1.31.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 28

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 28th WWW:

1) Fifteen Minutes:
This one had a slow start and it took me a while to get into it. Two men arrive in America from Eastern Europe, one obsessed with American cinema. He picks up a camcorder and ends up filming a brutal murder committed by his friend, to which the camera is not the only witness. They burn the apartment where the killing took place to cover up the crime, and set off to track down the girl who saw what they did. Enter a fire marshal played by Edward Burns and a celebrity detective played by Robert De Niro. At this point, the film finally picks up momentum and gets interesting, as we explore the dark side of fame. The out-of-towners quickly assimilate to our crazy country and figure out how filming their actions might actually be profitable. Kelsey Grammer is great as the host of a tabloid news show who feeds on exclusives from De Niro's character. De Niro is actually a good cop, who has more than a few things to teach his young new fire marshal friend throughout the investigation, but he too has been corrupted by the lure of fame, and his celebrity status is not without consequence. The movie goes to some dark places, especially when you consider the tabloid nature of even mainstream news reporting these days, and the fact that some of the events in the film could actually happen. While not the best or most memorable film in the career of its veteran actors, it is nonetheless a well-performed and thought-provoking piece of cinema.

2) The Omen:
Forgive me, but I'm having trouble getting exactly why The Omen is considered a classic. I don't question the caliber of Gregory Peck as the actor with the most solid career, here playing a father who gradually learns that the boy he secretly adopted when his wife miscarried may in fact be the spawn of the devil. I factor in that it was made in 1976 and I probably should have seen it when I was younger and had seen fewer movies, to get the full effect. And I always enjoy David Warner, who always reminds me either of his voice work as Ra's al Ghul or his role in the Wild Palms miniseries. Here he plays a photographer who manages to capture more with his camera than perceived by the naked eye. The soundtrack is excellent and does a good job of setting the atmosphere of this creepy thriller. I would credit more than half of the tone of this film to the score. So what's my problem? The kid, Damien. I didn't think he was that great an actor, and most of the time just came across as a bratty kid making obnoxious noises like a goat. He inspires some truly evil events around him, but really only commits one direct act of evil during the course of the film. And again, without the music, his performance wouldn't be that scary. Oooh, the giraffes are running away from the little boy! He must be eeeeevil. I don't know, maybe this one was just hyped for me based on its reputation, or I wasn't in the right frame of mind when I saw it. I just wouldn't put it in the same league as The Shining or The Exorcist, for example. Cup of tea? Not mine.

3) Up:
Now at the opposite end up the spectrum, here is a bright and cheerful movie that I absolutely loved, which is to be expected from Pixar. Ed Asner plays a little old man living alone who decides to float his house to a remote tepui in South America to fulfill both a promise and a lifetime dream. I don't want to say too much about his motivation, though it probably wouldn't lessen the impact for first time viewers. I had an inkling of the montage in the beginning of the movie that shows us the protagonist's life story, and I still had a lump in my throat for certain parts. That's the magic of Pixar, because there were some genuinely funny moments, both from the little boy scout that ends up tagging along with Asner on his adventure, and from Dug, the dog they meet when they finally near their destination. Dug is a normal dog, but a collar around his neck puts his thoughts into words. I defy anyone to not at least smile when we get sentiments like “My name is Dug! I just met you and I love you!” or when he'll cut to a “SQUIRREL!” in mid-sentence. There's also a great gag with another more menacing dog and a malfunctioning collar that absolutely killed me, killed me indeed. The animation is, of course, stellar, and the animators really did their research, actually going to South America and scaling these Tepui to do sketches and paintings. As much magic as artists create, it's great to see what occurs in nature, and some of the rock formations and clouds that they animated were based on things that actually exist. It's a movie with the message that, even though life might get in the way, it's never too late to go on an adventure. You just have to be willing to tear up some roots and discard some old junk before you can fly.


More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!

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1.30.2010

The Finish Line

In life there are beginnings and there are endings. We never know when those endings will come, and have only so much control over how far we get. I've been dwelling here on and off about how a promising beginning to a set-up with a girl sort of fizzled. I'm still friends with her even though she stopped responding to my e-mails, and have had some mild conversational interaction with her on her public profile page. She did mention yesterday that she started taking some kind of certification course for her job on weekends, which will keep her busy until May, and generally told all her friends why she hasn't been online as much. Now the cynic in me built by past experience might take that as the typical “Oh I can't; I'm washing my hair that night” excuse that girls give, but since it was directed at all her friends I'm not going to be that egotistical or stupid. Sure, it still means she won't have time for more than a casual online friendship, but I'm also going to take it as a more preferable explanation than she thought I was like Hannibal Lecter. It's a definite relief.

Dollhouse limped across the finish line on Friday night with a series finale that was cut short by a few seconds so the cancel-happy network-who-shall-not-be-named-or-linked-to could devote time to a promo for some other crappy show. As finales go, it was probably the purest Whedon that the series was ever allowed to be. Set 10 years in the future, the world is in ruins, and several of our favorites make the ultimate sacrifice to set things right. One death, while not unexpected, demonstrated that “anyone could go at any moment” angle that Whedon's shows are famous for. He managed to cram several of these moments in the last few episodes, making the best use of the time the network gave him. Another sacrifice was telegraphed, but a single “Oh...” before it happened had the same emotional impact on me as ”I am a leaf on the wind.” I can't explain that reference without spoiling another (theatrical) series finale unfortunately, but those who get it know exactly what I'm saying.

I think part of the problem with the ending was that it was a direct sequel to an episode that the network never aired. I suppose fans of the show like myself caught it on DVD, but casual viewers might have felt like they were watching the second half of a two part episode, which was exactly what they were doing. By jumping ahead ten years, we also missed out on some key character development as a villain redeemed himself. Still, it made for a great moment where you were expecting one thing when he showed up, and got something else entirely. I can speculate that something this character did the last time we saw him left an imprint that gradually shifted his psychotic tendencies toward more noble ones, and I'm sure given more time this could have been addressed with an additional scene. My all-time favorite televised Whedon finale is still that of Angel, which was true to the spirit of the series and had a great mix of heartbreaks and comebacks. The one aspect of that finale that many criticize is the lack of closure, and in that regard Dollhouse definitely crossed the finish line and tied up loose ends. I do kind of like the notion that Angel and company were still running the race and fighting the good fight even after we were no longer able to watch, and it wasn't a cheat like The Sopranos’ abrupt cut-off.

