Thursday, May 14, 2009

In this one I talk about "Lost" and "Ghost Hunters". So there.

Leaguers, I hope your week has found you well.

Apparently there's a good deal going on in the sports world right now. Basketball playoffs, Brett Favre causing trouble, baseball steroid scandals, and probably something with Dancing with the Stars. But I'm blissfully unaware.

I did watch every episode of "Lost" this season.

Spoilers below

I'm still enjoying the show. My complaint today is the same complaint I had with the show when it started. Somehow the writers have a very hard time getting the pieces of their show to flow organically from a character standpoint, and so, a bit like on a soap opera, characters tend to simply move about the playing board to create new and different conflicts instead of making rational decisions. Someone explain to me why Kate wanted to save people on the island? Aside from that it made a vehicle for the trio to return to the island? I know the show needs to be heavy on plot just to wrap up, but sometimes I wind up feeling that its all plot and they kind of fake the character bits unless it comes to Locke and Linus.

Also: I am deeply concerned that the season spent so much time on Time Travel issues this season, and not once did a single character point out that they couldn't actually be successful in resetting the clock, or none of them would be there to try, which would mean that, hey... this isn't going to work. Too often, time travel is a narrative dead end.

And no Juliet next season? Do not approve.

End spoilers.

I also think I'm... sigh... giving up on Ghost Hunters.

After five years or so of watching these guys scare themselves in other people's homes, businesses, and now THEIR OWN BUSINESS (they inspected the inn Jay and Grant's wives are now, apparently running), I think I'm going to have to say its been fun, but I'm checking out.

The show seems to increasingly ignore their own investigative techniques and use stuff like "I think I saw..." and questionable audio blips as evidence. I'd think that with as many hours as they've logged and as many of these investigations as they've undertaken, there'd be something of a payoff, but they seem to be moving in the opposite direction. And why they think a single night in any location is sufficient to gather enough evidence suggests some vestigal past from a lower budget operation, that I assume they no longer are.

I don't personally buy into the paranormal, but it doesn't mean I didn't want to see something amazing and inexplicable on TV. But at this point... well, alert me when and if it actually occurs.

I guess I'll just return to watching Mythbusters blow up cars and whatnot.

Troubles Taste Tests Trek

Jamie tastes the all-new Trek breakfast cereal. Here.

And, yes. The communicator, tricorder and phaser are all mine. I waited 25 years to have a communicator, tricorder and phaser, so shut up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

High School Musical

Here's an interesting bit.

Apparently, Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls and solo fame, teamed with her old high school drama teacher to put on a musical based on a Neutral Milk Hotel album, which was inspired by the story of Anne Frank. Or something.


Reading about it and watching a few minutes online did, indeed, make me miss the brief period of footlights and greasepaint from my own youth. I would have loved to have been involved in anything this interesting for a production in high school, and while we didn't stick to kiddie-stuff, I was often disappointed we weren't tackling material I might have had more interest in actually performing.

It is true that I, myself, tried my hand at acting in high school. Nothing as elaborate as bringing in a popular indie rock star, but we did several shows a year. We had auditions and rehearsals before school ever started, and usually ran two shows before the winter break, tucked a musical in there, had a spring show and maybe another. Its hard to recall exactly how it all went down, but we ran a lot of plays.

Admittedly, I wasn't much of an actor. I had a hard enough time getting "off book" (I plead made-up learning disability), and was never comfortable with the pantomime that has to occur in stage acting so that every facial movie, every line delivered, etc... reaches the person in the last row. And inhabiting other people's skins wasn't something, I suppose, I was terribly good at.

Also, my assumption is that my line delivery was akin to the sing-songy line delivery which marks most high school and community theater.

I still recall the look of horror on the basketball coach's face when I informed him I was (a) quitting the basketball team, and (b) that I recognized I needed an activity to keep me off the drugs, so I was going to try out for a play.

Amazingly, I landed an understudy role in a 40-minute version of "Midsummer Night's Dream", which actually had The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons in it as "Flute" and Broadway actor Charlie Pollock as "Bottom". And, come to think of it, Jeff Miller of Christian rock band Caedmon's Call.

Huh. never thought of it that way before.

Anyway, it was for a UIL competition, and we had an honest-to-god scandal and were booted out of state competition for a minor rule infraction. All very dramatic.

Its probably important to note that I was not quite of the proportions then that I am now, so people were not looking for me to play "Thug #2" or "Man-Child #7", as I have no doubt I'd be cast now (and did, in fact, get cast a a man-child in a friend's scene in college). We did "Rimers of Eldritch", "Rumors", "The Crucible", "You Can't Take it With You", "All My Sons", "Watch on the Rhine", and, I am sure, one or two others.

