30 June 2011

Words Can't Bring Me Down

Listening to: The Creative Life Podcast. Recently started and already a total favorite of mine, Jenny Yang's hour long podcasts feature "real conversations with established and up-and-coming creatives, and real advice for creative entrepreneurs charting unexpected paths." I really enjoy the long format, Jenny's wonderful interviews, and the chance to hear from artists who are composing and finding their ambitions.

Jenny is a writer and stand up comedian and may or may not actually speak American English, Old Norse, Mandarin Chinese, Chilean Spanish, and Taiwanese. Despite our similar last names, Jenny and I are not related so I don't know if she's lying or not. What does Old Norse even sound like? Thor, Loki, Odin?

Creative Life further caught my attention by featuring Emily C. Chang for her second episode. If you followed spoken word back in the day, Emily was part of I Was Born with Two Tongues and we saw them perform almost a decade ago. I kind of fell in love with her and Denizen Kane right there and then, and it was great to hear about Emily's career since. Her new song and music video, "Need You Near (The Happy Nunchucks Song)" just came out and her MySpace with more music is here. I think I'm still in love.

This past week, the Times had this article about job jugglers living in New York and working many part time jobs instead of just one full time one. The first person they profiled works as "a bilingual-curriculum specialist for the textbook publisher Pearson; handling estate sales and online marketing for a store that sells vintage items; setting up an online store for a custom piñata maker; and developing reality-show ideas for a production company." Sounds like a handful. He's made a little under $2,000 for the month. For all that work I kind of want him to be a millionaire. Instead my takeawy is that setting up online stores for custom piñatas is probably not all that profitable of a venture. Mass market piñatas, now that's the ticket! Here's the reader response to the article.

Also, I've recently discovered Broke-Ass Stuart and his soon to be mini-empire of "brokeitude." Basically this guy Stuart travels around looking for cheap/free things to do and then shares how to do them. "It's a celebration of the fact that you don't have to be rich to enjoy your life. You don't have to have designer clothes and expensive things to prove you're amazing. What makes life interesting is not the things that you own, but the shit that you do." I disagree with the basic premise here. Being rich is amazing and interesting, I mean, that's what I've been taught anyway. Show me the money.

While I don't personally have much interest in Stuart's site itself -- I don't really need DIY soda can crafts in my life -- I am kind of curious about his upcoming show on IFC. It's encouraging that despite his fame and his work, he's still broke and up until recently worked as a waiter to pay the rent. Of course, now he's probably rolling in it but it would probably ruin his broke-ass credibility to reveal that. I hope his devotees don't turn on him when he makes it big.

As captain of the unemployment club, I'm happy to report that applications for membership has doubled, and we're not very picky about who joins -- which is an attitude you won't find with most employers.

24 June 2011

Once Upon a Time

Look at this image, isn't it a beauty? It's the cover to the 2009 Debutantes eBook anthology that will be released later this year. Organizing this amazing project is Jessica Verday and she'll be editing along with Rhonda Stapleton. There are twenty five authors lined up to contribute stories -- including me! -- and the lineup looks like this:

Cyn Balog, Lauren Bjorkman, Leigh Brescia, Jennifer Brown, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Janet Gurtler, Teri Hall, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Stacey Jay, Heidi R. Kling, C. Lee McKenzie, Saundra Mitchell, Jenny Moss, Jackson Pearce, Shani Petroff, Carrie Ryan, Sydney Salter, Kurtis Scaletta, Jon Skovron, Kristina Springer, Rhonda Stapleton, Charity Tahmaseb, Jessica Verday, J.A. Yang, and Lara Zielin.

It's gonna be ridiculous! The tentative release date is October 2011 so reserve a spot on your digital bookshelf for this delicious cover and all the wonderful stories contained within.

Unrelated but also coming in October 2011 is the remake of Footloose. Yes, I know. "Why remake Footloose?" Those were my thoughts exactly. But after watching the trailer I think it could actually be good. Well, decent. Certainly something I'll be watching and reviewing for my dance movie series. The remake stars Kenny Wormald, who I'm sure you'll recall was the lead in that ultra-classic, Center Stage 2: Turn It Up.

