31 December 2013

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Nov-Dec



Here it is, the final fiftyfifty.me post for 2013. I’m very sad to report that I only hit twenty six books for the year. That’s pathetic, barely halfway to my fifty books goal. The good news is I hit a personal record eighty nine movies! If I add those numbers together, I totally hit fiftyfifty right? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. For 2014 I’m rededicating myself to the challenge and making sure I hit fifty books, maybe even sixty. Before I launch into a recap, I want to cover some of the great stuff I saw during the last few months of 2013. Also, here's last year's recap.

If there’s one three hour movie to watch, it’s La Grande Bellezza from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, aka “the next Fellini.”  The Great Beauty just won the Golden Globe for best foreign film, so it should be more on people's radar and I’m glad because I’ve been pushing it for weeks. Nobody listens to me but it’s so much better than the other superlong Oscar bait right now. Yes, I’m talking about you Wolf of Wall Street. While the new Scorsese is an enjoyable romp, the decadent lifestyle portrayed in Great Beauty sticks much longer with you, and it’s also much funnier. Plus, Tony Servillo as Jep Gambardella is just amazing. And coming in second for three hours of quality is Blue is the Warmest Color. During our showing, technical difficulties stopped the movie halfway through but everyone stuck around during the twenty minute delay because the movie was just that good. I know there’s been a lot of controversy about Blue, but it’s still a really magical film and the two leads, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, are perfect.

Also, I caught Shane Carruth’s 2004 debut, Primer, on Netflix one night and then spent a few hours Google spiraling into figuring out what had happened. It’s a complex time travel film that begs for more viewings, but luckily the Internet has already covered all the “what happened and when” timelines. If that kind of groupthink resource had been around in 1995 during 12 Monkeys, teenager me would have been saved a lot of trouble. I’m so impressed with Carruth, as he’s cornered the market on excellent time travel movies -- 2012’s Looper -- and I need to watch Upstream Color straight away.

On the books side, I crammed in ten of them in November and December, with a few being short novellas and graphic novels at the end to pump my numbers. I know, eternal shame! Anyway, I happened to read The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and Gone Girl back to back and it was a quick descent into thinking about my own personal romantic relationships. How come nobody told me that Gone Girl was about relationships!?! I had been pushing Gone Girl away for awhile because the hype seemed too big and I just assumed it wasn’t actually great but a few pages in and I realized that this wasn’t just a “everyone is reading it” hit. Gillian Flynn is a fantastic writer and the book had me mesmerized all the way through. And that ending, which some people hated but I absolutely loved. Bring on more sociopaths and psychos (in relationships)!

After reading the NY Times review of Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I knew it was for me. Ten pages in and I was blown away. “Who is this person and how did she write this!” We went to go see author Adelle Waldman read at McNally Jackson and I just kept wondering how she captured the mindset of her protagonist so well. Nate is a semi-asshole who thinks he’s a nice guy but is really a misogynist and well, a dick. The book was brilliant and in contention for my favorite of the year. Actually let's just call it that already: Love Affairs for my favorite book of the year.

So for the entire year I saw 89 movies, which broke down to: 18 As, 42 Bs, 23 Cs, 6 Ds. Most impressively, there were 13 solid As in the group, which meant it really was a great year for film. Was it the greatest year since 1994 or Gone with the Wind era? I don’t think so, but it was damn good. My A movies were: Spring Breakers, Iron Man 3, Frances Ha, 20 Feet From Stardom, Despicable Me 2, Stories We Tell, The Art of Killing, Blackfish, Enough Said, 12 Years a Slave, The Great Beauty, and Blue is the Warmest Color. Those are movies I’d recommend to anyone.

I wanted to give Drinking Buddies an A too, versus an A-, but I need to rewatch it first. My favorite movies of the year definitely included Drinking Buddies though, along with Spring Breakers, Frances Ha, and Stories We Tell -- the last of which I talk a lot about here. Over Halloween, we saw lots of people dressed up as Spring Breakers, and it seemed so outdated, but I can’t shake how much I loved it. It seems almost tacky to declare it as my favorite movie of the year but I think it’s true. While I'm here, I want to recommend the duo of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald from Grantland's Hollywood Prospectus podcast. Their chemistry is amazing and I want to befriend them. Try this recent episode about Matthew McConaughey on for size as a starter.

