Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

I just saw Thor: Ragnarok. The studio chose “Ragnarok” instead of “Ragamuffin” or “Turmoil in Asgard!” or “Domestic Disturbance, Call 9-1-1” because Ragnarok sounds like an evil Norwegian metal band plus it ends with “rock” so you know this film is going to RAWK!

Ragnarok didn’t, though it was far better than I feared, thanks primarily to everyone in the cast who isn’t Chris Hemsworth. Chris’ older brother, Luke, was particularly good at playing an actor playing a big blubbering God of Thunder.

But Ragnarok did display the usual trends in superhero and sci-fi movies. Like how they all resemble The Lord of the Rings. Ragnarok comes complete with orcs, a Balrog, the Army of the Dead, and thousands of Australians with perfectly feathered hair.

These films also resemble Star Wars. “Asgard is not a place,” Odin tells us, in his best Obi-Wan-explaining-The-Force-voice. “Asgard is its people.” It is not. You spent the first two Thor movies convincing us that Asgard is a special place because it’s the crossroads of the universe and the home of the gods. Now you say it was just an address and you’re going to find a new home on Earth? That’s so original, not counting Battlestar Galactica. I suppose the next movie in the series will pit Thor against Trump over immigration.

But let’s set these resemblances aside and ask why superhero movies are always about the fate of the world. Doesn’t that make them all the same movie? Can’t superheroes take on criminal masterminds who rob banks or steal identities? No, sorry. Gotta build a big spaceship. But whatever spaceship we build, the villain will build a bigger one in the next movie. He’ll name his ship Endowedbadguy1177.

I love you, man
Speaking of men, of which this film has too many, Ragnarok proudly maintains the science fiction tradition of fractured father-son relationships that miraculously resolve in the final scenes. Yes, this time around, Thor and Loki find out they have a sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death. I don’t know where you seat the Goddess of Death when she comes over for Thanksgiving. But even though Hela is out to rule the cosmos, and even though you can dress Cate Blanchett up as anything and she’ll be smashing, it’s all just a plot device that forces Thor to admit to Odin, “I’m not as strong as you,” so Odin can tell him, “You’re stronger,” which finally teaches that blond dickhead a few things about relationships and responsibilities.

Odin can now die in peace, but of course he’s already dead. He’ll reappear with an encouraging word whenever Thor is once again trying to stop Mr. Wrong from destroying the world, which locates us comfortably back in Star Wars.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor showed some talent at physical comedy, but without his hammer and hair he’s just another doofus in a cape, and as usual he was outplayed by almost every other actor in Ragnarok. This includes Jeff Goldblum’s hybrid Bill Murray/Stanley-Tucci-in-Hunger-Games dictator and Mark Ruffalo’s impersonation of Woody Allen. Praise the costumers for dressing Ruffalo in Tony Stark’s Duran Duran T-shirt and the Hulk fans in green. Almost everyone else in this film wears black. Almost everyone in outer space wears black. When everyone wears black, wearing black means nothing. Give me a Star Fleet uniform any day.

I unexpectedly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, though I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been half an hour shorter. As it stands, it’s way shorter than Blade Runner: 2049 and light years funnier. Go see it? Why not. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Need a bathroom break at the halfway point? You won’t miss a thing!

Tip of the day
Stay through the credits – all the credits; there’s about a kilometer of them – for the best speech in the movie. It rawks.

 

Last night I went to an 8:15 p.m. showing of Blade Runner 2049, a 2-hour-and-44-minute endurance contest. I didn’t fall asleep, possibly because the film features the loudest soundtrack since All the World’s Garbage Trucks, and unlike the 17 other people in the theater I didn’t take a break to visit the bathroom.

Was this evening well-spent? Is New Blade Runner an improvement on Classic Blade Runner? Was Deckard’s dog real? Can you sit through a 2-hour-and-44-minute movie without going to the bathroom? Let’s see if we can answer some of these questions by running New Blade Runner through the 7 Deadly Sins of Science Fiction Movies meat grinder.

