18 May 2010

Small Fish, Big Pond

Listening to: Miike Snow, "Song for No One." Since we're watching one of their shows in London, I figure I better post about'em. Miike Snow are Swedish and one of their members used to be in a hip hop band that toured with The Fugees. And as for that name, it "is said to have come from one of their friends called Mike Snow with the spelling of Miike coming from the Japanese film director Takashi Miike." For the record, just reading about the plots and scenes from some of Miike's work makes me cringe. He's one film maker I probably won't be indulging in any time soon.

So, volcano ash willing, I'm off to Europe in a few. Technically it's a vacation although I'm not really sure what I'm vacationing from since my entire life is sort of like a vacation. Still, in solidarity with my travel companions, I'll call it a vacation -- or with a plummy British accent, "holiday."

We're headed to England, Amsterdam, and Barcelona for two weeks. In preparation I wanted to watch an important movie from each country, make a music playlist featuring national artists, and read some history and art books so I can spout half-true facts. That was the plan. Here's what I've really been doing this past week: worked on a revision for the Chloe sequel, left the house only for groceries and the occasional late night donut, watched a tremendous amount of basketball, spent last night blitzing through every episode of My Life as Liz, and generally not preparing for my trip at all. Ameer and I did spent last weekend having a Skins marathon, which is a BBC drama that is similar to Kids the movie. Armed with this important cultural knowledge, I'm excited to talk to random Brits about the show. It will be like someone coming over here and wanting to discuss Gossip Girl or Laguna Beach. I'm excited to reach out to the television watching demographic of London.

Of the three cities we're visiting, I've only never been to Amsterdam. That's quite alright though because Barcelona is a top three city I'd want to live in and London is always a good time because the language barrier is non-existent. Plus I used to live in England for a brief time years ago so this will be a nice return. After all, England is where I learned to drive stick, where I ate real fish and chips, and where I learned the fine art of repairing flutes. During my time there I also created a slang poem directly ripped from Big L titled, "Brit-onics." Don't judge me.

The big question is: What will happen in Amsterdam? Which vices will I be partaking in? What wild and crazy stories will I accrue? Well, seeing as I'm consistently labeled "No Fun Jon" (I know what people say behind my back), I'm going to guess maybe I'll indulge myself with artificial sugar and/or lots of MSG. My companions will fight to keep me from being extra lame but sometimes my inner lame-ity just wins out. You know how that can go.

Before I leave you, here's something fun everyone should do, take this "Name the countries of Europe" quiz from Sporcle. You'll either be impressed with yourself or really embarrassed. I was both; I think I got around 30ish. You have eight minutes. Go.

14 May 2010

Big hands I know you're the one

Wow wow wow. I have so much writing to do but I can't keep my attention away from the television because the Celtics have given me the best week ever. Three wins in a row, including an epic triple double from Rajon Rondo. Nobody thought the Cavaliers would lose to the Celtics, and I must admit, my rational side gave Boston a slim chance of beating Lebron and Co. after their up and down regular season. But they came out tough from the very beginning of this series, hit their stride halfway through, and just dominated late. How quickly things change.

Kevin Garnett is secretly back to almost his old self, Tony Allen has emerged as a defensive gnat, Ray Allen is still stroking it from deep, and the Celtics are buckling down and playing real defense. Sure Paul Pierce has been quiet this series but he'll come around. And my love for Rondo cannot be measured. He's so much fun to watch, he gets a ton of steals a game, he's an one man fast break, and some of his passes are just mind blowing. He's got this awesome behind the back one handed fake move that is just wicked. I want to practice that move and pull it off once, even if it's in my dreams.

Now if only Rasheed Wallace can pick it up and not be complete idiot. He hit a few big threes tonight but I can't trust him quite yet. He's lazy beyond belief. And for all of Danny Ainge's moves -- bringing in Sheed, Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, and Michael Finley -- the bench is still anchored by Tony Allen and Glen Davis.

The conference finals are going to be bananas. Can the Celtics match up well enough to take out the Magic? I don't know. But every Celtics fan is reinvigorated and willing to believe anything can happen. Do Steve Nash and the Suns have enough to outgun the Lakers? Again, a crazy proposition. But if the Suns can beat the Lakers and meet the Celtics in the Finals, my friend Jasmine and I might become mortal enemies for two weeks. If the Lakers and Celtics make it again, I fear for the matchup but that would clearly be the most historic combination. And if it's the Lakers and Magic again, booooring.

What is terrible is that I'm going to be in Europe for the entire duration of the conference title games. How will I be able to watch the games? How can I miss the possible last post-season of the Big Three? Do I just shut my eyes to the world and hope they make it to the Finals or do I cheer them on during weird time zones from another continent? This could be huge. I can go to Europe anytime, but the Celtics only compete for the Finals every so often. Hum.