As for books, it was 17 five star reads, 6 four stars, and 3 three stars. Nothing horrible, and lots of good stuff. I guess that’s good as I was pretty selective in what I read. Somehow I didn’t read a single thing in August, which is depressing since the lazy summer is perfect for reading. The best YA book I read this year was a tie between The Summer Prince and September Girls. Summer Prince for Alaya Dawn Johnson’s wonderful world building and its showcasing of what a truly diverse and unique take on fantasy dystopian can look like. (We did a group read and discussion of this over at Rich in Color.) And then Bennet Madison’s September Girls, which I am rereading already, which is rare for me in YA.

As for 2014, the goal is to pump up the reading numbers and then maybe add another fifty something to do. Fifty blog posts in a row? Write fifty articles? I dunno. Come check out 2014's fiftyfifty.me intro post, and sign up if you're ambitious and want to be an Overachiever. Join the club, everyone's doing it!

28 November 2013

Can It All Be So Simple

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated you to the state of my iOS game playing. Important stuff, I know. Since a few months ago, I’ve been burning through games. Some quickie reviews and recommends.

I was lauding Neuroshima Hex before but have now played it for many hours. It’s still great and a new expansion pack just tossed in more armies. Yeah it’s a little confusing to start but after you get the hang of it it’s really great. My only lament is that I can’t find any friends to play with me. Ahem. Also there don’t seem to be very many players online sadly.

The other two games that have seriously sucked up my time have been Ascension and Agricola. Ascension is a port of a physical collectible card game and it’s got an interesting spin on deck building. I got into it and then got REALLY into it once I realized there was a whole new level of playing that involved combos and infinite card runs. It reminded me of some of my finer Magic decks and I was hooked. Luckily I tore myself away from Ascension long enough to get super excited about Blizzard’s upcoming Hearthstone, which is basically their take on Magic. It’s gonna annihilate all the other collectible card games out on iOS probably, and I’m ready for that armageddon.

As for Agricola, I finally unearthed some of its mysteries and strategies. Since then I’ve spent more time than I’m willing to admit battling fellow farmers human and computer alike. I’ve learned which occupations work best for me, when to grab the wood over making an major improvement, and still I’m not that good in the big scheme of things. What I need is more friends to play with… sense a theme here? Basically Agricola is a worker placement game in the style of Settlers, sort of, but with no random chance. Anyway, let me just show off a screenshot from my finest game of Agricola yet, and revel in all those sheep, pigs, and cattle. It's not quite as fun as herding sheep on Playstation, but it's close.

Samurai Siege is a Clash of Clans clone that I was loathe to get into but it’s done so well and I actually kind of like the little samurai people. I’m giving it two weeks before I delete it, because I already did my time with Clash. Same principle applies to Tiny Death Star actually. I loved Tiny Tower and reskinning it with Star Wars is great, but only amusing for a bit. Two weeks and I’m out. Having little pixelated Stormtroopers running around in your building is kind of great though. As is the midi Star Wars music. Pocket Trains isn’t a reskin but it’s too similar to Pocket Planes to be fun. It just feels like playing the same thing again. No mas. Actually, speaking of Nimblebit, their Nimble Quest was a really great take on Snake but I didn’t play it that much after a few runs.

Stuff I tried but couldn’t get into: Summoner Wars, Ravenmark Mercenaries, War of Nations, Superbrothers, Pocket Heroes, any of the Arcane Empires / Kings of Camelot / Game of War freeminum stuff. The interfaces were a bit too clunky on those latter few and it was all the same game over and over. Ugh. Also, the awful Marvel War of Heroes game was such a disappointment. I wanted to get into something card collect-y but this wasn’t the answer. I guess I could try out Avengers Alliance to get my Marvel fix.

On the casual side of things, I still have Heads Up!, which I briefly mentioned here, and it’s always fun for a few minutes of party time. I recommend the category where you have to charades everything out. Makes for better videos.

My current casual obsession is Quiz Up, which is a super clean and well designed head-to-head trivia challenge game. (Sidenote: If someone can manage to make Quiz World for iOS, I’m done, I would never stop challenging people to mass games of trivia.) On my third game of Quiz Up, I took out the top ranked Philippines player in the Pop Songs category. I felt bad because well, you know, Philippines right now, but I secretly was wild with glory. Little did I know that would be my high mark. Apparently I know very little about dinosaurs, economics, myth & folklore, medical, and absolutely nothing about food. It's really time for me to start studying more. Come play Quiz Up with me. Trivia forever.

Also, somehow I've decided it's time to play Candy Crush. I fear its addictive qualities but am also curious why everyone is so into it. When JMZ started posting Instagrams of mysterious shit like this and being super excited about it, my interest was piqued. I'd read about the powers of Candy Crush's core loop but haven't experienced it first hand. Now I'm going to take the plunge. Wish me luck.

