Saturday, May 24, 2008

Parents, In-Laws, Lake Austin Spa: Super Awesome.

I have to give a big shout out to the McBrides and Steanses for their tremendous generosity today. This morning, KareBear, Ryan's cousin Susan, and I drove out to Lake Austin Spa where KareBear (and the Admiral) treated us to a day of R&R. I had a head and foot massage in the morning, a wonderful lunch, and a facial in the afternoon all within the gorgeous setting of Lake Austin wilderness. We also had time for some floating in the pool between appointments. A lovely day!

While we were gone, our storage closet (aka our garage) was visited by three helper elves and has magically changed back into an actual working garage. Cardboard Mountain was disassembled and whisked off to various recycling locations. Holiday decorations were neatly set off to the side. Countless dead bugs and spiders I'm sure were swept up and disposed of. It was a task not meant for mortal men and yet Team McBride and the Admiral came through with flying colors.

I knew things had gotten bad when I opened the garage door upon our return to the house and Karen exclaimed, "You have a sink in there!".

I can't say thank you enough to both sets of parents. You're the best!

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dance!

Confession time. I love the show So You Think You Can Dance, Fox's summertime replacement for American Idol. They started advertising for it about 2 months ago during Idol (yes, I still watch and you can ask me why till the cows come home and I'd still not be able to come up with a good answer). Just seeing the commercials made me excited. They used the song, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", which can be an awful or great song depending on the artist.

Now I thought this song was pure cheese when I was younger - mainly because it was in heavy rotation as one of 5 songs on VH1 (yes! they played videos once!) and was performed by Whitney Houston, who, ironically is one of the worst dancers I've ever seen. She spends the majority of the video either watching other people dance or mildly bouncing.

*I would be able to provide video here if I were a more talented blogger, but YouTube won't let me have it. If you're that curious, go look up Whitney Houston and the song.

I saw David Byrne do a brilliant cover of this song years ago in Austin and couldn't believe the difference. Stripped of the irritating synth noises and hand claps, this was a catchy song that ACTUALLY made you want to dance.



Early season (season 2?) American Idol contestant Jennifer Fuentes also attempted "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" with hilarious results. Accompanied by only a piano (yes, at one point American Idol had a budget), the song took on a very high school talent show vibe. My favorite part is where, instead of editing the song around the spoken portion, she looks off to the side and says "Dance!". Good stuff.



But I greatly digress. I didn't start watching So You Think You Can Dance until last season and even then not until the final 20 round, so this is my first season watching the auditions. It seems as if they are showing us more talent and less of the bad auditions than Idol does, which I greatly appreciate. I danced for 10 years when I was growing up (ballet, tap, jazz, and modern), so I love that there's a show on that has a wide variety of styles of dance. The talent I saw last year was incredible (far better than what you get on Idol if you ask me) so I'm eager to see what this year has in store. The judging is also better. Instead of sound bytes (Randy), random insults (Simon, although he is usually correct), and unicorns (Paula), Nigel, Mary, and the guest judge manage to offer constructive criticism that is interesting to the viewer. If you are at all interested in dance (all one of you), I highly recommend this show for summertime entertainment.

Don't worry, folks, if you're bored - the League should be back soon, and then you can find out what Superman has been up to.





This post written by jamie while The League was out

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's all mine: muahaha!

Hi ya'll. As you may have heard, while the League is taking some vay-cay in Costa Rica, he has left his blog in my hands. Boy is he dumb.

Yes, the League and Steanso are currently on a short flight to Houston and will then jet down to the jungles of Central America where they will rendezvous with their tour Howler monkey, Senor Screechy. They will be staying here, here, and here, so don't feel too sorry for them. Their first hotel sits at the base of a large volcano, but hopefully Screechy will steer them to safety should it decide to erupt.

My posts won't be as long as the League's - I do have company coming this weekend so I don't know how often I'll be able to blog, but I'll try. Mel and Lucy's cousin Cassidy is also staying with us, so we'll see how much sleep I'll get with a gaggle of dogs running around.



This post written by jamie while The League was out

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The League Goes on Vacation

Hey Leaguers.

