Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That's Rickdiculous!

Since “Rick and Morty” wrapped up their fantastic first season  last Monday, all I can do is spend my new “Rick and Morty”-less Monday nights thinking way too much about previous episodes of “Rick and Morty.” If you aren’t familiar with “Rick and Morty”, like Gearhead, I envy you. When it premiered I thought it the show was just going to be a one season affair, squeezing mild amusement from riffing on the legitimately strange dynamic of Doc and Marty from "Back to the Future." Eleven episodes later it's become my new favorite thing; it's dark, twisted, hilarious, at times sneakily profound, and hands down the most purely creative half hour on television.

That being said, I recalled a slight issue I had with a scene from the season’s eighth episode “Rixty Minutes.” In the scene Rick and Morty are watching TV vis a vis a cable box Rick modified to receive television broadcasts from every known reality. The show they're watching, is an alien version of “Garfield” called “Gazorpazorpfield,” which as Morty mentions appears to be from the Planet Gazorpazorp which they encountered in the previous episode (I also wanted to mention I have had that exact conversation in the past about Lorenzo Music and Bill Murray voicing each other’s characters; seeing that conversation make it on to an actual episode of a TV show made me fall in love with this show all the more). Now it appears “Gazorpazorpfield” differs from our earth’s Garfield in a few subtle areas: the extra appendages, different days of the week, love of enchiladas instead of lasagna, and a propensity towards hurling relentless verbal abuse at Jon (also I guess he can directly communicate with him, which I don't think Garfield actually does). In this episode he concludes his harsh, improvisational cussing out of Jon by calling him a “piece of human garbage”.

The insult is a bit incongruous since it’s been established that they are aliens from the Planet Gazorpazorp. Shouldn't Jon be referred to as a piece of Gazorpazorp-ian garbage or its equivalent? Now if the show was originating from another dimension with alternate earth based humans like the commercial by “Ants In My Eyes Johnson” or the alternate dimension SNL, the use of human would be more acceptable. Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

Of course this little bit of silliness is nothing when you realize that the episode is literally half improvised. It’s kind of crazy watching a show’s two leads spending the A plot doing nothing but sitting on the couch watching what appears to be animated versions of the voice actors just making up TV shows and commercials. Rick and Morty even make a meta comment on the whole thing by stating how alternate reality TV has a “looser feel” and “an almost improvisational tone.” As crazy as it all sounds the really amazing thing is that all this randomness works and comes through by the end of the episode as Morty helps his sister Summer deal with the existential angst she suffers after viewing how much happier her alternate realty parents would have been if she wasn’t born by explaining how he lives every day with the knowledge of his own corpse buried in the backyard (see episode 6 “Rick Potion #9”) reflecting "Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's going to die. Come watch TV?"

I’m telling ya, get on it (and I didn't even really mention the great Meeseeks episode).


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Odd Future

Despite what your idiot friend posted on Facebook, today (or yesterday, or a week ago) is not the future date Doc and Marty traveled to in "Back to the Future II." The real date however, October 21, 2015, is not that far off. It's a date that I've had on my mind for most of my life and for me it'll be a pretty surreal experience when it actually comes around. It's a rare thing to be able to have the singular fan experience of existing in the exact same date as a favorite film or TV show. Star Trek is in the distant future, Star Wars is in the distant past (and a distant galaxy), we're about 60 years ahead of Indiana Jones, and I don't even know if the Lord of the Rings even takes place in our reality. I guess X-Files and Terminator fans could lay claim to experiencing a near future date set by their creators, though since they both involve the end of the world I imagine it wasn't quite as fun (in the case of Terminator fans Judgment Day just keeps on getting moved up like the predictions of a really lousy cult leader).

October 21, 2015 unfortunately will also likely bring the BTTF fan many disappointments when it comes to predicted advances in technology. I even found an old post in the archives listing my top 5 things I'll be disappointed in the distant year of 2015 if they didn't exist (it's quite disturbing that the post is almost 7 years old) and it seems only one item, power laces from Nike seem to be a possibility.

