name. I filed it away in the back of my head as awesome but likely to never be heard again.
 Time passed, I found other music I was more excited about. Then, one day months after seeing the video once, I was in my dinky little music store I frequented when I saw a name that tugged at the back of my mind. It was Stabbing Westward's album, Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel

"It was good..." I thought of the single.

So I plunked down fourteen (14!) hard earned dollars for the album. 

The album, as a whole, was wildly uneven. That single, though - good stuff. Not $14 good, really, but pretty good when I was younger. Actually it's pretty good now. I figure by the law of averages , the price of that cd is offset by all of the free or "free" music I've obtained in the course of my life. Sometimes you have to pay in, amiright? Anyway, remembering that single and picking up the album was a good choice. I didn't really know it at the time but this was basically my first foray into the world of industrial music, even at it's most mediocre. I wouldn't get into NIN until years later.
'Shame' proved to be a decent track I kept coming back to. It's fairly de-rigeur and of-the-times with it's distorted guitars and wailing vocals, but as longs you're not looking for high art it's a fun rock track. There's a tone here that's quite appealing, something created by the verses and chorus playing off of each other, that makes an air of sleek movement and chases via hard rock of the 90s. Check it out.


Deep Thoughts

So here we find ourselves, back at the weekend.

This week was incredibly busy. It was one of those weeks where you glance at the clock and resign yourself to the simple fact that there aren't enough hours in the day. I'm okay with that,, though. It just means the days pass quickly and I have productive time at the office. Still, most nights this eek I came home with eye strain from staring at my monitor and a sore, cramped back from hunching as I crunch spreadsheets down. Fun stuff. I need to unwind, get out of my head for just a bit. To do so, I want to indulge in a secret, somewhat nerdy obsession of mine.
I love the ocean. Not just any ocean. All of them. It's the monumental concept of such a strange, alien place that fascinates my mind so. There's this completely and inherently different world that exists just beyond ours, beneath the waves. A place that makes no sense to our bipedal form, a place that was simply not made for us. We are not meant to be there. There are monsters there. How can you have any interest in the world around you and not be fascinated by this beautifully obtuse realm? Don't buy it? Fine. Watch Oceans, produced by Disneynature and tell me I'm wrong.
I saw the trailer for this doc back in 2009, just before it was released. Sitting in the dark of the theater, grinning in childlike glee, I tapped on my better half's arm excitedly, whispering "I have to see that!" While I may have missed it in the theaters due to schedule conflicts, it was one of the first Blu Rays I ever bought. Holy Hannah am I glad I did.
Oceans plays straight to my inner geek while soothing my overstimulated mind. Narrated by Pierce Brosnan, the documentary shows the beauty and allure of a place we simply cannot inhabit. Massive, sweeping vistas show the enormity of the world around us to create a sense of scale, only for the camera to plunge deeper and deeper into the abyss. Overwhelming schools of fish swirl around like tornadoes. Birds dive bomb the upper layers. An endless sea of crustaceans make the mind reel at the enormity of the fauna beneath the waves. We think of big blue sea, but its teeming with life where we least expect it. Scariest, or perhaps most majestic, of all are the whales. My mind simply cannot fathom sharing the planet with such gargantuan, intelligent creatures. The thought that there are things like that in the briny depths keeps me wary about boarding ocean liners, to be perfectly honest. They are smart, gentle and mammals, somehow. None of that makes any sense to my primitive mind. Seeing it all in high definition in the privacy of my own home, wine in hand, made it all the more engaging and captivating.
Disney's Oceans is a serene, cerebral look at a world that absolutely mystifies me. It's the perfect kind of documentary to help me blow off the steam of the week. I'd you haven't seen it, I highly recommend at least streaming it on Netflix. Go HD if you really want to see the depths from the comfort of your couch. I'll unwind. You go diving.




What's good?

The holidays are fast approaching. I've got something special planned for the final stretch. In the meantime, let's put all that noise at the back of our minds and look at something completely left of center. Something that has nothing to do with Xmas, other than some personal references. Sound good? Good. We're talking about Method Man and Redman.
Not everyone is into hip hop. I get that. I wasn't either, for a long time. As a kid in the Middlewest, what impetus would I have for getting into the genre? I was sheltered. I'm cool with it, you can't change where you come from. When I was in my later teens, though, a friend of mine turned me on to something so loose and ridiculous that my brain could not resist it. The sound was so tight yet so loose that I couldn't deny what they were putting down. I'm talking about the first full length outing between Meth and Red, 1999's Blackout!
Blackout! is a strange staple of the genre. Method Man and Redman had known each other since their youth and had collaborated on countless tracks. When it finally came down to the two of them putting out a full length album, they pulled out all the stops. The resulting insanity was a non-stop verbal work out that (for reasons that still elude me) connected on some subconscious level. 
Blackout! was the first hip hop album that made any sense to me, which is a bit of an odd statement. None of the songs were written with my ears in mind. Nothing in the songs had anything to do with me. I feel like it was more of a sensibility that spoke to me, a manner in which Meth and Red played fast and loose with their rhyme schemes and verbal imagery. The dynamic duo cited everything from kung fu movies to New York hipster culture to the original Clash of the Titans to dealing drugs and a wide array of things I had no experience of point of reference in. Still, their delivery and attitude were undeniably infectious. Unlike other rap albums at the time, these two crammed every bar and run with as much insanity as possible, instead of lazily hyping a label or name-checking their crew. These dudes were nuts. 
Look no further than 'Da Rockwilder', one of my favorite mainstream rap singles. The beat is is head bobber, the rhymes come fast and relentless. Red and Meth even stalk the video with aplomb, chained to each other as they spit verses. I listened to this album ceaselessly when I first picked it up. Unlike a lot of other rap I listened to at the time, I still put this one on, every now and then. If you want to hear what finally put me over the edge and got my feet wet in the world of hip hop, look no further. Lights out!


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.