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Archive for the month “December, 2013”

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Well, this is it.

If you’ve got any 2013 business left, you’ve got mere hours left to do it. Then everything stamped 2013 expires like milk, lunch meat and Miley Cyrus’s popularity.

Of course, if you’re reading this after December 31, then 2014 has already crashed down amongst us like that one weird uncle who comes around every year about now, uninvited and looking for gas money. And if 2014 is anything like 2013, then that weird uncle is taking up residence in your spare room and parking his boxers on your sofa for the duration. You’re screwed, sister. Might as well just crawl into bed with a box of Oreos until January 1, 2015.

But let’s not lose hope. There’s still a chance you could get what you want out of the new year. What is it? A new job? Better Job? Any job?

To finish school? Finish some sort of necessary and/or elective health treatment? Finish the Harry Potter books? (Spoiler: his name was Rosebud.)

Maybe you want to go somewhere new in 2014. Somewhere exotic and endangered perhaps. Like the Great Barrier Reef. Or war-torn Middle East. Or an independent bookstore.

Maybe your goal in 2014 is to acquire a new skill. Learn a foreign language. Learn to skydive. Or figure out how to make your Android phone talk to you iPad. (It could be a long year.)

So many possibilities. Me, I’m just looking forward to more writing. Good health. Maybe an enjoyable adult beverage or two.

What does the new year have in store for you?

MY YEAR IN PODCASTS

2013 was The Year of the Podcast.

Mark it, you. It has been decreed. You can tell ’cause I used capitalization AND bold print.

Bow before the bold print.

Well, okay, there’ve actually been years of the podcasts. Podcasts have, of course, been around for some time. Maybe it’s more accurate to say 2013 was the year I really started paying attention to them. Before I really starred listening, I guess I assumed that podcasts were long, rambling monologues by monotone loners living in their mothers’ basements. Then, I realized that, no, that’s bloggers.

Ha! I slammed myself. A podcaster would never be self-assured enough for that.

Zing! Flipped the slam! Bloggers rule. Podcasters drool.

But enough trash talking. The holidays are about public drunkenness telling relatives what you really think of them joy and unity. The holidays are a time to embrace the things that make you happy (unless there’s a restraining order baring you from doing so) and sharing what you have with others (contagions make the world go round).

So! In that spirit, I thought I’d list a few of the podcasts that I like. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.

Happy New Pod-Year!

Bookriot Hosted by Rebecca Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal, this is an unabashed book-geek-fest. Schinsky, I believe, works in publishing in some capacity and O’Neal is a literature professor, but mostly they just really love books and talking about the many and varied issues of the day in publishing and the sale of books. They have wide-ranging and differing, but complimentary, tastes in reading material. The show has sponsors and enthusiasms, but this show isn’t Random House or Harper Collins or anyone else trying to sell you a particular title. It’s just two people you can imagine having a glass of wine/beer with and chatting about books. I happily binge-listen to this one and always come away with many new titles for my already too long “to be read” list.

The Doctor Who Podcast Regular readers of the blog will not be surprised at all to find a Doctor Who entry on this list. If Bookriot is unabashed book-geek, the DWP is, well, just geeky. There are probably four or five regulars, a mix of British and American show fans, who participate in different combinations on the show. They dissect episodes, interview past writers and show runners and, occasionally, actors from the classic and modern era of the series, and speculate about what might be coming up with the series. Good stuff. Though, if you’re not already a HUGE fan of Doctor Who, this is not the podcast for you.

Doctor Who: Radio Free Skaro Yes. I follow two podcasts related to Doctor Who. I also own several t-shirts and buy my kid DW toys so I can play with them. What’s your point? Anyway, Radio Free Skaro has a lot of similar content to the DWP, though the tone is slightly different. DWP is unapologetically geeky. Radio Free Skaro is geeky, but the combination of American and Canadian hosts on this one have a certain irreverence and humor that DWP doesn’t And between the two shows, I know a LOT more about Doctor Who than really anyone needs to.

