Monday, June 1, 2009

I'm Back...For Real This Time

I have concluded that I am going to begin blogging regularly again.  Over the course of the past couple of months, I've spent way, WAY too much time writing about Survivor and Big Brother.  It's not that I don't enjoy doing that, but after Coach utters his five thousandth narcissistic sound byte about what a dragon slayer he is and you spend five minutes trying to think of new ways to conjugate the word douchebag, it kind of wears on you, yo.

And thus, I am reclaiming this space as my own.  Expect to see plenty of musings about pop culture, random anecdotes from my life here in Chicago, music I happen to be digging, and (of course) extensive discussion of television.  I don't know if you guys noticed, but I kind of like talking about it.  Seriously, you have no idea how close you guys came to getting a long, rambling post about the phenomenal Breaking Bad finale instead of this.  Consider it my you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Last Night's LOST Finale

I am definitely one of those people who has been very vocally critical of Lost this season. All year, I have viewed the entire time travel arc as a way for the writers to conveniently escape from the corner into which they had painted themselves over the course of the previous four seasons. It’s easy to be skeptical when time travel was involved, and to me, they had not really earned the dramatic license that they were taking, because there has been exactly zero payoff surrounding the islands central mysteries. Yes, there were episodes that were entertaining and somewhat satisfying, but you can almost hear the conversation in the Lost writers’ room: “So, now that we’ve thrown a four-toed Egyptian statue, a shipwreck from colonial times and a colony of scientists from the seventies together, how are we going to resolve this? I know, time travel! WE ARE GENIUSES!”

But then, last night, they made me eat my own foot.

While the time travel arc still hasn’t necessarily paid off yet, it at least shows a lot more promise than it did last week, with the detonation of the atomic bomb. My main problem with the entire season, however, has been the death and resurrection of John Locke, and the fact that the new John Locke had a very specific agenda with no real motivation behind it. We’ve spent all season watching John saunter around the island and issuing orders telling everyone who questioned him that “the island” was telling him what to do and when to do it.

“Bullshit! That is not a real reason!” I would yell at the tv, each time this has happened. For a show that had always promised that the answers were coming, “because the island said so” is a pitiful, lame response, and I was mighty pissed if that was what we were getting after five years of loyalty. Last night, it was revealed that the whole thing actually was total bullshit; we’ve spent all season watching someone we thought was Locke act like an entitled asshole with some sort of mystery mandate that he’s deemed too important to reveal to us, when in fact we’ve been watching someone who is not Locke use the island as a weapon of manipulation. And that? Is pretty damn cool.

Turning Locke into an otherworldly antagonist is cool for a couple of reasons: It’s not only an impressive feat of script writing to take my perceptions and criticisms from the past five months and turn them into a plot device, but it also completely changes the way we perceive John Locke as a character. Last week, he was a man so seemingly confident in his own destiny that he was able to bend the entire island to his will. This week, he’s been utilized as a pawn by other, stronger-willed individuals, which is the role he’s been doomed to play throughout his life. His father steals his kidney. His fiancĂ© leaves him. He works at a low-level job in a cardboard factory. His father pushes him out the window and confines him to a wheelchair for life. He’s constantly been used by other people, and he continues to go back to them, believing in humanity’s inherent goodness. He’s rewarded for it by becoming the mark in the biggest con job yet, one that took his faith in his own destiny and used it against him, to the point that he tried to commit suicide in order to follow this belief. Last night’s finale turned him from an annoying character into an incredibly tragic one.

While the Locke revelation was mainly what turned this season from mediocrity to awesomeness, there were several other great things going on last night mainly we finally got to meet Jacob after five seasons, and we saw that he’s been responsible for bringing people to the island over the years, including the castaways. Sawyer has been consistently awesome all season, including last night, when he got to beat the shit out of Jack, who is becoming increasingly irrelevant in all of the goings-on.

Which brings me to the fact that there are still some problems with the show, mainly that Kate still exists. Does Kate have any other function besides to fuck everything up for everyone else? I hate her for ruining the relationship between Sawyer and Juliet (who is twenty times cooler), I hate her for her terrible acting, I hate her for being a brat for the last sixteen weeks. I suppose it was too much to hope, after they killed Charlie last year, that they would do me a solid and kill another annoying character this go round. They also killed Juliet last night, which was a terrible move because it removes the best actress in the show from the cast. As I’ve said, the jury is still out on the time travel arc as well.

