Hate to see you go

I’m realizing more and more lately that I have a problem with endings. As in, I don’t like them having to happen.

I’m of a type to draw out experiences as long as humanly possible, often to the detriment of my experience in doing whatever thing I happen to be doing. Often, I wonder why that is.

For example, TV series. Even in my immense enjoyment of any given long-running show, I tend to waver, to hesitate as the end approaches. I start rationing episodes over time, if I’m watching them after the fact on DVD or something, watching fewer and fewer in a sitting so as to not reach the end. Indeed, to this day, despite owning the entire series on disc, as well as having it syndicated ad infinitum, I have never seen the final broadcast episode of Futurama, one of my favourite shows of all time. And that’s just one example.

A similar thing happens in my gaming habits. I love video games, unabashedly. I love the stories they can tell, I love the immersion in an exciting world not my own, I love the attention to detail the best can provide and the swaths of things to do and see and collect. But all too often nowadays my gaming habits tend to winnow away the joy I get from said games, unless I’m actively pushing myself towards a concrete end point. I’ll drag out the experience of each and every game, spending inordinate amounts of time collecting every last feather (Assassin’s Creed) or scanning every planet (Mass Effect) to the point where it dilutes my experience of the driving fiction of the thing and pulls me out of what was no doubt a very deliberately paced and plotted piece of fiction like any (well-made) other. Only through sheer force of will do I push forward without worrying if I’ve missed some tiny piece of (perhaps amusing but ultimately superfluous) miscellany that I could just have easily gone back later to see.

Hell, I eat the same way. I ration leftovers from well-enjoyed meals, snack in ever-decreasing proportionally-determined segments as supplies of a particular nosh dwindle, never really considering the idea of just, y’know, going out and buying more. Is that what it all comes down to?

Am I really that cheap?

Admittedly, I was raised in a (to put it politely) frugal household. It was never that we didn’t have any money, simply that it was scandalous to think of spending it. And also admittedly, being jobless has led us to be hopefully more thoughtful (than I admittedly already OCD my way to being) with our pennies. But should my panic about obsessing over squeezing every last cent of value out of a $60 game purchase really override the enjoyment I get from it? At what point does the experience suffer enough through a concern over bang for buck that the bang gets overridden by buck every time?

All that being said, now I’m off to apply for some more jobs, then play more Mass Effect 2. Gotta get it out of the way for Bioshock 2, which comes out tomorrow.

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Because it’s my space

With such an unforgivably long hiatus from blogging, a lot of things got to percolating. For instance, I’ve listened to a decent amount of new (well, mostly new for me) music, and felt like communicating that. And what better way than a list?!?

(There are probably numerous better ways, but this is fastest, and I’m still waking up this morning.)

Top 7 of 2009 – in alphabetical order:

(Also, why 7? Because that’s all I felt like. 5 isn’t always enough, but 10 is often too many. So there.)

(Also also, this will not be a typical ‘best of 2009’ list, as most of it isn’t from 2009, that’s just when I was really into to it. It’s mostly just a snapshot into what I’ve enjoyed over the past year.)

Childish Gambino – Poindexter

A bit of a fudging (since I only really listened to the full album very recently), but again, my list, my site, my damn rules. An amazing piece of weird, nerd-core, underground synthed-up hip hop. From the brain of the hyper- and multi-talented Donald Glover, a man who every passing day I get increasingly jealous that I am not. Dude puts out high quality albums in addition to being a writer for 30 Rock (“The Funcooker”), an amazing sketch comedian (Derrick Comedy), and a budding sitcom star (as the secret weapon of Community, the best new half-hour of the year).
It took a few tracks before I could decide if it was novelty or not, and what I decided was two-fold: hell no, and, who cares if it was? It’s amazing. Some of the craziest, smartest and flat-out clever hip hop I’ve heard in a long time. Refreshingly outside of the mainstream lyrically and musically. Anyone who attributes, in-song, the Jens Lekman sample he pulled, “for those out there wonderin'”, is OK by me.
Best part of all? It’s totally free. Download it. Download it NOW.
(Big-ups to Dart for pushing me over the edge in seeking this out.)