While the likely lack of future wonders like hover board technology, delicious hydrated Pizza Hut pizza, automated dog walkers, and dust resistant paper (you know for all that paper media we use) is a bummer, I started to consider maybe there were some things from the Hill Valley of 2015 we are better off not having. Here are a few things:
  1. The US Weather Service. Sure it seems awesome that meteorological science had advanced to the point where weather could be predicted to the second (alas the Post Office is apparently still a mess in 2015). This is assuming that this is how the Weather Service works. Consider the possibility that the Weather Service isn't predicting the weather with deadly accuracy but rather controlling it. Now the name takes on a much more ominous tone, like the arm of some powerful totalitarian Big Brother. Having absolute control of the elements would go a long way in maintaining a subtle but complete control over a society. Could the world of 2015 Hill Valley be a discreet dystopia?
  2. Hyper Inflation. When Doc gives Marty instructions on how to pretend to be his future son, he tells Marty to order a Pepsi at the Cafe 80's and gives him a fifty. Now it could just be that Doc only has large bills on him and doesn't care if Marty's going to look like a jerk going into a restaurant to order a soda and pay with a fifty dollar bill, but then later on Marty is solicited by a volunteer on the street asking to donate $100 to save the clock tower as if it were spare change. I know that our economy's been pretty rough so far this decade but our currency hasn't lost that much value.
  3. No Lawyers. Marty reads a newspaper article about his son being arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary within two hours. When he asks Doc how all that could be done in 2 hours, he explains that "the justice system works swiftly in the future, now that they've abolished all lawyers." Contemporary society's hatred of lawyers aside, do we really want to live in a future where lawyers are abolished and long prison sentences are determined in a matter of hours? How are these "trials" conducted? Isn't that how the justice system works in North Korea? This sort of goes back to my suspicions that BTTF 2015 is actually a harsh authoritarian dystopia.
  4. Handheld Roofie Devices. Doc uses a convenient handheld "sleep inducing alpha rhythm generator" to immediately knockout Marty's overly inquisitive girlfriend Jennifer and later Marty's son so Marty could take his place. Call me crazy but such a device may have potential for some abuse. Is this some black market good or just the contemporary version of pepper spray. I really hope Doc had to buy it from some shady drug dealer in some dark alley rather than just purchasing it at the nearest CVS. Fortunately, for the foreseeable future, would be date rapist will have to drug victims the old fashion way.    
  5. Creatively Bankrupt Film Industry. Sure Hollywood is guilty of leaning too heavily on sequels and adaptations of established franchises while taking as little risk as it can in terms of novelty and creativity, but I don't think it'll ever get bad enough to the point where a 19th Jaws movie is produced. Going by the historical decline of the series from the classic original to universally panned Jaws 4: The Revenge, I shudder to think how absurdly terrible the 18th sequel would be, in hologram form no less (even the Saw movies stopped at 7). By contrast the movie industry is in much better shape in reality than in this fictional 2015. 
  6. Japanese Hegemony. The film's future seems to be reflecting the fears of the 1980s that the surging Japanese economy would eventually come to dominate America. I suppose fortunately for us, that the Japanese have been in an economic funk for the past decade or so and however poorly we're doing they're doing just as poorly or worse. American workers won't have to kowtow to their angry Japanese corporate overlords who regularly monitor their personal video calls and instantly fires them via mass faxes (I love how there's a fax machine in every room of the house). Tying it back to my dystopia theory, maybe it's the Japanese that are running the show as if the U.S. was conquered by them sometime between 1985 and 2015. They could now be running America with an iron fist, controlling our weather, abolishing our adversarial judicial system, wrecking our currency, manufacturing rape devices, and hamstringing our movie industry Hmmm...sounds like a potential YA franchise.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Double Take

For about the last year or so I've occasionally come across ads from Discover Card's "We Treat You Like You'd Treat You" campaign while watching Hulu (they were probably on regular TV too). The ads are meant to show how friendly and superior Discover's customer service is and how their customer service people will treat you like you would treat yourself. To demonstrate the point they have the same actor playing both the caller and the Discover employee explaining to the call how great all their features are. The characters are varied from sassy black women, to paranoid private investigators, to unhappy mothers, and bewildered spouses.