I spent some time the other afternoon watching all the original Footloose dance clips over and over. This may be the best instructional dance scene in all of cinema. Okay, that may be overstating it but there's no doubt I'm gonna be blasting "Let's Hear It for the Boy" for the rest of the weekend. Also important, Kevin Bacon and Will Truman in a very special moment from Will & Grace. So October 2011, it's gonna be an exciting month.

21 June 2011

Bushy Tailed & Bright Eyed

Listening to: Over at Ameer's new music blog, I'm going to be guest posting every week or so. My first Select Sundays just went up and features a song, and a band, I got obsessed with just two days ago while trying to organize and pack up out of San Diego. You'll love the track too I'm sure.

Currently pushing: Slightly Foxed. Awhile back I picked up a whole bunch of short story journals at a SF Public Library Big Book Sale. Included in the haul were stuff like Glimmer Train, Zoetrope, Zyzzyva, and a few issues of something called Slightly Foxed. When I travel I'd grab one or two of these as they were the perfect size for stuffing into a bag and short enough for any amount of waiting time. While I'd gotten through most of the Glimmer Trains and double Z magazines, I hadn't read any of the Slightly Foxed ones yet. Turns out I really should have because they're fantastic. I'll let their about page do the talking:
"In case you haven't come across it, Slightly Foxed is a rather unusual book review. Friendly and unstuffy, each quarter it offers 96 pages of lively personal recommendations for books of lasting interest -- books that have stood the test of time and have left their mark on the people who write about them. It's an eclectic mix, covering all the main categories of fiction and non-fiction, and our contributors are an eclectic bunch too. Some of them are names you'll have heard of, some not, but all write thoughtfully, elegantly and entertainingly."
They remind me of Nick Hornby's old Stuff I've Been Reading column in McSweeney's, which I loved and miss dearly. I tried to do a similar thing years ago but lost the motivation. Plus I haven't been reading this year. So in an effort to get back on the wagon, I'm going to dig into some more Slighted Foxed and get all inspired to write about reading. Here's some extracts from the magazine. Check them out and you'll see what I mean about how great the magazine is. Now if only I had an address so I could get a subscription.

I hear it's summer solstice today and since I can't seem to sleep a lick on my first night back in New York, I'm gonna figure out where to go park myself and re-read Protector of the Small: First Test, and then fall asleep outdoors to soak in all fifteen hours of daylight.

It's not as hot here as I'd imagined, so now I'm thinking it's a good idea I brought two pairs of pants. I hate not being able to wear shorts in the summer but conceded that being an adult means wearing pants at night. I also hear the end of the week will bring rain and thunderstorms. I'm anti-umbrella and am lacking a jacket so this should be interesting. I also broke out a new pair of shiny white Chucks for the trip and I'm already sad at the prospect of getting them sullied. Why must things get dirty oh guy or gal in the sky? Can't everything remain impeccably clean forever? Signed, a concerned and definitely OCDish Virgo.

Last of all: "Good morning my neighbors!"

15 June 2011

Inspectah Deck

Currently pushing: The End Starts Today (TEST). Introducing Ameer's new music blog! Inspired by the many music blogs he frequents, Ameer decided to jump in the game and share some tracks that he's been hoarding from the world. I'm gonna guest post over there from time to time, when I can find the right Yanni remix to show off. Get over to TEST and start following!

I spent my afternoon at a music party. Ameer told me that I would love this particular party and when I got to the door, I was skeptical because I had to give them my Facebook login. Normally I won't let any apps access my FB info, but I put my trust in Ameer and let them check my ID and then I was in.

Once inside, it was a dream come true. A big dance floor for fans and five DJs on the stage. This was a B.Y.O.L. (L is for "laptop") to the party party! Turntable.fm was just released in alpha and invites are still being distributed but after spending a good three hours hanging out in our own room, I can say that the idea is gold. Here's an interesting article talking about the social experience of the site and its potential.

Basically how the site works is you go in and step up to the DJ deck to play a song of your choice. You can search for songs in their library or upload your own songs. It sounds super simple but the thrill of having all your friends in one room listening to music in rotation is pretty amazing. I detest most clubs anyway and only want to hear certain songs so all things being equal, if I could just get all my friends onto Turntable.fm, we'd never have to go out again! Everyone can just dance in the comfort and safety of their rooms.