Elvis Costello – Live at the El Mocambo

Normally it’s supposed to be the older, wiser one influencing the younger. In my case however, I unabashedly have bitten some musical taste from Beth’s little brother. Not that Elvis Costello is a huge discovery or anything, but I wasn’t really into him before copying the “Best Of” CD from Jordan a few years ago. Now I’m a big, big fan.
So on my record store scroungings in Paris, I managed to find a bootleg copy of Costello’s live show from 1978, an amazing night in my own little ‘burg of Toronto. A great snapshot of the Angriest Man in Music at one of his earliest points. Highlights include a pre-album release playing of “Radio, Radio” and a burning version of what is now a personal Costello favourite, “Little Triggers”.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

I initially almost dismissed it as too folksy, too rustic, a little too “Sting with his lutes”, but that would have been a huge mistake. This self-titled LP debut finds Fleet Foxes doing right what plenty of other too arch and too self-serious folksy-rock groups have tried the past few years to only varying degrees of success (poor: Decemberists, better: Arcade Fire). They also played well personally off of my other recent rediscovery of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with their earlier EP highlight “Mykonos” (included in the vinyl version we bought on a second disc) feeling eerily like a classic lost CSNY song that went missing for 30 years.

Jesse Malin – The Fine Art of Self Destruction

Another fudging. This album was hardly unknown to me before now – I’ve had a copy since before its release, having received a review copy at the Press ages ago. It’s hardly even been that far out of my regular rotation since then, but picking it up on collector grade, limited edition vinyl really brought it back into the forefront of my mind. An alt-country/New York rock mash-up with the edge of the frontman of D Generation as filtered through the production of Ryan Adams (here producing a record I like better than any of his own). Plaintive, pretty, and a little pissed off, not one you should miss.

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

I have a weird relationship with Spoon. Some of their stuff I lovelovelove, some I absolutely cannot abide. I haven’t come close to pinning down my feelings on their actual new album, but Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga easily slides into a list of my favourites from last year. Full of hooks from beginning to end, this album features pretty much all of my favourite Spoon songs, from “The Underdog”, to “Don’t Make Me A Target”, to “Don’t You Evah”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Black Like Me”. Not exactly groundbreaking choices as Spoon goes, I know, but still damn fine.

Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes

Another Parisian record store find. I spent a few days on and off ducking into record stores across the city of love, trying to find the perfect balance between nostalgia (I wanted something classic rock/punk, preferably European) and value (records in Paris can be expensive). I finally came across this second album by one of the nowadays relatively-unheralded pioneers of the Brit-punk scene. Still looking for a decent copy of Inflammable Material to enhance my SLF collection, but this one was a great start. “Gotta Getaway” and “Nobody’s Hero” stand as classics, while “Tin Soldiers” plays on my nostalgia from the Bosstones cover that I enjoyed a lot in my teenage years.

X – Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go on the Fabulous Sunset Strip

X was way ahead of the curve. Not necessarily musically (they were pretty in the thick of the California punk scene), but technologically. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find “X” on a torrent search site? Yeah yeah yeah, awful of me to be pirating music, I know, but I ain’t got a lot of money for CDs, and everything ends up as MP3s anyhow. But seriously, try searching for “X” and getting anything useful, or not porn. Can’t be done. I even had trouble going by album title for a while. Hence my obsession with owning their entire collection on vinyl. Tough to track down at times, but worth it when you do. This was the beginning of my X collection, and to this day I still prefer many of these live versions to their studio album counterparts. Energy, energy and more energy.

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A faulty comparison

Being unemployed has led to a number of things. One of these things being that we’ve had a lot more time for movies. I tended to find that working a 9-5 meant that our TV time was devoted mostly to keeping up with the (at times too) busy regular skid of shows that I tend to maintain. But a combination of just flat out giving up on a number of shows (Heroes, Scrubs, Private Practice thank God) and the aforementioned lack of a 9-5 taking up a great deal of my week means that there’s more time spent on other media. In this case, feature films.

