Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 317: The Disney Channel

How cable TV works is you pay for 1,000 channels to get the 15 that you want to watch.

This works because of sports. If I didn't want to watch live sports, I wouldn't need cable TV at all. Most current programming is available online, and older programs and movies are available through "a la carte" services like Netflix.

I'm a sports lover so they've got me by the footballs.

(BTW, I've got a very specific point that has prompted all this, and I intend to get to it, but I just can't bring myself to go right there. Bear with me.)

There are a lot of channels. Let's collect 'em all.

Those I watch often:
5. CBS affiliate: Sports. Sometimes Letterman.
7. ABC affiliate: Sports, sometimes Kimmel.
8. FOX affiliate: Sports, nothing else regularly.
9. NBC affiliate: Sports, some random things, Fallon, and this year I've become a fan of The Voice.
12. Another ABC affiliate, see 7 above.
13. PBS. Lots of good things here, but not usually "appointment television" because it's hard to keep up with their programs.
24. ESPN2: Daily.
25. ESPN: Daily.
26. FX: Over the years FX has had some original programming that has caught my attention, first with Rescue Me, lately with Louie and Wilfred. They also have some decent movie choices.
27. Fox Sports SW: This keeps me up to date with my Dallas teams, most of the time. I'm grateful. However, because of the undue influence of beloved State U, we sometimes have my good sports programming overruled by crap like gymnastics, softball, college baseball... ugh.
29. TNT: Great source for NBA, but I don't stop by nearly as much when hoops are out of season.
30. A&E: One of my favorites. Excellent original programming, especially Intervention, Storage Wars, The First 48.
32. CNN: Second-favorite news channel.
34. Weather Channel. Daily visit, but short visits. More often if a big weather story (tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.)
57. MSNBC: My top news outlet, because they're big on facts. Yes, they skew left, but because they back it up with a lot of information, I'm interested.
65. Comedy Central: Stewart, Colbert, and when you need a laugh, you can probably find one.

Those I watch on occasion:
2. TBS: I watch sometimes. Mostly Conan.
23. USA: Mostly because M has gotten me into SVU reruns, and some interesting original programs. BTW, what is Burn Notice?
28. Discovery: Actually, finding stuff here is kind of a fluke, but I find something from time to time.
31. AMC: Very rarely visit, but not never.
36. E: I like the Soup, but in general, I feel like watching this channel makes me dumber.
37. MTV: I liked it better when it had more M. I rarely watch now, almost put this in the "never" list.
38. Vh1: See MTV.
41. Animal Planet: Used to watch Animal Cops, but that may be too intense for some viewers. I rarely go here, although I love the Puppy Bowl.
42. Disney. More on this in a bit.
50. truTV: I admit if I am channel surfing and they have one of those shows with cop chases or stupid criminals, I might hang around a bit.
51. FOX News: I despise this with every fiber of my being, but every so often I will stop by just to see what is going on in Made Shit Up Land. I almost always regret the experience.
54. Food: As irritating as Guy Fieri is, I like his show and will watch at times. Giada's show is also on and she's hard not to look at.
55. History: Rarely, but they do have quality stuff. I just don't often make time for it.
58. VS/NBC Sports: Only for hockey, though. And the Tour de France alpine legs.
61. Spike: Loved when they had MXC.
62. Bravo: Something about Bethenny Frankel appeals to me. M watched RHONYC and I scoffed. When I watched a few shows I went with it and Frankel caught my attention because she seemed like a real person.
70. TCM: Great during Oscar season, and otherwise.
75. NatGeo: Some interesting things. The Alaska State Troopers is interesting, and shows you how different Alaska is. I used to think I could live there but it's truly a frontier setting.