As for myself, I've been really pushing myself at the gym this week, finally shedding some holiday pounds and getting back into my groove. I hit a new record of 6.67 miles on Thursday night, partly to see if I could and partly because I wanted to get past 6.66 after having finally seen The Omen the other night. I set a goal for myself of running 7 miles at least once before the year is done and, feeling encouraged from some friends, really strove to make it happen on Friday night. I can usually keep my pace above 6 MPH, but I definitely can't maintain 7 for more than 15-20 minutes, certainly not for an entire hour. I got to 6.96 though, ignoring the pain as my feet blistered, swelling into the seams of my sneakers. I soaked them in some water and epsom salt while I watched my shows on Friday night, and I'll probably shift to low impact for a few days next week before getting back on the treadmill. Still, I set a goal for myself, and I came damn close. Sometimes, getting close to something is enough to realize that something is at least possible. Sometimes, hope is enough of a motivator to not give up, and keep running. If I can see the finish line, someday I can cross it....

1.29.2010

My Classic Video Game Five

I suppose the distinction between this and last week's '80s arcade game post is a subtle one, but My Five favorite classic video games predate the ones I listed earlier by about 5 years or so, and were the very basic games in arcades and early consoles:

1) Q*Bert (1982):
This was a fun game once you got used to the controls. A little fuzzy orange guy would hop around on a then state-of-the-art three-dimensional pyramid made of cubes, cursing in comic book speak while dodging a purple snake and other weird creatures. Every time you hopped on a cube it changed color, and the idea was to change every surface you could land on. There were rainbow discs to avoid enemies and fly back to the top, and in later levels you had to hop on cubes more than once to get the color you needed. It was frustrating at times, as evidenced in the following video:


2) Donkey Kong (1981):
Donkey Kong was bigger than Mario at one time, who was actually the protagonist in a game named after the villain, a monkey who takes a girl to the top of a construction site and starts hurling barrels, some flaming, at our hero. Through innovative ladder climbing, jumping, and the occasional conveniently placed hammer hanging from nothing, you could get to the top, only to get to more interesting levels where gameplay changed and you had to do things like remove rivets to make the platform the monkey was on collapse. Over time, Mario proved to have more staying power in the gaming world, but Donkey Kong has shown up in a few modern games and the original was the subject of a great documentary about just how obsessive and competitive some of the early gamers were, defending high scores like sports records. The documentary also introduced me to the concept of a “kill screen”; in those early days, games repeated almost infinitely with no true ending, but at a certain ridiculously high score or level the thing would just run out of memory and crash:


3) Dig Dug (1982):
Oh man, was Dig Dug fun! I may need to find an online version to play after I'm done here. You controlled this little guy and you burrowed in to the Earth armed with a shovel and an air pump. You could defeat your enemies by either luring them under a rock as you tunneled, timing it so the rock crushed them. Or, and this was the fun bit, you could inflate them with the air pump until they exploded! It was all in the name of preserving a garden, so it was environmentally friendly carnage.


4) BurgerTime (1982):
BurgerTime is probably the closest I'll ever come to a drug trip. A chef runs around on these ladders and platforms reminiscent of Donkey Kong, on which the components of giant burgers are suspended over each other. You have your meat, your lettuce, and top and bottom buns. Running over these items causes them to fall, and eventually complete a burger. But you're being chased by giant ambulatory omelets and hot dogs. You read that right. Fortunately, they can be crushed if they're under a burger piece you've dropped, and if they're on top, that piece will fall two stories at once. And if you have pepper, that seemed to freeze them for some reason. Like I said, DRUG TRIP, but crazy fun:


5) Space Invaders (1978):
Finally, it's the ultimate classic. 8-bit aliens move back and forth in formation, dropping ever closer to the ground when they hit the edges of the screen. Your ship has three barriers to hide under from enemy shots, and you have to shoot all the aliens before they land. Your barriers get worn away when they get hit, but every now and then a flying saucer goes by, and if you can hit that, a barrier will reform. My strategy was always to work the edge of the formation first, so a narrower grouping would take more time to hit either side of the screen and descend. But the evil thing about this game was, the more enemies you destroyed, the faster they fell. Though later similar games like Galaga added more complexity in the pattern of enemies and ability to upgrade your ship, I still have to respect where the format originated.


What were your favorite classic games?

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1.28.2010

Wisdom in Stupidity

I've always found it an interesting, whether intentional or not, parallel that the The Transformers: The Movie Soundtrack contains both Stan Bush's ”Dare” and ”Weird Al” Yankovic's ”Dare to Be Stupid”. The latter always seemed an odd fit among the other instrumental or ‘80s metal/rock songs, but it did play a very specific role as the theme song for the Junkions, a race of robot motorcycles who inhabited a planet of junk and whose leader was voiced by Eric Idle. Since the Junkions spoke in television lingo and other pop culture jargon, the wacky Devo-inspired lyrics and tones were a perfect fit. I often listen to the soundtrack as a morale boost, or to get myself psyched up about something, and it's been in my car's CD player quite regularly during my past few weeks of a failed romantic misadventure that I'm not dwelling on. I'm not.

