Saturday, December 28, 2013

Eff You, Feedly

I love blogs. I just think they're such a neat form of expression. I read something recently that their influence, such as it is, is waning, and kids today want their tumblrs and podcasts and vlogs and frim franglers and zoob zooblers, but I'm pretty happy with the basic deal, words, and the occasional picture with the snarky caption.

I read quickly, and I read at work and I read a ton of blogs (I've got 254 in my feed), which is why I tend to prefer a format that's as simple as possible.

That's why Google Reader was so good for me. I think my buddy Tim was the first person I saw using it, I immediately saw the appeal. I could have just about everything I read online pulled to me to read at my leisure, instead of going up and down and to and fro on the internets, to see if my favorite sites had pushed out an update.

Reader was...just about invisible, which is the highest compliment I can pay to the application in its role. It pulled content to me, that's all it did, and I didn't even notice it doing it. It just worked. I never even thought about it.

Then Google announced in March 2013 that it was shuttering Reader in the Summer. I, like just about every other user, got a little sad, then googled some variation on "Alternatives to Google Reader"

There weren't many right at the time of the announcement, because Reader was absolutely the dominant player. In the run-up to the closure, I exported my data and settled on Feedly.

Feedly was an also ran. Remember Netscape Navigator? For one, brief shining moment, it was the big fish in the browser pond. Then Microsoft started bundling Internet Explorer and it lost market share to the point where it would have required a meteor strike on Redmond to get it back.

That's pretty much the position Feedly was in. When the first place product is the best and the most visible, it's hard to make a living in second place. They continued development throughout Reader's period of dominance, and then, when I can only assume what was the products of their contract with Satan came to fruition, they were there to receive the hordes of Reader refugees.

Feedly is, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of a piece of shit. It doesn't do anything better than Reader did, and it does a number of things worse. It lacked basic functionality when it launched, and only later did they add it in...for those willing to pay.

I hate how they put the search right there, and only sandbag users when they go to use it.

That, in itself, wouldn't be a dealbreaker. I'm willing to pay for a product...if it's good and I can always favorite a piece and return to it later. Except that Feedly, on my phone, crashes ALL THE TIME. I click to read something and, hey, I'm back at my homescreen. When I try to find the article, it's already been read, so it's a pain to manually sift through everything to find it again. (Also, it signs me out at irregular intervals)

So...the other day, I went looking for "Alternatives to Feedly". And I found InoReader. It's small enough that they don't even have a wikipedia entry.

I like it more than Feedly, but I like syphilis more than Feedly. I think I may like them more than Google Reader. Even bit as functional, every bit as reliable, and with the added ability to pull in content from blogs that require a click-through.

The Mary Sue doesn't usually require a clickthrough. It just happened to be the site I had open.

Inoreader really is very good. My main concern is that they give away so much at the free level that there's not a lot of incentive to upgrade to the paid tiers. It's a great product that deserves a lot more attention.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Search and Comments fixed!

Just what it says on the tin. I've found some workarounds for both the search and the widget that shows the most recent comments, so all is right with the world.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Disney saved Christmas

I used to get into a lot of fights on the Internet, but I matured out of that. (Mostly) If someone is spouting bullshit talking points, I'll sometimes include a link from Snopes or something, but only under specific circumstances. I know I'll never persuade the kind of person who posts those things, but if a low-information reader comes across the post and concludes "Yes, duck Dynasty guy DOES have a Constitutional right to a TV show!", I'll do my best to explain why it's not a first amendment issue at all.

I got in a disagreement over this very issue. Briefly, it's not a First Amendment Issue because the government is not a actor in the dispute; it's between two private parties. He's free to act like an asshole, and everyone else is free to point out that he's acting like an asshole, and base their decisions on this knowledge.

It's hard to separate cluelessness from malice in his case, but he really did seem to pine for the halcyon days when the coloreds knew their place and singing songs from Song of the South, and men were men who did not lie with other men. Ridiculously obtuse and lacking in empathy is probably the most charitable reading.

I said what I had to say, and even managed to stay halfway civil, and then didn't think about it too much until Christmas Day.

We were watching the Disney Parks parade. Lily was on the couch with the kitten.

I was kind of halfway paying attention, horrified by the number of disney Channel stars which I recognized and of whom I actually had an opinion. The program was interrupted for a number of Disney infomercials for their properties and parks, and for some lines from people in the park on why they like attending.