Those I never watch:
3. QVC: Never
4. The CW: Never
6. Some Jesus channel: Never, unless out of curiousity, but not for long, and not ever anything I'd miss.
11. Hispanic. No.
15. WGN. Almost never; will watch some Chicago sports programming or if a Chicago news story has gone national.
17. C-SPAN: Almost never, but in an election year, good to have for different/unvarnished perspectives.
19. HSN. I don't even know what this is.
20. The Rerun channel. I don't know what this is, either. It shows a lot of ancient stuff (Ex: Something that had Pamela Sue Martin in it. Who? Yeah, unless you were a teenage male in the 70s, you wouldn't know. But she was... interesting.)
33. CNBC: Never.
35. Lifetime: Not on your life... time.
40. CMTV: Once in a great moon, they have an interesting movie, but since it's been cut up for TV, I rarely watch.
52. ABC Family: Kind of a weird family, if you ask me.
59. Outdoors: a/k/a rednecks killing animals.
60. Speed: Never been a fan.
53. Cartoon: I used to stop in from time to time but I've just kind of lost my taste for it.
43. TV Land: I saw these the first go-round. Actually there are some programs I would revisit, especially The Gong Show, but most of these I don't want to see again.
44. Nick: Outgrown it.
45. Headline News: I used to love HLN, then they went all Nancy Grace. Never watch.
46. ION: Whatever that is, I don't watch it.
47. Travel: I might watch something here, but it would be a total accident. I don't look for this.
48. TLC: Is our children learning? Is this the channel that has all those shows on Nostradamus? Which channel has the Ancient Aliens? Some other channel also had imagined animal monsters. Maybe they should have these on the channel called WTF.
49. HGTV: Hahaha. No.
56. BET: I hope to get to a day where certain ethnicities/population segments don't feel like they need to have their own channel because they don't get representation otherwise. I would make a joke here about "Tyler Perry's BET" but it could be taken the wrong way.
63. SyFy: First, the spelling is stupid. Second, I just outgrew this some time ago.
64. Gala: Not even ironically.

Not including numerous music channels, there's another 50-75 channels I get, and almost never watch. I do like my NBA TV, NHL Network and a few others. I once spent a an entire holiday day watching a program on G4 called Campus Cops, and have never gone back. I just don't need that many choices.

But what got me thinking about all this is not the fact that I have more programming/distractions available than I could ever deal with. What stopped me in my tracks was the Disney Channel. I drifted by there one night and watched for a few minutes. It was a show I later found out was called "Good Luck Charlie."

When my daughter was very young it was the era of Disney programs such as Lizzie McGuire and Kim Possible and Even Stevens and That's So Raven. She loved watching those shows and so I was aware of them and watched them at times as well. The Lizzie generation begat Hannah Montana which begat Wizards of Waverly Place, but anyone who has seen one of these would find something recognizable in later iterations.

The Disney programs are very earnest and American. They're written very over the top, the child actors ham it up but it seems natural... like the kind of thing you'd expect from junior high school-age kids. The colors are vibrant and loud, the sets are immaculate, maybe even a little too squeaky-clean. What's interesting to me is to see the background details... what's hanging on the set walls that are meant to represent a typical family home, or notices in a school (of the "Big Game Friday" variety), or at shops/community locales. Nothing Disney does is subversive, nor is it an accident, so everything was surely very carefully considered and thought out. Yet absolutely nothing is cynical or negative. It's very... wholesome. I don't dislike it at all, but I do think that it provides a very stylized and idealized look at life that is more aspirational than realistic for a vast majority of its audience.

The overall message is positive, although I think it strains believability. Real life is a lot messier than a Disney program.

Which, I think, is one reason that the Pixar movies released under the Disney umbrella are superior in every way to Disney Channel programming. The Pixar movies have touched on very real human emotions in a way that parents/adults understand.

I can watch a Pixar movie any time and enjoy them. But watching Disney Channel is hard. Because it's geared for kids, and reminds me not only that my daughter is grown and will never be that child I watched Lizzie McGuire with... but that my parenting is almost certainly over, and I'll never have that experience again.

And that's OK, because like most parents, I don't think I was a particularly great dad. So maybe prospective future Abider offspring are catching a huge break! But Disney Channel makes me sad for a time that went by too fast, and the realization that you don't get do-overs. Watching Disney Channel is like watching an idealized version of the family I never had, and never got close to having.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 314: No Snappy Title

About a month ago, one of the cars just decided it wouldn't start. It's an older car, close to 170k miles on it, and it's been in an out of the shop for the last few years. The hinky nature of it is what prompted us to buy the new car.

It seemed to be trying to turn over, but it just wouldn't. I put it in neutral and let it roll to a different position (yes, that could actually work) but it still didn't start.

Every day I tried to start it, same result. We decided that if I could just get it going, I could drive it to the mechanic's to see what was wrong. We hoped to avoid a tow fee, especially since our excellent mechanic is barely a mile away.

After a week, and resigned to the eventual towing fee, I cranked it one morning... and it started. Took it to the mechanic. They had it for a day and it started every time. They said the plugs were a little worn and so they replaced them. Total expense was well under $100.

This story is a metaphor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CD Review: Tom Tom Club

It's Day 308, for those of you scoring at home. I've hit three decent job prospects in the last three days, and decided that I need to reboot some writing to keep engaged. As is usual with me, this will be the proverbial/Gumpian Box of Chocolates.