And these two are basically the same game but it was worth downloading Juice Cubes and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Foodimal Frenzy just to see the anthropomorphic fruits. Playability lasted for about fifteen minutes though.

Back in September, my favorite iOS games site Pocket Tactics spun out a sister site focusing on PC games, Red Door Blue Key. I don’t even own a PC anymore and I still read this thing. Basically it just makes me think about what games I would play if I had a PC around. Similar to my "if I had an iPad I would totally play the hell out of Eclipse and XCOM" fantasies. In related dreams, someone get me an iPad mini for Christmas, thanks.

20 November 2013

C.R.E.A.M.

Listening to: Iggy Azalea, “Beat Down.” Yeah it’s really only featuring Iggy and the artist is officially Steve Aoki and Angger Dimas but really, this song is about Iggy. I’m not sure how I missed her on her first turn around, but I’m in on her now though. I have a soft spot for these white female foul mouthed rappers. It’s horrible, I know.

I’m starting to think I should have a work diary. I know I already track way too much stuff, but it seems like a diary for ideas or writing or something would be useful. There’s a few bits from this talk by Maciej Ceglowski, “Thoreau 2.0,” from XOXO that I liked. Sidenote: What is XOXO, is this the new TED?
"The best piece of advice Thoreau ever got was from Emerson, who told him to keep a journal. And Thoreau did, for decades, using it as a personal diary, a record of his botanical and scientific observations, and a kind of staging ground for his serious writing. He would go back and mine it years later for passages to use in his work. I don't think everyone needs to keep a literary journal, but I think it's vital to keep a work diary, for three reasons…”
Anyway, I’m a big proponent of having a work document/diary for jobs, where you can follow along to what the previous person did, but I’ve never applied that to a creative enterprise. Could be time to start. Heck, this blog could be it, right here. All my million dollar ideas for free!

The few times I’ve had a real job before, I’ve always wondered why the people before me weren’t required to do a diary of some sort, to document processes, daily/weekly stumbling blocks, little things they picked up along the way. I always did it for myself, in the hopes of having it for later. It seems natural that you'd want your new employees to have this sort of history. Instead a lot of jobs just throw you in and basically the learning curve is the learning curve. So yeah, work diaries, let’s get on it. And for next year I'm gonna try to do a writing/creative diary. Making 2014 goals already, I'm so ahead of the curve.

A few months ago, a friend put me onto this Tumblr, Who Pays Writers, It’s an awesome resource and aside from learning exactly how paltry the pay for freelancing can be, it’s cool to have actual numbers for what publications pay. Now the people behind Who Pays Writers are putting out an e-magazine: Scratch. I love it already and am gonna subscribe because they do really cool things like being totally transparent, showing us their subscription trend line, and just overall being an amazing resource.
It’s NaNoWriMo time, well, nearing the end. I did it two years ago and I think I finished. Oh wait, yes I did, I was a winner. Woohoo. I should revisit that stuff to see what kind of crap I unloaded into Scrivener. Anyway, I recently read this 2003 interview with NaNoWriMo's head honch or whatnot. I’d been wondering how NaNoWriMo made money and now I know. Short answer: donations and T-shirts. I met an ex-producer of Pawn Stars once and he said that they made most of their money off selling show T-shirts. That's right, branded T-shirts run the world.
"This year we're looking at $35,885 in non-recoupable expenses, and another $24,900 in recoupable costs (like t-shirts). The financing of NaNo has gotten a little more tricky as the costs of the event have grown. Since I don't want to charge an entry fee and I'm dead set against taking ads, we depend on participant contributions (about 70% of the budget) and t-shirt sales (about 30% of the budget) to make ends meet. We have a $10 suggested donation for all participants, and make about $3 in profit per t-shirt (which goes right back into the organization)."
-NaNoWriMo Madness: An Interview with Chris Baty, The Man Behind the Curtain (2003)-
Something I don't get: Why is there no Goodreads for movies? I mean, seriously. (Netflix sort of used to do it before they killed off their social features.) Heck there should be a Goodreads for everything you consume. Is this so difficult? I’ve done some research into Goodreads for books and there's just no good options. If Amazon was willing to drop a couple hundred million for Goodreads, surely there’s at few startup bucks for Goodreads: Movie Edition right? Like I said, free million dollar ideas just pouring out of me. Maybe if Lilly and I can get our act together for fiftyfifty.me, we can take it to NaNoWriMo levels. Dare to dream people. Actually this month is NanoReadMo for me, as I'm so far behind on this year’s allotment of fifty books... My goal the rest of November is to clean up a book a day. Read hard.