Now listen, Disney is a big corporation. I didn't like them as a teenager and a young adult, because I thought they were old and stodgy and didn't make anything interesting. This was the 90's and they just weren't EXTREME enough for 90's Josh. Whatever. I think there are legitimate criticisms to be made of of Disney as a company, but in general, they're not better or worse than any conglomerate of their size, and they do produce their brand of entertainment better than anyone else in the world.

They tend not to take controversial stances on social issues, which only makes sense. Why alienate a potential customer? Support the the things everybody can agree on, make sure the public sees you doing it, and get to work making more money.

That's why I was surprised by how gay-friendly this special was. It featured an openly gay host in the form of Neil Patrick Harris, who showed pictures of his kids and his partner, and some of the testimonials were from gay couples.

And if a company as staid as Disney is as supportive of equal rights in such a public venue and unambiguous way, I think our side is winning, no matter what the swamp folk say.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Are you ready for some football?!

As I get older, I become increasingly phlegmatic about how other people spend their time. I used to be pretty bad about shitting all over things my friends liked, but this was pointed out to me, and I've worked to rein it in and I think I've been much better about it since I've started making the effort.

In general, I really don't give a shit, and I'll keep quiet about it, unless you're coming around to drop what you imagine to be a tremendously clever bon mot in a three-year old thread, Firefly fans.

I try to see things from their point of view, and I'm usually successful in understanding how they reached the conclusions they did or what they get out of the experience.

One thing continues to baffle me. How anyone older than twenty-five can give the tiniest of shits about high school football.

Actual Headline from a local paper!

Phillipsburg vs. Easton is the football game of the year

Jesus Christ, did I somehow wander on to the set of Friday Night Lights? I feel like the guy in this picture.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Doctor Who: 50 years of time travel

Former Doctors returning! 

Tom Baker!

It was everything a fiftieth anniversary special should be!

But enough about The Light at the End. The Day of the Doctor was okay, too.

I guess I'll touch on that briefly, since I brought it up. It was for fans of the new series. I hate Rose, hate Matt Smith, barely tolerate David Tennant, deplore Moffat's treatment of women, and haven't been able to take the Daleks seriously as adversaries for decades.  I thought Clara riding her moped into the TARDIS while Matt Smith mugged for the camera was the most unbearably twee thing I've ever seen.

This is why I'm embarrassed to tell people I'm a fan of science fiction.

Despite that, I thought it was pretty good for what it was. Moffat tends to write Doctor Who as a time travel show, moreso than his predecessors, for whom the TARDIS was merely a vehicle for getting the Doctor and company to the next adventure. This is not without its perils, as once you open the door to those kind of stories, the viewer is left wondering why the Doctor doesn't repeat that solution the next time he encounters the same situation. (See: Fan reaction to the Angels take Manhattan and compare that to the Seventh Doctor, who was so hardcore that he tricked the Cyberman into triggering a doomsday weapon against themselves a mere two stories after doing the exact same thing to the Cybermen, and nobody commented on it except Ace, because that's just how she rolls.)

I thought the Zygon b-plot was pretty boring and occasionally nonsensical (how can an amnesiac human argue for the viewpoints of a Zygon without knowing what they want?, which is another of my problems with Moffat, clever ideas that fall apart with even a slight amount of scrutiny), but the story elements were well-integrated into the main plot. The Doctor's plan was, in essence, to make Gallifrey duck and have the Daleks on opposite sides of the planet shoot each other. Apparently, this worked, which makes me wonder why ANYONE takes them seriously. Still, John Hurt was fun, and I knew it wouldn't be for me when I went in. 

I liked the fivish Doctors a lot, but my favorite bit of 50th anniversary programming was Big Finish's Light at the End special. 

Former Doctors returning! 

Tom Baker!

It was everything a fiftieth anniversary special should be!

Okay, listening to the Light at the End. I don't think I'll ever get tired of remixes of the Doctor Who theme. I'd say someone should release an album of nothing but, except I know that Orbital already did. I have it on my phone. 

I've been listening to a lot of Big Finish's audio plays, as mention occasionally. I like it. I think Classic Who had its own problems, and the budget was one of the biggest. By making it audio-only they largely eliminate that as a factor. You occasionally get exposition disguised as exclamations ("Oh, no, Doctor, he's pulled a gun!"), but that's a small price to pay.