As you may recall, I am going to be heading to Costa Rica for a few days. I don't want to leave you guys in a lurch, but as I have no idea what the story is with internet connectivity and the fact that I hope I have enough going on that blogging isn't really a priority, you're on your own until I get back.

Now, I'm a bit terrified of the traveling. After all, Costa Rica could be full of dinosaurs and tse-tse flies the size of a helicopter. So hopefully I'll survive this voyage into the unknown.

Jamie claims she's going to keep the blog up to date, so I leave this place in her capable hands until I return. So ya'll keep Jamie company. Give her a shot, and hopefull she'll be able to keep you amused in my absence.

I should be back and posting by next Thursday, at the latest.

I just hope my trip to the jungle will be this exciting:

New Comic Suggestion: Guardians of the Galaxy

Hey, Leaguers!

Last week a new title debuted from Marvel, and as the series is just starting, I thought I'd suggest "Guardians of the Galaxy".

The series is about a band of space-faring adventurers who, after a series of messy cosmic cataclysms decide to actually get organized and fight THREATS IN SPACE. In the classic action tradition, it's a band of rag-tag adventurers who have little in common other than that they have a mission.



Its entirely possible that the series is a bit too wrapped up in Marvel continuity for new readers, but I think series writers Abnett and Lanning do a pretty good job of making the first issue accessible (and, yeah, I think Marvel is actually far worse about continuity being an issue to new readers these days than DC).

The team includes a lot of familiar faces from the recent annihilation series, including Drax, Gamora, and the characters from the Star Lord mini-series. And that means ROCKET RACCOON (one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time). Nova makes an appearance, but is not on the team.

Mostly, the series seems like it will be fun. And The League is always looking for FUN IN SPACE. The dialog is sharp, the art is pretty nifty, and the characters just work very well together (some of whom suggest a certain light tough to the series). And, so far, it looks like the story is pointed in an interesting direction.

Apparently there was a previous series or two called Guardians of the Galaxy, which was dreamed up by the amazing Gene Colan. But, you know, I have a hard time keeping up with every darn comic that ever saw the light of day.

Anyhow, give it a shot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The League Watches: Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian

After the rush that was completing the 3 film cycle of "Lord of the Rings", getting through yet another adventure of Harry Potter (the boy wizard who collects doom like stamps), and wrapping up Lucas's 6 film Star Wars cycle... it didn't seem at all a bad idea that Disney produce the entire run of the well-loved CS Lewis children's novels, "The Chronicles of Narnia".

Before seeing "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", I actually bothered to read the book. In, like, an hour. It's a kids book, and its pretty short.

Also, for some reason I ate Arby's before going to the movie, and that was just a bad call. I go there, like, once a year, and I genuinely felt ill when I walked out the door.

*** SPOILERS THROUGHOUT ****

I've never read Prince Caspian, and I didn't plow through it before Jamie and I headed off for the matinee today, so I didn't have much in the way of expectations. I'd given the previous movie a solid "B". It was entertaining, the effects were convincing enough, and I thought Tilda Swinton was good. The kids were typical kiddie actors, mostly going through the motions rather than seeming to have any internal combustion going to really convince you that they were doing much but going along for the ride.

"Prince Caspian" is a very different story, and the land of Narnia has had the magic sucked right out of it by some vaguely Spanish humans, and the whole place has become a subplot for a better movie. Perhaps "The Two Towers", which it shamelessly lifts from throughout.

The kids are older, but their acting chops haven't improved much. The gentleman cast as the titular Prince Caspian is the sort of non-threatening pretty boy you expect out of a movie series this Disneyfied, without resorting to CW-style casting.

The plot basically revolves around a very-Hamletish power grab by Prince Caspian's uncle, whose name I never caught... but, man... can that guy do Evil Movie Tyrant #2 with the best of 'em. No scenery was free of teeth marks. The power grab leads to Caspian ducking out of the castle, which looks quite a bit like a LOTR castle, and running away. Which will become a theme throughout the movie. Caspian and Co. run away at every available opportunity.

For some reason, Caspian's fleeing causes the Evil Uncle to declare war on woods he should believe are almost entirely empty. I'm not really clear on the story, and mentioned to Jamie about an hour in "I have no idea what's going on". So I'd hate to make any conjecture that isn't accurate. Caspian blows the horn of Gondor, which summons the four kids from the last movie back to Middle Earth. Or Gondor. Where they team-up with Peter Dinklage (the respectable little person actor), and discover its been some time since they were last in Gondor. And now they're stuck fighting with Spanish conquistadors.