For our afternoon get together, we started with just three of us but by the end of the session, we had about a dozen people in our room, most of them strangers. Our Jason Mraz listening siesta had transitioned to the Kooks and then some Spanish speakers dropped in -- no doubt attracted by our "Carne Asada" room name -- and turned everything into a mini-Ibiza. We left after awhile because Turntable.fm had completely wrecked our mid-day productivity. It's that addicting. You can also select "Awesome" or "Lame" for each track that's being played and if you think it's "awesome," your avatar will bop their little head along. It's kind of a great feature. Now I just need some more dance moves for my little guy.

Also changing my life right now, Ameer gave me Peel (video) to use and it's made discovering new music even easier. He follows a bajillion music blogs while I've pared my list down to an easy handful, but I may be kicking that number up as Peel is basically iTunes for music blogs. Downloading new tracks used to be a two step process -- I used a Firefox plug in -- but Peel makes it so super easy. I can't believe 2.0 has been out since 2009 and we're just getting on it now. Here's a great idea: get Peel and then subscribe to The End Starts Today!

13 June 2011

A New Refutation of Time And Space

Listening to: Consequence, "Disperse." If you knew this guy was Q-Tip's cousin, you were one up on me. In about a month, Michael Rapaport's Tribe Called Quest documentary comes out, so let's get excited by listening to this amazing track I didn't even know about until four days ago. "Please disperse, please disperse!"

As I've noted on here before, I'm a big time pusher. Anyone around me is subjected to lots of "you have to download/try/read/use/steal this, it's the best!" On this blog I'm always using my listening to and currently pushing tags to throw out music or articles or sites I'm into at the moment.

Now take all that energy and imagine what happens when I turn it toward proselytizing blogging. I'd say eighty percent of the time my efforts fall on deaf ears, even as I'm physically making people create logins and avatars and first posts, but sometimes I give someone the gift of blogging and they take to it immediately and for a sustained amount of time. Usually they keep doing it for a few months and then dribble off, never to post again, relegated into my dustbin of friend blog memories. Well, last March I gave my friend Reena the gift of blogging (and Google Reader) and she's since outpaced me in just about every measurable metric.

In just over a year she's started writing for other sites and magazines, is on the verge of starting a podcast, bought her own domain name, learned to code and design her template, and the other day even solved one of my HTML problems. Student surpasses teacher?! Is this what it feels like to feel parental? Blogosphere, I've unleashed reena.me and she's coming to take over.

Reena's interests and expertise are as varied as her hair is big and she's got observations, rants, and spins on a broad range of topics. Here's a sampling of her posts. Go RSS and follow her why don't you? Because she's like, my greatest blogging protege ever!

09 June 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Currently pushing: My list of top twenty most powerful X-Men. I count this as my greatest written work ever. And I should really update it.

And if you don't know about uncannyxmen.net already, we are not X-friends. I especially dig their character spotlights and costume galleries.

I conveniently forgot that Wolverine came out two years ago when I Tweeted about not having a X-Men movie since 2006. In my defense, Wolverine was really a spin off and without a whole team involved it just wasn't the same. For X-fans, the worry over First Class has stymied our excitement for the last year. The poorly Photoshopped posters were awful, and each subsequent one got even worse. In fact, I'm reduced to using fan made posters for my images because the official ones are just so bad.

The good news was that the casting was inspired all around but nobody knew where director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake) would take the franchise. Luckily the first few trailers assuaged our fears. After going to the midnight showing and watching it in a theater of fanboys, the verdict is in: It's great!

Super fantastic and right in-between the first X-Men and the epic second one for quality and entertainment. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are amazing as Professor X and Magneto, and Kevin Bacon serves as a fine villain. I mean, I got my nitpicks but I'll get to those later. We should concentrate on all the things the film gets right first. It goes without saying that I'm going to be spoiling things below. If you haven't seen the movie by now, we're probably destined to be former friends anyway. For true fans and friends, read on.

Despite not being as action packed as one might have liked, there was a lot going on in First Class. For a two and a half hour movie, they had to move from separately introducing Charles and Eric, to having them meet, then recruiting and forming a team, and then engaging in a final battle, all while explaining the high stakes involved. Pretty tough challenge and I think the screenwriters did well considering. The story by Bryan Singer was sturdy and covered all the bases.