Last thing, some book club friends recently told me about American Reader, which I've been sleeping on apparently. It also seems like Brooklyn Quarterly is somewhere up that alley. Try this excellent interview with Wayne Koestenbaum on for size. Where are the RSS readers for these things? I can't read something without RSS. It's a failing of mine. Oh and if you're into Hyperbole and a Half, here's an interesting conversation with Allie Brosh, "Writing, Depression and Learning How to Handle Attention: A Conversation."

10 November 2013

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Aug-Oct


Here we go with the late summer and fall edition of things I’ve seen/read. I’m already at seventy five movies watched, which is well on its way to a personal best. The books though, ahem. I’m only at sixteen. There’s a few half read books I need to go back to clean up, but it seems like I’m going to finish short of the fifty books mark. Wait, no! It’s only November, I can still make a big dent in the final tally and try to cram everything in. I don’t know what number Lilly is at but I anticipate another rushed last week of December with my nose buried in books and her throwing down movies by the handful.

The good news is that all the books I’ve managed to finish so far are gems. Fresh Off the Boat I’ve already gushed about. And I did the same for September Girls. While I was out in San Francisco, I was with Mary digging through Dog Eared Books and stumbled upon Justin Chin’s Mongrel. It’s a book of memoir-ish essays and the back cover says, “Mongrel is an exploration and distillation of the experiences and imagination of a gay Asian-American whose sensibilities were formed by the maelstrom of ‘80s American pop culture.” That description about covers it, and I was happy to discover Chin's work.
“Writing essays and opinion pieces are a strange thing for me…. I was always taught not to seek attention, not to argue, and not to challenge authority openly. So this collection of writings is a bit of a challenge for me…. If anything, this work, for me, is also a political stand. As Asians, and as Asians in America, we are so often not encouraged to claim authority, to claim an opinion…. With this book, I wanted to be able to do just that, cliam authority even knowing full well that I may be wrong. It never seemed to stop anyone else, so why not me?"
-Justin Chin, Mongrel-
And for book club, we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. We had a meeting earlier this summer but it was postponed. It’s the story of an international romance, set between Nigeria, the United States, and England. Seeing as Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” was one of the best (and most viewed) TED talks around, it was a revelation to read her book and to see her work in action. Americanah was full of interesting, and hilarious, observations about race and blackness and I need more Adichie in my life right now.

As for the movie side of things. My three month MoviePass wrapped up, and that’s going to dramatically slow down my movies in theaters. It’s back to careful planning of which films to watch and lots of theater hopping. The three movies I’d definitely recommend without hesitation are Drinking Buddies, Enough Said, and 12 Years a Slave. Let’s go in reverse since I just saw 12 Years a Slave. I know some people aren’t down with watching depressing movies but 12 Years a Slave is near a must watch. Not just because everyone will be talking about it, or that it’s important, but also because it’s damn good. After you watch it, make sure to read Wesley Morris' incredible review, "The Song of Solomon The cultural crater of 12 Years a Slave."

I hadn’t seen any of Steve McQueen’s work until Shame but I think he seems to specialize in plumbing uncomfortable spaces. Hunger was about the 1981 IRA hunger strike. Shame was about sexual addiction. And now 12 Years a Slave. McQueen was a visual artist before and it shows through his movies. They are well composed and sparse, and they are definitely an experience. (I did see Shame a few weeks ago actually, but more on that later.) McQueen’s best move is probably to always have Michael Fassbender star in his films. In that, he only rivals Derek Cianfrance hitching his wagon to Ryan Gosling and Nicole Holofcener ride and dying with Catherine Keener in all of her films.

Speaking of, I’ve seen most of Holofcener’s movies and they are all fantastically great. As Slate Cultural Gabfest put it, they’re hoping the mainstream audience starts to view Holofcener like the female Woody Allen, and just line up for each new film she drops. Similar to (classic) Woody, Holofcener plumbs the same depths time and time again, each time emerging with another treasure. Enough Said is laugh out loud hilarious, as opposed to her usual work that is more a consistent series of chuckles. Starring the late James Gandolfini and an underrated Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I’ve been telling people to watch Enough Said as a Holofcener gateway.

And then there’s Drinking Buddies. I got wrapped up in the mumblecore thing when it was big and am excited whenever one of those directors puts something out. Drinking Buddies is Joe Swanberg’s most accessible movie by far and it’s really good. The theme is exploring the grey areas in a friendship/relationship, and it has likeable stars, a casual pace, and was the movie that’s motivating me to write again. I need to give it a rewatch to determine if it moves up to a personal favorite, to see if it holds up, but post first viewing I thought it was right up my alley.