Today we're going to pick back up with our CD reviews. Thus far, I've looked at the following, ranked in order of quality:
1) Sandinista, The Clash
2) The Bends, Radiohead
3) Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
4) Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
5) 311, 311

I've decided to rank them from here on, although I didn't start out doing that. I'm also going to split the reviews into songs that must be on your iPod, and songs that you can forget.

Unfortunately this plays right into an issue I've been lamenting recently: no one listens to a whole album any more. They cherry-pick a few songs and the rest of the album is relegated to Nowheresville. That's sad. Some albums simply cannot be chopped up like that. Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is a fully realized opus... "Comfortably Numb" is a great song but even more epic when considered within the context of the album's story arc.

It's analogous to looking at one-tenth of a particular painting, or reading two chapters of a book. That would be ridiculous, right? So why is it OK when you're listening to a new release by a musical artist?

I strongly recommend listening to full albums again. Do this every so often, please.

On to the discussion...

Tom Tom Club began as a side project when the rhythm section of Talking Heads -- bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz -- put together a group while the Heads were on hiatus. The married duo incorporated some of the musicians who had toured with the Heads upon the release of 1980's Remain in Light (which happens to be my favorite Heads album).

The emerging "world music" that the Heads helped bring into mainstream music was yet another interesting development of the band, who to this day defy easy categorization. The Heads came along in the middle of the punk era, but they weren't really punk (more accurately, they were minimalist). They were too tuneful to be punk, but too weird to be New Wave. They were funky and literate and odd. Only bands like The Clash, Devo and Elvis Costello were in their league as far as actually having something to say.

Remain in Light took the band on yet another interesting turn by using international artists (mostly African) to chase down this funky sound. After the release and a world tour, the band took a break, but Tom Tom Club was formed by Weymouth and Frantz and kept the feel of Remain in Light but without the heaviness David Byrne had around him (Ex: Listening Wind, The Overload).

The result, released in June 1981, is a perfect summer album of mostly danceable club songs.

The album caught on slowly; if you didn't live in a city you probably wouldn't have ever heard it. However... there was this new thing called MTV. MTV launched in August 1981; since the music video art form wasn't very developed, the rotation was small, and artists could easily get airplay. This launched a thousand careers. Tom Tom's trippy animated video for "Genius of Love" was hard to resist, very watchable and the beats were addictive. Instant success.

I loved it immediately.

The album starts with "Wordy Rappinghood" and as long as you don't try and put too much weight on the lyrics, you're about to have 6:27 of fun. To be fair, the band is upfront about their approach, singing right away "What are words worth?" The background singers sound like Yoko Ono on E. Just go with it.

If you don't like this song, you won't like Tom Tom Club. I was lucky enough to see this band in summer of 1990 at the Fair Park Bandshell in Dallas (on a bill that included Debbie Harry, who flashed the audience; Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison; and the RAMONES!).

"Genius of Love" is the second track, and the song that put these guys on the map.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. "Tom Tom Theme" is disposable, but the catchy, groovish "L'Elephant" shows off the guitar wailing of one Adrian Belew. Belew's sound is quite distinctive and some folks don't dig it. I love his stuff with Tom Tom Club, don't think as much of it when he was working with King Crimson.

"As Above, So Below" is a mantra, and sounds very Heads-y. So naturally, I like that. It definitely sounds like a Heads outtake.

"Lorelei" is next, and it's dreamy. It's another keeper.

The next song just doesn't have enough going for it to merit addition to your iPod. "On, On, On, On" goes on and on, without much success.

The disc closes with one of the weirdest songs ever recorded, "Booming and Zooming," which has a funk beat and music backed by a chorus and a strange voiceover that sounds like an argument between a wayward pilot and ground control. Major Tom Tom? I've spent 30 years trying to figure it out to no avail. Some folks won't like it, but I do.

The CD has four bonus tracks: a straight, steel-drum-augmented cover of "Under the Boardwalk," and remixes of "Lorelei" "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius of Love." Collectors only.

So, really only two dogs on the CD. Playable

The updated rankings, then:

1) Sandinista, The Clash
2) The Bends, Radiohead
3) Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
4) Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club
5) Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
6) 311, 311

Naturally, I'd love your feedback. Do you remember this album? Where were YOU in 1981?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day 292: Ranking Radiohead

Every music fan has a list of performers they'd like to see. Having caught the elusive PJ Harvey last April, I've now seen almost all the ones I really love. If the Verve or Talking Heads re-form, I need to make a point to catch them.

