Thursday, December 11, 2014

Choose From One Possible Ending

Note: I know this post is almost a month out of date, but it's all part of my goal to hit as many lingering post topics as I can this month. So start getting your Thanksgiving travel plans in order and pretend that you're in early November.

A big part of my childhood, and no doubt the childhoods of countless others, author R.A. Montgomery recently concluded his own adventure the other day. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was a massive fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series growing up. I would probably say that the series has a whole (of which I read clear over a 100 entries, the overwhelming bulk of the series) was the most influential piece of literature I ever read. They instilled in me an early love of reading and writing that continues to this day (despite how infrequent I update this blog). They where my first exposure to literary genres like science fictionwesternsmysteries, and metafiction (I could write a whole post alone about what a mind fuck"Hyperspace" was to an 9 year old). Plus they provided me an unflinching introduction to my own mortality. However most importantly the CYOA series, with their trademark second person narrative and ability to choose different story tangents, taught me to view the world with a different perspective; that everything didn't have to follow an ordered linear narrative, and that many things you thought were impossible or you never even considered could become reality if you would only make the effort to choose.

Considering how many of these books I've read, R.A. Montgomery and CYOA creator Edward Packard are from a pure numbers view the authors I have read the most in my life. I suppose that's the case with children's book series with many people; I'm sure if you were a hardcore Goosebumps or Fear Street reader growing up, you've read more books by R.L. Stine than any other author. It's just a matter of quantity. Still, it felt like kind of a big deal for me when I heard that one of the authors of whom I so prodigiously consumed their bibliography had passed. So I figured as a little tribute to one of the main architects of the CYOA series and of the game book genre itself, I'd try to recall my top 5 most memorable Montgomery books.

A word of warning, I haven't read any of these books in about two decades and childhood memories could sometimes be unreliable, so if you're some CYOA expert or a modern day kid who just read these books for the first time please forgive me if I get a detail or two wrong or I miss out on some important plot point:

5. House of Danger
If Edward Packard was the father of the CYOA series, then R.A. Montgomery was the weird uncle. Truth be told, going by total body of work Packard is my overall favorite CYOA author. However, while Packard cranked out solidly plotted, fun, interesting stories, his stories never went off the rails or took crazy risks (with the exception of a few standouts like the previously mentioned "Hyperspace"). His stories were usually based around standard genre narratives like solving a murder or searching for buried treasure or landing on an alien planet. Montgomery in contrast would have some of the most straight up bizarre setups, which sometimes would come at the cost of making a coherent or fair story . Case in point is "House of Danger". Just look at that dogeared cover and try to figure out what the hell is going on here. There's a sadistic Confederate general, crazed apes, murderous neanderthals, a runaway stagecoach, a modern home, and a cut rate Scooby Doo team. As I recall all these things do show up in this book. I believe the general idea was that you and your friends investigate a mysterious house that has rooms that lead to different times and dimensions. I also recall that this was a brutally difficult game book with very few non-death or generally successful endings; which was sort of a Montgomery trait.

4. Trouble On Planet Earth
It's like "House of Danger" but everything is set to 10. Instead of some mystery house on your block, you and your friend who kind of looks Paul from the Wonder Years meets Shock G get involved in a bunch of potential conspiracies that threaten the entire Earth. I know there were some plots that involved aliens and the Pyramids and often times you would end up abducted on a spaceship. The grotesque fat and his buddy Joe Biden were part of some other story line where they reveal themselves to be from some sort of secret Illuminati-type society with plans of world domination. I would also say that I can't recall ever getting a good ending in this mad fever dream of a book. This was Montgomery at his absolute craziest. It's not the best written CYOA adventure but it's one of the most unique.