I didn't particularly care for the movie. Jamie suggested I entitle the review "Prince Cat-Stain". But, I told her, I don't work blue. She had a few other suggestions, but none of them were any more flattering than "Prince Cat-Stain". But that'll give you an idea of how it went.

I am guessing that the novel of Prince Caspian, like LOTR was to The Hobbit, much more complicated than its predecessor. Thus, its all about cramming in everyone's favorite scenes, advancing the plot whether it makes sense or not, and getting to the fight scenes, already.

In case you missed the press around the last Narnia movie, we're to understand that there's some religious allegory going on here. And, indeed, the last movie must have seemed a bit too subtle for the audience. As much as the plot seems full of inferences and non-sequitirs from a narrative standpoint, each hint about the nature of faith comes down like a bag of hammers.

The movie comes in at a glacial 2+ hours. I'm not sure, exactly, where things went off the rails here, but once your audience is aware of the situation (or as informed as the filmmakers ever make us), spending an hour watching your heroes sort things out is simply cumbersome. And dragging out poorly choreographed fight scenes isn't good for anybody.

Probably due to the time constraints, and therefore rushed scripting and poor editing... the movie has a few scenes which just sort of happen and make no sense. Somehow the four Brit kids know all about prince Caspian and his plight, when nothing which occurs before that scene would lead the kids to know anything about Caspian or his plans. There's another odd scene in which there's some grafitti on a cart, and the Ming-like bad-guy uses this an excuse to get his general to kill three his men... and it... makes no sense. (Plus, wow... how is that going to help morale?)

Like I said, there were large portions of the movie I simply wasn't following. There's a pretty large assumption you know the first movie very well, as well as that you're going to make assumptions about royal lineage, military maneuvering, political fact-mashing for personal gain, etc... noen of which is really outright explained. It just sort of happens.

Also, Narnia kicks ass. It's full of talking bears, minotaurs, and looks like a Dokken album cover. The kids are given royal authority over all the animals, and get to live for, like, a hundred years and wear really neat armor. So why, on earth, do they head back at the ends of these movies? That's a sucker's game.

I continue to find the mix of pagan iconography within the Narnia movie a bit baffling. It seems odd that Harry Potter and Co. take a hit in the Bible Belt, but this mish mash is okie dokey.

Perhaps somewhat more bizarre is the Aslan death clause of the movies, which depicts the teenaged heroes dispatching soldier after soldier with no qualms, all in the name of Aslan. I guess the lion is supposed to be a cuddlier version of Jesus, so we're supposed to buy into the idea that we should be stabbing people who are browner than you (yeah, I found the ethnic casting of the baddies a bit... unnecessary) for our God-allegory. Which... wow.

Further, Aslan in this film sort of talks like a huge, toothy fortune cookie. Stating things like "Things don't happen the same way twice". Which he says twice. And, apparently he never really feels like he owes his long-suffering people an explanation as to why he (God) abandoned his people to the horrible Spanish people for 1300 years, only to return when it was absolutely necessary to the plot.

Was Aslan off in Gondor on some much needed vay-cay? Appearing in a tortilla on Endor? Apparently he's a capricious allegory.

The message of "faith" in the story, at least as framed by the makers of this film, is that it doesn't do anyone but the four little white kids a lick of good. Holding out for 1300 years for a break seems like an awfully long stretch, and one couldn't really blame the Narnians for maybe thinking Aslan had turned his back on them as he reportedly left Narnia right after the heads of state, and allowed a mass extermination of the happy talking animals.

In addition, there's a bit telling the viewer that not jumping off a cliff to certain doom is demonstrating a lack of faith. Which... what? What kind of crazy religious allegory is Aslan running here? Despite their faith in lion/ Jesus, our heroes also run away at every opportunity. I don't think at any point in the action do they stand their ground. They're quite cowardly. Apparently jumping to your death is expected by Aslan, but holding your ground in battle to protect Aslan's kingdom is a bit up in the air.

He moves in mysterious ways, indeed.