The point, however, is that I went from feeling ambivalent about this season to counting the days until the show returns in 2010. Well done, show.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Summer Is For Embarassing Yourself With The Windows Down

Now that it's warm outside, I've taken to rolling my windows down and pumping my iPod a lot more.  I love my Sirius radio and all, but who wants to listen to Howard Stern when it's sunny out?   The man is a walking cloudy day.  Like, if someone asked me to draw what a shitty day would look like were it given human form: Howard Stern. 

It's important to have the right music in this kind of situation, and my album of choice lately seems to be Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion.  I realize that if even one more word is published about this album on the internet that computers throughout the world will collapse in on themselves like a collapsed star, but: the album is awesome.

I know, eloquent, right?  My relationship with Animal Collective before MPP was love-hate at best.  Really, it was mostly hate.  Fireworks was an okay song, but I found most of the rest of their work to be overindulgent, repetitive, and grating.  Their hype was, to me, overzealous at best, and a perfect example of the internet indie music mind hive at its worst.  But then they released MPP in January, and I pretty much loved it instantly.  Of course, I hated myself for loving it, but I could not deny it's quality.  The band had taken everything that I hated about their previous work (the fact that the songs went on for way too long, the constant yelping, the lack of any discernable cohesiveness)  and refined it into this melodic, nuanced record. Parts of it are still annoying, but for the most part, it's this surprising, enjoyable work of art each and every time I listen to it.
So here we are at the end of May, and I still haven't taken it out of heavy rotation.  I can't help myself; it's infectious grooves and techno beats are just as perfect for this month's sunny days as they were for February's dismally cold ones.   What really sells me are the flawless melodies.  What sounds like a bunch of unrelated pieces often come together to make awesome music.

It's difficult to choose a favorite track from the album, but I can keep myself to two:

Guy's Eyes:

Brother Sport (I can't find a copy of the album version online, which is sad because it is awesome):

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Henry, Earl of Lancaster

I don't know who did this, but I owe them a beer. My favorite is the one where you can see a white police officer's arm holding his head up because he's too drunk to stand.

For those of you that don't know, this man's name is Henry Earl. He was arrested for the 1,333rd time on Thursday, making the Associated Press newswire, which made him a national story.

Henry Earl lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he is mostly arrested for being drunk in public. I also used to live in Lexington. Literally, he calls the whole town home; I'm fairly sure he's homeless, making him one of about three homeless people in the city. There is the lady who stands at the stoplight on Upper Street and hurls expletives at you, the guy with the trash bag full of soup cans, and Henry. I have had many run-ins with Henry Earl, and most of them have been awesome. In fact, he is sort of a celebrity at the University of Kentucky.

When I was in college, I had a lot of keg parties, often attended by more than 200 people, meaning that they spanned my entire house and filled the backyard. Henry Earl used to show up at these parties, begging for a free beer. A large portion of the time, if you gave him one, he would turn around and disappear, leaving only the stench of a thousand unwashed evenings in jail behind him.

Because he is literally certifiably insane, oftentimes he would show up in character. Many times, he would pretend to be James Brown, which involved muttering incoherently and dancing all over my driveway until someone gave him alcohol, at which point he would leave. He would not answer you or leave until you referred to him as James Brown. Sometimes, you had to call him "Wild Wild West", and then he would perform, with choreography, the entire Will Smith song.

Sometimes he would show up and pretend to be a ninja. These were the times that I wished he would leave. One time when I was at a gas station inflating my tires, he kung-fu kicked and punched all the way around my car.

I'm also fairly sure he has Hepatitis.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Love Lockdown

If you're any sort of Kanye fan, I'm sure you've heard about the release of Love Lockdown, which is available for streaming on Kanye's blog. If you haven't heard it, I will warn you that it's not quite what you would expect from him. It does, however, become extremely catchy after one or two listens. The heartbeat drum pattern in the back is genius, and that chorus gets stuck in your head like whoa.