The Nerdist Hosted by comedian and TV host Chris Hardwick, the nerdist podcast, like nerdist social media, TV shows and all the rest revel in all things geeky in film, Internet, music and pop culture. The Nerdist podcast could be a lame nerd-fest about things only six people in the world care about. But here’s the thing: Hardwick is a really good interviewer. On most of these podcasts, he spends an hour or hour-twenty one-on-one (or three on one if his sidekicks Matt and Jonah are there) in a room having a completely unedited conversation with a writer/actor/musician/comedian about their craft, their lives, their hopes and dreams. Most of it’s funny. Some of it’s sweet. And the guests are completely open and unguarded. You won’t get this depth on a late night talk show.

Those are the big ones I listen to. Yeah, they center mostly on Doctor Who and writing. (Did I mention The Nerdist Writers’s Panel hosted by Ben Blacker?) But that’s what I like. I do also enjoy various NPR podcasts, the comedy show The Thrilling Adventure Hour (co-created by Blacker and Ben Acker) and others. And I’m open to more! (Because of course, every podcast you listen to is one lest segment of time you have to spend talking to actual humans). Share yours below.

 

THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR

The Time of the Doctor image

So…here’s my immediate, spoiler-free reaction to “The Time of the Doctor” which I’ve just finished watching. I may so more later when I can talk specific plot points and, frankly, have had a chance to digest (both the substantial number of holiday calories I consumed today, leaving me a bit logy and the huge amount of stuff packed into this episode.)

I really liked the regeneration from Tennant to Smith (Doctor 10 to Doctor 11 for you extreme newbies). That’s not a detour. Yes, I know we’ve got this whole alleged new Doctor numbering system where Smith is 13, not eleven, but I don’t totally buy it.  And, yes, I know a lot of fans dislike have some disagreement withokay, viscerally hate the whole “I don’t want to go” thing. But I actually thought it worked for darker undercurrents of Tennant’s incarnation and the trend of the series at that time.

But what I liked most about that regeneration is that it gave the regeneration event the weight and gravity that it’s due. Regenerations have always been exciting because of the thrill of meeting a new doctor. But Tennant’s regeneration was the first one (except, maybe 4 to 5 and 5 to 6) where the loss of that outgoing doctor really had some dramatic weight. You weren’t watching because you were excited to see who was coming. You were glued to the TV because it was gut-wrenching to see who you were losing.

Matt Smith’s regeneration might have topped that 10 to 11 regeneration. I haven’t quite decided yet. Might have to watch again. There were some scene choices and a few lines that I think could have been done a little better. And a line Smith uttered that I thought would have been awesome last words, turned out not to be. His actual last words were fine, but sort of …meh.

I’ll say this, though: if there was any doubt that Matt Smith was a hell of an actor, this episode put those doubts to rest. I’m really excited now to see him in other stuff. Also, though this “special Christmas” episode was Christmas-y really only superficially, it was the best episode couching a regeneration that I can remember.

A side note: Capaldi in the TARDIS! Cool, right? Yes…but….well, although, as 11 said when he appeared in Amelia Pond’s backyard, it’s hard to know who this doctor will be since “I don’t know yet, I’m still cooking,” I’m a little uneasy about the direction they may be taking this incarnation. But I’ll worry about that next fall when Capaldi really gets t run. Besides, longtime fans know that nervous feeling is normal when the new doctor shows up and it always goes away.

Thanks, Matt Smith. Geronimo!

WASSAIL, YOU!

Wassail, you wassailer you!

It’s Christmas Eve! If you’re an observer of the holiday and actually reading this on the 24th of December, you’re either killing time until you can leave work, killing time until the relatives show up, or are already ready to kill your goddamn relatives and are desperate for a distraction. Whatever the reason you’re here, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

(You know it’s a special holiday because I’ve already blown a year’s worth of exclamation points in the first paragraph of this post.)