And then there's Radiohead...

My best two previous opportunities, both in Dallas, were botched. This will be corrected Sunday in Kansas City.

If you don't love Radiohead, might as well shut down this post now.

First, I'm going to rank my favorite studio releases in order. A tough task. Most of the hardcore fans like Mondier have all the EPs, special reissues, the live release and the remix as well, and Mondier has some awesome bootlegs as well. We're not gonna go there, because this is almost impossible with just these.

1. OK Computer: The masterpiece, still amazing, and even the quirky "Fitter, Happier" is interesting.
2. Kid A: At first I ranked this seventh, Then I thought, no, it's seventh? Then, I listened to it again and thought, "Seventh? Really? That's insane." This could easily be first. Chuck Klosterman has forever altered my feeling about this album, however, with his linking the disc to 9/11. Recommended reading, but haunting.
3. Amnesiac: Epic tracks like Pyramid Song and You and Whose Army? stand out, but the whole album is one that resonates with me. In a tough time in my life, this album helped me get through.
4. Hail to the Thief: "There There" might be the best song they ever released. Some fans welcomed this as a return to "normalcy" after Kid A and Amnesiac, but that view is simplistic. "A Punch-Up at a Wedding" and "Backdrifts" are highlights here.
5. The Bends: This album could be ranked as high as second, low as seventh. I go back and forth on it, because I love the experimental noodling on Kid A and Amnesiac sometimes more than I love the solidity of this second release. A lot of people like this over OK Computer.
6. In Rainbows: A very solid CD; many other bands have never come close to releasing something this good.
7. The King of Limbs: Probably underrated a little bit because of the subtleties. I listened to this one morning before dawn on a long drive and couldn't believe how perfect it was for 5 a.m.
8. Pablo Honey: The only easy choice. It's just not as good as the others.

Now let's go deeper into the albums.

* Pablo Honey, 1993: The essential songs are, in order, Creep, You and Stop Whispering. The rest of the album is kind of generic and gave NO clue as to the greatness that lay ahead. I hope to hear Creep at the show, but they've yet to play it in the first seven shows of this tour.
* The Bends, 1995: Readers of this blog may remember my lengthy take on this from June 15, 2011. The album is across-the-board great; the "hits" (High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Just) are obvious, but disc-opener Planet Telex is just full of win. Would love to hear that live, but so far only Street Spirit is getting attention on Tour 2012.
* OK Computer, 1997: Seriously, anything they play from this will be cool for me. That said, I'd love if they went into some of the deeper cuts here -- Subterranean Homesick Alien, Let Down, Electioneering, Climbing Up the Walls or No Surprises would probably make me cry. They've played Climbing only once so far. Airbag (a fave) and Karma Police have been in three shows, Paranoid Android four. Obviously this tour they're playing the newer stuff.
* Kid A, 2000: Despite debuting at No. 1 and winning a ton of recognition, this album is probably the band's most polarizing release ever. Listening to it as I write this, its brilliance and groundbreaking anti-music still astonishes me. This is brave-ass music-making. Like any other amazing work of art, every exposure yields new discoveries and deeper appreciation. The balls it took to follow OK Computer with such a challenging effort is admirable. The band went down a very non-commercial rathole following their muse with this one... mad respect. A very Neil Young move. I'd love to hear Kid A but I don't think it's likely, although they've played it three times this tour already. Most of all I'd like to hear The National Anthem (performed twice so far) or Everything in its Right Place (five performances so far). This will be a treat.
* Amnesiac, 2001: So a lot of casual fans probably expected the band to return to its more traditional rock stylings after Kid A, but instead the band released kind of a "Kid A, the Sequel" with Amnesiac. It was only a few lines into the disc opener when Thom Yorke dispelled that idea by singing "I'm a reasonable man / Get off my case." Loved it. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box, Pyramid Song, etc, etc, etc... only the third track misses. I will love hearing anything they play, but I'd be blown away by Dollars and Cents (or Like Spinning Plates). The album's not getting much rep on this tour so far (Pyramid/Army three plays each, nothing else) so getting something Sunday will be a pleasant surprise.
* Hail to the Thief, 2003: I bought this CD at a funky little record store in Columbia, S.C., and it took me a few plays before I got it. By this time, the band had become predictable for being unpredictable, so you just had to buckle up and take the ride. Well worth it. There There, the best song on the disc, has made every show so far. Kickass. The dark The Gloaming has made six shows, Mxyomatosis five. I don't love Myxomatosis; would really love to hear Sit Down/Stand Up, Punch-Up or Backdrifts. Or Go To Sleep. Or even the saddest song ever written, Where I End and You Begin. Whatever -- just make sure and play There There. And play it LOUD.
* In Rainbows, 2007: We bought this online when the band tried their direct release/pay what you want model. I think we paid $12 USD for it. But I also wound up buying the physical disc and when/if they come out with a nice reissure, I'll probably buy that too. Great album. Listening to it now makes me wonder how this could be any band's sixth-best release. Very few bands can face a similar quandary -- think Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Neil -- and that's really it. Seven of the 10 songs here would be great to hear, but I MUST hear Bodysnatchers. I'm gonna dance like a dork. It's made five of seven shows. Weird Fishes and Reckoner (YES!) have made every show thus far. Nude (five shows) and 15 Step (two) would be great to hear.
* The King of Limbs, 2011: Because it's relatively new, there are probably elements here I have yet to comprehend. In time this album will surely make it tougher to rank this low. There's a very spacey, almost aloof (but not inaccessible) quality to the eight songs here. Virtually every song on the album is making every show, with one exception: Codex has only made two shows. That would be a shame as it's one of the best songs on TKOL.