I never really paid much mind to these ads. These weren't exactly all that memorable but I suppose there were way worse :30 adverts out there. However I have to admit that I was legitimately surprised by the most recent one:

Every other so far has been presented as visual representations of Discover treating the customer like the customer would themselves, but here it turns out they are literally twins. I did not see that coming. Although now that I think about it, shouldn't the sister who was working for Discover have figured out that she was talking to her twin when she pulled up her customer information? 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Three Below

As I write this post it is 58 degrees and drizzling. It's nobody's ideal weather situation (I don't know maybe northern seals might like this?) but compared to the deep freeze most of the country was in earlier this week, it's a heatwave. I know most of us have terrible goldfish memories when it comes to extreme weather but I certainly couldn't remember ever feeling a pile driver cold like that waiting for the bus. I had a few random observations that were tangentially (and really these are quite tangential) related the past deep freeze, none of them had enough substance to justify an entire post but I figured if I cobbled them together into an ungainly Frankenstein (or perhaps Human Centipede) there would be just enough content for a proper entry:
  • In my recent attempts to be more competitive in my pop music fantasy league I got myself into Spotify in an effort to try and get hip to what the young people were listening to these days. So far though I've just been using it to listen to a lot of classic country music story songs (maybe I'll eventually work my way up to listening to contemporary country music story songs). Of course no discussion of classic era country storytelling would be valid without the mention of "The Storyteller" himself Tom T. Hall. The song for me that that really captured the bleak oppressive cold of the past few days and become my unofficial theme was "It Sure Can Get Cold in Des Moines". It appears to be an album cut and definitely not one of his more well known songs (that myspace link was the only place where I could find a streaming source. Youtube only had a few cover videos), but I just really enjoyed the sad, simple mood he invoked in the tune. Most of his big hits are broad, often comedic, somewhat cheesier fare (which I still enjoy thoroughly) so I enjoyed this style change. One thing it did have in common with most of his big hits was that it took place in a bar or involved drinking; I suppose it's no surprise coming from the man who wrote "I Like Beer"
  • The recent cold also seemed have proved too much for our ailing home boiler. It's in the stage of its life where it's broken but annoying not broken enough to justify getting it replaced. Like an aging ballplayer it's capable of stretches of quality work with occasional flashes of its former brilliance, but it's obviously not the player it once was and is prone to bouts of ineffectiveness. I suppose if I wanted to continue the metaphor I would be better off getting rid of it a year too early than a year too late. Anyways it's nothing serious, but sometimes it'll forget to switch on when the temperature hits a certain level and you have to physically do some light finagling to get it going again. Of course any incidence of boiler finagling will remind me of that scene from "Peep Show" where Jeremy tells Mark to "trick" their boiler into heating the apartment up faster. I know Jeremy is supposedly in the wrong here, but I can't help but follow his logic. If you set a higher goal temperature for the boiler I think it would work harder to get there than a modest goal temperature. The same goes for the heat in my car and preheating ovens.
  • My final point really doesn't have much to do with the cold weather. I was watching last Monday night's "Old School" themed episode of WWE Raw (to the unfamiliar it's basically like old timer's day where they bring back bunch of former wrestlers and celebrate the past). One of the returning old timers was the tag team faction "Too Cool" (see cool, cold, cold weather, huh, huh?). I actually don't know much about them because their entire run on WWE fell during my wrestling hiatus from the beginning of high school, 1998, to 2013 when I got back into things after going to Wrestlemania 29. Too Cool doesn't have the most compelling of gimmicks, I guess they've got a kind of clownish, fun loving, vaguely hip hop related, theme. I think they would have actually fared just as well in the modern, kid friendly PG era of WWE. One of the members "Scotty 2 Hotty"'s entire career is basically predicated on his overly theatrical finisher "The Worm". No matter what he does in the ring, the people expect him to break out the Worm. Having witnessed the Worm in action, it might well be the least efficient finisher in WWE history.  As fans there is a certain degree of suspension of disbelief (isn't it odd that no one ever ends up awkwardly hanging in the middle ropes except against Rey Mysterio?), but the amount of time the opponent just lies there while Scotty sets up his ridiculous routine all for a pathetic chop drop makes even the most dedicated mark strain. It makes the People's Elbow look unpredictable and devastating. Still, fun to cheer along with I guess.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Crunchy Numbers: Dispatches from My 2013 Journal