3. Journey Under The Sea
R.A. Montgomery's first book, and the second book ever in the CYOA series, Journey Under The Sea is one of his most straight forward books (and possibly his best plotted). One of the great things about the early CYOA books were the high volume of endings they contained. With most long running series the writers just had more ideas early on. Some of the later CYOA books started to repeat stories and barely contained double digit endings. At a whopping 42 possible endings, this may be the most prodigious book in the series. The story was pretty straightforward, you are some underwater explorer searching for treasure and new underwater discoveries (think Bill Paxton in Titanic). I think the main victory story line involves finding the lost city of Atlantis. I recall you might also fall in love with a mermaid. Of course there are plenty of grim drowning deaths also waiting for you.

2. The Race Forever
Another fairly straightforward effort by Montgomery. The premise is you're a race car driver competing in two different marathon races in Africa. There's an off road race involving jeeps and a faster 24 hours of Le Mans style race with smaller race cars. The first decision you make is choosing which race to enter then which one of two cars; and assuming you're not gored to death by a rhino or your aren't immolated when your car bursts into flames you get to do the other race afterwards. In fact, you can technically put yourself in an infinite loop of races by always choosing the other race after finishing one (I always suspected that's why the title was called "The Race Forever"). Here's a spoiler: the car you choose totally determines if you win the race. In the jeep race pick the Toyota over the Land Rover and in the small car race I think it's the Saab over the Lotus. You're not guaranteed to win with those cars, but at least you won't be guaranteed to lose as is the case with the other cars.

1. Escape
One of my all time favorite CYOA books and probably my favorite Montgomery contribution. Escape takes place in a dystopian America sometime around the mid 21st century. The United States is split into three separate nations (kind of like the Hunger Games) and you are a member of a group of spies from the one democratic state who have to escape the hostile territory of the evil totalitarian state to warn your state of an imminent attack. This was most likely my first introduction to dystopian fiction and the idea of a book set ever so slightly in the future rather than a distant Buck Rogers rocket ship future. I remember the first page had an alternate map of the US split into three and the whole idea fascinated me. I recall plenty of action and surprises in this one and overall the book had a sense of suspense given the high stakes and dangerous situation. You never knew who to trust (potential spoiler, I believe the guy with the glasses in your party turns out to be a double agent) or which path to go as you tried to make your titular escape. Interesting note, this is one of the few CYOA books to have a sequel, the not as memorable "Beyond Escape". I think with a few tweaks this story could be modified into a successful modern teen dystopian trilogy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent-ture Time

November is just about over and I just realized I haven't written anything in this old blog since the end of August when I was writing about the commercials I kept seeing during the Simpsons Marathon (ah memories). Seeing as how 2014 is almost up and given my natural inclination to do everything last minute I figured I'd attempt to use the next month to prop up the end of the year post numbers. Not counting this post, my year end tally stands at an anemic 10 and by all indications it looks like I'll be falling way short of the record year end low of 27 posts, which occurred twice in 2013 and 2010.

So in the hopes of avoiding a sad new low or at the the very least attempting valiantly to avoid a sad new low, I'm going to dedicate the following month to emptying the "to-do" bin of post ideas that have been piling up in my notes and in the back of my mind. This means that I'm freeing myself to address all my backed up topics regardless of how irrelevant or outdated they may have become. My predictions on the upcoming Broncos/Seahawks Superbowl? Sure, why not? My Oscar picks? Come on down. What's the deal with all these ice buckets? Well, here's my take on it.

And those are just from this year! I've got stuff about a random local ad I saw in 2012. Obituaries to long dead celebrities. Not to mention the usual esoteric nonsense I tend to write about anyway (remember that random sketch from that 1996 episode of SNL when Danny Aiello hosted?).

Additionally this is also kind of part of my New year's resolution to write overall. I figure you start most of your resolutions a month early, avoid the rush in January (plus if you fail in December, you get another reset when the real New Years comes; pretty slick). Now will I end up going on some kind of blogging tear, posting a piece a night like some sort of twisted blogging advent calender? Probably not. However I would like to hit at least double digits from now until the end of the year, get a few lingering post ideas off my chest (oh that Danny Aiello sketch post is coming), and not have this place turn into my old Livejournal. I think these are pretty reasonable goals.