For those of you who don’t observe the day, and, more to the point, have somehow managed to avoid the waves of commercialism Lucy and Linus warned us about (“Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it’s getting too dangerous.”), let me paint the scene playing out around the world. If you’re reading this after Christmas, just consider this your eggnog flashback.

All over the world, good little boys and girls are clutching their Red Ryder carbine action range model air rifles in cobalt blue with the compass in the stock. Frosty the Snowman is in a puddle in the corner. Or maybe Hermie the elf just peed himself (should have been a urologist instead of a dentist) when the Bumble showed up. Rudolph’s red nose is lighting the way for Yukon Cornelius to get to rehab to get cured off the Wild Turkey.

Cousin Eddie kidnapped your boss in the RV, but Scrooge evicted him from in front of the Griswold’s house. If Clark is electrocuted hanging 200,000 imported Italian twinkle lights (“the little lights, they’re not twinkling”) well, Scrooge will be happy with the decrease in the surplus population.

Tim Allen pushed Santa off your roof and hijacked the sleigh. Expect to find a selection of Binford brand power tools and Disney apparel under your tree Christmas morning.

The Muppets played out “A Christmas Novel” with Tiny Tim being portrayed by a frog. Just as Dickens intended.

A cadre of mall Santas occupied the Orange Julius, bringing the holiday shopping season to a halt.

Charlie Brown was sued by various environmental groups for killing that defenseless tree.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer; a lesser known facet of Obama’s death panels.

Traffic on the country’s major bridges had to be diverted from all the flooding that occurred as thousands of fruitcakes threw themselves into oceans and rivers because the “just couldn’t take the insults anymore”.

Countless friendships were ruined when one of the friends took “let’s not exchange gifts this year” seriously.

I had to take out a loan to bring to fruition my plan to play “52 card pickup” with store gift cards at every store in the mall, but it was totally worth it.

My dream of a new holiday novelty song we can all rally behind until it’s run into the ground like the Bob and Doug McKenzie brother’s 12 days of Christmas or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” goes unfulfilled. Yet again.

All snark aside, here’s hoping you have a happy, joyous, relatively debt and/or felony-free holiday season. Hope 2014 ain’t all bad either.

GOODNIGHT, 2013!

(With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

In the year gone by,

There was a government sequester

And red-ink-killed Blockbuster

And a picture ( and email and cell phones) intercepted by –

The NSA, says Snowden

And there was violence in Syria, Egypt, and Turkey

And two little “space attacks”; asteroid 2012 D14 missed Earth, but shockwave didn’t.

And a pair of popes, one old and one new

And a little US – Iran thaw

And a boy for Prince William and Kate

And court rulings did “stop and frisk”, DOMA and voting rights crush

And so much gun violence we shouted “Enough!”

Goodnight Nelson Mandela

Goodnight Peter O’Toole

Goodnight getting on healthcare.gov

Goodnight David Frost

And Elmore Leonard

Goodnight Frank Lautenberg

Goodnight James Gandolfini

Goodnight Slim Whitman

And goodnight Margaret Thatcher

Goodnight cicadas

And goodnight immigration overhaul

Goodnight Allan Arbus

And goodnight George Jones

Goodnight North Korean nukes

And goodnight Jonathan Winters

Goodnight nobody

Goodnight Candy Crush

And goodnight to Andre Cassagnes

He invented Etch-A-Sketch

Goodnight (other) stars

Goodnight air

Goodnight noises (mostly groans, sighs and tsks) everywhere

SEE YOU IN 2014!

(How much worse could it get?)

GIRLS ARE FRUSTRATING

I don’t like girls very much.

Well, I mean, I do. I have a wife. A mom. A daughter. Various assorted relatives and friends and acquaintances. I like all of them.

But I also don’t.

Before you fire up the Internet complaint-mobile, let me explain.