I did find myself listening a lot more closely to those nonsense lyrics though, and finding some sense and inspiration in there. I may never know how I went from “She seems interested; she asked about you” to writing this girl for a few days, to having her stop replying when I asked if I could call her to talk more, and the not knowing is the bit that will nag at me for a while no matter how much I say otherwise. At this point, I wouldn't even mind a negative response, so long as I got one. With my track record I could use some constructive criticism so life would stop pulling the football away everytime I went to kick it. But it's not as if I've never been guilty of anything similar. About a month ago, a woman from my old job e-mailed me when she heard of a job opening in my company, begging me to put in her resumé and telling me her sob story of being out of work for a year. I wasn't unsympathetic to her plight, but couldn't in good conscience recommend her to my boss without destroying my own credibility. The way this woman had left my old company was to storm into her boss' office, slam the door, and proceed to curse him out loud enough for everyone outside to hear. Whether or not this particular boss was the type of person to provoke that kind of verbal assault is a separate issue(he was), because under no circumstances is that the professional way to handle such a situation. I couldn't recommend her; wrestled for a few days with how to respond, and before I knew it weeks had gone by and I ended up ignoring her. I couldn't say “yes”, I didn't have a diplomatic way of saying “no”, and I already had more qualified friends vying for the position. That example alone should give me some empathy toward my new friend’s deafening silence.

So the question is no longer the “why” she didn't respond or the “what” I could have done differently, so much as should I have even tried at all? Was it stupid? All the times in my life that I didn't act on my feelings, it wasn't rejection alone that I feared. It was awkwardness, even mockery. Would I be pathetic for having feelings that weren't returned? Would she and her friends be giggling about me every time I walked by? When I was about 7 or so, my father was playing with a polka band in a dance hall, and some pushy lady thought it would be cute if I danced with her granddaughter. I was super shy, and ultimately ended up hiding in a phone booth in the lobby for the duration of the dance. In some ways I never left that phone booth. If I could do it all over again, I would have danced with that girl. Opportunities are rare; regret is common.

“Weird Al” does parodies, and his talent lies in mockery. While the similarly titled Stan Bush song tells us that “You can win if you dare”, the Yankovic song may not be all that different. There are a lot of nonsense lines like “Burn the candle at both ends/Look a gift horse in the mouth/Mashed potatoes can be your friends”, but his ultimate conclusion is, “The future's up to you, so what you gonna do?” I took a mathematical approach to my recent situation, and have been doing this with a lot of my decisions these past few months. I simply played out the scenarios. If I asked the question, I could get a positive response, or a negative response. Something would happen, or nothing would happen. At that point, it was a 50% chance of either outcome. But if I played it “smart” like I usually do, then there was a 100% chance that nothing would happen. There would be no repercussions, and life would continue as it had before. No risk=No reward, so in the end I regret nothing. I'm not going to beat myself up over this(for much longer). If I had to do it all over again, I might have been more aggressive sooner, or perhaps waited a little longer, but sooner or later I still would have acted. I would not change the action. Sometimes you have to “Squeeze all the Charmin you can while Mr. Whipple's not around.” Sometimes you have to “stick your head in the microwave and get yourself a tan”.

The future's up to you.

What are you going to do?

Dare to be Stupid.


(Sometimes. Just be smart about it....)

1.27.2010

PBW: Vanderbilt II

Last week's visual exploration of the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium concludes in this week's Photo Blog Wednesday:























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1.26.2010

Self-Absorbed

My pastor had a very interesting sermon this weekend about how, in life, we sometimes become self-absorbed. I'm certainly guilty of this in many ways, and on some level I suppose I can blame it on being an only child. But I think in a larger sense, we all see the world from our own perspective, and can't help that point-of-view, at least not without some conscious effort. The priest spoke of various examples of people being so self-absorbed that they miss their surroundings. A woman in traffic(which he quickly changed to a a “man” mid-story so he wouldn't get in trouble, even though it really was a woman) needed to change lanes, and stopped right in the middle of the road, nearly causing an accident. People at mass, seeing friends they haven't seen in a while, sometimes strike up conversations, competing with the services. In a movie theater, someone might answer a cell phone. Ultimately, the priest didn't see these actions as evil, but they were all examples of being self-absorbed. It was a nice lead-in to the problems Haiti is facing, and how people might ask “What about us?” and not see where the need for help is greatest.

In an ironically self-absorbed manner, it all helped put my own recent ”woes” in perspective, even if I was already coming to terms with it. I guess everyone could see that it wasn't that big a deal, and I thank you for wading through my melodrama. I was so caught up in the “what's wrong with me?” or “Where did I go wrong?” aspect of the situation, that I missed one crucial detail:

I'm not the only variable in the equation.

I wasn't really thinking about her, and what might be going on in her life or her mind. She might be just as wary of a long distance thing as I am, might have some past experience that makes her cautious. Maybe she's already on the verge of being involved with someone else. Maybe she's just not into me, which doesn't mean I suck so much as I simply wasn't what she was looking for. Instead of beating myself up, I should have been looking for answers outside myself, actually listening, or rather reading, what she had to say on her page. And there has been the occasional public comment from her that something I wrote was funny, even if she never answered the private message. So I guess I did make a new friend, and that's cool. There were points in the past week in which I considered “unfriending” her and breaking all contact, but I think that would have been foolish and extreme. She's an interesting person worth knowing, and I'm not the type of person to kick over my blocks and go home. Okay, I am that person, but I'm working on that this year, along with my self-confidence. Just as I need to run six miles a day to maintain my physical health, so too do I need to make an effort for my mental health.

Part of that health process is typing out my thoughts, so I apologize if this seems like beating a dead horse. Once I stopped worrying about my own feelings, I felt pretty good. A true friend isn't someone who roots for himself, but for the person he cares about. I'm happy if past crushes end up with decent guys who treat them right. I'm glad my ex is married with twins; always thought she'd make a great mother. “When are you gonna make stuff happen for yourself?” asked one of my more self-absorbed friends when I told him that last bit about my ex a few months ago. In talking with another buddy last night about my current situation, he told me all women are a little nuts. Honestly, I think we're all nuts. We all have fears and doubts and insecurities. We do things to make each other crazy, and we're all a little crazy to begin with. And we're all made in God's image, so let that implication sink in. Crazy.

I think I can sum this all up with two quotes:

”Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you. Amazing things will happen. I'm telling you. It's just true.”-Conan O'Brien

”Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”-Ferris Bueller


Look outside yourself for enlightenment, and look often.