Big Finish has ton of stories, and the older ones are ridiculously cheap. (3 dollars for an entire story?! Sign me up!) I've mostly been listening to stories with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. I've also been listening to Colin Baker, who is much more entertaining on the Audio plays. Unfortunately, he's often paired with Peri. Oh, fucking Peri! Nicola Bryant has had nearly 30 years to figure out how Americans pronounce the letter R. You'd think she'd have it down by now. 

Each of the Doctors had one of his companions from his run. The Fourth had Leela. Leela was never one of my favorites, (I didn't dislike her, I just never had any particular affection for her, either), but I find myself enjoying her parts in this play. 

It's been a long time since I've seen the Leela episodes, and I think my ambivalence is partially attributable to the fact that the fourth Doctor had so many good companions, and I never paid her much particular attention. She reminds me of Jamie, in that they each came from a pre-industrial society. Companions are there in part to serve as audience identification characters/someone to whom the Doctor can explain something, and I liked the Companions like Adric or Leela or Romana, characters who were something other than an ingenue from modern day London. 

The Fifth Doctor had Nyssa. I do like these Fifth Doctor and Nyssa stories, and something that strikes me about them is how this Doctor constantly screwing up. Nyssa surpasses him not infrequently, and that's something you seldom saw with the other Doctors, particularly in the new series. 

The Sixth Doctor has Peri. As my friend Jen said, "Yeah, Peri.  I like the 6th Doctor in the audios, but Peri never gets better.  Stupid Peri!" I'll see you in hell,  Perpugilliam!

The Seventh Doctor has Ace. And there was much rejoicing. Or as Sylvester McCoy would say Rrrrrrrejoicing.

I recently started listening to some of McGann's stories and I'm I'm happy that I happened to listen to McGann and Charley shortly before I started this, because I really like their rapport and I think knowing about it, at least for me, really enriches the experience.

For me, the story takes off about eighteen minutes in, where Charley had just met the 4th Doctor and Leela.  The interplay with McGann and Tom Baker is fun. Baker is grand.He returns to the role like he never left it. He'll always be my Doctor, a wanderer who fights evil where he finds it, and not the Most Important Person in the Universe (travelling with the Second Most Important), who can only be overcome and chained up by a rainbow coalition of space monsters.

Regretfully, the Zarbi could not reprise their role

I thought it was kind of amusing back in Remembrance of the Daleks when Ace turned off the TV in 1963, just as Doctor Who would have premiered. I think centering the whole story around that date is just a touch much for me, however, particularly since someone mentions it every three minutes. 

It's a more intimate story than Day of the Doctor. I like these smaller stories. The problem with every escalating stakes is that it's numbing and meaningless after a while. We know that the Daleks aren't going to destroy the earth/universe/every parallel universe, but if the Doctor is running down the corridor with five guys, there's a real tension, because odds are good that not every one of them is going to make it. Heck, everybody, up to and including the Doctor could die, and you'd still have a series! 

Zagreus, the 40th anniversary story, felt as epic as anything that's ever been featured in Doctor Who, but I don't think I'd want a retread of that. The plot itself is kind of sparse. It's pretty much what Moffet said he didn't want the TV version to be, a celebration of fifty years, with old characters coming back for no good reason.   The Master is being a jerk, and the Doctor has stop him, but that's mostly an excuse to get the characters together so they can interact with all of their glorious quirks bouncing off of each other. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Search Results, Part 6

Just in time for the holiday season, our latest list of strange or disturbing searches that have led visitors to the site. The spelling and punctuation are as in the original.

  1. t-n-t tattoos for werewolf
  2. giraffe checking glucose levels
  3. abilify girl rule 34 (If you're not familiar with Rule 34, it's the rule of the internet that states that if something exists, there is a porn version of it somewhere out there)
  4. Fingering wiener dogs
  5. bike pump scenes in horror movies
  6. girl poop accident
  7. batman poop signal
  8. long legged preteens (Gah, I mean, what the fuck? Seriously!)
  9. starfire sperm
  10. Girl Werewolfs shaved all over (I'm not quite sure I can imagine how this work look, which works out, because I don't think I would want to)

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Seems like Blogger is imploding lately. The recent comments widget is broken and so is the site search. I'll update as more information becomes available.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How the Lily saved Christmas

Follow up to this post.

We haven't talked much about Christmas and/or Santa since the big interrogation over the weekend. The closest we came was when I was tucking Lily in for bed and I asked her if she was looking forward to Christmas. "Kinda." Is it because of the conversation we had? "Yeah."

Yesterday, she came into the kitchen and told us that when she has a kid, she's going to tell her the truth right away. I didn't tell her that this was always my intent as well, but that parents face peer pressure too.