It's pretty thrilling to see any X-characters on-screen, and the movie certainly lived up to the promise on that end. Cameos galore and some real fan favorites like Banshee. Okay, is he even a fan favorite? I just wanted redemption for his awful accent in the Generation X movie. You seen that classic? Don't worry, I have it on DVD if you need to borrow it so your life is complete.

Even with my X-knowledge, I had no idea who Riptide, Azazel, and Angel were. And it bothered me a little that Sebastian Shaw's powers were depicted incorrectly. Actually I do have a slight issue with the powers they chose. Riptide's tornado flurries were basically like Storm's, Azazel was a red Nightcrawler, Havok and Cyclops have similar similar special effects, and there really should be no other Angels (who I originally thought was Pixie) in the franchise. Maybe more imagination for the mutants next time around? I was excited to see what Darwin could do but he was tragically blown up way too early. Great death though.

I thought Emma Frost's diamond form was pretty neat and wish Colossus had been given as much screen time in the original trilogy. And for those people who are hating on January Jones and her acting: screw you, she's the perfect Emma and what else could she really have done with the role? I absolutely loved how they invented a great backstory for Mystique and the changing of her allegiance from Professor X to Magneto. Oh and the characterization of a flirty Professor X was an absolute treat too, and Magneto as played by Fassbender has to be the compelling homo superior this side of Wolverine / Hugh Jackman.

All this brings me to a quibble with First Class. How come when all the mutants choose sides, all the white people go to become X-Men and all the minorities go to the dark side? I know this is a reflection of who these characters are in the comics but the X-Men are such a diverse super group that it's jarring to see who ends up being aligned with the good guys versus the bad guys.

For a film with a focus on characters feeling ostracized for being treated differently -- largely because of their appearance -- First Class gives us scenes that make the viewer wince (or laugh out loud). I wouldn't call it racist, as some people are doing, but it's definitely noticeable. At least being evil means you dress better. Nice suits Hellfire Clubbers.

Overall you know I'm only going to give this movie a sterling recommendation. Sure I wish the dialogue was better in parts, there were some clunky scenes, a bit of the movie was a little slow, and Rose Byrne was criminally underused, but overall it's something I'm going immediately right back out to watch again. "Mutant and proud!" I need that T-Shirt. Okay, maybe not.

Also, in case you're wondering who's dating who from the cast in real life: Mystique is dating Beast, Angel is dating Magneto, and Zoe Kravitz, who plays Angel, is Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet's daughter! Plus Zoe used to date Ben Foster, who played the other/real Angel in X3: The Last Stand. Post-breakup she stole his name, turned evil, and started dating Magneto. Talk about moving up in the world. I hope January Jones and James McAvoy get together soon!

06 June 2011

I'll buy you anything, I'll buy you any ring

Currently pushing: Stereomood. Paula put me onto this, an emotional Internet radio site. Select a mood and away you go. I started off with "just woke up" and moved to "lost in thought" and "busy bee." The selections are varied and interesting and culled from these music blogs. I'm finding some magic songs using this and it's been replacing Shuffler.fm for me recently.

I spent my day eating hot deli sandwiches and watching a The Voice marathon with my friend. Later, as I flipped between the basketball game and the twentieth fifth Les Mis anniversary concert on KPBS, I decided I better queue up Platinum Hit while I was at it. I've been slacking on my TV watching recently because there just isn't enough time for all that when you sleep thirteen hours a day. I'm not sick or anything, I just require lots of charging.

In life, I live by a few key tenets, one of those is that anything becomes better/funner by adding teams and competition. That's why I watch MTV RW/RR Challenge, because it's the best competition show ever. But I digress. Singing shows has given us plenty of competition over the years but they were missing the teams portion. Let's be real, American Idol sucks. I personally gave up on it after the Season Five Taylor Hicks - Katharine McPhee debacle. I've realized that I kind of hate shows that leaves the decision up to America. I don't want the masses deciding anything talent related; I'd prefer professional opinions. (Hey Beat Freaks, I'm still hurting for you. You too Fanny Pak.)