Get ready for a long December, folks.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guarantee Void In Tennesee

Hard to believe it but as of this writing we still have a full 24 hours left of  FXX's record breaking Every Simpsons Ever marathon. And if you're still watching these season 24 episodes with the same level of enthusiasm as the Simpsons fare from last week I have to at least admire your fanatical dedication to the series (or maybe you were born in 2000 and you just don't know any better). Much like most "classic era" Simpsons fans I for one have transitioned to an increasingly casual viewing schedule since about season 10 or so wrapped up, popping in sporadically to experience the odd novelty of watching a totally unseen episode of the show (though I am surprised at how many later era episodes I have actually seen). For me this whole marathon has kind of been like Homer's experience with eating his inherited 10 ft hoagie from "Selma's Choice". I eagerly consumed it for about the first week until its quality began to turn. Then despite it getting into a state far past its sell by date I still kept sneaking in a couple of bites. Eventually some of the episodes left me feeling a ill. However in the end I could not continue to stay mad at something I loved so much.

Laughter and tears and some mild laughter aside, my other lasting memory from this wild 12 day run would be the commercials, oh my goodness those commercials. Hours upon hours of Simpsons binge watching also comes with it the terrible, irritating price of being exposed to the same group of advertisements over and over again to the point where you wish you had the short memory of an NBA great like Charles Barkley. I cannot recall any other situation where I was exposed as many times to the same limited number of TV ads in such a brief span. The repetitive spots you get while watching playoff sports have nothing on this marathon.

So I figured just for the fun of it, and perhaps in a possibly futile effort to exorcise them from my subconsciousness, I'd list a few of the highlights that many of you fellow marathoners may be all too familiar with.

This spot was the undisputed king of the early third of the Simpsons marathon. Fortunately these have sort of faded away at this point. There were commercial breaks where it ran twice! My opinion of it? It's pretty awful. I found the shirt guy unsettling, his couch buddy overly condescending and that third guy who doesn't talk superfluous. Additionally his "punchline" ("but I got it off SkyMall) is a lame non-joke. I only later found out that this was the shortened 15 second version of the original ad. The full 30 second spot is actually a little better; they give the third guy a line and long time Hanes pitchman Michael Jordan makes a random cameo (though I'm not entirely convinced that he's not just a figment of Kitten shirt dude's warped mind). Still, I'm sticking to Fruit of the Looms.

Don't say you never learned anything while watching this marathon. I don't know about your TV market but the first week or so of this marathon dropped some serious knowledge on me about the horrors of Risperdal and gynecomastia courtesy of the firm of Pulaski & Middleman. Actually it is quite frightening that a drug meant to treat a mental disorder could lead to such an unexpected and bizarre side effect like making boys grow female breasts (they really emphasize the "female breast", I suppose big male breasts won't cover it). This must be a huge source of litigation, I found dozens of similar legal ads; with various "sad teenage boy" stock photos. Of course when I hear boys with breasts I immediately pictured Homer bullying Uter (note: weird edited clip).

The NFL continues its undisputed dominance over all forms of American culture, including the Simpsons marathon. Between round the clock commercials for Madden 15/GameStop, the digital HD and Blu-Ray release of Draft Day, and the countless ads for the new season of "The League", football related ads may come out as the biggest commercial presence of the whole marathon. The Madden ad's one note joke would have been okay a few times around but did not hold up to its excessive replays. At this point the ad have thankfully mostly gone away. Draft Day sneakily continues to be played at basically the same rate as when the marathon began, which is ad nausem. The ad makes it seem like the movie is 60% archival footage of the actual draft. I still have a hard time believing this movie isn't just an SNL parody. As for "The League", it continues to be pushed hard. I do have to give it some credit for having at least a variety of spots, though they're all not that funny. Truth be told, I have seen a few seasons of the show and it's really not that bad, but none of the ads give any indication of that.