For the record, Lebron has to leave. The city of Cleveland is sports cursed and he's not going to win down there. I know it's his hometown and he wants to bring a championship back but it's time to go. The Cavs just stopped trying about halfway through the fourth quarter. Near the very end, down by just nine with one minute left, the Cavaliers chose to not foul and just let the time dribble out. A lot can happen in a minute in the NBA. The Cavs plain quit and it's time for LBJ to get out. While I love Lebron, I say he can't receive another MVP until he wins a championship. Regular season dominance is great and all but if you can't win a title, you shouldn't be a three time MVP.

Possible destinations? New York, New Jersey, or Chicago, among a handful of others. I think he should go to the Bulls. Follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan, get into a winning culture, play alongside Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and another big time free agent. I know this turn of events would hurt Cleveland more than The Shot but it makes the most basketball sense for Lebron. He could also land with the Knicks but they have nobody on that roster. Or come to the Celtics Lebron, we'll take you!

13 May 2010

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place

Listening to: Two Door Cinema Club, "What You Know" and "Something Good Can Work." These boys from Northern Ireland rocked it out for us last week. After waiting hours for them to get on-stage at 330 Ritch, they zipped through every song on their album in about thirty minutes, few few stops and just pure intensity. Phew. They sounded absolutely fantastic in person and the lead singer's voice seems fake but is very real. If that makes any sense. Their debut studio album, "Tourist History," is nearly all standout hits. Seriously, listen to it all.

Okay, I've been thinking about this for awhile now, so feel free to nod your head vigorously and agree absolutely. My theory is that any particular sustained social group with alpha males has to contain two of them. This is in contrast to a group with alpha females, of which only one can exist at any time. If you don't know what an alpha anyone is, you should probably skip this post. Let's start with a few examples to whet the appetite before I go into why I think this dual sun system exists.

The classic double alpha male relationship is 90210, with Brandon and Dylan. I can't believe I have to say this but obviously I mean, the original Beverly Hills 90210. If you were born in the 90's, wipe that confused look off your face. The other super obvious two alpha male pairing is Saved by the Bell's Zack and Slater. All of them are popular, good looking, and equally capable of attracting friends and romantic interests. They are also generally friends with each other. Of course, these duos can't be the same type of alpha male. Brandon is the clean cut classically cute guy, while Dylan is the bad boy through and through. And while some might argue that Zack is the sole alpha male in the universe of Saved by the Bell, I contend that the show was skewed through Zach's perspective. Slater, with his muscle bound charm, was definitely a co-alpha male. There can't be two of the same alpha males in the kingdom; they have to be complementary or at least a little different.

Think about all the other TV series and sitcoms where this trope is true. Melrose Place had Billy and Jake. Gossip Girl with Chuck Bass and Nate Archibald. The O.C.'s Ryan and Seth. Barney and Ted of How I Met Your Mother. Dawson and Pacey (both more beta-alpha males). And the newest contribution to the cause, Finn and Puck from Glee. There's a ton more of course, but I've only watched so much television in my life. I'm sure you can do better.

One thing that might alert you to the presence of twin alpha males: girls are attracted to both but for entirely different reasons. This season of MTV's Challenge features the rivalry between Kenny and Wes, who have a complicated history that involves a shared ex-girlfriend. On this new season, a Fresh Meat contestant lusts openly for both. She can't decide if she likes the beautiful Kenny or the charismatic Wes better. While they are vying for control of the house (they are not friends), they are also trying to out-do each other for the attention of the females. Classic double alpha males, and in a totally realistic setting!

So now why does this double alpha male thing happen? Let's first explore why in a typical social group only one alpha female girl can dominate. Actually we don't need to explore anything. I know it's a huge generalization but it's true, two alpha females will butt heads. Alpha females don't get along well with each other and in the cases where they do (Galinda and Elphaba) there's still a distinct one-two hierarchy. For the most part, having two alpha females means there's a splintering coming into their own separate circles.

The difference between the alpha males is that they can thrive in competition against each other. It's almost preferable to have someone to challenge and measure themselves against. Zach and Slater are both equally capable of leading their own packs around -- in this case, just poor old Screech -- but they need to measure and antagonize each other in order to achieve higher. Losing a few battles doesn't bother them as much as it motivates. And as for the other guys, the ones who aren't the alpha males, there's a distinct advantage to having two head honchos.

See, there can be groups with just one alpha male -- Brody of Laguna Beach -- but that isn't a social group as much as a pecking order. Having just one alpha male means everyone else is a follower; this scenario usually happens when one guy is a big star. If you're Lebron James or Vince from Entourage, you don't have an alpha male partner. But in real social circles, other guys just don't like this setup. Who the hell wants to hang out under the thumb of the same guy all the time? When I subjugate myself, I'd prefer to have a choice dammit.

It's not fun when the same guy is always the smartest, the best looking, the coolest, the richest, the whatever-ist. Having two alpha males means that at least occasionally there's a different winner. That's enough to give other guys the hope that if they rise in status and defeat one of the pre-existing alphas, they can rise to the top. And even if no challengers to the throne ever emerge, at least the two star system ensures some balance in the order of things.