From a narrative standpoint, I'm not going to write the filmmakers a blank check because they're playing the religious allegory card. Either your allegory works, or it doesn't. And I thought this movie did a pretty poor job of doing much but dispensing mixed messages and reinforcing some not terribly Christ-like ideals, like killing folks. Putting religion out there doesn't make your narrative bullet-proof, and, honestly, I would expect more out of the film-makers as per a sense of responsibility to the viewer in maintaining a clear message.

All in all, whatever worked in the first movie just falls apart in Prince Caspian. And there seemed to be some commentary of the wisdom of pre-emptive military strikes not going the way you think they will, which I wondered if I was the only one noticing that...

I did not like the constant jokes about the little people/ dwarfs being short. Including a belabored scene between a mouse and poor, poor Peter Dinklage. And teh bad guys all wore 300-inspired masks which looked like their Ming-like leader and his "look, I'm evil" Satan-inspired chin slinky.

Add in items lifted from LOTR such as set design, story elements and sequences like the Ents... and, it was kind of embarassing. And the end dragged and dragged. And was, for reasons I can't put my finger on, unintentionally hilarious.

Bleh.

I want my afternoon back.

A Century of Jimmy Stewart

May 20th marks the 100th birthday of actor Jimmy Stewart.

The League has has his list of actors about whom he is a bit fannish, and Mr. Stewart is right at the top of that list. In fact, when we were in college and took "Acting for Non-Drama Majors", we were asked to name our favorite actor, and I named Jimmy Stewart (almost everyone else named Al Pacino, which I found hilarious).

Mr. Stewart not only acted in films and television for decades, he was also a decorated soldier during World War II where he served as a pilot of B-17's and B-24's in the Army Air Corps.



I will point you to the Jimmy Stewart Museum website for a biography. And to IMDB for a synopsis of his film roles.

The truth is that I've only seen a small fraction of Mr. Stewart's work.

Made for Each Other
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Destry Rides Again
The Philadelphia Story
It's a Wonderful Life
Winchester '73
Harvey
Rear Window
The Spirit of St. Louis
Vertigo
Anatomy of a Murder
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

"Harvey" is still a favorite, and I highly recommend it. And, of course, I really dig "Vertigo". But if "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" doesn't fill you with a desire to dress in red, white and blue, you, sir, hate America. And, worse, if you don't get choked up a bit at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life" (and I don't care how many times you've seen it), your heart is made of stone.



So a special League thanks to day to Mr. Stewart.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from Radiohead/ Houston

Jamie and I are back from a fun-filled weekend at the folks' in beautiful Spring, Texas.

We drove in Friday afternoon with Mel in tow. Jeff and Lucy stayed here with house-mate Nicole, whom, I believe, amused the pets all weekend with puppet shows and a song and dance routine to the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Saturday, Steven and Lauren joined us at stately Steans Manor for swimming, burgers and Lauren getting mauled by Mel when she got between my swimming pal and a pool toy. Sorry about that, Lauren. You'll heal eventually. But it seems like Mel had fun swimming.

Jennifer K. and Jason showed up, The Admiral threw some burgers on the grill and KareBear outdid herself in the food prep and meal-time arrangements department. Well done, parental units!

The Radiohead show itself was great. It was two solid hours of Radioheadishness. Almost nothing in the way of banter (which, believe me, I appreciate), a great stage set up and light show. And the crowd was appreciative without fawning.

I should mention that Thom Yorke is an amazing dancer.


The brightly lit hues of Radiohead's stage show

If you look at the audience, I think you can also see a lot of little blue lights in the picture. I didn't realize that recording shows on your cell phone was now considered perfectly normal. And I don't recall any statements warning us NOT to record the show. I guess either Radiohead doesn't care, or the RIAA is really giving up.

We got back to my folks' house around 12:15 or so. Lauren and Steven stayed for a while, and we all ended up staying up too late.

This morning we all got up very, very late. Then headed out for breakfast. Unfortunately, this meant our schedule was screwed up and we didn't make the planned journey down to Shannon and Josh's house in Meyerland before heading out of town.

So, Josh and Shannon, I owe you one.

Anyway, home again, home again, jiggity jog. Now I've got to plan for the week ahead and getting myself off to Costa Rica.

Hope o