Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Acces to Inside Out

Like all movie lovers the world over I'm a huge fan of Pixar.  Though they've now had a few misses their output over the last many years has consistently been fantastic.  I was lucky enough to score some review tickets to a promotional thing they did and it was wonderful.  It was a see it early type deal with behind the scenes clips and Q&As with the filmmakers.  Plus I got a poster and a cool backstage pass dealie.

All of that was fun, but the movie was fantastic.  A true return to form for the studio. Anyways I did a whole write up for Cinema Sentries which you can read here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ben Folds Live

But first an apology.   My computer died a few weeks back.  In the process of getting it fixed (or rather buying a new one) and transferring all my old files over, etc., I not only neglected this little blog but I totally forgot about it.  Like literally completely forgot that I had started this thing. Then when I would remember I was always in the car or otherwise in a position to where I couldn't open a browser and start blogging again.  So, that's why I've been absent for so long.

I'm back now, and hopefully will remember to post regularly.

Last night I saw Ben Folds live and it was awesome.  But first a little back story.

I've been something of a fan from nearly the beginning.  An old friend of mine had a copy of Whatever and Amen and played it regularly.  I dug it.  Most of it anyways.  Enough to buy myself a copy but not enough to put it into regular rotation.  I loved some of the songs but on the whole there seemed to be too much filler.

Subsequent albums were much the same.  I'd hear good things about them, grab myself a copy and like a great deal of it, but never enough to swing me into super fandom.  Then a few years ago while the wife and I were visiting the parents in Oklahoma he came to play a gig in Tulsa.  We talked about going, but never quite settled the details and let him pass us by.  Immediately I regretted that decision and every time we'd come into town I'd scour the entertainment news sections to see if he would be in town.

Then we moved back home and he came and we saw him. And I accidentally bought extra tickets.  Around the time tickets dropped The Smashing Pumpkins were also selling tickets.  Wanting to see them as well we tried to get seats, but the pre-sale sold out and we missed out. But in the back of my mind was the desire to grab some when they hit the regular market.  In the couple of weeks that passed my mind mixed up Ben Folds with the Pumpkins (something that I doubt has ever happened to either of them before) and I bought additional tickets to Folds (the wife having already purchased two seats the weeks before.)

Luckily an old pal from the high school days who lives but a couple of hours away saved the day and grabbed my extras.  It was nice to see here beforehand and share a lovely meal.

Ben Folds was doing a little mini solo tour before his new album with a cool little classically trained string sextet dropped.  Solo piano shows are always a bit of a hard sell in the rock world  because, well, its kind of hard to rock out with just a piano.  But Folds totally nailed it.

He did his best to harden up the piano notes by periodically banging on the keys pretty good and creating percussions by slapping his foot against the stage and his hand against the mic.  Musically it was a fun show, but not legendary.  What brought it was his personality and the audience.

He told various stories and jokes between and during songs to liven us all up.  He also played a couple of songs from the new album as a sort of goofy karaoke.  His sound man would queue the actual studio song up through the sound system and Folds would sit at his piano listening with the rest of us and singing along to the words via his live mic.  And then he'd make fun of himself for such a ridiculous thing that it was.

Folds has a long standing tradition of getting his audience to sing along.  This is nothing abnormal at a rock concert as lots of artists get their fans to sing the parts of a song by pointing their mics at the crowd for a minute or two.  But Folds goes further than that having them sing the second part to songs that on record were sung by someone other than Folds.  This creates a marvelous interaction between the artist and audience.

Oh and he got a Hanson brother to sing "Kate."   The Hansons  (them of "mmmbob" fame) are local boys who have now set up shop just down the road from the Cain's Ballroom doing lots of cool stuff like setting up food trucks in impoverished neighborhoods.  One of them (the oldest, Isaac I think) was apparently there just enjoying the show, but them and Folds have some sort of history together and so Folds hollered at him to come up and sing.  His voice was not exactly perfect and he forgot many of the lyrics but it was wonderful just the same.

So Ben Folds live, that's exactly what's making me happy at the moment.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cheers is on Netflix

Cheers was my show growing up.  I watched it religiously every Thursday night.  I watched in on reruns every week day night.  It was the first show I obsessively taped each week (this was before you could buy entire series on DVD, they never really did seasonal collections on VHS.)  It was the first show I started to analyze.  I thought I was a genius for understanding that the characters never really changed, that they had stock personalities and the humor came from putting them into various situations to see how they'd react. It was...wait for it...situational comedy.

Yeah, that's not really revelatory, but to a kid it was kind of awesome to figure out.

Thing is it was funny.  Really funny.  And it remained so throughout its eleven season run.  I loved that show with every fiber of my funny bone.

But then the show ended and I stopped watching a lot of regular TV and I essentially forgot about the show.  I picked it up again when my daughter was born four years ago, but that was mostly binge watching in the middle of the night while she cried, screamed and fed.