Sin #1: The plot revolves around/humanity owes its survival to an evil genius white male billionaire.

Look, people, in today’s world, science gets done in teams. There wasn’t one white male who invented the Cassini probe in his garage, sold it to NASA and the ESA for billions of dollars, and then became evil. Science is too complex and expensive for one man to create international havoc on his own. The last major scientist to work by himself was Nicola Tesla, and he’s been dead since 1943. No grant, no angel investors, no science.

New Blade Runner and Classic Blade Runner are both guilty here. In Classic Blade Runner, the evil genius white male billionaire is killed by one of his creations – another reason why you need a team.

Sin #2: Women of the future have one of two roles. They can be naked or they can be men.

New Blade Runner satisfies both requirements on the Hollywood diversity checklist.

Sin #3: No matter how advanced the technology, all conflicts will be resolved with a fist fight.

In New Blade Runner, the replicants played by Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks fight in the surf outside the Los Angeles sea wall. This is obviously director Denis Villeneuve’s homage to Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making love in the surf in From Here to Eternity.

Sin #4: All post-apocalypse cities look like Soylent Green. If you venture underground, they look like THX 1138.

Those movies were made in 1973 and 1971, respectively. I guess you can’t beat ’70s science fiction, huh? (Oh yes you can: Battlestar Galactica, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and this is just crud from the USA!)

New Blade Runner: Yes and then some. However, I have to admit that the junkyard was awesome. I want to be their artist in residence.

Sin #5: Never hire a writer. If you do, find ways to work around him or her.

The main writer on this picture was Hampton Fancher, who was the main writer on the original. He’s either lost a step since 1984 or he was stymied by the natural reticence of these characters. Most of them are not talkers. Gosling in particular is playing his introverted character from Lars and the Real Girl, except now he can shoot people.

The dialog is colorless, except for what was written for Sylvia Hoek’s Luv, who should’ve been a villain on Downton Abbey, and Jared Leto’s evil genius white male billionaire, a super-annoying mansplainer who thinks he’s too sexy for his shirt.

Robin Wright and Harrison Ford rise above the script. Edward James Olmos has about three minutes of screen time and we get no full view of his face, and yet, in his monochromatic way, is dominating. And Ford’s dog is brilliant. I want to teach my dog to stand malevolently in the shadows instead of racing ahead to get loved up.

Blade Runner goes to the beach.

Non-Blade Runner goes to the beach.

Sin #6: The villain always reveals his secret plans to the wrong people.

This is a specialty of superhero movies. It runs like this:

VILLAIN: Let me explain my plan. I haven’t carried it out yet, I just love the sound of my own voice.
SUPERHERO: Thank you. With this information, I was able to stop your plan.
VILLAIN: So that’s how it works.

New Blade Runner: Leto’s character couldn’t possibly spill the beans, because he speaks in riddles. He’s the son of David Clennon’s evil genius white male advertising exec from Thirtysomething, who was also super-annoying.

Sin #7: Men are terrified of sexually aggressive women.

This is a specialty of Star Trek. The poor men trapped in these scenarios turn into maladroit middle-schoolers when faced with women who want what they want. This isn’t screenwriting, this is memoir.

New Blade Runner: Sexually aggressive women are just fine, but don’t expect us to talk much afterwards, or even at all. We barely said anything when you walked in.

Final score: Five out of seven sins. It’s hard to be a saint in the city.

Final word: New Blade Runner is unexpectedly involving but, in the end, totally unnecessary. Classic Blade Runner said it all (and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? said even more). I’m not sorry I saw it, and I enjoyed my walk home in the starry night, and now I don’t have to think about it again.

The dog was a hologram.

I hope this helps.