I asked her what she would tell other kids about Santa. "I would say 'I don't know, ask your parents', because I don't know for sure." I was really pleased with her answer.So it seems that we're raising a teapot agnostic at this point, at least as far her belief in Santa goes. (That is, she's given herself a fig leaf to say she doesn't know, but hasn't reasoned things out to the extent to understand that claims about Santa are essentially unfalsifiable.)

I didn't want to give her instructions to go in and lie to her friends, particularly when she'd been so upset with being on the receiving end of that lie. However, we'd thought for a long time that she'd be the one who ruined Santa for the other kids. We never thought she'd do it out of spite, but, like me, she sometimes lacks patience with people who are slow to reach conclusions, and I could see getting frustrated and blurting it out in a moment of pique, entirely without malice.

I think is the best resolution we could have expected for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Breaking Bad is so much fun, I am Walter and I stink!

We started watching Breaking Bad the week it went off the air.

Well, that's not entirely true. I tried it once before, saw the now-famous opening sequence of Bryan Cranston driving an RV in a dress shirt and tighty-whiteys, couldn't understand the appeal of the show, turned it off and then didn't think about it for the next three months.

My friends Jen and Tim loved it, though, so I decided to give it another chance. It became awesome approximately three milliseconds after I stopped watching the first time, and stayed that way right up until the end.

This is going to both have a ton of spoilers and be pretty meaningless if you haven't seen the show, so consider yourself warned.

We were kind of dumb to start watching just as the show was ending, because I read a lot of stuff online, and coverage of Breaking Bad was absolutely ubiquitous. I'd think I was safe in reading an article about the Supreme Court granting cert to a case, and then all of a sudden, the author would throw in a gratuitous reference to Breaking Bad.

Walter: I really liked the deconstruction of the anti-hero. What's the difference between Walter White and the crew of the Serenity? Better press. It's nice to see a villain treated as such for once. He's such a jerk, an angry entitled nerd who thinks the world owes him something because he's smart. He's fascinating to watch, because he never stops thinking of himself as the good guy, right up to his "I did it for me speech".

I liked Skyler a lot. There were moments when I couldn't condone the actions she took, I generally liked her. I understand she had some vitriolic detractors. Anna Gunn penned an op-ed after the series ended.

Jesse: I'm not the first to observe this, but I like how he can never quite shake his upper middle class roots, and calls Walter "Mr. White" right up until the very end. A friend said that her tattoo artist hated Jesse. How can you hate Jesse?! I think she said it was because of all the crying. (The militia guys said something similar when they were watching the testimony Hank recorded. "Does he cry the whole way through?" or something)

I really liked the transformation in Hank across the series. He goes from this racist buffoon to the closest thing we see to a hero in the entire show. It reminds me of something Zelazny said about writing Damnation Alley, which was written in the style of an author he admired, who tended to structure his stories with a good man falling and a bad man rising up, with the drama coming as they encounter each in the middle.

RJ Mitte as Walter Junior was fun to watch. I loved how he went off on his dad at the end. I'm glad a legitimately disabled actor was cast in the role, as well. It's a small thing, but it matters to me.

Marie was interesting. Her shoplifting arc was interesting. I think I liked her when the intervention for Walt in an early episode and she spoke up in support of him, saying that he deserved the dignity of making the choice on whether to receive medical care, and the goodwill from that act was enough to sustain her for the entire series.

Gus was wonderful too. I have another piece almost completed about how AWFUL Once Upon a Time is, and it's funny to see Giancarlo Esposito being great in this show and terrible in that one. Such an interesting character, played to perfection. I even liked the way that he died. 

Every time Lydia came on the screen, I would start singing, "Lydia, oh, Lydia," and Jen after a time, Jen would say, "I don't know that song," and I'd say "It's a fairly well known song." I was thrilled to see that Matt Damon-looking kid had it set as her ringtone for her number.

See a theme here? I can't think of any characters I actively disliked. (Okay, maybe Badger) The show had some rough spots (the Magical Mexicans,

Pictured: Los Douchebag Hermanos

Mike's progression from smart ex-cop to impossibly competent special forces ninja samurai super-genius, the occasional moment of "exactly as planned" Death Note-nonsense from Walter/Plot-Induced Stupidity from Walt's adversaries (Mike's death was probably the worst) but it always rebounded from these stumbles and ranks among the best TV I've ever seen. 