Of all the ads I've seen, this is probably my favorite. Despite the overplaying I still find it unobjectionable, funny even. James Harden's role in all these Footlocker ads is kind of interesting. He plays everything so unbelievably deadpan. There's no change in emotion or anything coming off him, all the humor is derived from other guest athletes or by his straight faced reaction to an exceedingly bizarre situation. I imagine there might be a much darker side to Barkey and Pippen's short memories like Memento where they have to rely on a complex series of self written notes and mementos just to get through the day. Despite historically playing second to Jordan, Pippen comes out on top when comparing their respective Simpsons marathon commercials.

Microsoft left their mark on this marathon with a pair of commercials promoting their new products via dissing on Apple. In the ads supporting their Surface Pro 3 they employed Wendy's girl level passive aggressive dumping on Apple, basically showing off how their tablet is superior to their laptop (in whatever white room Apple used during their Mac and PC campaign). It seems Microsoft is really picking their battles with their tablet, since they can't actually compete with other tablets they pit their tablets against other laptops. The second ad showing off Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri, made me wonder what kind of absentminded husband needs his phone to remind him to tell his wife happy anniversary and to give him alerts whenever he passes ANY flower shop? Why bother even remembering his wife's name when he can command Cortana to remind him whenever she is around. This ad gave me an idea or a possible sci-fi screenplay where a man falls in love with his phone and plots with it to kill his wife; like a film noir "Her".

I still have no idea what this Destiny game is all about. It looks like a fancy version of Halo to me. Given the excessive amount of advertising, this game must have some serious hype. The ad for the PS4 release of Blizzard's Diablo 3 comes off totally like a movie trailer. If it weren't for the bumper at the end I would have never known. On the whole I'd rather be playing Lee Carvello's Putting Challenge

Speaking of Blizzard (see that slick transition there?) Dairy Queen's ad for their Chips Ahoy Blizzard has been coming on strong in the later seasons. Maybe it's just me but every time I tuned in for a later era episode, I had cut-rate Alexander Skarsgard giving me his two cents on how to properly get the chocolaty word out. I don't mind the commercial that much. The irritating, over-the-top, English soccer announcer (shades of the Simpsons take on hyperbolic international soccer announcing) kind of grew on me ("MAGISTEEERIAL SOFT SERVE!"). My only problem is why is the guy imagining all this in an empty stadium? From what we gather, this man's fantasy is eating the Blizzard in an empty soccer stadium while a football announcer watches and commentates. Where are these roars coming from? How is eating the Blizzard in an empty stadium a good way to get the word out? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Victor's Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix '14

I know, I know. You've been jamming out non-stop all this week to the blissful tunes of this year's edition of the Mega Mix and the last thing you want is the harsh buzzkill of the Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix. Well, listen up joy boy, life is all about the highs and the lows, the sweets and the sours, the season 4 Simpsons and the season 24 Simpsons. It'd be against the laws of nature to just have the hits, one has to recognize the misses.

As much as this year was the most difficult yet in terms of picking the top four songs, it was even harder picking the bottom two. After three previous years of mix making, my friends are getting annoying good at this business. The overall quality improves every year and picking the duds is becoming increasingly a game of inches. At this rate I may have to give some consideration to dropping the category all together (although one or two tracks still usually come along each year to renew my commitment to this mix). Perhaps one day there will be a haul of mixes where the task of culling the worst would be too difficult to attempt, but until then enjoy the blah.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Victor's Ultimate Mega Mix '14

It's been just over a month since that bleak day in May when I turned thirty. I am still waiting on that wisdom and insight stuff that supposedly comes with old age. In the meantime I have an assortment of birthday mixes to keep me entertained.

I know I say it pretty much every year, but this year's haul of five mixes have been the strongest group yet. I don't know, maybe it's because of the milestone year, but I felt that my friends really put in an extra effort here. Great job everyone; though this is setting up the mixes for my 31st birthday to be quite underwhelming (I guess the silver-lining would be a really strong class of "worst of" mix songs). Bonus kudos to everyone for not kicking a sad man when he's down and loading up the mixes with depressing tracks about aging. I know I definitely would have if the roles were reversed (and I most likely will for your milestone birthday mixes; I even keep a running stockpile of those kinds of songs to use on all birthday mixes).