We had a few musicals. I sort of preferred backstage work. (A) It was less likely I'd screw up while standing in front of however many people came to the play. (B) Building sets, hanging lights, messing with all that stuff, was a lot more fun than running over the same lines, over and over. There's a lot less in the way of access to power tools when all you're doing is acting.

I don't know how or why, but I wound up in the "fly booth" when we did "Bye, Bye Birdie". This meant I did only two or three things during the duration of the play, but I couldn't leave the actual booth as I couldn't turn on the lights needed to make it from point A to Point B. So for about three hours I had to just sit in this box, and on cue, move signs up and down on a few cranks.

Its a job that is supposed to go unnoticed, but a few pals came to the show, and when I dropped the first sign onto the set, I heard a chorus of "Steeeeaaaaannns" erupt from the audience, just as they'd done when I was shooting free throws on the basketball team. It was sort of gratifying.

What I'd say to our younger readers: I've only seen small bits of the Disney hit, "High School Musical", but... the movie doesn't really reflect much of what happened during any of our plays. There was less dancing, singing about our love, and a lot more snarkiness and sitting around backstage chatting and missing our cues. I don't if the fiction of Disney's musical is particularly helpful, and I'm sure its led to all kinds of confusion for eager-faced kids ready to sing and dance, and finding out that its mostly standing around and occasionally getting yelled at by a tired drama teacher who doesn't want to wrangle any more kids.

I also worked backstage at a bizarre cash grab by the Performing Arts teachers at our school. Someone cooked up the idea to do a revue. Which meant a large cast, lots of set changes, and getting practically any kid who auditioned into the show. And then $8 a head for their parents and friends. And with a cast, band, crew, etc... of around 100 students doing 4 shows, we went SRO all four shows and did okay. Apparently it helped fund our next show or two.

We had a complete set change between every number or two, which was interesting. We had to recruit a bunch of freshman who'd never worked a play before, but we got our act together, and our little unit never missed a beat. I'm still proud of those kids.

Oddly, I blame this play for my recurring nightmare. Its not dissimilar to the standard "I'm back in school, and I need to take a test" dream that, reportedly, you never shake. About 3 or 4 times a year, I still wake up in a cold sweat having dreamed that I showed up to work backstage at a play, but I was supposed to be in a musical, singing and dancing. I have neither skill, so I feel frustrated that someone put me in the position of being in the play in the first place, and I am not clear on how it got to be opening night and I never knew I was in the show.

Backstage, its very much like the "Bit O' Broadway" musical revue. But on stage, I have no idea what's happening. Its something else entirely.

To my credit, I refuse to give up in this dream, declare that the show must go on, and always sort of wander out on stage, waving my arms around and sort of shuffling to the music. I will be happy to demonstrate sometime.

Not wanting to draw attention to my lack of rehearsal, I always kind of hang around the back of the chorus, just try my best to lip synch to the rest of the kids, and get off stage as quickly as possible. Sometimes I have to improvise a solo, but most times, not.

What's weirdest is that some mental sub-routine always actually has songs going to some made up dream musical that some part of my brain is writing. There are sets and costumes and the whole nine-yards that my conscious brain is incapable of putting together. I'd really love to know what this musical is, sometime. Which reminds of the library in the Sandman comics, of the books that people had dreamed but which had never existed.

Anyhow, it always has a sad lack of Amanda Palmer.

Giant Octopus vs. Mega Shark (or something like that)

...all I know is that I am going to watch this movie.

God bless you, little Debbie Gibson.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I have absolutely nothing of interest to say

Which, I suppose, is nothing new. This is a blog with a readership of about 12.

You're on your own for the next 24 hours or more.

I'm going to read a book or something.

Monday, May 11, 2009

hat and san francisco

Howdy, Leaguers!

Retiring Pontificatin' Hat Mark I

Leaguers who've made it out to League HQ or run into me at Barton Springs or ACL fest will be familiar with my Pontificatin' Hat.

I look faaaantastic here. Also, in my hand? That is "Pontificating Fuel", kids. Ask your mom where you can get some!

As you can see, the Pontificatin' Hat Mark I didn't ever fit exactly right. With summer here and ACL Fest tickets secured, I decided it was time to step it up a bit. Get a bit more in space around my noggin' and a bit more acreage out of the brim.

The Pontificatin' Hat was dubbed as it somehow tended to make appearances at the end of parties when we'd find ourselves on the back porch, chatting. One does not wear a "thinking cap" for such occasions, Leaguers. I recommend securing a Pontificatin' Hat of your own.