I think "To'hajiilee"  the episode where Walt gets snookered by Hank and arrested and then rescued by the militia was astounding.

The finale wasn't AS good, but it was still pretty great. I like the "I did it for me" speech bit.

The bit with the machine gun reminded me of a story a family friend told me once about another chemist he used to work with down in Jersey. He had this plan to mail order machine gun parts, assemble them and sell the completed product. Well, even in in pre-September 11th America, the government was on top of that kind of thing. As I recall the story, he got off lucky in that they only confiscated his stuff.

One thing I like about British TV is the shorter seasons. They have a story to tell and they tell it and when it's done, it's over. Breaking Bad was similar to that. Whenever the formula was threatening to get stale, the show transformed itself. I thought this was well-woven into the narrative, as a consequence of Walt's swallow the spider to catch the fly method of problem solving. I can't think of a single show that's been as consistently excellent across its run as Breaking Bad.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two items of Zelazny-ish news

The first is only of tangential interest to the Zelazny community at large (such as we are), but may be of interest to the readers of the site. The podcast edition of the most recent Lonesome October tribute issue is now available.

Link to Lovecraft Zine podcast archives

It's a hefty file, 220 MB, 5 hours and fifteen minutes, but it contains all the Lonesome October stories from that issue. I haven't listened yet, but the reading and recording has always been of consistently high quality over there, so I'm sure it's excellent.

The other item is that I'm difficult to shop for. My wife asked me to put together a wish list, and I did so on Amazon. I typed in "Zelazny" to see what they had, and, boy howdy is it an eclectic mix.

Spanish Language Kindle edition of Dilvish the Damned? We've got you covered.

A random t-shirt with a random quote?

By no means is it a bad quote, but it's not even in my top ten. (I don't even know if it's my top ten quotes from Guns of Avalon) I'd read something about bots putting together randomly selected text strings and offering the result for sale on t-shirts. Since the shirt isn't printed until the order is placed, they lose nothing by making thousands of these, and might hit the jackpot if something resonates. I can't help but wonder if something similar was at play here.

I also saw Zelazny Coasters

These also look like some kind of print on demand deal, where the buyer can specify a family name and have custom coasters printed out. Funny that Zelazny was the placeholder name, though.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How the Josh stole Christmas

Pictured: Me

Just when we thought we were in the clear, Lily had starting expressing serious doubts about Santa, after Christmas last year.  We deflected the questions as best we could, and they became less frequent as the season ended.

In the post just before this one, I discussed how Lily is very good at solving a problem, looking at a scene to see what doesn't fit. I suppose, in light of that, that something like this was inevitable.

I came in from another room, to find Lily sitting on the floor, looking very serious. That, in itself, is not especially remarkable, as she's the kind of kid who takes everything seriously. She asked me, "Daddy, will you always tell me the truth?"

I said, "I always try to tell you the truth. The only exception is if someone has asked me to keep their secret, and in that case, I'll tell you that I can't tell you, because I'd be breaking a promise to someone else."

I don't think that preamble was premeditated, but it did have the effect of limiting my range of response.

And then she asked "Is Santa Claus really real or are parents just tricking kids?"

Oh boy.

I didn't answer, and she went on, "I've been thinking about it and I think there's only a one in ten chance that Santa Claus is real."

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow, because none of the people reading this are, as far as I know, hardcore masochists. It was brutal.

Do you remember in the final Harry Potter book, where Snape is trying to get more information from Narcissa and Bellatrix by acting like he really already knows it? He's shifty as hell, and gives these ambiguous half-answers that practically beg for some clarifying follow up questions. I remember thinking at the time that his act would fool a clever seven-year old, and today I have proof.

I would evade, she would come back. If I were ambiguous, she would ask for a clarification. If I asked her what she thought, she would repeat the question, "Daddy, is Santa real or are parents just tricking kids?" "Daddy, do you believe in Santa?" "I believe in the spirit of Santa" "You didn't answer the question."  It was like being interrogated by Inspector Javert. I felt like Kyle Reece in the Terminator. She had one question and she absolutely would not stop until she got her answer.

Once she did get her answer, she had a follow up. WHY do parents trick their kids? There was an interlude of wailing and gnashing of teeth and "I hate Christmas, I hate Santa, I hate all parents who lie to their kids! Everyone who learns about Santa turns into a monster!" It was rough. She wasn't upset that Santa wasn't real; she was upset because we had lied to her.