Over the last few years I've developed the habit to keeping a small journal around me to take notes and write down random ideas and observations. If you spent any significant amount of time around me you may have noticed that small black leather bound notebook (it's actually a Piccadilly plain small essential notebook. They look exactly like the famous Moleskine notebooks but cost about half. Unfortunately it's become a lot harder to find them since Borders shutdown) I often have on me. Content-wise I'd say it's like an extremely casual version of the sort of daily notebooks former Senator Bob Graham keeps, Most of it is really just a jotting down of the mental kipple that my life generates. I keep certain running lists like movies I've seen and books I've read but I make actual entries on average maybe every three or four days (I noticed there are a lot of Thursday entries). 

So I figured with 2013 firmly in the rear view mirror I'd share with everyone to a quick look back at some of the stats and entries:

Overall I've completed 37 books in 2013. This might be a personal record of mine as an adult. I probably read more as a kid but it's hard to compare; you can go through like four Choose Your Own Adventure Books a day. This number would have been impossible without the aid of audio books which where a mainstay of my commutes (and sometimes slow days at the office). Of the 37 books I've read 23 of them were audio books (I know some purists would say I didn't technically "read" them, but whatever). 10 of the books I read where physical books while I polished off 4 e-books or whatever the kids are calling them these days on my Nexus 10. The first book I completed this year was an audio reading of Paper Towns by John Green (1/9) and the last book was David Mitchell's autobiography Back Story (12/31) read by Mitchell himself, which I think makes for a superior experience over reading print.

Counting movies I saw in their entirety; I'm talking sit down, watching at least 95% of the thing, not just catching the last half of "Anchorman" on Cinemax, I saw 53 films in 2013. Of that number I only saw 9 of them in theaters (and really like half of those were Rifftrax Live events). In terms of physical media I saw 4 movies on DVD and 1 movie on VHS (1931's "Private Lives" for esoteric rom com research). The other 39 films were streamed online (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, etc.), the future is now. First movie I saw "Ruby Sparks" (1/2) which I got from a Redbox machine (one of the 4 DVDs I saw that year) and the last film was "Delirious" (12/21) which I streamed online. I also want to note that I finished my years long goal of seeing all 100 movies listed in Billy Mernit's "Writing the Romantic Comedy" (also I finished my first draft of my own rom com) the personal rankings of which I may eventually publish on this blog.

I didn't keep some kind of thorough list of everything I ate or places I ate but I have verified that I ate at least 12 times at a New Jersey dinner (though it certainly felt like more). Also, I don't know how to explain it but somehow I ate at California Pizza Kitchen at least 5 times, all outside of California. I also made 3 confirmed trips to Fuddruckers which is not nearly enough in my opinion.

Haircuts and Grades
  • 3/24 - B+ "Decent, short, really took care of the sideburns"
  • 6/8 - B- "Slightly longer on top, sideburns undercut"
  • 8/25 - A- "Even cut, I liked it, best I can probably hope for"
  • 11/16 - B "OK cut, slightly longer, mostly focused on side and back"
I should probably find a place that doesn't average a B but they're close, friendly, cheap, and we've come to the point where I don't have to really explain to them how I want my haircut.