1.25.2010

Phantasmic Links 1.25.10

I had a productive weekend, as well as a thoughtful and insightful one. I spent a lot of time inside my brain, as per usual, but I also spent some time listening to others, thanks in part to something my pastor said in his sermon this weekend. There's a certain healthy clarity that comes from seeking answers outside of ourselves, but that's an elaboration for another day. Today, I won't get any deeper than PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) This architect describes his work as “organic residential”. I wouldn't mind owning one of those “treehouses” when I grow up....

(2) Here's some truly sick examples of facepainting. I wish I had that site for reference back when my college art club did a facepainting fundraiser. I wish we had the internet in the form it's in today back when I was in college. God, I'm getting old....

(3) “Shoot” takes on a whole new meaning with 14 Cameras That Look Just Like Guns.

(4) There's actually a formula for perfect parallel parking. I've been a driver now for over 15 years, and I still struggle with that.

(5) Check out these haunting images of abandoned malls. You might even recognize one of them from The Blues Brothers.
Hat Tip: Krispy.

(6) On a more sad but beautiful and touching note, a photographer chronicles his final days with his father.

(7) A 38-Year-Old man takes stunning photographs of space...from his shed. I want to do that. I think I'm gonna need a bigger lens.

(8) For those who missed it, here is a transcript of Conan O'Brien's classy and inspirational final Tonight Show speech.

(9) A street artist brings his vision to life...with colorful tape.

(10) Spike Jonze. Robots. Love. ‘nuff said.


Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!

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1.24.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 27

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 27th WWW:

1) Coraline:
I would not recommend this film for young children, despite the “PG” rating. It features a creepy parallel universe in which people's eyes have been removed and buttons sewn in their place, including the ghosts of some murdered children. This thing is dark. That being said, it's also a brilliant work of art sprang from the twisted mind of one Neil Gaiman. The title character Coraline(not Caroline), is frustrated and bored in her new home. Her parents don't have time for her. The one boy her age who lives nearby irritates her. Their upstairs and downstairs neighbors are equally strange. But in one room of the house she finds a door, a door she can only go through in her dreams. On the other side she finds an Other-Mother, and an Other-Father, and, save for the creepy button eyes, everything in that Other-place is so much brighter, sweeter, and more magical. It is a tale of dark seduction drawing inspiration from the classic Grimm's Fairy Tales moreso than watered-down Disney fare, and the animation is superb. CGI has come so far, that I didn't realize this was stop motion until I watched it again with commentary. It's amazing how the opening sequence of a doll being changed takes on such horrific qualities as seams are removed and the fabric is turned inside out. The horror comes from the sheer level of detail and how easy it is to associate an inanimate object with the living being it will attract. It's a great film, but it could give the young one nightmares. I almost had nightmares....

2) Body Double:
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this Brian De Palma classic. I can certainly appreciate it on a cinematic level, what he does with music and camera angles and showing us what other characters see through a lens. This thing is chock full of nods to the work of Hitchcock, most obviously Rear Window and Vertigo. But it is claustrophobia, not vertigo, that plagues our hero, a struggling actor played by Craig Wasson, an actor I mistook for Bill Maher for a good portion of the film(I told you I'd explain that reference). Wasson's not a particularly bad actor, although nothing other than that resemblance really stood out about him, and he hasn't had the most famous of careers. After he catches his girlfriend cheating, and his claustrophobia costs him his job in a cheesy vampire flick, he finds a new apartment to sublet with a great view of a beautiful woman across the way. Curiosity leads to obsession, and obsession leads to involvement. Eventually, a surprisingly gory murder shakes things up, and in the logic of erotic thrillers, our hero must turn to a porn star, played by a fit young Melanie Griffith, for help. The high point of the film is a musical sequence set to ”Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, that removes any doubt about the lyrics' double(single?) entendre. That one scene just screams ‘80s, and it is glorious. The film builds to a suspenseful climax in which the hero must of course confront his worst fear if he is to triumph over the killer. Then it takes an odd “twist” that had me yelling at the DVD player. Thankfully, they double back on the twist with another one that sets things right again. But for a minute there, I almost gave it 2 stars instead of 3. Film buffs and those nostalgic for the ‘80s will appreciate this one, while everyone else might walk away confused or irritated.

3) Conspiracy Theory:
This one was a lot of fun, with Mel Gibson at his crazy best as a delusional cab driver with crazy theories about everything and an obsession with a government agent played by Julia Roberts. Just because he's paranoid doesn't mean the proverbial “They” are not after him, and when people who receive his newsletter start turning up dead, Roberts has to wonder if there's something more to this guy's ramblings. Patrick Stewart takes a rare sinister turn here in a part that probably would have gone to someone like Brian Cox a decade later. The clichés are few and forgivable, and it's just great to see Gibson play such an out-of-control, sympathetic character, especially when his quirks and fears end up saving him more than once. He manages to infuse a good deal of comedy with his expressions and demeanor, and one scene of him fleeing the bad guys while his eyes are taped open and he's tied to a wayward wheelchair is not to be missed. I'm sure most people have seen it since it came out in 1997, but I won't spoil the ending. I will say it had one of the more enjoyable final scenes I've seen in a long time, and I found a goofy grin sprouting on my face as one character came to a realization about the true fate of another. It's over two hours but fast-paced, and it's just great to watch these actors in their prime.


More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!

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1.23.2010

Poll of Randomosity Fourteen

It's another Poll of Randomosity! Here's my FOURTEENTH set of TEN random questions for us to answer together:

1) If you caught it, what did you think of Conan's final Tonight Show?

2) Does depression make you tired, do you get depressed from being tired, or neither?

3) How has the earthquake in Haiti affected you?

4) Is it just me, or does Craig Wasson look absurdly like Bill Maher?

5) Where do you see yourself in ten years?

6) If there are three times as many boys than girls in Timmy's class, and there are 24 more boys than girls, how many kids are there in the class total?

7) Does this look infected?

8) Ketchup or mayonnaise?

9) Is the world as we know it coming to an end?

10) What's my next move?


For me, the answers are:

1) I thought he went out with extreme class and dignity, and I regret that I didn't watch his show more(only recently has the digital signal been strong enough to get that station). I always thought Conan, Andy and Max were the next Johnny, Ed and Doc, but as Conan said life rarely works out the way we expect it to. I especially took inspiration from his words about cynicism and keeping a positive attitude and working hard. It's easy to get cynical, and our pattern of failure may continue, but if we give up then it definitely will continue. I need to remember that and stay positive.