I tried to explain that sometimes it's okay to keep information from people. I tried to use Mommy's surprise party as an example, that it wouldn't have been as fun if she had known about it ahead of time, but this was getting into really touchy territory.

I'm not Immanuel Kant, who believed there was a categorical imperative against lying, but I didn't want to tell my daughter that it's okay to lie in the service of the greater good, either, because I don't feel like jumping off that particular slippery slope today.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lily and the Brain Chain

Lily wanted me to tell everyone about a game she had invented. But first, a story!

I was playing Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, with Lily, and it's certainly a game that will warrant its own post. It started out being distinguished only by its design and the execution of its story, and then branched out to zillions of fun little subsystems. Like a number of video RPGs, it has a casino area where you can wager some form of currency that isn't available elsewhere, to exchange for items that aren't available elsewhere.

It features slot machines, blackjack, an arcade game and card game that I believe that was invented for the video game. It's called Platoon, and each player is dealt ten cards from a poker deck, which he or she must divide into five piles. Each card is worth its face value, except for kings, which automatically win against anything except for an ace, aces, which automatically lose (but beat kings), and jokers, which swap your hand with your opponents. The rules are pretty simple, but there's a decent amount of strategy.
In your face! (The computer gets unbelievably snotty when it wins)

Lily spent all afternoon trying to master that small and trivial subsection of a video game. I shudder at the knowledge that this displaced, but we had some interesting conversation about it. Lily wondered if we were really playing against another person somewhere on the internet, and if they saw us as the dealer. Later on she concluded that this must be the case, because if we were really playing against the computer, it would just deal itself a winning hand every time. I pointed out the flaw in her reasoning, (that sooner or later, the player would figure it out and stop playing with the computer), but I liked that she tried to reason things out with the facts available to her. I've often said that kids aren't that far behind adults when it comes to straight up problem solving; they simply have a smaller pool of experience to inform it.

I'll take a little bit of credit for this. I'll ask her open-ended questions, and follow up with "Why?" in order to get her articulate her reasoning, which is something I find useful myself, as part of the process of trying to determine how I came to a particular conclusion.

I see that she's internalized this, because she was the discussion leader at school recently, where she guides the discussion and asks the other little kids questions about the story they're reading. Lily's questions were open-ended, what-do-you-think-will-happen-next questions, but the teacher was looking for a line of inquiry more along the lines of what had happened previously in the book. "What did Jim have for lunch?" "Why was he late for school?"

I'm torn. On one hand, I think Lily's kind of questions are more illuminating, particularly if she follows up with "Why?", as you can't make a good prediction about what's going to happen without having a solid grasp about what has happened. On the other hand, most kids that age aren't ready for that level of reasoning, and perhaps more importantly, that's not what she was asked to do.

We were talking about detention, and I asked her what she knew about it, and she said it's when you're forced to stay after school and you can't do anything but sit there and do your homework. I told her that sometimes you can't even do your homework, because it's supposed to be a punishment and the idea is that you shouldn't be able to derive any benefit from it. She told me that she likes sitting alone at her desk, because she can play a game of her own devising, which she calls Brain Chain. She'll find something in the room, and chain associations with it. "Oh, that poster of a castle reminds me of Tangled which reminds me of Grammy Kathy because we saw the movie in Florida which reminds me of cooking, because Grammy Kathy is such a good cook, which reminds me of Wacky Wednesday because I make pancakes on the griddle, which reminds me of Valentine's Day, because I'll sometimes put chocolate chips in the pancakes and people give out candy on Valentine's Day, which reminds me off..."

I used to play similar games when I was bored, and I'm more interested in her thought processes in coming up with the game than I am in the specifics of it. Two things impressed me. The first was how cleanly she was able to articulate the rules to Jen after she had explained it to me. She didn't ramble, as people often do when explaining something, but rather she laid it out clearly, in logical order, providing specific examples to illustrate her points. The other thing was how enthusiastic she was. She had invented this thing completely on her own, and she was so excited and wanted to share it with people she loved. That's one of the things about Jen with which I first fell in love, and I'm glad it passed on to Lily. There's so much of me in her temperament that it's nice to see that she inherited some of Jen's good traits too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Movie Review: Bloodlust Zombies!

I had one reason for watching Bloodlust Zombies, and it wasn't, as you might expect,  the charms of Alexis Texas. A good friend had a small role as one of the zombies, and I wanted to see him.