Based on a Dutch show, The Voice is everything Idol isn't. After watching one episode I was hooked as I realized that it was essentially judge versus judge. Cee Lo, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton filled out their teams by sitting with their backs to the singers and then turning around if they liked what they heard. No judging on looks, personality, soppy backgrounds, etc. Pure singing. The cast reflects what happens when you take out some of that bias. It's diverse and interesting. If more than one judge turned around, the power shifts to the contestant and they get to choose which celebrity's team they want to be on. Genius! Here is a video of the judges doing "Crazy."

After assembling an initial team of eight contestants each, the judges then paired off their picks to battle against each other for only four spots in the live shows. By dueting on one song and physically performing in a ring together, the contestants are in a vocal duel to the elimination! I don't know what happens once the live shows start but I hope it works like Pokemon where each judge gets to throw out one of their team members to compete against another judge.

Imagine if the challenge is to sing a song like "Lately." Cee Lo might decide to send in Nakia to do battle versus Christina's Beverly and then so on down the line. There would be a lot of strategy in picking which contestants would battle each other and the judges would be really incentivized to work with and coach their artists. I'm pretty sure this isn't how it'll work but I can't wait to find out.

Another great thing about The Voice is that the the talent is way better than Idol, where 80% of the performances are straight terrible. My friend pointed out it's because the contestants tended to be a little more experienced and polished whereas the Idol folk tend to be younger and terrible. The Voice may not produce mega-superstars -- because of the image factor -- but it's less mournful on the ears. Also of note: Carson Daly is the host of The Voice. He's apparently ageless. I've missed you Carson, I just never knew it. You are the face of nostalgia.

Now to gush about Platinum Hit. I thought the show was going to be totally stupid but wanted to watch it because of Jewel's involvement. I thought I'd catch a few episodes to support her and then tune out. Turns out Platinum Hit is a legitimately good show.

The setup is that teams of songwriters work together to produce a potential hit and then the judges select who gets kicked off the losing team each week. Former Idol judge, Kara DioGuardi, is the spicy to Jewel's sweet, and in the first episode they brought up a great point: Who's to blame more for a failure? The leader or the follower who doesn't speak up if things are starting to get off track? I loved watching team members throwing each other under a bus and pointing fingers.

Aside from the teams and competition, the best part of Platinum Hit is that you get to see how hard the songwriting process is. The first episode featured songs about Los Angeles and many of the songwriters are already flummoxed. "Love it or hate it / If you're here you know you made it..." Terrible. Still, next time you hear a track that has the stupidest lyrics ever, maybe you'll pause a moment to appreciate the work of even the simplest hook. Okay, fine, maybe not quite, but the insight into the complexities of songwriting is appreciated and the real hook of the show. PHit's website posts the lyrics too, in case you look them over after an episode. The show also devotes a decent portion of the runtime to interactions during the track writing phase, which I love. You can totally tell who's a good team player or who would be annoying to work with.

And seriously, why are all these songwriters so damn good at singing? While they aren't being judged for their performances, most of the contestants are professional quality and kind of amazing vocally. Ridiculous! I'll definitely be sticking with Platinum Hit over The Voice but I'm pushing both on anyone who will listen -- or who's still watching Idol. Get with the program, Simon's gone, time for you to go too.

02 June 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Woody Allen movies I've seen: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And now Midnight in Paris. I really wanted to love this movie, and despite having seen just a few of Allen's classics, I like to say "I love Woody!" What I'm realizing is that aside from Annie Hall, all of his movies seem to be majorly flawed. Well, not all, but most.

Take this one. A great premise and an intriguing idea that turns out mostly flat. You'd think seeing famous people play other famous people would be exciting but the thrill faded pretty quickly. Maybe I don't get enough of the references to the various artists and musicians peppered throughout, but I think I got most of them. After hearing such rave reviews about Midnight In Paris, I wanted it to really hit home and give me something to think about.

Instead the high point was that it dovetailed nicely with an earlier conversation we had that afternoon about nostalgia. Otherwise I thought it was overacted, not very deep, barely entertaining, and totally a waste of a role for Rachel McAdams. But hey, now she can say she's worked with Woody Allen! What does that get you nowadays?