Rolling Stone reported that the band has a trove of 75 songs they are playing with on this tour. That's going to provide the potential for some real chestnuts and a few of these are really interesting to note. Of the odds they've played so far is an instrumental, Meeting in the Aisle, that I really like. They've played it twice. I'd love to hear it in KC. Guys, also welcome would be Palo Alto, True Love Waits and Gagging Order.

The band's also trying out some new songs on the tour.

OK writing this has taken a while. In the process I've been sampling the catalogue, and I'm now so worked up I can't stand it. Hurry Sunday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ranking Fincher

David Fincher is one of my favorite directors. The guy has a distinctive style that appeals to me. Anything he's involved with, I want to see.

I'm a movie fan, and so are a lot of my friends. I've seen plenty of commentary and evaluation of other directors, but not much about Fincher. So I thought that would be a fun exercise. (NOTE: After working on this a while, I Googled "Fincher Ranked" and found a handful. But not reading them until I'm done.)

Fincher cut his teeth directing music videos, and back when you could easily see music videos, chances are you knew his work even if you didn't know him. Twenty years ago, in 1992, he moved into feature films with Alien 3, and in the eight subsequent films he has created, he's become one of the most interesting directors alive. Three of his works are classics -- Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network -- and in my mind, two more (Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) are pretty close.

Here are my favorites and what I consider to be his best, in order:

Fincher tapped into the pissed-off, manic-depressive psyche of the American male with his version of Chuck Pahlaniuk's Fight Club. And I'm breaking the first two rules here. Most guys love this movie because it speaks to us on some level. We're either the Alpha Male, think we're the Alpha Male, want to be the Alpha Male, overstimulated, underappreciated, closet madman, corporate slave stifling our anger every day, follower nearing his breaking point... every man relates to a character in Fight Club, and not necessarily Tyler Durden's. In our darkest place, we want to make a statement.

This is a deeply subversive movie. If you haven't seen it yet, lift that heavy rock and find out about it. I also think this is far and away Brad Pitt's best performance. For the 47 people who haven't seen the movie, I won't give out a major spoiler, but I'll just say the end scene's terrible prescience with The Pixies as soundtrack is forever indicative of the lengths to which some people will go to express dissatisfaction with business as usual.

I also think this movie made Ed Norton's career. Fight Club is one of those movies (like Field of Dreams, Goodfellas, the first two Godfathers, Shawshank) that people will stop and watch any time that they stumble over it while channel-surfing.


I think Fincher's most underappreciated work is Zodiac, his look at a handful of unsolved Bay Area serial killings of the late 60s-early 70s. Nonfiction events provide the source material in only two of Fincher's movies -- this and The Social Network. I think that's why they're two of his strongest efforts.

Death, chaos/anarchy/crime and a twisted sort of optimistic pessimism are themes in FIncher's movies. Especially in Fight Club, Zodiac, Dragon Tattoo, and Se7en, the protagonists are all in situations that encourage a negative worldview, yet none of them have given up... they all are fighting to find a sort of justice, or to untwist something that is deeply twisted. They have a morality at their core. This might be Fincher's dirty little secret: While his films are dark, moody, disturbing and show some of the worst qualities of humanity, the primary characters nevertheless usually have a lot of heart and want a better world. This case could be made for every one of his works.