Watching Prisoners took me down a nostalgic drive down to rewatch Se7en and Zodiac, and it’s filled with the perfect amount of tension. It doesn’t measure up to classic Fincher but it’s quite gripping. And man, I really wanted Spectacular Now to be amazing but it fell too short, without enough emotional density or affect. Too bad though, because the movie had a shot at greatness but ended up at settling in at slightly above average.

And whatever Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to do, I’ll support it. His Don Jon, a film he wrote/directed/starred in, is all sorts of fun. Co-star Scarlett Johansson makes a perfect Jersey Shore copycat. Gordon-Levitt's character is addicted to online porn; she’s enthralled by romantic comedies. And Tony Danza steals the show in his role as Jon’s dad. Movie pairing Don Jon with Shame a few days after was interesting too. Tackling similar topics but from very different perspectives and aesthetics. On first brush, I liked Don Jon better, but now that I’m super in on Steve McQueen, I want to review Shame again. Michael Fassbender is the best. Always. If they could somehow cram Brad Pitt and JGL into X-Men: Days of Future Past, that would be my Mt. Rushmore of actors all in one movie. Oh you saw the eye popping Days of Future Past trailer didn’t you?

Disappointments: I’m sorry, Fruitvale Station was laughably melodramatic. There’s nothing funny about Oscar Grant’s story, or what happened at Fruitvale Station, but the movie was all sorts of overrated. Don’t even get me started on Gravity, which was nice but not worthy of all the acclaim it’s getting. Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I walked out of The Grandmaster. Wong Kar Wei doing a kung fu movie should have been amazing but I was so over it an hour and a half in. I’m sorry Mr. Wong, I still love you but The Grandmaster was booooooring.

Alright winter, let’s get ready to read some books. My goal is to get to ten books this month. Anything else would be uncivilized.

30 October 2013

All Together Now

Currently pushing: Strength in Numbers project. Chops of Mountain Brothers fame is trying to Kickstart the money for an album he made with a roster of current Asian American musicians. There's less than three days to go and they're short. So if you care about Asian American artists, then consider donating. Also, "21 Asian American Musicians You Need to Get Behind Right Now."

I’m cleaning up the rest of Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat. I went to go see Huang back in February but I’m only now getting around to reading my friend’s copy. Fresh Off the Boat, aside from being entertaining and hilarious, is important because it presents a point of view that is rarely seen. The experiences of our generation of immigrants that grew up in American but solidly had a foot still planted in Asia -- mainly due to how our parents raised us.

If you’re an immigrant, and especially an Asian-American one, you can relate to so much from this book, especially the stuff about dealing with the culture shock of whiteness. I forgot where the link went, but my friend forwarded me a piece where a twentysomething Asian-American shares her experience growing up and being placed in ESL classes even though her English was better than everyone else’s. The writer had a line in there, heavily paraphrased, about how growing up there’s a decision you make to assimilate to the white culture around you, or to resist. (Update here's the article: "The Asian-American Awakening: That Moment When You Realize You're Not White.")

When I was younger, I never felt that, but mainly because I was mostly oblivious. In retrospect however, every person of color has to make that decision at some point. In fact, that decision is always ongoing. That moment though, the “oh shit, I’m not like them” moment is true for everyone.

When the Huang family moves to Orlando, Eddie and his brothers enter a world where he’s continually picked on and made fun of for things like his otherness, the strange lunch food he brings to school (packed with loving care by his mom), and the usual shit that we Asian-Americans know about. Young Eddie eventually decides to stop taking shit and fight back, often literally. He decides he’s not going to assimilate and that’s that.
“Emery [Eddie’s younger brother] wouldn’t go talk to my parents about the things he really cared about or about how he really felt; he’d talk to me. When he talked to them, they just yelled at him. When he came to me, I’d always get stomachaches because I didn’t know what to do most of the time. I just told him what they’d taught me about ohw we should behave: respect your parents, respet your family, speak Chinese at home, take off your shoes at home, be polite at other people’s homes, don’t borrow money from people, but if other people need it from you lend it to them, as long as it’s inconsequential. Don’t fight, but if someone calls you a chink, fight.”
-Fresh Off the Boat-
The book isn’t all about race of course, there’s an equal amount in there about class and feeling inferior because he thought his family was poor. One of my favorite things about Fresh Off the Boat is how it really focuses on the (often crazy) family dynamics that come with moving to another country together. Also, there’s a ton of sports and rap references, which is a huge bonus. Plus some Encyclopedia Brown and Jonathan Swift for good measure too. Obviously, I’m recommending the book big time because even if it doesn’t speak to your experience, it speaks to one Asian-American’s experience that isn’t stereotyped. Regardless of you how you feel about Huang's antics, he represents an attitude and viewpoint that hasn't been shown before, much less in a book.