I'd expect Pontificatin' Hat Mark II, a Guatemalan Palm Cattleman's style hat, to start making appearances as early as this weekend. Heck, I just wore it outside at 9:30 at night to water the trees.

For fashion and lifestyle reasons, I resisted a cowboy hat for many a year. But after living in Phoenix and dealing with the relentless sunshine there, and deciding I kind of missed cowboy hats instead of grass-weave bermuda hats that were common in golf-mad Arizona, upon my return to Texas I felt it necessary to obtain and employ the traditional hatwear of my home state.

I'm certainly hanging onto the Mark I. I have a lot of affection for that sweaty, beat up hat.

San Francisco CA

It looks like Jamie and I are actually taking a vacation of sorts this summer. This is not something we normally do. We have a lot of logistical issues to resolve every time we leave town for more than 48 hours as Jamie needs dialysis Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. That requires her to find a clinic where she can go that takes our insurance, etc...

Traveling is also tiring for Jamie, so add in a dialysis day, which usually means a lot of resting, and we need to plan in pretty good detail what we're up to.

Luckily for us, The Dug and K. live in the Bay Area, and so we were already thinking that heading out that way was a good idea. Throw in that they became engaged a week or so ago (something I'm still excited about) and its a good time to fly out there for a visit.

No idea what I'll do, and what Jamie will want to do and see, but we've got a pair of Bay Area regulars to show us around, and that ain't bad.

In truth, my knowledge of San Francisco, etc... comes mostly from movies, TV and Mythbusters. But I'm not too worried about running out of activities. I had lunch with David G. today, and he had a very specific place he recommended for breakfast that I have to remember.

Anyhow, if I disappear for a few days in July, now you'll know why.

I should probably look up Bankston while I'm out there.

Also, I'm going to do this...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The League sees the All-New Star Trek

Vroooom! Vrooom! Vroooooooooom!

Spoilers Ahoy. Be forewarned.

So, okay. I really liked the new Trek.

There's a lot of plot and story issues with the movie, I'm not going to fib. Characters' motivations don't make sense (especially our villain, the catalyst for the plot), and its sort of derivative. And, if what they did is what I think they did, it would give longtime Trek fans a long, long moment of pause.


If you're like me and felt the past ten years or so of Trek has taken a turn for the not-so-great, and you never quite got over the original series, then this is a welcome change.

Prior to the new movie, I watched "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", the Alan Dean Foster penned, post "2001: A Space Odyssey", post "Star Wars" relaunch of the Star Trek franchise. And the differences between the two movies really couldn't be more pronounced in structure, pacing, philosophy, etc... The new movie is much, much more in the vein of the high-octane action movies of the past few years that had left the Trek franchise limping pretty far behind.

The movie does do a great job of introducing the characters and distilling down a lot of character bits developed over the decades into one cohesive narrative. There may be new actors in the Starfleet uniforms, but the writers were pretty intent on making sure that the characters that they'd loved for so many years are still intact, even if its coming from a slightly different angle. This most likely won't throw off too many viewers, what with the relaunch of other popular franchises of late, from Batman to James Bond (and us comic fans are very, very used to the whole "Earth 1, Earth 2" concept. As Trek fans should be, from "Mirror, Mirror".)

My all-new imaginary friends

The story moves at Warp 10, so its possible to miss the plotholes and/ or not care too much about them. And... this should give you an idea regarding how pleased I was with the movie, it really doesn't matter a whole lot whether the plot adds up or not. The movie isn't here to spin a crazy new plot for the Star Trek franchise, its here to get a new generation of viewers hooked on the antics of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu and the rest.

One of the things I'd loved about Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the scale of the thing. From the interior of the Enterprise (something rarely explored, and - oddly- not emphasized much in any other incarnation), to the vastness of space and the possibilities for craft size, etc...

While the FX of ST:TMP still hold up, the new film takes advantage of the power of CG in a way that the past fifteen years of Trek have struggled. Its a really great looking movie, even if the battle scenes do become a bit unnecessarily chaotic at times (but less so than the average Michael bay travesty).

The interior of the Enterprise, etc... actually makes some sort of sense and the designers must have considered what actual engine rooms on battleships, etc... look like, rather than just imagining a living room with glowy things. And the bridge is representative enough of the classic bridge, with what seems like a reasonable update in technology, etc...

I was genuinely pleased with the performances of everyone, even when a few scenes may have gone a little slapsticky for the Trek franchise. But it also generated humor in a film that wasn't going to count on laughs just from a fawning fanbase laughing at some insider joke.