The brilliantly shot Zodiac is one of the few films Fincher splashes with daylight, and director of photography Harris Savides' work is beautiful. Savides manages to give much of the footage a filmy light grime that set exactly the right mood of the period. It's as if he shot the thing using Instagram. The effort reminds me very much of the evocative work of Roger Deakins. I'd love to see Fincher work with Deakins some day.

Zodiac has a great cast: Jake Gyllenhaall, Robert Downey Jr., the criminally underappreciated Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards all have strong moments without anyone overwhelming the screen. Support roles from Elias Koteas, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox and Donal Logue all have their moments... as does the creepy, creepy performance by John Carroll Lynch as the prime suspect. Lynch is like M. Emmet Walsh, always interesting.

All of the players become obsessed with finding this clever murderer, and none do. As the film unfolds and time passes, the main characters just cannot let go of the unsolved case, even as the news cycle inexorably moves on to the next flavor of the month. Fincher's achievement is that like the detectives and reporters working to find the killer, we too become unsatisfied and unable to let it go. The taunts and successes of this clearly psychotic killer gnaw at the characters and at us. We must know! But we never do, even when we think we might have finally solved the mystery. The word "gripping" truly applies. I loved this movie, but still hate that whoever it was that killed five people (and claimed to have killed 37) decades ago was never (as far as we know) brought to justice. This one haunts you and gets under your skin.


Another psycho killer who has eluded justice for decades is at the heart of the mystery in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I've only read the first of Stieg Larsson's page-turning trilogy, mostly because I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about, and it was a great read. Fincher's take on the story was right in his wheelhouse and in this case the dark, snowy woods of Sweden were a perfect backdrop for the mood he likes to set.

The movie veers from the book in a reasonable fashion, because otherwise it would have been 3.5 hours long. As it is, Dragon Tattoo still runs almost 2.5 hours, and while I thought Fincher did a great job, the denouement felt a little rushed to me. It's kind of how in baseball when they play 162 games, then decide to rush through a five-game series in the divisional playoffs... Now you're in a hurry?. I think he could have let it unfold a bit longer and just gone for the three-hour movie.

That quibble aside, this is a great film with great performances by Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgard. Mara's Lisbeth Salander is alienation personified. I haven't seen the Swedish original in which Noomi Rapace starred, but I know it has its fans. The fact that the movie is so long yet goes by so quickly is the mark of great storytelling. You're always engaged. I imagine those who have read the book beforehand, despite knowing what twists are in store, are better prepared to stay with the complexities of the plot.

To show a foreign culture to an American audience is a challenge and Fincher met it. The darkness of a Swedish winter and the remoteness of the setting is a character in the film... while it could have been adapted to Wisconsin or Maine, remaining true to the Swedish setting is a good move. It further puts the US market it was built for in an unfamiliar surrounding. Clever.

Similarly, Mara's Salander is a heroine hard to warm to. Yes, she's attractive but not in a traditional way. She's attractive for her attitude and fire and... distance. The Dragon Tattoo is not artwork -- it's a shield. No one gets inside, although several people try to force their way inside. That's a risky choice, as Lisbeth proves conclusively that she will make the ultimate determination. A fascinating character.

According to Wiki (so it must be true) a busload of A-listers wanted the Salander role. Most of them would have been distractions... I have no problem looking at Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley et al... but none of them could have topped Mara's performance. The role needed someone we didn't know a lot about beforehand. Another testament to Fincher's smart filmmaking: he understood in casting that mystery was important even in the details.

One last thing: Fincher's title sequence in Fight Club was a bit of a sensation when it arrived, but the title sequence in Dragon Tattoo, with Trent Reznor's take on "Immigrant Song" with Karen O's vocals... sublime.


The Social Network is probably seen as Fincher's best work, and it's certainly his most accessible. Because half a billion people use Facebook, it had a head start.

TSN should have won the Oscar for best picture, instead losing to the schmaltz of The King's Speech. Typical Academy. Keep in mind that while Oscar gets it right sometimes, they've made some serious mistakes over the years, too many to enumerate. Because Fincher's movies are so generally dark, it may be a long time before he gets another Oscar nomination, and that's going to over time be seen as almost unforgivable. I imagine a 70-year old Fincher getting some BS award for lifetime achievement. If that's the case, then fortunately by then the old farts who made these bad calls will have died off. The movie topped many of the best critics' Top 10 lists.