It’s not that I don’t like girls. It’s just that I find them frustrating, especially at gift-giving times like, I don’t know, Christmas.

My wife would disagree, but I think I’m easy to shop for. If it’s a book or something with “Doctor Who” on it or a Lego something or other, I’ll probably like it.

She, on the other hand…oi. Well, I try my best and she’s polite enough not to complain about my efforts.

I have a son, four-years-old. I mention him a lot on Twitter (follow me at @carnivalofgee) He’s easy. Cars. Trains. Superheroes. Legos. I’m even slowly getting him indoctrinated to “Doctor Who”.

But the girl…well, for one thing, she’s eight. And a very advanced eight, at that. She reads well beyond her grade level, does math for fun, walks around with the attitude of a fifteen-year-old. What the hell do I get her? She likes Barbies and what not, but gets bored with them quickly. Grade school toys and a lot of entertainment options are too baby for her. Most of the music and film out there is too mature.

She’s frustrating me.

Just like a good daughter should.

Hey! I can say it now! Thought I’d save this for later, but…

“Just wait ’till you have children, kid…”

If you have any thoughts for good kid gifts (boy or girl), share ’em below.

THE BEST AND WORST HOLIDAY MOVIES

No holiday season would be complete without an arbitrary list of things you really don’t need. So here’s mine!

BEST

CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989): the best of the Vacation movie franchise in my opinion. Clark Griswold just wants to give Ellen, Rusty, Audrey and the in-laws a “good, old-fashioned, family Christmas”. Disaster ensues, naturally. The running gag of Clark hanging outside holiday lights by itself is worth the price of admission. (Fun fact: When he’s dressed for this chore, Clark looks exactly like my dad doing the same task in that era.) Hilarious and heart-warming without being cheesy. Love this one.

A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983): There’s a reason TBS runs this movie 24 hours straight on Christmas. Because AWESOME. Set in the 1940s, little Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas – “an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle.” But even Santa thinks he’ll “shoot his eye out, kid”. More sentimental than Christmas Vacation, maybe, but just as funny. Hits me where I live as an adult and as I remember being as a kid. I don’t make my family watch “Christmas Vacation” with me. I do make them watch this one. Make your family watch it too.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) There have been countless good film versions of Dickens’s tale (including the next entry on this list), but this is one of the best. Alastair Sim is a mesmerizing Scrooge. The black and white film of the era and the attention to detail put you right in side Victorian London in all it’s somber, sooty glory.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992): a very different telling of the tale, but no less powerful. The Muppets do what they do best – blend great music and humor and a lot of heart to tell a wonderful story for all ages. Plus, if that’s not enough, we get Michael Caine as Scrooge. “God bless us, everyone!”

THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994): Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) accidentally becomes Santa…but doesn’t know it. Hilarity ensues. Funny and heart-warming are over-used terms, but they fit here. (Calvin: “I’ve gained 45 pounds in a week.” Doctor: “What’s your diet like?” Calvin: Milk and cookies. But I don’t always finish the milk.”) This is a feel good movie for a cold December night with some eggnog and holiday cookies.

PLANES,TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987): Two days before Thanksgiving, weary traveler Neal Page (Steve Martin) just wants to get home to Chicago from New York. Disaster ensues and the awesome John Candy is along for the ride. Or lack of one.

MIXED NUTS (1994): Martin’s in this one too, part of a very funny ensemble piece by the late Nora Ephron. A dark(ish) comedy set in the offices of a suicide hotline, the film still manages to be funny AND pack a holiday punch. The production feels more stage play-ish than film-y, I suspect by design, and I’m okay with that.

WORST

THE FAMILY STONE (2005) uptight businessman Dermot Mulroney brings even more uptight, conservative fiancée Sarah Jessica Parker home for the holidays to meet his super- liberal family, headed by Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton. Comedy (allegedly) ensues. There’s really only one thing wrong with this movie – despite big star power, not a single character is remotely likable. None of them. Even Luke Wilson can’t save this one.