On a related note: Maurene Goo’s Since You Asked did the exact same thing for me as Fresh Off the Boat. It’s a young adult book with race, not about it. And if you read contemporary YA, that’s incredibly rare. s.e. smith’s review captures that aspect of the book exactly. Did I happen to see Eddie Huang walk by while I was having lunch in Fort Greene a few weekends ago? Yup I did. Did I quickly move to follow him down the street to the Brooklyn Flea? Of course I did. No shame in my stalking game. Did I say hello? Of course not.
The new NBA season officially started yesterday. I’ve been consumed the past week in drafting for my fantasy league. Seriously, I’m checking my phone every few minutes and researching players like all the time. I haven’t even been blogging anywhere because I’ve been cranking out articles for my sixteen team keeper league, SlamNation. This is probably the only writing related thing that I don’t dawdle at. Fake articles about each trade? On it. Full reviews of each team pre and post-draft? Did it already. If I could be this productive with other things, I would be a star.

I’m contemplating joining another league, one set up to mirror Bill Simmons’ suggestions for the ultimate basketball league. Even though I’m swamped by fantasy obligations already, I’m considering joining this thing. Key word there is “fantasy” because it's all fake obligations. "I gotta go do some work/writing, and by 'work' I mean fantasy articles. See ya!" Anyway, the fantasy team I’ve been slowly rebuilding has finally acquired enough parts to make it seem like a contender. I built a team around Rajon Rondo, which meant going big ball and acquiring power guys like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, and Andre Drummond. Of course, now Rondo is out for a few months and my poor team will just spin its wheels.

Speaking of the Celtics, it was an off-season of transition for my team. If you don’t follow basketball at all, I’ll put it like this: The Celtics tore the house down this summer and are now rebuilding it brick by brick. Gone are stalwarts Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, in are a bunch of nobodies who won’t be around for very long. While I absolutely are dedicated to the Celtics, this is the season I happily (not-)watch them lose and instead focus my support toward the new old Celtics, aka Brooklyn Nets. I’m just a mile or so away from Barclays so I can pretend they are a semi-local team. While I couldn’t be sadder to see Pierce and Garnett go, I’m glad they have a chance to win a championship. Beat the Heat, beat the Heat!

11 October 2013

Battle of the Year (2013)

This one was a huge moral dilemma. The trailer looked fantastic but the presence of Chris Brown was such a turn off. In the end, I thought it was my duty as see Battle of the Year so you didn't have to. I mean, it's got a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes right now. Plus I haven't done one of my epic dance reviews in awhile so I thought I'd better get on it. Fact before I get into the review, Benson Lee, the director of the amazing documentary Planet B-Boy, was behind this effort. This is very relevant, you'll see why.

Tagline: The World Is Watching

1. Plot (5)
A hip hop mogul in the style of Sean Combs has heard kids say that breakdancing wasn't cool anymore. The Koreans have taken over, the French and Germans dominate. America is a joke. "Our kids were the best, but now we gotta do something extreme to get back on top." So, Puffy aka Dante sets off to recruit his old b-boy partner, Jason "Wonder Break" Blake -- played by Josh Holloway -- to coach an American team into Battle of the Year, the Olympics of b-boying. Ultimately Dante is trying to keep hip hop relevant and cool, but really he just wants to America to reclaim something they created.  U-S-A! U-S-A!

Compared to the normal dance movie, this is a step up from the usual plot. Compared to the average sports movie, this is straight cliche. I'll be upfront right now, Battle of the Year is not going to grade out well under my rankings because it's not really a dance movie at all. It's a sports film in the mold of Bad News Bears, Major League, and Mighty Ducks. Not to say that it's a comparable movie to those classics but the story follows the coach trying to bring his ragtag group of nobodies together, so in that alone, it's an outlier for my dance series.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (10)
Since the lead character is the coach, there's really not much dancing Josh Holloway does. There isn't even a scene where he breaks it down for two seconds, despite being a b-boy back in the day. That seems like a shame. Even Step Up 3, which features a male lead who also hardly dances, had Rick Malambri dance a little bit.