More importantly, that album is not going to be called Good Ass Job, as Kanye has previously stated, continuing his trend of titling albums after his rise to fame as a metaphor for a normal life. It's reported to be called 808s & Heartbreak. Other than the fact that the title is awesome, consider this: have you ever heard a hip-hop breakup album? That's because they do not exist. Being emotional is generally viewed as weak by hip-hop artists, and in turn, hip-hop listeners. Kanye's taking a huge chance here if he releases an album all about his struggle with the end of his recent relationship. Forgive me for sounding fifty years old, but here are all these rappers yammering on about violence and sex and how tough they are, and here comes Kanye, crying into his cereal bowl and burning all her photos and throwing her clothes out the window, and you know he's going to completely blow them out of the water. He always does, which is why his "I'm better than you" persona works so well for him, and also why I buy everything he does.

I mean, imagine if Kanye came out with Tidal for the gangster set, and it sold three million copies? It would completely blow the industry wide open, because it destroys every established hip-hop convention there is. I mean yeah, LL Cool J came out with "I Need Love" and everything, but no one's ever really done this. It's been Apple Bottom jeans and boots with the fur for years now. It's all become eye-rollingly predictable, and this is exactly what needs to happen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

Like most people (I mean $155 million? Holy shit) I saw The Dark Knight this weekend. In fact, I saw it at midnight on Friday (Thursday?) with an audience of the geekiest geeks who ever geeked. I would actually highly recommend it, because it certainly increased my appreciation for the film.

Instead of what I expected, which was that there would be freaking out at the slightest mention of the Joker and applauding every time Heath Ledger showed up onscreen, the entire theatre (which was packed) was dead silent the whole way through the movie. Save for a few moments when everyone laughed or gasped, everyone had total respect for the other people in the theatre, which is the first time in recent memory that I can recall that happening at a midnight screening that I've attended.

Anyway, if you have not seen it, the movie is awesome. Everyone seems to love it, and it's a highly entertaining two and a half hours, if you can believe it. It starts out a bit directionless and slow, because the plot begins in medias res. This is necessary because the writers wanted to emphasize the fact that the Joker is a motivationless villain. He has no reason for doing any of the things he does, other than to create chaos. This central premise of the movie is carried out supremely by Ledger, who takes the concept of blowing things up for the hell of it and creates an entire evil, merciless villain around it. The fact that he also makes The Joker hilarious and relatable is the biggest trick that the movie pulls off, since the whole thing is an allegory for the fact that there's a piece of all of us that enjoys senseless violence and depravity, and sometimes we indulge that urge to the detriment of our society. Anyway, because they wanted to reinforce this whole thing, the first forty-five minutes or so are a little all over the place, and so during that time I was thinking that the movie could go either way. But by the time Ledger and Bale are facing off at a party on a Gotham rooftop, the movie picks up steam and really never lets go, all the way to the emotionally charged and well-designed climax.

That said, Bale seems a little cartoony this go round when he's in the Batman costume. His Bruce Wayne is great, but his Batman voice is just a little too growly for my taste, to the point where it was almost comical in sections. Bale's acting is phenomenal overall, but he's outshined by almost everyone else in the movie. Especially Ledger, but also Aaron Eckhart (as Harvey Dent, and then Two-Face), who puts the perfect amount of comic book cheesiness into his character, and was one of the most inspired casting choices I've seen in a comic book movie.

And since the whole movie was filmed in Chicago, I spent quite a bit of time watching the background playing Guess The Shooting Location. If you're a Chicago native, prepare for this to take up a lot of your time. You'll see a lot of the Chicago River, and you'll see Michigan Ave frequently (particularly the intersection of Michigan and Wacker). You'll also see an entire action sequence shot on Lower Wacker Drive, culminating in a battle in front of the Mercantile Exchange. There'll also be appearances by Lake Michigan, The Wrigley Building, The Chicago Theatre, McCormick Place, and a parade on Monroe. It's actually sort of fun. Between this and the Spider-Man films (which had pieces also shot in Chicago), it's clear that Chicago's architecture and ambiance clearly lends itself to a comic book landscape, so anyone who has ever lived in the city will have reason to see it twice.