HOLIDAY IN HANDCUFFS (2007): Melissa Joan Hart is a waitress who kidnaps a random customer (Mario Lopez), so she can take him home for the holidays and pass him off to her family as her fiancée. I’m serious. They fall in love at the end because, you know, the script says so. This movie is so bad, there are rumors there was a sequel in 2010. I haven’t found it yet. I’ve looked super hard.

ANY OTHER MADE-FOR-TV HOLIDAY MOVIE FILLER: You’ve all seen them.

Honorable mention, but not sure which list: THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) is a refreshingly unusual holiday tale about a boy who hops a mysterious train to the North Pole. The story is fine, the animation stunning. The thing is though, as amazing as the train looks, the rendering of the characters is creepy and off-putting. Plus, Santa and the elves aren’t all that likable.

So, what say you, holiday movie watchers? Give your favorites a shout out.

THE COLLISION OF ART AND COMMERCE

I didn’t hate “Sound of Music” Live. It was…okay. In fairness, I was never crazy about the movie and have never seen the Broadway show. This wasn’t really a show for me, certainly. However, a few things were clear.

Yes, the acting was weak, even by the standards of theatrical musicals where dialogue is just there to set up the next song. Yes, there was no chemistry between well, anybody on stage really. But I don’t entirely fault the actors or directors.

I think the problem was the format. Stopping the show, literally, every five minutes for three minutes of commercials, totally kills the flow of the show for the audience and the actors. Theater isn’t made for that. If networks want to do more live theater on TV, which I support, they should do it the right way: plug a sponsor at the top and at the end, then leave the show alone. They don’t interrupt “The Glass Menagerie” on Broadway to sell us toilet paper. Why do it during a Broadway show on TV?

Of course, sponsorship of artistic endeavors is a tricky thing. I think it’s okay for a character in a show to mention eating “Doritos” rather than “unspecified cheesy snack corn tortilla chip”, but not if you’re going to drop a commercial in the middle of the action.

THE HERO:  Do we have a report on the cause of death?

CORONER:  *munch munch munch*

THE HERO: Good god. What are you eating?

CORONER: Doritos.

THE HERO: Nacho cheese?

CORONER: Cool Ranch.

THE HERO: (eyes narrow) I’ve busted guys for less than eating Cool Ranch. In my jurisdiction, it’s straight up nacho cheese original…or nothing. They’re the best snack with the cheesiest crunch. Taste great alongside a sandwich too.

CORONER: Yeah, anyway. Here’s the murderer. (Wipes cheesy fingers on his lapels. Hands the hero a report.)

THE HERO: Who cares? Cool ranch disgusts me. You sicken me.

CORONER: Dude, you want to talk disgusting? My arm was halfway up this guy’s lower intestine.

THE HERO: Rough. Sounds like you could use some more Doritos.

CORONER: Don’t mind if I do! (Reaches for bag)

*roll credits*

To keep making art, artists need money. To sell their stuff, commercial endeavors need artists too. No one is going to pay to see car commercial and feminine product ads on the big screen. But they will pay to see a movie that a bunch of creative made and will tolerate an ad or two to do it.

Still, some support I could do without. Do sports stadiums and concert halls and other venues really need to be named after giant corporate entities, most of which already have their names plastered all over everything?

Related to that, let’s stop naming buildings after people. You may be deservedly proud of being George P. Nippletwister IV, and rightly so, but it’s a (sorry) stupid name for a building. Let’s let buildings and stadiums and estates be what they are, which is not people, and give them stately, inspiring names. If the estate in “Gone With the Wind” had been called “Suzy Land Plot” instead of “Tara”, would you have still pretended to read that huge-ass book to get the extra credit points in high school history class?

Besides, with everything going on-line, including correspondence, financial transactions, all transactions really. The milestones of human existence now include getting a driver’s license, a diploma and a Twitter handle. Some people are more active online than off. Bitcoins, an entirely fictional, Internet-based currency is gaining traction in the real world.