For a couple of years there, my interest in new movies had waned considerably. We were still catching things on AMC or Turner Classic Movies, but rarely either getting to theatres or renting new releases. Lately though, and with the recent purchase of a nice big HDTV, we’ve been renting a lot more, so we’re more up to date with the last couple years of movie releases. And one thing I’m having trouble reconciling is a particular criticism I heard about two of my recent favourites: District 9 and Speed Racer.

The criticism in this case being thus: ‘it feels like a video game’.

This accusation, I believe, relies on two assumptions, both of which are flawed.

1. That to be ‘like a video game’ is a universally applicable label, and that each video game is like the last – to be ‘like one’ is to fall into an absolute and rigid set of guidelines.
2. And, possibly more unfortunately, that it is almost always a pejorative accusation; that to be ‘like a video game’ is to be either simplistic, bombastic (without cause), violent, unthinking, crass, or perhaps worst, thoughtlessly commercial.

It was leveled at both, in varying circles to varying degrees, but District 9 to a lesser, and almost more personal extent, so I’ll start there. Let’s look at a friend of mine, we’ll call him Mr. Murray. No, that’s too obvious. We’ll say Michael. (I joke, Michael is a very, very smart man, but in this particular case, he’s wrong.)

In an earlier criticism of District 9, Michael drew comparisons from District 9 to the structure of video games, saying that:

“The narrative, such as it is, is all about problem solving– the acquisition and mastery of specific tools in order to solve problems in a shifting landscape–rather than say, the maturation of a character. You don’t learn lessons in District 9, you move from level to level.”

While it’s not my place to criticize a person’s like or dislike of a thing, I can at least look at what yang he talks about it on the internet. This criticism, I believe, misreads the character arc of the movie. Indeed, it implies there isn’t one, simply an escalating of difficulty (to couch it in video game terms). Instead, I feel he missed the entire evolution of Wikus’ character, from sniveling beneficiary of corporate nepotism to actual agent in doing good for this subjugated class of alien refugee. Sure, plenty of that was motivated by self-interest, what with the mutating and all, but that’s what made him such an interesting character. He was presented at the outset as a simpering, patronizing moron, and one who could only be generously called borderline bigoted. And yet, as he realizes both his own dire situation, and comes to sympathize with that of the aliens, the prawns, we still see he him fighting with these deep-seated character flaws and prejudices while trying to do the right thing. It’s a fascinating arc for what could have been a typical sci-fi thriller protagonist.

Also, another of Michael’s criticisms, one that is common to many of these type, was this:

“I simply could not shake the feeling that the movie was merely a trailer for the TV series/video game/sequel it was designed to precede and market…”

This ties in with many of the typical ‘like a video game’ complaints, and echoes many of the (much more common) negative reviews of Speed Racer. To imply that a movie is video-game-like is far too often meant to imply that it exists only to drive consumer interest towards an actual video game tie-in. Roger Ebert, who despite being a very good movie reviewer, we can single out for being one of the primary arguers against the whole (somewhat tiresome) ‘video games as art’ point of view, (my one sentence argument on this front: of course they’re art, but like all art, there’s a ton of garbage out there), was particularly harsh on Speed Racer. Calling it a “manufactured widget”, not worthy of theatre screen time, merely awaiting its propogation on “DVD and video games, which provide the principal justification for its manufacture in the first place.”

Speed Racer was a fun, breezy and brightly coloured joy of a kids’ movie. Perhaps overly simplified, of course, but exhilarating to watch and absolutely one of the best justifications thus far that we’ve seen for investing a bit of money in an HD home theatre system. But to say that it lowers itself to the level of a mere video game is to misunderstand what both try to do.

This is also a needlessly and unfortunately cynical view on games in comparison to movies. It implies that movies exists for a higher purpose than to put bums in theatre seats after paying their $11, where video games couldn’t possibly be out for any reason than to take your money.