Before I get to the big reveal I just wanted to note a few interesting observations about the mixes this year; actually these sort of coincidences happen every year but I never bother to make a note of them. In the case of tracks repeated across multiple mixes, the simultaneous track of the year award goes to "Move That Dope" by Future featuring Pharrell, Pusha T, and Casino. I really did enjoy this fantastic piece of coke rap and it fell just shy of making the top four in both mixes. Another song appeared twice but under two different versions. The original 1982 version of "Mama Used to Say" by Junior made it to one mix while a 2009 cover by the group Jupiter made it to another. I enjoyed both versions (it really is a sneaky good birthday song) and it was hard cutting both of them from their respective top 4s. Finally, I had two different songs by Chance the Rapper on two different mixes. My quick review on him is, interesting style and lyrics and hip-hop is all the richer for having a unique artist like him, but I find his voice fairly irritating.

Speaking of irritating, remember to keep an eye out for the "worst of" mix in the next few days.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Twenties Victor, 2004-2014

Twenties Victor Lee, 29, of mostly New Jersey and sometimes parts of New York, passed away at midnight May 7th, 2014 on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail en route from Hoboken, after a long battle with aging.

Twenties Victor was born May 7th, 2004 in New York, NY at Lafayette Hall where he was residing in the waning days of his sophomore year at New York University. He was the only child of Aughts Victor and Teens Victor, who very much loved him and worked tirelessly and selflessly to support him in everything he did. Through them he learned much of the world and all the wonderful knowledge that helped shape him to be the man he was. To them he would be forever grateful and he always hoped to have made them proud.

His life like many lives was a mixed bag of joyful highs, disappointing lows, and a whole bunch of fairly average everyday stuff in between. He only hoped that through it all it would be at least an interesting mixed bag. Among his experiences in his brief decade long journey: he learned to drink (and proudly claimed he never vomited once), he traveled a little (though too little in his estimation), somehow became a barred attorney, and took way too long to get his wisdom teeth out. He never met a sandwich he didn’t like or a bag of jerky he could not finish in one sitting. He savored every brunch, volunteered for every road trip, and agonized over every mix CD.

He gained love and lost love. Managed to lose touch with old friends and made unlikely new ones. He won a small fortune over four game shows and accumulated a slightly larger debt over two colleges. In work he wore many hats including aspiring adman, E list game show celebrity, “Lockhorns” comic paradoist, and terrible lawyer; though he never found any of them all that comfortable for too long. Late in life he developed a curious interest in romantic comedy films and proudly completed his first feature length screenplay in 2013. At his passing he was working on his second one. It was one of his wishes that Thirties Victor would complete it in a timely manner.

Victor never married and had no children…to the best of his knowledge. He is survived and mourned by his friends both real and facebook, and Thirties Victor who will especially miss him but hopes to carry on his legacy and spirit. Wherever Twenties Victor may be in the Great Perhaps, he is most likely wearing a comfortable hoodie, reunited with his favorite cap that he lost on that fishing trip when he was 14, sipping a bloody mary and reveling in the fact he doesn’t have to get up early for work anymore. Services will be held this Saturday evening at numerous bars around the Lower East Side, perhaps maybe a brunch the next day, but that’s up in the air.

Twenties Victor in 2013

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Card Subject To Death

This post would have been a lot more relevant about three weeks ago, but I since I have some time now, why not knock out a backlogged post before the end of the month?

If there was anything more shocking than the end of the Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak at Wrestlemania 30, it was the announcement of the sudden passing of the Ultimate Warrior only two days later. He had returned to the WWE after putting aside decades of bitter acrimony with the company to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame that Saturday and appeared on Monday Night Raw the day after Mania; the following day he would be dead of a heart attack.

The Warrior’s sudden passing was reminiscent of the unexpected death of another wrestling icon of 80s and 90s, the Macho Man Randy Savage in 2011; also from a heart attack.