 

Twenty years ago, Half.com was the place you went to buy books, CDs, VHS tapes, and games at half the original price. That was a most excellent arrangement. But then eBay bought Half and prices were set free, and that was even better! Salvagers who bought unwanted books, CDs, and etc. by the pound began selling them for 75 cents each (a common price for books) and even a penny (uncommon, but I found some).

Half’s home page hasn’t moved a millimeter past 2005. The categories never changed: Books, Textbooks, Music, Movies, Games. Special D handled Half for the two of us early on. She did well there in the years before eBay’s takeover, clearing our shelves of excess books and fattening the pile of gold coins in the basement. I may not be remembering this exactly.

I’m going to miss all the reading and music I found so inexpensively on Half. When you’re a writer – when both of you are writers – inexpensive counts for a lot!

Last album bought on Half: Elvis Costello, Get Happy

Last book: Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Last words: At least there’s still the library. And Bookmooch!

 


Somewhere on the way to the South Pole.

Karen Marlene Dunning was Karrie to everyone she knew. And she knew everyone. Karrie moved easily within and between so many subcultures that she must’ve been at least one degree hotter than Kevin Bacon.

When I met Karrie, I was new to Seattle and deeply involved in science fiction fandom. I only dimly understand sci-fi fandom today, but in the early 1980s there was a sharp division between people who watched the stuff and dressed up like the stuff vs. people who read the stuff and published fanzines that were at least sometimes about the stuff. I, being a snob, was of course firmly in the literary camp. Karrie recognized these divisions but saw past them. I never met a person who had anything negative to say about her.

Karrie was my girlfriend in 1981 and 1982. I left her for another girlfriend. I wanted to leave our relationship, but this wasnt the way to do it. The next girlfriend was a hair-raising mistake. Karrie took me back. (It didn’t last, but she did it.) Karrie had no room in her heart for hate. I was one more man who had wronged her, but she had little time for feeling wronged. She had too much to do. Prince, for example (“Ooh baby!”). Unfortunately, she never had that chance.

Even though Karrie predicted, late one spring, “It’s going to be a bean bag summer,” she packed more into her life than I will in my life even if I live two lives. She was born already knowing how to practice mindfulness, a concept I’m still stumbling over. I don’t believe there was an hour in the day that escaped her full attention, and I mean the full eight days a week. (Karrie was a lifelong Beatles fan. She and her sister saw them twice in Seattle and spent hours practicing their Scouse accents.)

Things I will always remember about Karrie:

Dancing with her at Norwescon to Manhattan Transfer’s “Twilight Zone.”

Putting on a satirical version of the con, Invisible Norwescon, complete with unhealthy snacks and a ridiculous slate of programming, in my hotel room.

Going to the 1982  rerelease of A Hard Day’s Night at the Cinerama in  downtown Seattle and staying to watch it three times.

Karrie visiting the hotel where I was playing in a chess tournament and providing the kind of motivation between rounds that sent me into the next game without a clue to which opening I had studied.

Karrie bravely volunteering to take my parents sight-seeing when they came to Seattle in 1987 for my wedding. My parents are not easy. After she dropped them off (at their hotel, not in Elliott Bay), she had to go home and soak in a hot bath.

This appreciation is difficult for me to write because Karrie and I have had no contact in more than 25 years. When Special D and I put on our first formal seder, Karrie and her boyfriend at the time, Frank, were two of our guests. But that was in 1989. We gradually moved into other orbits.

I always thought, someday, someday I’ll call her, but there are no more somedays. Karrie has died. I urge you to read her obituary, because the extent of her adventures has left me in awe. You will rarely read about a life like Karen Marlene Dunning’s. Rest in peace. Your friends were a big help to you at the end, but overall I’d say we got by with a little help from you.