In short, if you are one of the three people who haven't seen it, go. Go now. It rules.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Things I Hate: Grocery Store Discount Cards

Today I took a short trip to Trader Joe's to pick up some minor necessary items. You know, bread, milk and the like. Once I had traversed the entire store to make sure that I had crossed everything off of my mental checklist (I never make grocery lists, which I know is a bad habit), I made my way to the front of the store to check out. Now, if you've ever been to Trader Joe's (and if you have not, what's wrong with you?), you know that it's great (and more inexpensive than your local chain) for the large majority of your needs, but if you want something like say, coffee creamer, they sometimes only have organic versions in stock. Since I'm not really down for spending seven bucks on coffee creamer, this can sometimes necessitate a trip to the larger grocery store to purchase these items.

So, as I'm checking out I'm watching the items go by and mentally noting what I need to grab at the Jewel before I stop home. Diet Coke, the aforementioned coffee creamer, ice cream because it is effing hot in Chicago right now. This is when I realize something: because I had just stepped out of the house quickly with just come cash and my phone, I didn't have my Jewel card on me. Damn it.

Now, everyone knows that when you want something from the store and don't have your store card on you, you have a few options. Option One: You can pay the marked-up amount and say nothing, which: eff that. Option Two: You can ask the person behind you politely if you can make use of their card, which I hate doing because it seems like intruding. They gave their personal information to get that card! Option Three: You can tell the clerk behind the counter that you don't have your card on you today, which means (at least at my store) that they have to hold up the line, ask the clerks to the left and right of them loudly which one of them has the card, and then they have to stop what they're doing to dig around in the pockets of their apron or whatever while everyone waits for the card they have to share to appear. This means that there are now a grand total of three clerks, two customers (who are being held up at checkout), and any number of people behind you who are now inconvenienced because you don't have your card. Eff that, too.

Back at Trader Joe's (where they don't have customer cards, because they rule) all this flashed through my head at once, causing me to roll my eyes absentmindedly. Trader Joe's clerks are always friendly and outgoing and make small talk (this happens so consistently that I'm sure it's company policy), so the poor dude that checked me out today was like "What's wrong?", which caused me to start laughing. "One of those days, eh?" he said, which I affirmed.

So you know what I did? I went home without coffee creamer. I didn't feel like going through the hassle of buying something, and then dealing with all the extra bullshit that comes with it. It shouldn't be a hassle to purchase something small. I need coffee creamer, you have coffee creamer, we can do business. But no, Jewel, you have lost the opportunity for my business, because you require an inordinate amount of crap so that I can enjoy a hint of French Vanilla in the morning. I'll be buying my coffee creamer from the convenience store at the end of the block in my sleep shorts through half-shut eyes at 7 AM tomorrow. Everyone will think that I am a zombie. Jerk.

Literally EVERY damn store has a card now. I was in CVS last night buying grooming products, and the dude at checkout asked me for my CVS card while I was handing him my supplies. WTF? Just let me buy my shampoo and razors, assholes. So, of course, I had to sign up for one, and submitting my contact information to the giant corporate conglomerate ended up saving me a grand total of fifty-one cents. Fuck you, CVS discount card.

You know who I think is actually behind the proliferation of discount cards at retail outlets? The wallet manufacturing industry. Seriously, because of those things my wallet looks like it's been sitting in the back alley behind a Taco Bell. It's frayed, there are cards shoved into every available space, and when I put it in my back pocket and sit on the couch it looks like I belong in an M.C. Escher painting. And what does that mean? It means I have to buy a new wallet every six months, because I can't go anywhere anymore without my Jewel Card, my Dominick's Card, my Costco Card, my Speedy Rewards Card, my Express Card, my "Rent 10 ugly tuxes for your friend's wedding and get the 11th ugly tux free" card from Men's Wearhouse, my Gap Card, my Best Buy Rewards Card, and my Circuit City "Are People Still Shopping Here?" Card. You know what, wallet industry? I'm on to you! CONSPIRACY!

Anyway, my point is: screw grocery store (or any store, really) customer cards. The purpose of the cards is supposedly to provide discounts to loyal customers, but we all know that's not true. It's actually to punish people who forget their card and to allow the store to charge outrageously for shit when people are too timid to say anything. They then keep track of everything you buy and send you coupons for shit you purchase frequently, which would be convenient except no one under 50 uses coupons anymore and so it's actually Big Brother-y and creepy. Fight the power, people. Shop at Trader Joe's, buy your gas at locally owned stations. Patronize places that don't require a tally of everything you buy so that they can increase price when demand goes up. Do it because it's good for consumers.

Also do it because my wallet needs friends.