It's important to point out that Fincher's effort this time was assisted greatly by the considerable talents of writer Aaron Sorkin. This being Hollywood, of course some liberties were taken with the source material. I first read of the background battle over Facebook in a fascinating Rolling Stone article whose key points did make it into the film. What Mark Zuckerberg probably didn't like was the portrayal of his character in the film. Jesse Eisenberg's amazing performance envisions the creator of perhaps the greatest connectivity tool since the telephone, television and even the Internet as an angry loner with few natural social skills. Brilliant.

Is Zuck a cold fish who alienates those around him and lacks warmth?

Hmmm.... doesn't everyone who uses Facebook share some of those qualities? We show photos and comment about other people's life-event postings, and it gives the illusion of our being connected. We're definitely more aware, and that passes as connected. But some of our FB "friends" we've never actually seen or heard in real life.

Once again, Fincher has shown that what is displayed on the surface is far, far, far away from reality.


And those are similar concepts on display in Se7en. A dark murder mystery about two cops in a rainy, gritty, unidentified city (it reminded me of Blade Runner's setting) tracking a serial killer who is a brilliant nutcase.

This was the movie that convinced me Brad Pitt could act. He more than holds his own against Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey.

Se7en was Fincher's second film, and an incredibly brave choice. You've had some commercial success directing music videos and can probably milk that for as long as you want, have your nice house in Malibu, and ride off into the sunset. Your first feature, Alien 3, was a dud, and clearly the weakling in a previously profitable franchise. Maybe feature films aren't your forte.

So what do you do? You take on subject material that is beyond dark -- it's terrifying. This movie gives you the creeps, and it's hard to shake. Most movie fans will watch good movies again and again. This is definitely a good movie, well-done, a great cast, a fresh and imaginative story... but just damned disturbing. This killer is unhinged, and believable. Someone with that much malice in his heart could be walking among you. Could be living next door to you. Could be conceiving murders so well-considered that you can understand his thinking.

And THAT'S the terror. That shows the hate that many people have deep in their darkest corners, and the linkage that can make something heinous, cruel and inhuman palatable. In some small way, the rationale for these sick murders makes sense. And that means anyone is just a tiny break away from unspeakable atrocity.

A stretch? Then explain the Holocaust. Explain Gacy. Explain Dahmer. Explain Manson. Explain Kony. Explain Pol Pot. Explain My Lai.

The star power in this movie was special. You had Pitt emerging as a true superstar. You had Freeman at the height of his powers -- two of his three previous films had been Driving Miss Daisy and Shawshank Redemption. And Spacey, a lesser light previously, not only had Se7en but The Usual Suspects in 1995. I'd say that was a damned good year for Kevin Spacey.

With this movie, Fincher was a key cog in developing Pitt and Spacey. But he also launched himself into the "force to be reckoned with" category.

Se7en was released in 1995. I've never watched it since. After I finish this, I'm going to watch it again. I just found it so upsetting and frightening that I couldn't do it again. It's that compelling.


There was not a lot of love given to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and before seeing this film I had my doubts. The movie is adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story and is a true flight of fancy. It's completely unbelievable but good-hearted at its core. Fincher's first non-R-rated work suffers from some of that sentimentality (unexpected!) as well as the general weirdness of the premise. The background story seems like his twisted attempt at something akin to "The Notebook" or "Forrest Gump." I agree with the critics who say it just doesn't work, but on the other hand the movie got 13 Oscar nominations and three technical wins. For me, it starts the lesser half of his portfolio.


Before Dragon Tattoo, Fincher's movies skewed dude. Panic Room is the only Fincher movie that has strong female roles (Helena Bonham-Carter is a third wheel in Fight Club). Jodie Foster's career is interesting to consider; at one time she ranked among our best actresses, but today her name wouldn't come up on a list of best actresses for a while. I had a hard time buying the entire Panic Room premise... I didn't find the home itself believable, the criminal attack believable, and the criminals themselves believable. Forest Whitaker is the tortured bad guy (trite); Dwight Yoakum is the psycho (trite); Foster is the victim who finds herself and fights back (a role she has gone to over and over, and trite). This movie also foisted upon us one Kristen Stewart, who I've seen in a lot of movies and has grown into an attractive woman, but outside of her great job as Joan Jett in "The Runaways," she's about as one-note as Gene Hackman (don't get me started). The story's kind of preposterous... this safe room, but unsafe because it's easily cut off from outside communication. Huge credibility gaps.

Because of the contained nature of the story, this could conceivably work as a play. There's no location shooting needed. As such, it should have felt very claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Fincher's typical mood lighting cast the whole thing in a shadowy blue hue, but it just didn't work for me.