Earlier this week I decided to start it over again just for kicks and I'm in love once again.  It is definitely of its time.  It feels like an 80s sit com with that sort of production value with its multi-camera set up and its stable one set staging.  But man the jokes still hold up.  And boy are there a lot of them.   Cheers was a joke machine.  One after another coming from all sides and from lots of different people.  They don't all land, but more than most of them do and often they still make me laugh righteously. 

In the years since Cheers left the air I've grown more sophisticated in my TV relationship.  I guess we all have.  I pretty much never watch standard TV shows and certainly not broadcast sit-coms.  But its awesome to be able to plug in Netflix and watch an old show that I once loved and see how well its still holds up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Pop Culture Happy Hour

I mentioned when I started this new blog that the Pop Culture Happy Hour was an early spark for creating it in the first place.  For a long while I'd been thinking about doing something along these lines where I'd just talk about really wonderful things in pop culture and my life, but it was the PCHH podcast that pushed me to really do it.

The Pop Culture Happy Hour is part of the NPR podcast regiment, though it does not have a radio show connected to it.  NPR, of course, has tons of great podcasts that are essentially just their radioshows (like Radiolab, On the Media, Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, etc.) but over the last few years they've added a bunch of podcasts that are podcasts only.

PCHH is a round table discussion between four people where they choose a couple of topics and spend ten minutes or so talking about it within the realm of pop culture.  Usually I hate this type of thing because it almost always feels like a group of folks who have done absolutely no planning ahead sitting around yacking to one another.  They can be funny at times, but then there are sections where you can tell they are struggling to come with something to say.  This is why I generally prefer the story telling, very well produced shows to this sort of thing.

That being said PCHH does a couple of things that make the format much better.  They obviously spend some time before the show coming up with topics to discuss and narrow that down to specifics.  Then each of the participants spend at least a little bit of time thinking about what they want to say before they sit down and hit record.  It also helps that they are all writers, editors and radio friendly so they know how to properly form cohesive and intelligent thoughts.  Now they certainly go off the rails from time to time and certainly wander off script, but because they've done their homework the show is able to stay grounded.

I really do love it.  I've been zooming through their back catalog as I'm riding around in my day job.  I'm saddened by the realization that I'll catch up soon and have to wait a week between shows.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Oldboy, The Manga Series

I'm a huge fan of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy especially Oldboy.  I love how it turns the classic vengeance tale on its head.  Its serves up lots of great action and gritty realism and yet it shows just how awful actual vengeance really is.

About a year ago, maybe, I found out that the film was based on a Manga.  I added them all to my Amazon wish list, but they generally sell for about ten bucks a pop and I wasn't ready to blow over a hundred bucks on one story, no matter how good.  So I'd buy one here and another there.  They are super easy and fast to read.  And good.  So good.  The story is basically the same as in the film though different in all the right ways so that I never feel like its a pointless exercise reading the book.

I bought maybe five of them over the course of several months and then stopped.  I get a little mad money from things like Swagbucks and selling old movies on Amazon and I spent that on things like Mangas and DVDs.  Basically all of my fun money comes from this type of thing and not our family budget so its pretty random when I get to do some shopping of this sort.  Somewhere along the line I stopped buying Oldboys and started in on something else. 

Then we moved and the comics were packed up in boxes and I didn't want to buy anymore until we could unpack.  Then we went to McKays in Nashville on the way back from my wife's folks house and I found the rest of the collection on sale and for the cheap.

I've started working my way through them again and they are so much fun to read.  They really are super fast as the books are fairly short and mostly consist of images.  But the art is really well done - fairly stark but put together in such a way that they tell the story using few words in imaginative ways.  I'll probably zip my way through the whole story this week and love every minute.

So that's whats making me happy today.  Cool manga.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

That Spectacular Daredevil Hallway Fight

I have a long, not so spectacular relationship to comic book movies.  Growing up I never read comic books so I did not develop any sort of nostalgic relationship with comic book characters.  I enjoyed Superfriends when it was on (though it seemed to air at odd times and I rarely found it) and other super cartoons.   I liked the Christopher Reeves Superman movies (though even the pre-pubescent me knew the fourth one sucked.)  I saw all the Tim Burton Batman films and the subsequent non-Burton sequels.  But I never though any of them were that amazing.  Etc.  Comic Book Movies were something I'd watch, but never really felt were anything all that awesome once I hit about age 15 or so.

I consider myself a geek, and I love geek culture.  Comic book movies are a huge part of that culture.  In this superhero world in which we live its really rather difficult to escape these types of movies even if you are not a geek. But when you are you live in a steady stream of fanboy excitement over them.  For awhile I'd get carried up in the excitement and see all the movies, but secretly I always found myself disappointed.

Somewhere in the midst of the X-men and Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogies I came to the realization that I wasn't really a fan of comic book movies.  Then early in the onslaught of Marvel/Avengers Initiative run I decided to tune out.  I could no longer pretend to be excited or to really care.

It stayed that way for a couple of years then slowly I started getting back into it.  It was actually The Avengers that sparked my renewal.  I used to have a friend (well he's still my friend I just no longer live anywhere near him) who is happily married and has five children.  As one might imagine his life is pretty hectic and ruled by his family.  But every now and again he'd give me a call and we'd have our own little guys night out.  This usually consisted of seeing some big dumb film with a bunch of dudes punching/shooting each other. 