2) I think this is a chicken and egg question. I definitely have less energy and motivation when I'm feeling down, but there are also times when I take a nap and wake up with an inexplicable feeling of extreme sadness. I slept from 8 PM to 11:30 PM on Friday night because I was exhausted after work, and that feeling felt like a weight when I awoke. I wonder if part of it is that sense of time wasted, of being especially disoriented when one doesn't plan to doze off. I used to get the same feeling when I'd oversleep on a Saturday or Sunday and miss some early cartoon, back in the days before VCRs. Man, I miss the days when my biggest problem was catching a cartoon.

3) Directly, it hasn't, but footage on the news every day of people receiving bad news about family members, or the recovery of bodies has been incredibly sad. I caught one clip last week of a nine-year-old girl pinned under rubble. They just showed her arm moving and you could hear her whimpering. I have to commend my company for saying they'd match any employee donations to the American Red Cross, and I wrote a check for an amount that had some personal, karmic meaning. I don't know that it made a difference, and certainly won't bring anyone back, but it was better than doing nothing.

4) It is not just me. I will elaborate more in my next post, but I'm sure astute readers will figure out why before then.

5) I hope I'm not still in this room. I think ten years is enough time for me to finally get my act together, become a homeowner and an adult and take charge of my life. Of course, I thought the same thing ten years ago, so who knows. I hate these types of questions because, even when we make plans, no one knows for sure how things will work out. That seems to be a theme lately.

6) 48. Duh.

7) No, and the swelling has gone down, but from what I read it will be black for months. It's probably fortunate that no one will ever see it.

8) Both. Mixed together.

9) With all the quakes and floods and what not, with war and colliding atoms and blowing up bits of the moon, things don't look too good right now. But just as we've been dying since the moment we were born, so too has the world been ending since it was created. So it's not really the end that matters so much as what we do on the way there.

10) Even I don't know the answer to this one. It will either be something stupid or nothing at all, and whichever it is I'll still beat myself up about it afterwards.


And you, my loyal readers? Where do you stand on these inquiries?

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1.22.2010

My '80s Arcade Game Five

I will always remember the ‘80s fondly. I may have spent a little over five years of my life in the ‘70s, but the ‘80s were when I became really self-aware enough to appreciate cartoons and music. And of course, my nostalgia includes video games. I may have been rocking an Intellivision at home, but the cutting edge stuff was in the arcades. I had a few at local malls I liked, but was too young to spend much time in. I think advancements in home entertainment have all but killed those dark caverns in malls, and I found casinos to be a poor replacement in my adult life. But where I got the most exposure to arcade games was at a Modell's, back when it was a full department store and not just sporting goods. I remember when they got rid of the larger store and sold the space to The Home Depot. The sliding doors and lobby have been renovated but retain the basic structure, and whenever I'm there I can still envision the bank of games that flanked either side, where I'd spend my time while my folks shopped. I was exposed to a lot of games there before they were ported over to systems like the NES, and here are My Five favorites:

1) Rampage:
I loved this game. You could take control of one of three giant monsters, and up to three people could play at once! Your mission was simple: bring down the buildings and eat any people or army guys who got in your way. When you “died”, you'd shrink back down into the human being you were apparently mutated from. In my adolescence, I always played “Lizzie” the giant lizard, because she turned into this little blonde in tattered clothes. It's sad how honest I am about my sad youth.


2) Super Mario Bros.:
By the way, and this is probably the best place to mention this, my list is in no particular order. Because I first played this game in the arcade, I thought it predated the NES console version, but the link above seems to say the opposite is true. Chicken or egg, I do remember the arcade version being a lot harder, and some subtle differences in the layout of the boards. And I'm pretty sure the home version offered more warp zones making it easier to skip to the end. I guess they wanted more quarters in the cabinet version. In any case, it hooked me and was the main bait that led me to agree to go to an all-boy's Catholic high school if my parents bought me an NES. Honestly, I probably didn't have a choice in the matter, and it wasn't a bribe so much as something to appease me. And it worked. Couldn't find a clip of the arcade version, but World 1-1 on the NES didn't differ as much as later levels:


3) Ghosts ‘n Goblins:
Oh, the quarters I would have poured into this thing if my parents let me! I used to watch other people play, and always hoped I'd get to the store when someone was close to navigating the little knight through the cemetery, haunted forest, village, and caverns to save the princess(because there was always a princess to be saved). In between boards, a little numbered map would scroll and show progress, and while I saw some people get far, I never saw the very end. It wasn't until years later when I played a computer version, with infinite lives enabled and infinite patience, that I learned the cruel secret: you had to play through the whole game TWICE to win. It was a long game, and even though Super Mario Bros. told us that our princess was in another castle for 7 of the 8 worlds, you only had to play those 8 worlds once. Still, it was a fun game in which the knight would only be killed the second time he was struck. The first hit would knock off his armor and this little Morgan Grimes-looking dude would be running around in his tighty-whities until he found new armor, or was hit a second, fatal time.


4) Baby Pac-Man:
Now here's a novel idea that never spawned any further developments of the concept: marrying a pinball machine to a conventional video game. I'll probably cover the original game and its contemporaries in a separate five, but by the mid-'80s when I was checking out these other games in Modell's, this one blew my mind. I don't know why there weren't more hybrids...


5) Kung-Fu Master:
Wow, it was hard to pick this last one. Honorable shout-outs to Paperboy, Rygar, Bionic Commando, Dragon's Lair, Altered Beast and all the others that are now flooding back into my memory. But I definitely spent more time on Kung-Fu Master than any of those others, and got really good at Kung-Fu when it was ported to the NES. It was simple punching, kicking, jumping, and ducking in a side-scroller, the basics that got so complicated as fighting games evolved, and I dug the music. And of course you had to save a girl. On the NES this was infinite, and every five floors you'd save her and then start all over again from the first floor. There were rumors that by the 100th time there was an ending, but I never had the patience even with a Game Genie to sit there and find out if that was true.