I may just be a tad tender on this front. Video games are near and dear to me, and I’ve played a whole whack of great ones lately. Video games are just as, if not more capable, in some cases, of telling stories in complex, mature and thoughtful ways. To still be seeing and hearing these types of arguments made in today’s entertainment climate just strikes me as too broad and not cognizant of the leaps that have been made in gaming narrative.

Posted in l337 gamez, media, mooviez | 1 Comment

I should be used to it by now

Mid-season replacements are tricky in TV land. More often than not, you’re just seeing the castoffs that didn’t make fall premiere season – the stuff that got made because someone at some point liked it, but then over the course of development it fell apart. For every Simpsons, Seinfeld or Grey’s Anatomy that comes from midseason, there are approximately 850,000 Point Pleasants. Which makes it all the more odd that two of my favourite things on television in a long while, and aside from Fringe, easily my favourite things from this season, have premiered in the last few weeks.

Kings:
Essentially, a modern-day retelling of the story of David. The first episode, called Goliath, dealt with, well, y’know. Except in this case, Goliath was a tank instead of a really big dude. Set in an alternate-universe present day where the U.S. is a monarchy called Gilboa, ruled by the delightfully charismatic and edgy Ian McShane. McShane, as King Silas, has his son saved from wartime capture by the idealistic and well-meaning David, who soon finds himself in a position of note in the kingdom, and a position of warmth in Silas’ daughter’s heart. Roll in palace intrigue, near-Shakespearean power plays, flowing, rich language the likes of which is NEVER heard on broadcast TV, a pair of Greek-chorus-lite Palace guards, illegitimate love-children, and God-given destiny to rule, and you have appointment television, for me anyway. Sure, we all know how it ends, but that doesn’t stop it from being immensely compelling as a piece of art.
And apparently only me. It was, of course, yanked from it’s initial timeslot after three weeks, relegated to 8 PM Saturday, and then off the air completely until 10 PM Saturdays in June, the very definition of being burnt off by the network.
An enormous shame, I imagine I’ll grab the DVDs.

The Unusuals:
At first glance, yet ANOTHER cop drama, set in New York, with a wacky cast of characters. But it works, somehow, mostly in creating characters who feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. Also, the near complete absence of ordinary, boring ‘cases’ each week, and the prevalence of laughs throughout – a change from your typical New York cop drama. The cast is also essential in elevating what could be ordinary into something more. Amber Tamblyn is excellent as the focal point, the token newcomer through which we experience the zaniness of the precinct. But she’s also hiding a secret, in that she’s actually a rich heiress trying to make a real life for herself away from her family. Adam Goldberg and Harold Perrineau (who I kinda couldn’t stand by the end of his time on Lost, but who pretty much totally redeems himself here) are fantastic as the odd couple partner team: Goldberg is hiding the fact that he’s got a brain tumour (for which he’s avoiding treatment) and about 9 months to live, while Perrineau is obsessed with the fact that men in his family tend to die (naturally or otherwise) at 42, and his 42nd birthday was three months ago, so he wears a bulletproof vest 24/7, among other things. One man terrified to die, one resigned to it, both hilarious.
It’s a cop show in as much as it happens to be set in a police precinct and it gives motivations for these characters to encounter colourful situations. If tax accountants could chase down felons in hot dog costumes, it could be set there too, but people are against it on principle (as I, admittedly, may have been before checking deeper) as ‘just another cop show’. It falls into the “Cavemen” school of automatic disdain: supposed forward-thinking, media-and-entertainment-savvy types who claim to value good entertainment who disparage a thing simply because of what it is rather than how it plays out. (Cavemen was hilarious, Geico ad origins or not, and I defy anyone who ACTUALLY watched more than the leaked pre-air pilot to argue me otherwise. I may suffer slings and potential career peril in television writing someday down the road for admitting that, but I stand by it.)
And of course The Unusuals is, also, suffering ratings-wise, beaten out by the pedestrian Castle and the remake of Cupid, though the fact that ABC gave it a flier after Dancing with the Stars this past week was a mildly positive sign (even if it didn’t exactly soar).