One of those nights out we saw The Avengers.  I think I had seen the first Iron Man at that point but none of the others.  As mentioned I was intentionally avoiding them at this point.  But my friend wanted to see it and I obliged.  I really liked it.  One of the great things about that film is how they've done away with all the typical super hero fleshing out scenes - the origin stories and all that getting to know you stuff.  That sort of thing was taken care of in each characters solo movie so that all The Avengers had to do is bring them together and watch them kick ass and wise crack. 

It also helped at this point that I had started reading some of their comic books.  Reading the stories really helps flesh out the characters and get a better understanding of all the little things that fanboys love. 

I've since gone back and watched all the solo character movies and while I can't say that I loved them all I've been able to accept them as the dumb summer popcorn flicks that they are.

Which brings us to Daredevil.  I won't say that I was excited about this new Netflix series.  I know very little about the character having only read one or two of his comics and that only because he was included in larger story arc with the X-Men or something.  But I allowed the fanboy excitement to carry over and started watching the series.

I'm still actually only two episodes in, but I wanted to talk about that spectacular fight scene to close out the second episode. 

I'm really not a fight scene guy.  Part of the subtext of this whole essay is that I've become a bit of a movie snob.  I like classic films, art-house fair, and foreign films.  I want my movies to have important themes and artistic development with panache and style.  Big action scenes tend to all look the same and they just don't do it for me anymore.

But this Daredevil scene did something fantastic with it.  Maybe a little arty too.  You can watch it in that embedded clip above, but I want to note that it skips the beginning which is really actually important.  The real beginning starts at the far end of the hall looking towards a door.  The bad buy is carrying a plate of food or something, he enters the door and we hear him speak to the kid.  The camera follows him down then backs up as he comes back out the door.  We see him go in one other door with other bad guys then out and into another door.  Then the camera turns and we see Daredevil walk into view.  Here the scene picks up in our clip.

What I love about what you can't see here is that it gives us perspective.  Its essentially walking us through the space we're about to see turn action packed.  Once the fight begins the camera essentially keeps moving up and down the hallway showing us just how tight a space it is.  Its a beautifully choreographed scene and brilliantly done.  That it takes place in a television show and not some big budget film shows just how cinematic TV has become.

So far I'm only so-so on the series, but that scene needs to be seen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Force Awakens

I admit that Star Wars slipped away from me some years ago.  Or perhaps I slipped away from it. 

I was a Star Wars nerd as a kid.  I can remember watching Return of the Jedi in the theatre.  Multiple times.  I would excitedly tell those around me in the lunch line how many times I'd seen a New Hope (dozens thanks to cable, though I'd just as breathlessly recount that my brother had seen it more than 20 times.)  I also have very distinct memories of renting the original trilogy on VHS when that was a very new concept.  I was rediscovering it then, having seen them before but not necessarily remembering them, but I would rush at my mother telling her how wonderful those films were.

This all gets jumbled up in my mind and I no longer remember the sequence of those events, which things I did first or later in life.  But they are all there, strong memories that make me happy.  Whenever these things occurred by the end of High School I was a full fledged nerd often citing the trilogy as my very favorite films of all time (well even then I knew Jedi wasn't great, but still we got to see Vader with his helmet off and that was SO COOL!)

I was in college when they special-editioned  the films and I caught each of them opening night.  When they announced the prequels were really getting made I could hardly contain my fan-boy squeals.  I even sat through the travesty that is Evita because I'd heard the trailers were being shown in front of it (they weren't and I'll never forgive myself for loss of two hours of my life.) 

Then the prequels came and they weren't good.  In retrospect they actually aren't as bad as they get maligned for being, they just aren't very good.  And when you've got decades of anticipation for them not very good just doesn't cut it.  But still I find myself standing up for them more often than I probably should.

Time passed and I moved on.  I discovered other movies.  I fell in love with the old classics, with art house films, with foreign movies.  Star Wars held a place in my heart, but I had to make room for so much more.  When I sat down and watched the original trilogy for the first time in probably a decade several months ago I was underwhelmed.  They are still very entertaining and I certainly understand their place in movie history and the cultural zeitgeist, but when I hold them up to something like Casablanca or The Seventh Seal there just not anything more than fun family films. 

Still when JJ Abrams got on board to do a new one I allowed myself some excitement.  It was nowhere near what I felt coming up to the prequels, but I was gearing up for something fun.  I explained it to friends like this:  the prequels pretty much destroyed the franchise so if the new ones suck its no skin off my back.  But if they are good then we can all have our faith restored.

When I saw the first trailer my skeptical excitement remained about the same.  It looked fun, it hit the right beats, but it didn't do much more than that.  But this new one, it totally does it for me.  When we scroll across that desert land that must be Tatooine and see the crashed Star Destroyer my heart skipped a beat.  Throw in a burned out Darth Vader Helmet, a Mark Hamil voice over and freaking Han Solo with Chewbacca! and I'm so there.

I can't wait for Christmas.