Did I leave out any of your favorites? I definitely thought of a few that I may have to spin into future posts....classics...'90s...games with the color blue....good times....

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1.21.2010

No Sweat

Saw a quote recently that I liked, ”He who expects nothing is never disappointed,” which seemed to be a variation of an Alexander Pope quote. There seem to be two ways to look at this saying. On the one hand, it could caution against pessimism, for if we expect the negative, that's exactly what we'll get. On the other hand, it can also warn us about getting our hopes up, because if we want something and don't get it, we can be disappointed, but if we're not expecting something, then there's no chance of such a letdown.

In any case, I think I'm coming out of my little self-pity party from the other day. (Thank you Lorna and Lyndon for your comments on the matter). I've long recognized my dynamic for extremes, and it may be something I'll always struggle with. When I'm up, I'm way up. I'm cocky and arrogant and overall the type of guy I can't stand when I'm not up. When I'm down, I'm way down in a pit of self-loathing and shattered self-esteem. It can't be all or nothing; I need to find a middle ground if I'm going to function as a human being in society.

With each day that has gone by with an empty inbox, I've gone back and forth on whether I even want that girl to reply, but have grown more certain that she never will. On her social network page the other day she had a post likening this “Help John Find Love” guy to Hannibal Lecter. I began to wonder if there was anything creepy in my last reply to her, if the tone of the written word and the factor of me being an unknown had scared her off. Maybe it was her subtle way of telling me that, or maybe I was doing that thing where I read way too much into everything. “It's not all about you, Robert,” is a quote my mom often uses whenever my self-centered negativity kicks in. I haven't shared this latest episode of my life with my folks, but I know that's what she'd say in this situation.

It's funny that I didn't even see this situation coming. Two weeks ago I was crushing on another girl that was out of reach due to a significant age difference, extreme hotness, and other complications I won't go into here. I'd just made my peace with that never happening, when my friend wrote to me about this other girl she'd mentioned a few months ago, and put us in contact. In the span of a week, some stranger I was cautiously getting to know suddenly became my new focus. Meanwhile, on her end, I was probably one of dozens of guys she was chatting with, and I was probably in the mix just to appease our mutual friend. It was a casual conversation for her, and it really should have been for me too. I can see that now.

I remember years ago, sweating in the hot sun and noticing my old arch-nemesis was not. He gave me some explanation about attitude and mental state, about not feeling the heat. Now, my physiology and body chemistry is simply one that perspires. I literally could wring out my gym clothes after a six mile run. (I know; what girl wouldn't want a piece of that?) But he did have a point about attitude, and the dude was definitely a cool cat. He was one of those “don't get mad; get even” types, and did so with calculating precision and efficiency. I'm not cool, either socially or in terms of my attitude. People sometimes mistake my attitude for cool, because I'm quiet, but inside I'm screaming. Only a select few have been close enough or trusted enough to suffer the brunt of my screaming on the outside. I had to leave a Burger King the other day because they had their radio station set on “depressing love songs”. It started with ”Hello”, and by the time ”All By Myself” was playing, I was out of there, with a heavenward “Are you KIDDING me?” in my brain.

I guess my brain does have a tendency to get a bit ahead of itself, and I live out these fantasy lives months and years into the future. I don't even know if I would have liked this girl had we met, but I guess I got myself worked up about the idea of her. If I didn't sweat it, if I kept it casual and stayed in the cool “we'll see” zone I was in when I first made contact, it wouldn't have bothered me so much. And the whole Hannibal Lechter thing made me angry and hurt, because I don't think I am that guy. I don't think the dude with the website looking for a girlfriend is all that bad either. He has his own house and has a successful business and seems to have friends. He's probably not a bad guy, just socially awkward. Even at my lowest self-esteem, deep down I think I'm a nice guy, think I'm one of the good guys. And by the end of that whole mental crisis, I realized I was being psychotic for even getting angry about something that likely wasn't aimed in my direction. Back in college, when I finally got the nerve up to ask out a girl I'd been pursuing for months, and she wrinkled her nose and shook her head vigorously, I snapped “What'sa matter; don't ya like me??” which probably scared her and certainly scared me as soon as I did it. I vowed from then on to always be gracious in the face of rejection. It's only when I expect success, when I get my hopes up, that failure hits me so hard.

So I'm not going to sweat it. I'm moving on. This wasn't it; maybe next time. If not next time, then the one after that. And if it never happens, then I need to accept that too. I think when I stop caring so much, when I stop trying so hard, that's when I'll find what I want. I mentioned that I don't like how arrogant I get when things do go well for me socially, but there's a difference between arrogance and confidence. If I approach a girl with reservation or uncertainty, she'll sense it and be filled with doubts of her own. My research, in both reading articles and observing successful friends, shows that invitations should be suggestions and statements rather than requests and inquiries. “We should...” is stronger than “Would you...?” I'm going to get my house in order mentally, and maybe focus some more on a physical house which definitely wouldn't hurt my cause at my age. I've dwelled on this incident for two posts more than I should have, and probably a week longer than I should have. Everybody can't like everybody, and feelings can't be forced, so I'm not going to worry about this anymore.

And I'm not going to let them see me sweat.

1.20.2010

PBW: Vanderbilt I

This past weekend, on an unseasonably nice day, I took a little trip out to the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium, a place I hadn't been to since elementary school. After several hours roaming the grounds, taking in beautiful views and unexpected treats such as dinosaurs, I tried to get in to a laser light show only to find that the ticket I'd purchased didn't cover that. So I definitely have a reason to go back in the future, but in the meantime I got plenty of shots to fill more than one Photo Blog Wednesday:





















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1.19.2010

Status Quo

I often feel stuck in a loop, like my life has reached a certain norm for the past 10 years, and nothing is likely to change for the rest of my life. I suppose part of it is the natural process of adulthood, once the disruptive process of changing schools and classes every 3-4 years settles down as a career begins. I was talking with one of my friends at work about how she'd been there over 20 years, and it had been her only job. I can't fathom that, and it is rare in this day and age. Still, at some point in my career, there will be a place I settle until retirement. And there is something comforting in a routine, not having the unknown to fear. Repetition can make us stale, but it can also make us experts in what we do.