And this brings me to a larger point. Does it say anything about my possible success in fields such as advertising or television, or hell, even political communications (all options being explored right now) if my tastes lie so frequently outside the popular norms? Will it negatively impact the view of me from the outside, say from a potential employer that expects me to produce material that appeals to mass audiences, that I enjoy things and try to promote/champion things that so often fail from a lack of popular support? Does it mean that I am actually out of touch with how the average person thinks, despite the fact that I try to work in fields that specifically cater to attracting popular attention? Is it a poor idea to even say these things out loud?

I, of course, think that I’m safe. I think my rarefied (to sometimes put it mildly) tastes simply mean that I have an eye for quality, and can then strive to produce it myself. But in a world where Two and a Half (Frigging) Men is one of the most popular things on TV, what does ‘quality’ even mean?

(And this is without even touching on Better Off Ted, one of the funniest sitcoms I’ve seen in a while, easily the funniest to premiere since 30 Rock – and of course, it’s probably gone this year too.)

Posted in brain, teevee | 1 Comment

Gutted

(Sarcasm plays on the internet, right?)

Y’know what cuts? Like a knife?

Excuses.

Oh man, you should have heard some of them.

“I have to spend time with family that’s in from out of town. I promised my parents I’d be there.” Waahhhhhh.
“I’ve got a huge grad school out-of-town research project next week that I really need to prepare for.” Boo hoo.
“A dear friend is having her baby shower before moving out of town, probably forever.” Uh huh.
“It’s Orthodox Easter this weekend, we had to go visit family.” C’mon, now you’re just making up words!
“I’m really sorry, I’m getting married that day.” My God, the nerve of some people!

If you didn’t WANT to come to my employment hiatus celebration, you could have just said so.

(For real though, everyone absent was missed, and we shall see you all and more soon!)

Posted in megaspection | 1 Comment

New look, new day

It looks a bit different around here. Turns out I hadn’t updated WordPress in about a hundred years, and my old site template didn’t work with this century’s. And it took me too long to fix, admittedly.

And yes, big changes are afoot. I am jobless, for one. Turns out this whole ‘recession’ thing isn’t bogus after all. Who knew? It seems, when places pull back on advertising, they also pull back on paying the companies that do their advertising. Who’da thunk? Which means that said agencies need to pull back on where they spend their money, like, say, on copywriters.

So not an ideal situation. Getting married in less than six months. Would like to be working again before then. Irons are being placed in or near the fire. Lines are being cast. Cliches are being employed to describe situations.

But interestingly, I am more at peace than one might think. Of course there have been moments of uncertainty, of fear, of outright rage and anger, but there’s also been a feeling like this is an opportunity, hoary as that may sound. I liked Black Cat, I did, but there are also other things I want to do, and having a 9-5 that didn’t involve them made it tough.

I’ve had, for the past few years, a feeling like there’s a difference I could make, stories I could be telling. It’s taken a long time to put the nebulous feelings of ambition and desire into a single (compound) word, as to where I feel I belong – moving from drama/theatre in high school, to English and fiction-writing and journalism in university, to advertising and television dreams after graduation – and where I can be of best use in this world. I believe I’m a storyteller. I believe I need to be working and striving to put compelling form to the ideas and messages and causes that mean most to me. It’s an important time, and I’ve come to see that in all we do, all we see and hear and experience every day, whether it’s politics or entertainment, business or pleasure, an engaging narrative is essential.

So I’m making contacts, and I’m writing. And I’m enjoying some time with my lady and my cats. I have no real idea what the next week, or month, or year is going to bring, but I am not going to let one setback change the course of what I now know I am here to do.

Posted in brain, megaspection, werk | Leave a comment

Close, but… well, maybe not that close

First things first. I neglected to mention last blog, but I’m also thinking whoever reads this reads Beth’s as well, but there’s a wedding ’round these parts come September. So things are good. Very good. There will be more to say, and more websites on which to say it, hopefully very shortly (as soon as I get my ass in gear to finish the web copy… #sheepish)

But shifting gears, I wanna complain about Canadian TV. Being Erica, in particular. Strap in for the cut, if you dare. It’s a doozy, hope you packed a lunch.

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