So that's my theory: Most of the time, if there's an alpha male in the group, there has to be another. What do you think? Totally off track or right on? And if I'm right, is it because the public has consumed too much 90210 and Saved by the Bell and we're just emulated what we see on television, or were the show's producers geniuses for tapping into a fundamental social force?

I know there are doubters of this theory already, so feel free to speak up. Until then, I'm gonna stick with it and look around at social groups to see if this actually applies as much as I think it does. I feel like this is theoretically sound but hey, I've been known to be wrong from time to time. Occasionally.

10 May 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The first Iron Man was one the best comic book movie of all time. It was universally hailed as great by fans and critics alike -- and it almost made my top movies of 2000-9. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was inspired and even though everything played out like you'd expect, the movie was just fun all around. Traditionally, the sequel in superhero movies has been the one that set the high mark. Superman II, Dark Knight Returns, X-Men 2, etc. Well, I'm happy to say that Iron Man 2 continues that proud tradition. Freed from having to introduce us to Iron Man's origin story, the sequel concentrates on piling on the fun. Plus, Sam Rockwell as a poor(er) man's military mogul is just perfect.

While it's impossible not to have some quibbles with everything crammed into this movie -- more Black Widow, more Whiplash, too fast action sequences, maybe too many side plots, no Terence Howard -- there's so much punchy dialogue and action that any weak spots are easily overlooked. The most egregious downside of the movie was probably a scene where Stark, dressed in his armor, dances to Going Back to Cali. Really? It's 2010 and this is what Tony Stark wants to hear at his birthday party? It doesn't help that Going Back to Cali is on on my list of songs that should never be played in a club. Actually, the song might have been California Love. Whatever, it was a bad choice. But then director Jon Favreau redeems himself by inserting The Average White Band's, "Pick Up the Pieces," which is instantly recognizable as a reference to his first movie, Swingers. So even the bad stuff is good stuff with this movie.

And after watching it on IMAX, a real giant IMAX, the experience is pretty awesome but not necessarily needed. Save the extra bucks for a large popcorn.

For those not so high on superhero movies, here's an article from Salon about why comic book movies are "Hollywood's most bankrupt genre." Blasphemy I say! Although there are many fine points made here and worth thinking about.

And to close, this is old but I just discovered it this past week: "Ironing Man," a spoof of the original Iron Man trailer, starring Mr. Starch. It's brilliant and genius and I've been sharing with anyone who'll listen.

07 May 2010

Greenberg (2010)

In this movie, Ben Stiller plays a forty year old who does nothing. Having recently emerged from a mental institution, Stiller's character is happily stagnant in his life. As his therapist tells him (heavily paraphrased), "You live in the past because you have no future." This is kind of an indie version of 40 Year Old Virgin. Without the laughs. Seeing as I hate 40 Year Old Virgin, and love Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox), I thought this was a surefire A+ movie. I mean, c'mon, I'm only a few years away from being Greenberg, happily doing and being nothing. This is a character I should relate to!

Instead, as I sat there in an entirely empty theater, I found my attention waning. Yeah, some of the dialogue was great, as I knew it would be with any Baumbach script but there was an utter lack of charm about the entire movie. Greta Gerwig has been praised for her work, and I can see that, but every other character falls short, including Greenberg himself. Ben Stiller gave me Reality Bites so I can only hate on him so much -- even though I dislike almost all of his other movies -- but he's not likeable enough to pull off this character.

I wish I could say I loved this movie but I don't. I'll probably rewatch it again just to reconfrim my suspicious but it was so-so at best. I think I liked the buzz and thinking about the movie more. For example, check out this Slate article, "Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them."

05 May 2010

For Good

Listening to: Kings of Convenience, "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From (Royksopp Remix)." Oh those melancholy Norwegians, this is just catchy as all hell. Via Musicphileosophy, a music blog that is just fantastic. I maybe co-opted most of these tracks already. Maybe.

Like all the best fairy tales, the first line starts off magical. "By all accounts, their paths should have crossed sooner..." Mysterious, frothy, and begging for more right? A few months back I did an interview with the amazing Lara Zielin (Donut Days) who is a fellow young adult author and just so happens to be an editor at my alumni magazine. She was kind enough to interview both Lilly and I during her trip of the West Coast. If you didn't know, Lilly is my agent and friend extraordinaire.

So here it is, the article in all its glory from Michigan's LSA Magazine (pg 54), "An Author, an Agent, an Alliance: Two Wolverines Join Forces in the Literary World." Full article as a jpg and pdf. Thanks Lara!

If Lilly and I had met on campus earlier, who knows how our lives would have changed? Lots of free coffee for her, lots of book talk for both of us. Why was I working at Rendezvous? Oh right, I was slaving off my quite a few hundred dollar a month phone bill. See, I had a girlfriend who lived across the country and this was back when phone calls were like ten cents a minute. Whew, thank goodness I only email and instant message people nowadays. What's a phone?