 

Time for some three-months-overdue housekeeping. Return with me now to the long-ago Year of Our Lord 2016, and thanks as always for sending me money*:

Goodbyes

Maurice White

David Bowie

Prince

Bands

The Alarm

Astounding songs on atrocious albums: The Zombies, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, The American Breed

Classical music showdown

The Cult

David + David, Wall of Voodoo, The Nails

David Bowie

Rick James

Every Motown single ever made

Birthday musings, including The Rolling Stones

The Trashcan Sinatras

Richard Wagner

Animals

Junior, my father-in-law’s last pet

Xena, part 1

Xena, part 2

All the rest

Email haters

More crap from Dad, part 1

More crap from Dad, part 2: Flashlight of the Month Club

More crap from Dad, part 3: The house it all came from

The white feather boa finds a new Bearer

My favorite holiday

Things I have lived long enough to see, part 1

Things I have lived long enough to see, part 2: Hillary Clinton explained

I have one job on this lousy ship

The unrelenting awfulness of Star Trek: Beyond

Checkers

My loyal readers

The election

Random Pick of the Day
The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (2014)

The sweet, tight harmonies of Laura and Lydia Rogers, the not-exactly-a-secret sisters, will immediately make you think of The Everly Brothers. Like Phil and Don, Laura and Lydia have a country background and cross-over appeal. The girls venture farther into honky-tonk; the boys go deeper into gospel. Are there any songs on Put Your Needle Down that could chart as high “Bye-Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” or “Cathy’s Clown”? Yes, there are several candidates – if this album had been released in 1960. The musical world is too fragmented today for the Rogers or the Everlys to dominate the pop charts.

The Sisters’ lyrics are far more literate than any pop star could’ve pulled off in the 1950s (or been allowed to pull off). I like this album, their second, a lot. Their first, Secret Sisters (2010), is too country for me.

Random Pan of the Day
Iggy Pop, Blah Blah Blah (1986)
On this album, Iggy sings like David Bowie and looks like Buster Keaton. Bowie co-wrote and co-produced; Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols plays guitar.

This is a very ’80s album, by which I mean there are deep sedimentary layers of synthesizers and drum machines. At several points it could slide into songs or at least moods by The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, and even Erasure.

“Real Wild Child” was on the radio a lot that year. It still holds up. “Winners and Losers,” for all the overproduction, is a serious rocker, though it goes on a long time for Iggy (6 minutes). “Hideaway” is also good, plus the guitar sounds like mid-’80s Springsteen.

This is an interesting combination of musicians that makes you wish the parts added up to something better.

* You do know you’re supposed to do that, don’t you? Everyone else does!

My mother and I have battled over my clothes, my career choices, my hair, why I don’t put on a hat when it rains, whom I married and whom I didn’t, but I love my mother and I think of her as the light that warms the room on a bright morning in May. Alzheimer’s has not changed her sunny personality.

Following a series of unfortunate events, we had to place Mom in a nursing home. She’s within eight miles of the house she lived in for 59 years, but she’ll never see that house again. This has been traumatic for everyone except Mom, who has a limited ability to form new memories.

Surprise! A few weeks in the dementia unit did wonders for her physically. She’s been transferred into the general population. Mom now has people she can talk with (she can hold up her end of a conversation, if you don’t mind that she forgets everything). She’s not surrounded by unfortunate souls who have lost the power of speech or who can only converse in disjointed sounds or who aren’t aware of their surroundings. Though she asks every day if today is the day she’s going home, she also says about her current circumstances, “I can’t complain.”

Meanwhile, my Dad’s health and morale have also improved. He can sleep through the night because there are no more emergencies. For the first time in years, he has a schedule: Eat breakfast, play with the cat, get dressed and go spend the day with Mom. They play bingo and word games, drink coffee and talk to people. If they’re sitting together and the nurses put a blanket on Mom, they put one on Dad, too. “I look like one of the inmates,” he says. He’s almost 90 – he’s older than most of the inmates.