So in lieu of that, we have to look at Chris Brown as the star of the show. Yes, I know, Chris Brown... But Battle of the Year looked too good to pass up. And I movie hopped this thing so no proceeds will go to his coffers. And to be fair, Chris Brown is an excellent dancer. And he's by far the biggest name on the cast. It's unfortunate, but Chris Brown really can dance. I was impressed with his moves and how much he was able to do. B-boying is not easy and apparently Mr. Brown is just as talented at that as he is at *insert something awful and negative.*

Almost all of the other dancers are world class b-boys. If you follow America's Best Dance Crew, LXD, any of that stuff, you'll recognize the dancers. D-Trix, Do Knock, Flipz, Anis, etc. The other dancers are all pretty good, even though I can't determine if their movie names -- Sniper, Lil Adonis, Bambino, Mayhem, Abbstar, Gillatine -- are fake or real. Regardless, there's no question these guys can dance. If anything, they were recruited purely for their dancing skills, as just about everyone is horrible at the acting part of their roles. Luckily for the purpose of this review, that's practically a bonus.

3. How're the dance scenes? (7)
There's plenty of dance scenes, and they are all technically very good. However, very few of them stood out. Part of the issue is that too many breaking scenes started to all blend together. There's a few nice competition scenes, a smattering of tryout stuff, a lot of practice bits, but most of the dance scenes featured similar moves and the way Benson Lee chose to present them -- sometimes in triple split screens -- made the dance stuff fall into the background.

The one dance sequence that did give me chills was when the Americans had their final battle. That was expertly presented and it was awesome to see what the dancers were capable of when synchronized. It was also the only scene when they actually had semi-interesting costumes, which helped a lot. So while there is much to appreciate about the dance scenes, none of them were necessarily awe inspiring.
As a nice supplement, here's some behind the scenes showing how hard the dancers trained. And here's some clips from the real Battle of the Year competition, this is from a Japanese preliminary battle.

4. How's the love story? (0)
There is no love story. Caity Lotz of Mad Men fame is brought in about halfway through to be the team's choreographer and she makes it clear that she's into men, and not boys. I thought for sure her and Holloway would hook up but aside from a dinner in a semi-romantic setting, they didn't exchange anything more than coaching stuff. We liked that, even if we feel like the Battle of the Year missed out on giving Lotz a bigger role. I mean, look at her resume. Dancer, model, actress, girl band member. Plus she's from my hometown, San Diego.

Apparently Lotz started off her career dancing for Avril Lavigne, Lady Gaga, has been in numerous music videos, and also danced in Legion of Extraordinary Dancers episodes. I was impressed with the short clips when she danced with the guys, and thought she was really good. It's a shame the director didn't actually let her dance. Here's some footage of Lotz b-girling, she's super legit!

5. Rate the sidekicks (2)
Again, a category that hurts this movie, as practically everyone is a sidekick. There are no main characters, ones who dance anyway. So let's turn our attention to the assistant coach / dance groupie played by Josh Peck. He's "Frankyn with a Y" and he plays his role like he's a creeper. It's strange, maybe it's Peck's voice, but his soft spokenness and odd constant gazing at Holloway made it seem like he was about to turn into a horror film killer or something. Usually the sidekick role in a dance movie is for comic relief but Franklyn was anything but. His main job was to serve as the script's exposition, as seen in this scene. He basically gets to tell Josh Holloway -- and the audience -- about b-boying and the Battle of the Year competition. Plus he gets off this classic exchange.
Holloway: "You a b-boy?"
Peck: "Nah, I wish. My people weren't exactly chosen when it came to breakdancing."
Holloway: "What do you mean 'your people?'"
Peck: "Jews. We're rhythmically challeged, we're stripped of our swag at the circumcision."
Wait, what? Anyway, he's the main sidekick here, and I'm giving him a few points for being so different than other movie sidekicks. Why go for laughs when you can creep the audience out? Apparently Josh Peck has over two million followers on Vine, and was a big star from Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh show. Irrelevant to this review but that partly solves the mystery of why he was cast.

6. Best line (2)
I mean, if "we're stripped of our swag at the circumcision" doesn't qualify, then I guess the best line in the movie goes to a variety of the eyeball rolling nuggets that come rolling out of people's tongues. Coach Holloway is prone to dropping aphorisms like "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." My favorite one though, the one that the Dream Team repeats as a mantra is "act like champions, be champions." It's not quite as good as "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" but it's right up there.

Alright, who am I kidding. "Act like champions, be champions" is horrible! In the context of this movie though, it's basically a gem. A distant second is Franklyn saying "I might be Jewish, but my religion is hip hop."

7. Music (6)
Here's a chance for Battle of the Year to pick up some points. I mean, there's no restriction on a sports movie having bad music right? Well, strangely, the soundtrack -- apparently done by DJ Nu-Mark of the Beat Junkies -- was just so-so. There seems like there's a lot of incredible selections but not many of them stood out. Basically I felt like all of the great songs were stuck at the end, during the Dream Team's closing sequence. The one exception was the Root's "Boom!" which was used very effectively during a training montage. I'll give some points for Chubb Rock, Eric B. & Rakim, and some great artists on the track list, but mostly the music wasn't like "OMG, I have to download this right away!"