It's a fast-paced popcorn flick that does its job admirably. And, after having paid the same amount to see "Wolverine" last week, I can verify that you could do a lot, lot worse.

Whether or not they dug themselves into all kinds of complications for a sequel remains to be seen. They certain had enough issues with the plot, how they handled... ahem... different versions of characters, etc... could be incredibly problematic. But I don't want to assume the worst until we get another installment.

For more, I recommend reading Jason's spoiler-rific review. Also, my rundown of my moderate Trek fandom.

Trek and Me

Ed. note: This isn't my Trek review. I'll get to that later.

When I was a very small kid, I recall watching Trek re-runs a little bit. There was a cartoon I caught once or twice, but I was mostly into Star Wars, so the pacing and lack of space ninjas and whatnot was just not that exciting to me. They spent an awful lot of time talking on Star Trek, and too little time shooting at stuff or employing Ewoks an cannon fodder.

In 2nd or 3rd grade, someone showed me Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS, and I mostly remember being painfully, painfully bored. Until the end, which I found trippy and awesome. Somehow back then I knew exactly what Voyager was (I'll thank The Admiral), and so it sorta made sense where they were coming from. I appreciated the scope of the movie, but as an ADD-riddled kid, it was just so sloooooow.

Summer after 3rd grade, we stayed at my grandparents in Missouri, and though I had not seen Star Trek II, we rented Star Trek III one night (they owned a VCR. We did not.), and watched the movie, which I recall really liking. We also watched that Nostradamus documentary that everyone watched back then, and I liked that less because it predicted nuclear armageddon in my lifetime. Sure, some of it freaked me out, but I liked the Klingons and sort of pseudo-sciency stuff around Genesis.

In 4th grade we moved to Austin, and I had a lot of downtime around 5:00pm for some reason. 5:00 was also when KBVO showed Star Trek reruns. So each afternoon I'd decamp to the TV and try to watch Trek. The episodes that really stick out are The Cage, Arena, the salt monster episode, The Trouble with Tribbles, The Enemy Within, and many, many others. Mirror, Mirror, of course...

My make-believe buddies in 4th grade

There was also one where McCoy was driving around Spock's body by remote control for some reason, and I thought that was the craziest thing, ever.

I got into the characters at that point, sort of lionizing Mr. Spock in particular. So I sort of bought into the Trek thing pretty hard. Not like Reed, Jason's new pal... but I was into Trek. In fact, I remember trying to talk to friends at school about Trek, and it seemed (and this is a painful stereotype, but its true), the kids in my nerd/honors classes were always much more inclined to be into Trek than the rest of my classmates. It was a sort of given that the boys should have some working knowledge of Trek. The girls... not so much.

In part, thanks to Trek, I learned that just because I was enthusiastic about something, not everybody was going to love it. For God's sake, I wore Spock ears to school for my Halloween outfit in 5th grade (I would go on to dress as Kirk for a high school drama party my senior year).

the League, circa 1986, wishes you to live long and prosper. Special tip 'o the hat to Jamie for finding and scanning this classic for her own post. And to Jason, for taking this picture a few decades back.

But I also understood pretty early on that love for Trek took many forms. I might like Trek the way I liked basketball and football, but not the way I loved X-Men or Batman at the time. But I saw that there were folks who really, really loved Trek.

We would attend comic conventions at the Holiday Inn down by the river (its that round tower, sort of by Picky's Pantry Chevron, Austinites. You know it.), and those would be held in conjunction with Trek cons. And those guys were intense. I think Jason saw more of it than I did (I was digging through back-issue bins, he was looking around knowing he could read anything I spent my money on), but I do recall seeing the guys in Star Fleet outfits and thinking that was just kooky. Let alone, where did one secure one of those get-ups?

Upon its release, we went to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one in the 1980's with the whales) at the Arbor IV, back when that meant something. The Arbor had THX sound, and something resembling stadium-style seating. At the time, if you wanted to get the full cinematic experience, and didn't want yoru shoes to stick to the floor of Showplace 6, you talked Dad into taking you to The Arbor IV. And I want to say this, because nobody ever believes me but...

The audience STOOD for chunks of the movie. STOOD. That was how excited these folks were about their Shatner and Spock. There was applause, and shouting, and just a damn lot of love for what they were seeing on screen. When the harpoon bounced off the Klingon ship? Oh. My. God. Pandemonium.

Afterward, we dissected the movie with my dad at Taco Bell. That's how much I remember being jazzed about that experience. That was all, of course, before Star Trek V: The League Demands a Refund (which featured a fan dance from Nichelle Nichols about 20 years too late).