A couple of weeks before Chuck Berry died, Dad gave me a clue to help me understand Berry’s legacy. A rotating cast of musicians give concerts at the nursing home, including a guitar player who, according to Dad, “plays all the old songs.” He and Mom love them. That includes “Roll Over, Beethoven.” Berry’s obituaries and appreciations have all mentioned how his songs have been “stitched into our DNA.” I thought this was only true for people born after the war. No, it includes everyone, even Dad, who was born a few months after Berry. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.

If Alzheimer’s ever sneaks into my head and the doc recommends I be packed off to a dementia unit, please euthanize me in front of a wall of boom boxes all playing U2’s “Gloria” with the volume at 11.

Random Pick of the Day
Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (1984), Mars Needs Guitars! (1985), Blow Your Cool! (1987)
A friend of a friend died recently. Her nickname was Boz. I never knew her real name, and in fact I only met her three or four times in 30 years. But through our mutual friends I heard about her often. I felt she was part of my life, though occupying a distant orbit.

The only time I was ever alone with Boz, we talked about her favorite band, The Hoodoo Gurus. I like them, too. They’re an Australian band with a dark sense of humor, maybe too hard-edged for pop but definitely too good to miss. These are their three best records. They’re uneven – if I had my choice, I’d siphon the best tracks onto one disc and call it Cool Stoneage Guitars. Give them a listen in Boz’s memory, or at least try their one almost-hit, “Bittersweet.”

Random Pan of the Day
Donald Trump
It’s too easy to make fun of Donald Trump and his rants, lies, delusions, wet dreams, and fourth-grade mental fitness. He’s lived in this country all his life and yet he doesn’t understand our history, culture, language, or even the government he’s now in charge of.

It’s also too easy to point out that he’s stocked his administration with fuckwads, dipshits, shitburgers, hairballs, ass kissers, racists, ninnies, and swimming-pool goicks.

The real tragedy of Donald Trump is not the lives he’s going to wreck or the money his family will strip-mine from the Treasury or the planet he’ll pollute. The tragedy is how he’s teaching our children – excuse me, he’s teaching our male children – that you can spend your life lying and cheating and treating women like serfs and never reading a book, not even your own, and 60 million people will happily vote for you to be their leader. You can merit nothing and win everything.

This shit just got real.

 

(Dear Readers: You’re in trouble now. I figured out how to republish my old posts! This unsparing survey of holiday music originally appeared on 22 December 2011. To quote the sign that hangs in the window of the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, “Sorry, we’re open.”) 

One night this week I powered up the radio in the Run-DMStevemobile and there was Perry Como singing “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.” I punched Scan and immediately got Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health”: “Bang! Your! HEAD!” I stuck with it. When I walked in the door here at the Bureau, Special D was celebrating a surf Christmas courtesy of Los Straitjackets and their perspective on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Later in the evening I heard Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which as far as I’m concerned was the last straw in the manger.

Yes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” when Quiet Riot, the poor man’s Judas Priest, provides an island of serenity in a sea of Christmas music, most of it written by my fellow Jews. (I haven’t mentioned one Christmas song yet that wasn’t.) This is why I’ve decided to have a few words with you today about the black hole that is Hanukkah music. Why, you may ask, have the Jews written “White Christmas” for the Christians but no equivalent blockbuster for their own people? Why are we stuck with Adam Sandler rhyming “Hanukkah” with “gin and tonica” and a pre-schooler’s tune about a spinning top made out of clay?

“O Come All Ye Schnorrers”
I know this question has been keeping you awake at night. Fortunately, there’s a simple answer: When it comes to Hanukkah, there’s not much to hang your muse on. The “Festival of Lights” is of so little Judaic significance that it doesn’t even appear in the Bible. (Note to my pagan readers: The Bible is what you charmingly call the “Old Testament.”) In Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated as a military holiday something like our Memorial Day, which probably means they take that opportunity to sell mattresses at a steep discount. Here in the USA, Hanukkah appears at approximately the same time as Christmas, and so has absorbed some of that glory without actually earning it.