I sometimes find myself a little numb, kind of daydreaming and detaching myself from the events around me. I'm not really human, not really one of you. I'm kind of a ghost, an observer forbidden to interfere in more than a superficial manner. I don't really believe this to be true; it's just how I feel sometimes. After one of my ”hypothetical” situations last week, I did try to break the cycle of self-isolation. I was feeling good last week, and even though I hadn't met this girl or spoken to her on the phone, it was just nice to be talking to someone with overt social intentions where I didn’t need to conceal my attraction. I've been in too many crush situations with various complications, where I get my hopes up and mistake friendship for something more, until she casually mentions she has a date or something that makes me realize I'm nothing more than a buddy or a brother figure. Hell, my ex-girlfriend once told me I was like the brother she never had, while we were dating. Ouch.

In any event, after three days of silence, after this girl had seemed very friendly, telling me about her likes and interests and acting “starstruck” about the company I worked for, I decided to send one more e-mail. My last question about television shows lay unanswered, so I tried to turn the conversation back to her, complementing her on some vacation photos of hers. She responded almost immediately and thanked me, apologizing upon the realization that she hadn't answered my last note. A few minutes later, she sent a follow up complementing me on the humor of some things I had written. I was feeling good again, but I also saw where things were heading. I was on the road to just being the good-natured comic relief, racing toward the friend zone. It's not a terrible place to be, and I honestly didn't know enough about this girl to know if I wanted anything more, only the opinion of a mutual friend who thought we'd be good together. I had to make some kind of move if I was ever going to find out, so after returning the complement, I wrote if I could call her. It took me a while to hit send, as I pondered the ramifications. Was it too soon? Would I know what to say if I called her? Oh my God, if she sent me her number, I actually would have to call! I didn't have a plan. I knew she lived a great distance away, so I would need to research things to do in her area. While doing laundry to stall, I came across a fortune from a Chinese lunch earlier in the week, which read “Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes.” I took it as a sign. I put the last of the laundry in the washing machine, went upstairs, and hit “send”.

It's been two days, and I haven't heard back, and now don't expect to. I get the message. I suppose it's some kind of small victory that I actually took the chance and crawled out of my shell, that I was even willing to overcome some of my lingering driving phobias and go over a bridge to meet her. There's a lot of variables and unknowns, and it was all well outside the range of my status quo. It was a nice fantasy, but now I'm back to reality. I found myself a little irritable at work on Monday as people kept asking me to cover for people who were out of the office. At least one person was a friend who I always cover for, and vice versa. Other people were coming to me saying, “So-and-so said I could go to you” where “so-and-so” was someone who never asked me, only assumed. So I guess the status quo is the little worker drone with no life is the go-to guy for everything.

I was also irritable because, while it's only January, band leaders are already bugging me about jobs. Do I really need to commit myself for Memorial Day already? The son/partner of one band leader tried to book me for a parade I usually play for another guy. “Well I called you first and you're one'a our guys,” he insisted. I gave him a tentative “yes”, telling him that technically the other boss booked me at the end of the last parade, so he booked me first. When that guy called me this weekend about another gig in March, I asked him if he had Memorial Day and he confirmed it. So I had to call the first guy back during my lunch break on Monday and explain that I had an answer, just not the one he wanted to hear. There was stone silence on the other end, and with each awkward pause I had to add another sentence, be it apology or explanation of how it wouldn't be right because I'd been doing that gig with the other guy for so long. They wouldn't like it if I bailed on one of their annual gigs to play with someone else. I even suggested 2 or 3 other musicians who could cover for me, and pointed out that it was January and he had plenty of time. It's absurd that these people depend so much on me. I should be flattered, but they really need to have back-up players, not just if I'm with another band. I know I'm not a complete human being, but maybe someday I will be. What if I can't make a gig because I'm on vacation, or more miraculously getting married? There may be gigs I can't make, and they need to have a contingency. They wouldn't get so upset if they had someone else who could cover the parts. It’s really starting to annoy me that my life revolves around all these people, and I don’t care if that’s selfish. I’m still doing the work.

So, this turned in to a bit of a rant, and I apologize. I don't expect that anyone is even reading this, but thank you if you are. Mostly this is for my benefit, to vent some of the frustration I was feeling with my social life and work and band stuff all swimming around in my brain at once, and the treadmill only helped alleviate some of it. I actually feel somewhat better than when I started typing, so that's good. Everything is back to normal, and normal had been just fine until I briefly had a glimpse of something more. I really was operating on instinct without a plan for a bit there, and it was exciting, scary, and probably a little dangerous. It’s kind of psychopathic that I feel so strongly, so quickly. I'm back from that edge, and like the end of every episode of my life, the status quo is restored.

Yay.

1.18.2010

Phantasmic Links 1.18.10

This has been an interesting week on the emotional roller coaster that is my life. I was up, then I was down, then I did a few things out-of-character, and now I'm somewhere between nervous and back up again. Also, I broke down and bought a GPS using a gift card from my folks. I won't be getting lost going on any gigs or photo expeditions this year, or during any other travel that might be in my future. So far, every week in 2010 has brought a new surprise. Thus far, some constants remain, such as PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Sitting for long periods of time, not surprisingly, can shorten our lives significantly. We're all doomed. Seriously, we need to replace the chairs in our offices and living rooms with stationary bikes; why won't anyone believe me??
Sobering Hat Tip: J-No.

2) If you've ever asked yourself, “Will it waffle?”, then the Waffleizer just might have the answer you seek. Here's my favorite; just look at that CHEESE!

3) Enjoy these Magic time lapse videos while saving both time and travel expenses!

4) OMG, I'm The Adult collects people's stories about those moments when they first realized the awful truth of their adulthood. I think my first time was on a date in my early 20s when the waitress called me “sir”. Another, more recent time, was when B13 took a picture of the back of my head, and I noticed a thin patch where a bald spot was beginning to form. I...don't think I like those moments.