Karaoke Songs
With the friends I run with, it's always important to have a steady list of songs you want to sing mapped out so you don't waste valuable time at the karaoke place pouring over sticky songbooks looking for something to pick.  3 songs I got around to doing for the first time this year were:
  • George Jones - "White Lightning" (RIP George Jones. Super fun song to sing. Though it's a 50s country song about brewing moonshine, the lyrics could easily be about cooking meth)
  • Robert Palmer - "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" (The sexiest song about telling someone you don't want to sleep with them.)
  • Dinah Shore - "Buttons and Bows" (I had recently seen that classic "Frazier" episode where he does an embarrassingly inept rendition of the song on TV and I just had to get it out of my head) 
Five Random Excerpts
  • 1/31 - Thurs. - "Last episode of '30 Rock' aired tonight; I didn't know that it was airing until this morning. Fantastic final season. I'm really going to miss that crazy show. My Thursday night line up is crumbling."
  • 4/4 - Thurs. "It would appear that my Casio watch died after midnight around 12:03. Sad. It might be too cheap to replace the battery."
  • 6/14 - Fri. "Technically it's past midnight so it's the 15th but who's counting?"
  • 9/7 - Sat. "Now: The house is currently out of seltzer. I must take my leave to the Shoprite."
  • 12/9 - Mon. "Icy mess this morning, fell on my ass twice while heading to the bus. Surprisingly not as much damage as I expected. It's one way to get the morning started."
I never said I was Anne Frank.

Five Really Random Things I Just Jotted Down And Now I'm Not Entirely Sure What They're In Reference To
  • "Distaff = Female"
  • "Men's Werehouse, for fashionable Werewolves"
  • "William Melater aka Bill"
  • "One hit wonder or magnum opus?"
  • "Dialog: Remember the time we met Willy Wonka but it turned out to be a bum in a factory?"

2013 in a nutshell everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Number 12 Looks Just Like You (Twilight Zone Series, #137)

I want to start off with a confession: I am currently in the midst of a serious Young Adult novel kick with no potential end in sight. Specifically as of late I've been reading up (though to be technically accurate I've been listening to audio books) on the monstrously popular dystopian/post apocalyptic end of the YA spectrum; the kinds of stories, usually told written in trilogies where tough but vulnerable teen girl protagonists are put through horrifying and gruesome amounts of trauma all while falling in love with some hunky boy. It kind of started after I saw the second Hunger Games film (which reignited my interest in the books which I got through last year) which in turn compelled me to power through the entire Divergent Trilogy (short review: it really is a poor man's Hunger Games). Side note: bet heavy on the star of the upcoming film adaptation, Shailene Woodley she looks primed to follow the Jennifer Lawrence path to world domination (or at the very least be a respectable poor man's version of her). I'm currently reading though "The 5th Wave" (the first of a planned trilogy) which trades in future dystopia for modern post apocalypse. So far I'm digging the brisk pacing and the setup; plus I'm quite surprised at the horrifically detailed description of a decimated planet earth where 97% of the population has been killed off, shades of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". It's tailor made for a film adaptation and I would be surprised if one isn't announced soon.

It's just in my nature to go off on these random pop culture obsessions for indefinite periods of time. I think this time last year I was seriously in an all things David Mitchell British comedy hole in which only now am I starting to recover from. Then there's my long time on again off again infatuation with the romantic comedy genre which finally peaked with the completion of my own rom-com script (still waiting for that call Hollywood!). So yeah that's the state of affairs with me, Victor is now into YA novels. This whole thing might blow over quickly like a 24 hour bug or it might settle into a long term condition, I don't know.

I think a big part of what drew me to rom-coms is what currently attracts me to these YA books. They're both genres with strongly established, almost rigid rules and conventions. I find something attractive in that, the idea of being creative in a more narrowly defined space and with certain preconceived expectations by the audience established from the start. I've found that I'm paradoxically way more apt to be creative myself when given restrictions. I also dig that both genres have a certain loose formula to follow, though the best examples are by no means formulaic, and that both types of stories are escapist fantasies that almost always end in a crowd pleasing manner (though obviously one has a much higher body count than the other). Who knows, maybe once I really sink my teeth into the genre and get a through understanding of its ins and outs I might even try my hand in writing my own; the barrier certainly isn't all that low. That's another thing rom-coms and YA dystopian series share, for every stand out example there is a flood of derivative follow ups. For every Love Actually you get a New Years Eve. For every Hunger Games you get The Testing (that's right it's Hunger Games meets the SATs).