About the only Hanukkah activity of my childhood was lighting candles, but my parents often fell asleep in front of the TV before we could get to the ceremony. We always ended up missing nights. You need 44 candles for one Festival of Lights. What are you going to do with the 13 you didn’t use last year? There are Hanukkah candles in colors they don’t make anymore quietly fossilizing in closets all over my parents’ house.

I don’t want to imply that my old man was overly concerned with workplace safety, but he did view a menorah with all nine candles in action as possessing about the same thermonuclear potential as a Saturn V rocket. Only when our cast iron menorah had been set within an aluminum pie plate and positioned atop the steel oven, in the wide nonflammable space between the four burners, would Dad ignite the Hanukkah candles. If he was awake. He might’ve nodded off in the middle of Gunsmoke.

“I’m Dreaming of a Fine Purim”
Jewish kids today expect a present every night. Stupid Jewish kids today! Things were very different when I was a boy and the Southern states were threatening to leave the Union. Wait, that’s still happening. My siblings and I were generally issued small mesh bags of chocolate coins in gold foil. They weren’t as good as Oreos. One year, through a mistake no one could explain, I received a model of the battleship North Carolina (“The Showboat”). On weekends my mother made latkes (potato pancakes) and everyone had heartburn.

As for playing the dreidel game, even when my friends and I were old enough to responsibly enjoy recreational drugs, spinning a dreidel was still insufficient to hold the attention of a teenager. Though I can see that adults willing to take a walk on the wild side might make a whole different game out of it.

“God Rest Ye Feisty Deli Men”
I’ve established that Hanukkah is basically boring. To further illustrate the difficulty of making music out of this odd little festival, consider Christmas music. What are Christmas songs about, and how do these subjects compare with Hanukkah? I’ve divided popular Yuletide tunes into three thematic areas:

1) Jesus. Christmas powers the American economy, but it also stars Jesus, and that’s kinda sacred for you guys with the cross there. What’s sacred in Hanukkah? Sure, the oil in the menorah in the liberated temple in Jerusalem burned for eight nights instead of the one night the rebel alliance thought they were entitled to. But remember, the first Hanukkah took place in the 2nd century B.C. There was no Food & Drug Administration back then, meaning no government inspectors checking for impurities. My theory is that when the Jews liberated the Temple from their Greek oppressors, what they found in the oil room was some really good shit.

2) Santas, saints, snowmen, drummer boys, reindeer, elves, orcs, and other RPG characters. There’s none of that noise at Hanukkah. All we have are the Maccabees (Hebrew for “Hammer”), who led the revolt against the Greeks. The Maccabees are the perfect example of having the right people in the right place at the right time, though most times you’d rather have the Gypsy Jokers as neighbors than these violence-loving religious enthusiasts.

3) Home. I agree that there’s no place like it, but you don’t go home for Hanukkah, you go home for Passover! Passover – now that’s a holiday. You can get something done on a holiday like that. The only thing you’re doing at Hanukkah is burning up a box of 44 candles so you don’t end up sticking orphan candles in birthday cakes years later.

It’s easy to see why there are so few songs about Hanukkah. What is not so clear is why I don’t get more gifts. Hanukkah is in fact such a simple affair that our dogs mastered it on the first try. We haven’t had a dog yet who didn’t know to report to the menorah as soon as it was fired up to receive my blessing and an Alpo Snap.

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Succos”
I leave you now with good wishes for a happy holiday, whichever one you downloaded the app for, and this link to one of the few Christmas songs not penned by one of my co-religionists. I tackled Handel and his Messiah last year, but I have to bow to these awesome kids in Alaska. Hallelujah, and don’t forget, tonight is the third night of Hanukkah so you’ll need four candles. Dad says to check that your fire extinguisher is fully charged.

(Headline and subheads this evening come from a fake SCTV commercial for “Jewish holiday hits.” I’ll be back in January with still more musical snobbery. Happy New Year, everybody!)