Bloodlust Zombies is pretty much what it looks like, a low-budget zombie flick. If you've seen more than a handful of these movies, you certainly know what to expect:  Experimental zombie compound, lab accident, outbreak, fighting zombies during the ensuing lockdown, etc, etc. The melody might change, but the song remains the same.

For the commentary, the director and the star both call the movie "Bloodlust", so I assume the name was changed fairly late in production.

I wound up liking it more than I was expecting.   I don't know it if I'd call it a "good" movie, but it certainly was an enjoyable one. Of course, a big part of the appeal was the commentary from Jeremy on how they achieved certain shots or effects, which isn't going to apply to anybody else watching it . We watched it on DVD (though it was available to stream on Netflix until recently), and had access to the bonus materials. The blooper reel was funny, and I enjoyed watching them sneak into another building to film the elevator scene, which they had done because the office building where they had filmed the other scenes didn't have an elevator.

I might have liked it anyway, in large part due to Adam Danoff's character. Jeremy says Adam is an extremely nice guy in real life, but here he played this smirking douchebag.  This says more about me than anything else, but I like it when characters observe the absurdity of their situation.

Actual line from the movie, and among the best lines of any movie: "Okay...random naked woman, for no apparent reason"
I think the movie was at its best when it wasn't taking itself seriously. (And any movie is immeasurably improved by the addition of a scene with an elevator playing the Girl from Ipanema.) I didn't like in the Special Edition of Star Wars where Boba Fett mugs for the camera

"Hey, fanboy, yeah, I'm talking to you."

but I think that kind of thing works here.  I'm sure the crew was aware of the limitations of their budget when they were creating the movie, but they manage to turn this into an asset by lampshading the more ridiculous stuff. I think I would have watched a whole movie of him running around the building and radiating smarm.

 Janice Marie gave a solid performance, and somewhat distractingly, resembled Carrie Fisher, and Texas, while not the most polished actress I've ever seen, had a very appealing screen presence.

There were some nice moments, like the scene with Texas (or perhaps a stunt double. Jeremy wasn't there for that scene and didn't know who had actually performed it) in the hazmat suit decapitating the zombie with some kind of kendo maneuver.  It was a little bit hokey, but nicely choreographed just the same.

Bottom line, I enjoyed the time I spent watching it, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I've been wondering what Josh thought of Frozen

I saw Frozen with Lily. Having had a day to reflect, I think I like it more than Tangled, which had previously been my standard for an outstanding Disney feature. Click here for my review of Tangled!

I didn't like the Mickey Mouse short that ran in the beginning, though Lily did. The trailers were pretty forgettable, except for the LEGO movie, which looks like it's going to be Wreck-It-Ralph, except with Legos, which might just might be the best possible concept for a movie, full stop.

The movie itself

I tend to like media with female protagonists. So does Lily. She kind of aging out of princess culture. (Though we did put together a list of the best princesses.) I think we're going to have to amend our list to include two new additions from Frozen.

The look of Frozen was clearly influenced by Tangled's success. This is even lampshaded when Anna strikes a pose in front of the Swing, which is the painting which served as the main influence for Tangled's visual design.

Sven the reindeer maps directly to Maximus and Anna looks more than a little bit like Rapunzel. (I read after we saw the movie that Rapunzel gets a cameo in a crowd scene, but I didn't see her.)

Frozen is the story of two sisters, Elsa, the elder, voiced by Idina Menzel, and Anna, played by Kristen Bell. I've loved Bell since her Veronica Mars days. It's great to hear Menzel sing. I seem to recall that at some point, Tangled was considered as a sequel to Enchanted, and echoes of that can still be seen in its character models.

With Enchanted, they made what I can only call an interesting decision, in casting Idina Menzel, with her strange and off-putting speaking voice, in a prominent role in a musical, and then not giving her any songs! (I had initially assumed that her numbers had been cut, but an interview suggests that she was hired for the role solely as an actress.)This is remedied in Frozen, where she gets a show stopper of a number with "Let it Go".

(Though to quibble, "fractal" was probably not in common use in 17th century Norway, or wherever this movie is set. )

Elsa has the ability to create ice and snow, She hurts her sister while they're playing as children, and their parents rush them to some local trolls, who heal Anna, but remove her memories of her sister's powers. Anna can't understand why her sister, who had previously been her best friend, suddenly wants nothing to do with her.
Because of her regret, and the fact that her power manifests on its own when she becomes emotional, Elsa retreats into herself.