Anyways I had to do that longish set up to get to my main point and that's how I've come to notice that the Twilight Zone episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" has all the elements of a solid dystopian YA novel. The plot of the episode is that in a future society everyone at age 18 undergoes a process known as "the Transformation" where their face and body is altered into one a of a small section of models. Everyone becomes generically beautiful while becoming more resistant to disease and living far longer. Apparently ugliness has been the sole cause of societies ills since it's implied that since the transformation system was established there is no longer any crime or war or suffering of any kind in this world (it's a good thing too since I'd imagine identity theft would run rampant considering everyone looks the same and you're only distinguished by your name tag).

The main protagonist Marilyn who is scheduled to for the transformation is a nonconformist type who has grave misgivings about the procedure and doesn't want to go through with it, much to the dismay of her friends, family, and those in charge of the transformations. Obviously it turns out there is more to the transformation than just a change in physical appearance and things like individuality and free thought are conspicuously missing in this utopia. We later find out that Marilyn's deceased father, who was a free thinker himself and gave her banned books to read, committed suicide because he couldn't deal with his transformation. Though Marilyn struggles, in the end she is forced into the transformation and becomes just another unidentifiable pretty face; one of the sadder Twilight Zone endings.

There obviously needs to be a few tweaks to the plot but essentially you can convert the story (an adaptation of a short story by acclaimed TZ writer Charles Beaumont) straight into a solid modern trilogy. Even after almost 50 years the major themes still resonate with today's teens: society's obsession with beauty, the importance of being yourself, the dignity of being human, thinking forself is beautiful, etc. The lost parental figure is a common trope (it could be revealed that the father was actually alive as a twist in the second book). I would probably add a cute little brother or sister that the protagonist is always looking out for. Of course the original ending would have to change. She would run away before her transformation and maybe find some secret underground anti-transformation movement living in the fringes of society and they'd teach her of the "old days" when everyone looked different and aged naturally. There she might meet some handsome (maybe give him a small flaw like a scar since we don't want him to go against the story's theme) boy with whom she falls in love least until she meets the other attractive teen boy transformation escapee that she knew from high school who shows up later in the book to complicate matters. Two books of bloody civil war between the evil leaders of society and the insurgents where she watches a bunch of friends get brutally killed, suffers a bunch of painful but ultimately non-lethal flesh wounds, impales the malicious leader of the future society with a shattered mirror (because symbolism), picks a boy after an excessive amount of anguished first person contemplation, and society is once again free to be you and me. Call up Elle Fanning to helm the film franchise, watch the millions roll in.

Note: As I found out shortly after writing this post, there actually was a YA dystopian series "Uglies", published between 2005 and 2007, with similar plots and themes. So I guess my instincts were correct. Maybe for my next post I'll write up a treatment for a YA adaption of the less than classic episode "Black Leather Jackets" about an alien invader who unexpectedly falls in love with a young girl and decides humanity is worth saving.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Live Más

A sad bit of new I read earlier. The apparent driving force behind the creation of Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos, a 41 year old Little Rock, AR resident named Todd Mills, passed away from cancer today. According to the article, Mills, who had no ties to Frito Lay or Taco Bell, was just a dedicated dreamer who doggedly pursued the epiphany of creating a taco shell made of Doritos after watching a Doritos commercial while eating a taco in 2009. After launching a one man facebook crusade, he eventually got the attention of Taco Bell in early 2012 and the rest is nacho cheese encrusted, low grade, beef filled, history.

While there's no information on how long is battle with cancer was, I'd like to imagine a heroic narrative in my mind along the same lines of Kurosawa's 1952 classic film "Ikiru". Like the protagonist of the film, after being given a terminal cancer diagnosis, he struggles to find meaning in his life and finally resolves himself to accomplish one worthwhile achievement with the time he has left (in the case of the film it's a simple neighborhood park for children and in this case the greatest innovation to stoner cuisine since in invention of Combos). Highly unlikely scenario I know, cancer is more often than not pretty damn unromantic.

Though he never received any compensation for the idea that went on to sell a $1 billion worth of tacos, his remarkable legacy lives on throughout the world. It's an inspiring testament to the power of following through on your dreams.