I've only been to one other movie where people freaked out like that, and it was seeing Pulp Fiction at the Hogg on UT's campus fall of 1994, prior to widespread theatrical release. People also stood up there. But I really understood how important Trek was to people at that moment, and it was pretty huge for me, too.

I wound up keeping gerbils for a while. I think I was more interested in the habitrail than the actual animals, but I did wind up naming one of them Leonard Nimoy (the other was named Richard Nixon. I don't know exactly why.).

Like a lot of other young guys watching Trek, I had a TV crush on Lt. Cmdr. Uhura. You can have your Nurse Chapel or your Ensign Rand. But I was all about a savvy communications officer in go-go boots. Because I think if I ran a star ship between 4th grade and college, that's how I'd have run it, too.

I don't want to overstate this, but I did grow up seeing Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, understood she was an officer, and that was sort of a social battle won for somebody, somewhere. I would be in college before I actually stopped to think about how odd that must have been in the 1960's to have a black woman on a prime time show appearing as a capable military officer. Sure, she wasn't part of Kirk's inner circle, but she was featured as much as any bridge members back in the day. And she would go on to be as important as anyone in the feature films (in certain trek media, she's an Admiral).

a sweet-ass ride

No sooner did kids our age have their hands on a camcorder than we were doing our own Trek spoofs. I still recall a video of Jason and Reed as the crew of the Starship Win-a-Prize. Reed's Captain Kirk was a little trigger happy, if I recall, and Jason's science officer kept being approached by our border collie, Misty. He worked her in. Exterior shots were Lego. The bridge AND outerspace looked curiosly like our living room.

I initially rejected The Next Generation as looking like somebody's living room zipping through space (I still hate the set design). Plus, it took a few episodes to have someone who looked like a high school principal running the ship. Eventually I settled down, got over the lack of Vulcans (I never, ever understood why they didn't have a Vulcan or three), and got on board with the show. But that first season was rough.

I followed the original series through "The Undiscovered Country" and into "Generations". But once Next Generation wound down and took over the movies, I just wasn't super-interested anymore. I'd only dipped in and out of Deep Space 9, occasionally watched Voyager, and never took to Enterprise. Bully for you folks who did, but I don't know really my Tuvok from my Archer.

As much as I loved Star Wars (until, circa, 2002, when I gave up), Star Trek's tendency to lean toward science fiction rather than fantasy appealed to a completely different side of me. It wasn't as flashy as droids and lightsabers, but it all seemed so possible. And even if it weren't peering into the future, it seemed to suggest ideas as problems for engineers to solve and diplomatic and naval strategy to ponder rather than just accepting that "it's The Force, go with it."

I don't agree with all of Roddenberry's vision of the future. The notion of an enlightened world, free from human avarice seems so far off, that's the hardest part of his fantasy to swallow, but I see why he wanted to present that vision. Without believing in that goal enough to put it forth as an option, how can you work towards it?

And he didn't always achieve his own vision. Trek, after all, was still basically (as I like to say) three dudes flying around space in their space corvette, getting into scrapes while the swinger of the group picked up chicks and his wacky pals sniped at each other. Roddenberry's vision of the future still featured three white dudes and a lot of helpless women in need of Kirk's tender ministrations.

But it did throw open the door for what came later in other series that had internalized those notions a bit better.

I think it's now closed, but the Hilton casino in Vegas had a whole wing devoted to this show that only made it on TV for three seasons. The Star Trek Experience was an amazing fan-boy's dream. The restaurant was built to look like the set of the bar from Deep Space 9, there were real props from the shows everywhere, including models of the ships. Klingons wandered about and folks in Starfleet uniforms. There was a ride with a narrative associated with it that started after they somehow faked beaming you aboard the Bridge of the Enterprise. Which... I still don't really know how they did it. I'm sure they heard "whoa!" a hundred times a day.

I was always a little sad Jason never saw it.

Anyhow, Trek has been with me for a long, long time. I am actually quite thrilled that Paramount is taking steps to make sure it might be with me for quite a lot longer, and with some version of the characters who I loved first and best. I don't see it as dishonoring Gene Roddenberry. I look at it as caretaking the vision of teh future Roddenberry first shared more than 40 years ago.

If Kirk's communicator could plant the idea of a cell phone in an enterprising engineer's head, then what else can we hope to see materialize? How long before they're beaming us up?

I have to admit, I was at Target last week and saw they were selling Star Trek toys. After wanting one for 20 years, I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet Communicator. If I can locate the Tri-Corder, my mission is complete.