Time passes and their parents die, so you can cross that one off your Disney movie Bingo card. Fast forward to Elsa's coronation. This might be my favorite part of the movie. Anna meets Hans, a handsome prince, who proposes to her after their duet. They return to Elsa to ask for her blessing, who essentially says, "No, you just met him," which is all kinds of awesome.

Listen, I developed a huge crush on the woman who would later marry me, almost as soon as I met her. She had infectious enthusiasm and big green eyes and long hair, and may have in fact been Rapunzel in disguise. Later on we dated and we got married about three years after our first date. So while there was an element of mutual attraction right away, we weren't ready to get married later that night.

Anna is upset by this rebuff and yells at Elsa, who is already having a rough day. Elsa's ice powers are triggered by the stress and she manifests them in front of everyone before fleeing the castle for the mountains.

I read a review that criticized the movie by pointing out that this scene didn't pass the Bechdel test. The Bechdel Test has been around for quite a while, but it's getting a lot of press recently, which makes me happy, because I'm glad broader is talking about the concerns it raises. It doesn't indicate whether a movie is good or bad (for instance, Shawshank Redemption fails, but Sucker Punch passes easily), but rather it looks at gender bias.

In order to pass the test, the movie must meet three criteria: 1.) It must have two women, 2.) Who talk to each other 3.) About something other than a man).

While it's possible to have a conversation about how it's foolish to marry a man you've just met that would meet the standards of the Bechdel test, you'd have to go through a lot of contortions. I just don't think that using this particular conversation to criticize the movie is in any way fair.

I really enjoyed the slow pace of this act. I read an interesting piece about how a fair number of summer blockbusters are written with the same formula and all seem the same. I really enjoyed a movie that bucked the trend.

The review is going to get increasingly spoilery as we progress, so you've been warned. The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back, turn back, turn back...


Elsa was, by far my favorite character.

I really loved her body language, how even when she was fighting for her life from merciless assassins, she would turn away even as she fired shards of ice at them, as if she didn't want to have to see them hurt. She never stopped trying to do the right thing. I really liked the line from Fixer-Upper, by the trolls. "People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed". It really seemed to apply to her. She seemed horrified that she might have plunged her country into an eternal winter.

Anna was okay, but there was nothing to distinguish her from dozens of other plucky movie heroines. She could team up with Amanda Seyfried's big-eyed ingenue from Epic and we'd have a Veronica Mars mini-reunion. Also, the "Look at me! I'm comically clumsy!" schtick kind of got on my nerves.

I liked Hans and I was disappointed at his abrupt heel turn.  I thought we were going to get a movie without a human villain. I suspected that he was going to turn evil, but I was hoping that he would occupy the role played by the Baroness in the Sound of Music, whose only failing is that she's not the person the protagonist loves. It's not a huge deal, and it certainly falls into "I would have done it differently" rather than "this was a decision that makes for a bad movie" category. I think the movie would have been more interesting without the element of moustache-twirling villainy to it, is all.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED: As time goes on, I increasingly feel that it's an outstanding movie marred, and maybe even ruined by the ending. In the end of Tangled, where Flynn is dying, he reaches up and cuts off Rapunzel's hair. That wasn't his choice to make. It should have been Rapunzel who did it. It deprotagnizes her, reducing her from someone who does something to someone who has something done to her. It's such an egregious unforced error by a movie that hadn't even stumbled up until that point, and the more I think about it, the more it bothers me.)

Olaf the snowman was much better than I'd been expecting. I've had my fill of wacky comedy sidekicks that are annoying rather than funny (Mushu, I'm looking at you), but his gags ranged from the inoffensive to the actually funny (In Summer was one of the high points of the movie)

While we're on the subject, Fixer Upper was a pretty great song, and it was both funny, and, for lack of a better word, wise. (It's about loving someone in spite (or perhaps because of) their flaws
We’re not saying you can change her, ‘cuz people don’t really change We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange
People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed
Throw a little love their way (throw a little love their way) and you’ll bring out their best
Anna has been poisoned by Elsa's magic, and will turn into an ice statue unless saved act of true love. I love Enchanted, and there is the scene where Edward steps aside because he knows that that Robert is Giselle's true love. At first it seemed like the movie was going to parallel that story, with Kristoff returning Anna to Hans so he can give her True Love's kiss and break the spell, but they had been dropping subtle hints that the movie was going to be something more. In the end, it's Anna's act of devotion towards her sister that is the act of True Love that breaks the spell. I was hoping for this and I was thrilled they went this route. Familial love is under represented in movies, and it's nice to see it getting the spotlight.