5) Kimmel vs. Leno: Kimmel....WINS. HOSTALITY.
H.T.: Krispy

6) Some vintage drug advertising might shock and amuse you. I could sure use some Bayer Heroin right about now!

7) Watch your weight? Watch that floor!
H.T.: J-No.

8) Jimmy Fallon, as Neil Young, pays homage to the latest American Idol audition sensation.

9) No Dave, that's not what I drive. I wish I drove that, even if the color is much closer to Rodimus'.
H.T.: Rhodester.

10) Hot Chicks...and Stormtroopers! I think I need to pick up some armor...


Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!

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1.17.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 26

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 26th WWW:

1) Road Trip: Beer Pong:
It's a direct-to-DVD sequel made nine years after the original, and the only one to reprise his role is DJ Qualls, now a confident and cool college student taking on the storytelling role filled by Tom Green's character in the first one. Now, if you'd like to see a tired college sex-romp played out by four nobodies while Qualls only narrates, stop reading right now, turn off your computer, and go rent this. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and I think the only reason I considered Danny Pudi to be a bright spot is because I love what he does on Community. Had I seen this “film” before seeing his work on that show, I might have considered him a second-rate Kal Penn doing very little to break Indian stereotypes. Fortunately, the film had a lead character on a quest to cheat on his perfectly fine girlfriend with a hot ex-girlfriend, so you couldn't root for him, and two other kids who were barely distinguishable from one another. I kept thinking of them as Scuzzy Goatee and Stoned Goatee to tell them apart. Pudi went on to do better. Qualls has done better in the past; what happened to that kid from The New Guy? I had high hopes for his career...once.

2) Sex Drive:
I rented this one on the recommendation of a trusted friend who insisted it was good, but I was understandably wary after my bad experience with Beer Pong. And I will say right up front that Sex Drive has nothing we haven't seen before. A kid steals his older brother's car to meet up with a girl he's been chatting with online, in the hopes of losing his virginity. His dorky-looking but suave best friend tags along, as well as his platonic female friend with whom you expect he'll develop chemistry with on the journey. So it loses some points on originality, but gains some in the performances of some genuinely likable young actors. Twenty years ago it would have been John Cusack in the Josh Zuckerman role, and my generation would have fondly remembered the film as a classic. I think Clark Duke is an up-and-coming talent, and I liked his spin on the nerdy friend angle, displaying so much sheer confidence and style that girls didn't seem to notice the glasses or extra pounds. The two that really shone here were supporting roles. Seth Green did a great job doing what Seth Green does, delivering sarcastic remarks with a deadpan expression, this time as a surprisingly worldly amish man. And James Marsden stole the show as the older brother of Zuckerman's character, definitely channeling some of what Bill Paxton did in Weird Science. The film is derivative but not without substance, and it chose its inspiration wisely. I also liked some of the little modern graphic touches, from the floating chat screens to some great cutaway website gags. I think Sex Drive was in theaters, albeit briefly, but I suspect it's the type of film that will develop a word-of-mouth cult following on DVD.

3) The Blues Brothers:
I know what you're thinking. The simple fact is, no matter how many movies I've now seen, there are always going to be a few major stragglers like this one which slipped through the cracks. It came on at a friend's party a few week's back, and Rey was stunned when I admitted I'd never seen it. So I bumped it up, and found there was a lot more to it than I thought. Yes, there were musical numbers, almost non-stop. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd actually spoke in the titular roles; I don't know why I always assumed they were mute. Perhaps whenever I did see a clip, it was of the two dancing during some big musical number with a big-name blues artist, which the film has in abundance(James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, to name the biggest ones). It also has some zany chase scenes, that escalate to levels of sheer insanity by the end of the extended cut's two-and-a-half hour running time. Carrie Fisher does some serious damage as a jilted lover with a rocket launcher, flame thrower and more. John Candy leads the authorities on a chase after the two brothers, who are simply on a “mission from God” to “get the band back together” so they can raise enough money to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised. Nothing else matters but putting on that show, not nazis or country bands or absurd car driving that defies some laws of physics. This one is a classic, and even includes some familiar faces in minor roles, from Paul Reubens as a waiter to veteran character actor Charles Napier as a country western lead singer and winnebago driver. I saw him most recently as the crazy old car salesman in The Goods. And so, my internal trivia database grows even larger with the successful completion of this classic. Now I just need to see a few hundred more movies. I'm on a mission from God; have I mentioned that?


More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!

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1.16.2010

Hypothetically...

...if you were to buy a new pair of sneakers of better quality, and you started to get a blister on the side of your foot where it was catching between the seams, would you go back to the old pair(again) or push through it until the new ones were broken in?

...if aliens offered you a chance to visit their home planet, but it meant leaving behind your family and friends and falling significantly behind at work, would you go?

...if the bus you’re driving has a bomb that’s set to go off if you drop below 80 MPH, and you encounter traffic, what do you do? What DO you do?

...if you read the same question twice, would you notice?

...if the middle-aged cleaning lady always came over sprayed disinfectant and wiped down the machines next to the one you’re using as soon as you start your routine everyday, would you be offended or leery?

...if you struck up an e-mail conversation with a girl whom a friend was trying to fix you up with, and she stopped replying after three or four encouraging ego-boosting exchanges, would it be safe to assume after three days of silence that you’d scared her off with your nail-in-the-coffin boring-ass “what TV shows do you like?” inquiry? Would it be impolite or desperate to send another e-mail with a more interesting topic if she hadn’t replied to your last one?

...if a tree fell in the forest, like right next to you, and didn’t make a sound, would you go to a doctor or a priest?

...if you repeatedly, repeatedly said or did stupid things that sabotaged the life you want to have, things that only occurred to you in facepalming moments of hindsight, how would you learn from your mistakes?

...if you could gain a truly nifty superhuman ability at the cost of one of your five senses, and you didn’t know which one you’d lose, would you go for it?

...if you read the same question twice, would you notice?

...if cars consistently sped up every time you crossed the street at a stop sign, would you develop a complex?

...if you snapped your belt and demanded answers, would you get them?

...if I was too tired to make up more than 5 or 6 questions, would you care?