A bad sign for The Game is that my memories of it are of a manic Sean Penn (redundant), Michael Douglas looking bewildered and a plot so convoluted as to be too much work to remember. The entire movie emerges as a sort of over-the-top mindfuck. M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan have done this type of thing much better. Visually, this movie doesn't seem to fit with his other work. It was his third release, and a bit of a surprise coming after he had hit it out of the park with Se7en.


Alien 3 was Fincher's first feature, and his weakest. It has the characteristic darkness of tone and lighting that he's become known for, but you can blame the meagerness of this one on tired source material. Ridley Scott and James Cameron had scored big with their takes on the Alien idea, and had set the bar pretty high for Fincher. Like the doomed occupants of Fury 161, the story had nowhere to go. Visually interesting, but otherwise, not much here should have inspired anyone to think Fincher was going to become Fincher.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Day 289: Taming the Lions

It's been remarked upon before and much better than I could that humans have a great capacity for erasing painful memories. This is often cited when considering childbirth; if women remembered how painful that experience can be, we'd have a population shortage.

Fortunately, we do tend to let go of these things. I'm already recovering from yesterday. I mean, what the hell... it does me zero good to linger on it. Good luck to 'em.

I felt like I was a great fit, and would have done well there. And I usually feel that way. I don't look to get into situations (professional or otherwise) where I'm in over my head or don't think I can shine. Talk about self-defeating!

It'd be interesting to be a jet pilot right up to the point where I crash into the ocean. Thus, no pursuit of jet pilotry. Monty Python taught me long ago that chartered accountants do not effective lion-tamers make, even if you have the hat.

But enough of this gay banter. Back to the hunt. I want to be out there taming on Monday...

P.S. I was unable to link to the YouTube video I wanted, but if you need a laugh, search for "Monty Python Lion Tamer" and clicky.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Day 288: Dr. No

Dr. No was the villain in the first Sean Connery as James Bond movie. He was the inspiration for one of my favorite characters of all time, Dr. Evil, from the Austin Powers spoofs.

Today, I feel like Dr. No. Because that's the word I got from my latest job prospect -- No -- and it's become something I am so good at, I feel like I have a doctorate.

Well, every rejection stings, and this one stings a little more because there's no good reason for me to have been anything other than the winner in this contest. Soon I'll know who I lost out to, and I will be interested in seeing their qualifications. I hope they're awesome. But I know mine were.

I guess at least this is better than having lost out to a babysitter for an editor's job, but not much better.

Why can't I find the magic combination/handshake/whatever the hell it is I'm supposed to do to seal the deal?

I could feel worse, but I have at least developed a little thick skin after having been turned down a number of times. You expect things to be shitty, and when they are, you aren't as disturbed by it as you might normally be.

So on to the next thing, I guess. It does make me feel like I'll never get a fair shake here and that I have to go somewhere else. Which is fine, but it is frustrating to lay out out there for someone here, and be so sure that I can be the guy in whatever situation, and then... nothing.

I was invited to join the board of the organization that didn't think I was the best fit for the job. That seems a little brazen to me. "Hey, we don't want you for the job, but you're good enough to be on the board overseeing the job." As Seth and Amy might say... "Really?"

Sigh. I actually, physically feel pain right now. I gotta chill out. Latus on the menjay.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 287: March

A lot of a job search is like a march. You have to keep slogging ahead.

I was energized from a good interview Tuesday and still waiting to hear back. Maybe it will happen. But the time for feeling good is over. I have to presume the worst, hope for the best, and keep at it.

I'm into the 10th month of this now. I don't like to think about it too much, because it can become discouraging. Why haven't I solved the puzzle? That's a dangerous way to think, because you can't MAKE someone hire you. You can only do your part, and then let the situation unfold.

But people naturally want to be masters of their domain and take full responsibility for their success. So when that success is delayed, they can feed upon themselves with self-doubt, angst, worry, second-guesses...

Years ago I knew a therapist who, truth be told, was pretty sorry at her job. But she did have one really useful phrase about situations such as these. She was unlikely to have created this phrase on her own, but she called it "stinkin' thinkin'" -- a term that characterizes those people hosting a pity party, party of one.

It's useless to do that. And more than anything during this time, I think I've fought very adequately to minimize wallowing in that. Some may disagree; but, I know that even when I've had the inevitable downspots during this trial, I've told myself that I have the ability and the perseverance to get through it and emerge in a good, new place whenever this is over. I really believe that.

Obviously this new thing would solve these problems. And my hope for it is tied not just to ending this era, but of the capability to do so many good things.

Anyway, it's march. So... forward, March.