But are we really ready for an art museum called “The @LovesHugeKnockers Pavillion”?

Hmmm.

Well, maybe we shouldn’t be too hasty…

THE WAY WE BUY STUFF NOW

When I was a kid, my Christmas list was culled partly from Saturday morning cartoon commercials. You see, kids, back in the dark ages, you couldn’t just willy nilly watch cartoons whenever you wanted. (Though, being the 1970’s, many other variations of willy-nilliness were allowed. To wit: disco. And corduroy.) You got three channels and watched whatever they gave you – whether it was the Superfriends with Gleek or without.

Cartoons were basically confined to an early Saturday morning block on the three networks that existed back then. Time for the kids! Thanks, network executives!

But…they had money to make. So, interspersed with The Superfriends and Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo were cereal adds and toy commercials. Many a year my Christmas dreams – perhaps a Hot Wheels track or Six Million Dollar Man play set – were fed to me along with bowl after bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

Mostly, though, my Christmas list came from the toy section of the Sears Christmas Wishbook. This was back in the day when Sears was THE department store and the Wishbook was the pinnacle of catalogs – and not just because you could see Cheryl Tiegs (SPELLING) in her underwear.

There were pages and pages and pages of kid stuff. Action figures. Race tracks. Licensed character apparel and bedding. I even got a Moe (as in the Three Stooges) ventriloquist dummy one year. Another year, it was a talking Grover. I never got the Fonzie action figure though. Always kind of regretted that.

So, back then, if you wanted a toy that wasn’t available in the toy department of the local department store (probably Sears. There was no Wal-Mart then.), you ordered it out of the Wishbook and waited for the mailman (or Santa) to deliver it in four-to-six agonizing weeks, punctuated only by daily whinings to Mom and Dad “Is my toy here yet….?”.

And now, my kids are the ones reading the Wishbook. Well, the Sunday toy ads anyway. Do they even make the Wishbook anymore?

And it won’t be long before we can order something and thirty minutes later a flying death machine an Amazon drone will plunk your new Nerf Prostate Exam Fun Kit on your front lawn. Sorry about Fido, though. Hell of a way to go. But, hey, free shipping!

And we can’t even enjoy a bowl of Cocoa Puffs while we wait. Because, you know, sugar and obesity and diabetes and stuff. Being more of aware of things is no fun at all.

*Sigh*

PLAYWRIGHT!

At the moment, I’m doing edits on a new short play.

Well, not literally at this moment. At this moment, I’m writing a blog post about doing edits on a new play.

Well, that’s not really true either, of course. Whenever you’re reading this post, it’s already been written. When you actually read this, I may, in fact, being doing edits on that same play or a different one. Or, more likely, I’ll be watching Doctor Who. Or enjoying some ice cream. Or peering at you ominously from behind the curtains.

Just kidding!

Or am I?

Anyway, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. Playwriting!

A local theatre I work with sometimes is hosting a play reading event soon (more about that in another post. Watch this space), and my short play “Calling Home” is expected to be in the lineup. At a recent rehearsal, certain continuity errors were pointed out. Things like my character talking about broccoli, then peas, then broccoli again. Should have been broccoli all three times. Whoops.

As many times as I had drafted the script, I didn’t notice that discontinuity. That’s one of the unique aspects of the playwriting format. Prose tends to live in a writer’s head; the words perhaps mumbled softly to herself as she writes, but otherwise unheard as they’re produced. A play script, in contrast, is a living, vibrant, vocal thing. It largely only exists when the actor speaks the words. And it’s then that errors reveal themselves.

There’s a reason writing guides tell you to read your stuff out loud as you write. You should try it. I don’t do it nearly enough, myself. Hence, broccoli – peas – broccoli.

Learn from the broccoli, friends. Learn. From. The. Broccoli.

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