Thinking back I was filled with much sadness upon realizing that everyone involved in their famous match at Wrestlemania VII was now dead: Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Macho Man’s valet Sensational Sherri (drug overdose, 2007) and Macho Man’s former valet Miss Elizabeth (drug overdose, 2003) who would reunite with Macho Man in the ring after the match. Given the circumstances of their separation two years earlier and fact that Macho Man's loss meant he had to retire from wrestling (spoiler: he didn't), the reuniting at the end was pretty much the most dramatic moment in Pro Wrestling history (though I heard a lot of those shots of crying fans were planted).*

Even sadder than the grim legacy of this match is the downright ludicrous death toll of the rest of the card:
  • Both wrestlers from the second match of the night, the Texas Tornado and “Canada’s Strongest Man” Dino Bravo, would be dead by 1993. Tornado would take his own life (becoming one of the five Von Erich wrestling brothers out of six that would tragically die before their father) while Bravo would (as bizarre and as sordid as it sounds) be murdered by Canadian mobsters relating to his involvement an illegal cigarette smuggling scheme.
  • Both wrestlers from the Intercontinental Championship match, The Big Boss Man and Mr. Perfect would pass away within a year of each other; Mr. Perfect in 2003 from drugs and steroids and Boss Man from a heart attack in 2004. Mr. Perfect’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer since 2007 but is fortunately still hanging in there.
  • The British Bulldog Davy Boy Smith, who defeated The Warlord, would die of a fatal heart attack in 2002, possibly related to past anabolic steroid use. Both wrestlers were absolutely roided up to the gills during this period, just massive.
  • Monster heel Earthquake (who broke into the WWE with Dino Bravo) who defeated the ever unimpressive Greg Valentine in a squash would pass away from bladder cancer in 2006.
  • As for tag teams, one half of the tag team Demolition, Crush, who lost to the team of Genichiro Tenryu and Kōji Kitao, died of possibly steroid related causes in 2007. 
  • The Legion of Doom demolished Power and Glory but both teams would later lose a member within a year of each other. Road Warrior Hawk of LOD would pass away from a heart attack in 2003 while Hercules would also die of a heart attack in the following year.
  • As for non-wrestlers: commentators Gorilla Monsoon would pass away in 1999 at age 62 and “Lord” Alfred Hayes passed away in 2005 at 76, both were due to generally declining health. Monsoon’s son, referee Joey Marella would sadly die in a car accident in 1994 at age 31. In contrast, of all of the celebrity guests only George Steinbrenner (2010) has passed away so far. Some are still going strong in their 70s (ring announcer Alex Trebek, Chuck Norris), and 80s (national anthem singer Willie Nelson, guest commentator Regis Philbin). Although I do always worry about Macaulay Culkin’s health these days.
  • The Undertaker, who made his Wrestlemania debut and started his famous streak with a squash win over Jimmy Snuka was technically already dead to begin with.
While some of the deaths are unforeseeable disease, other natural causes, or random accidents, this is way beyond the standards of any actuarial table. Unfortunately, Wrestlemania VII isn’t just a grim statistical anomaly, pretty much every Wrestlemania up to the death of Chris Benoit (which really become the ultimate example of the horrifying physical consequences of the profession) has had someone who died. I can’t imagine that sort of death toll when thinking back at all the Super Bowl teams or World Series participants. Things seem to have immensely improved in the modern WWE with wellness programs and awareness of medical issues like concussions (the 80s and early 90s was sort of a perfect storm of hard partying, institutionalized steroid use, and ignorance of long term health affects.) but wrestling still often extracts a brutal cost to those who choose to make their living in the squared circle.

*I also want to note that it was a complete and utter travesty that the Ultimate Warrior got up after Savage nailed him with FIVE CONSECUTIVE diving elbow drops. Imagine someone getting up after five Shawn Michaels Superkicks, five Stone Cold Stunners, five Attitude Adjustments. There was no need to make Macho's finisher look so weak or Warrior that outrageously strong.

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!