8. Fashion (2)
Again, flagging. For the real Battle of the Year, the teams have some awesome outfits. While I'm not looking for Street Dance level clothing, where each group had a unique look, it would have been nice to give us some visual highlights and differentiation between the groups. In Planet B-Boy, individual performers gave us diverse costumes such as the one shoulder monk outfit. Or the super popular "I'm b-boying in toilet paper" look. I wish the movie had let the dancers express some of their individuality. Instead it was just Puma track suits and Levi's jean jackets.

In fact, let's talk about the product placement in this movie. So much of it! From electronics, clothing and shoes, to Braun prominently sponsoring the competition, it was obvious that brand placement was a huge part of financing for the movie. I'm all for getting whatever you can to help you make your film but when the characters remark on the awesomeness of the new Sony gadget, that's taking it too far. Boo on overtly obvious product placement.

9. Cultural Impact (0)
This movie is going to come and go real fast -- that's why I rushed into theaters to watch it. Hoping to ride the wave of (relatively) high grossing dance movies, we can safely say that the negative reviews will tank Battle of the Year. So far it's made barely over eight million dollars -- against a twenty million budget -- and will come in far behind the various Step Ups. Let me show you the grosses for the Step Ups:
  • Step Up (2006): Made $65m, cost $12m
  • Step Up 2 (2008): Made $58m, cost unknown
  • Step Up 3D (2010): Made $42m, cost $30m
  • Step Up Revolution (2012): Made $35m, cost $33m
See that trend? The craptastic dance movie could be in jeopardy! They are costing more and paying out less, and studios will soon shut them down. Heck, the whole reason Hollywood is willing to churn these things out is because of the revenue to cost ratio. This is a call to arms my friends. Everyone needs to go watch the next big dance movie, to get one over fifty million again, otherwise it's all over. We'll be relegated to cable movies and whatever MTV can give us. (Turn the Beat Around is still on my DVR actually, I'll have to get back to it.) Then again, MTV could be off on dance stuff too. I mean, MTV cancelled ABDC after seven seasons. And there's not another Dancelife on the horizon that I know of.

Just for fun, let's look at some of the other numbers from dance movies from the past:
  • Center Stage (2000): Made $17m, cost $29m
  • Save the Last Dance (2001): Made $91m, cost unknown
  • Honey (2003): Made $30m, cost $18m
  • You Got Served (2004): Made $40m, cost $8m
  • Stomp the Yard (2007): Made $61m, cost $13m
  • Fame (2009): Made $22m, cost $18m
  • Dance Flick (2009): Made $25.5m, cost $25m
  • Footloose (2011): Made $52m, cost $24m
  • Battlefield America (2012): Made $0.17m, cost unknown
It's all positive except for Center Stage, which happens to be the best dance movie I've rated so far. It's probably because it's not quite a craptastic dance movie but more of an actual decent movie about ballet. Also, note that Battlefield America, the second effort from You Got Served director Christopher Stokes, totally tanked. For reference, director Lee's Planet B-Boy grossed $273k on a budget of who knows what, but we're guessing it at least made even money. Too bad he may never make a movie again.

10. Miscellaneous (5)
Here's where this movie won some bonus points with me. First, the constant references to basketball was kind of funny. Holloway's character was an ex-basketball coach so it's only right that he brings up Magic Johnson, Kobe, Shaq, and even named his team The Dream Team because that's what USA Basketball did in 1992 after getting their butts kicked by international teams. They stopped sending amateurs to the Olympics and instead sent in NBA All-Stars to reclaim the throne. That would make Chris Brown Michael Jordan? Ugh, puke. Anyway, the basketball stuff was fun for me, as Holloway was cast as a Phil Jackson-esque coaching guru, capable of making a team out of individuals. For example, the strategy behind his b-boy team construction was to look for individuals who could push each other to greatness, not necessarily just the most talented dancers. Preach on Holloway/Zen Master!

I also really enjoyed the idea that this was almost a reality style elimination for the dancers. Twenty two dancers were brought to the dance camp and then only thirteen made it. An active NBA roster is twelve people, coincidence? Actually, I was frankly shocked there wasn't a basketball scene, much like in You Got Served. We all know Chris Brown loves to hoop, so what was going on? Maybe it was because almost everyone else on the cast was super short so it would have been unbelievable to see them having a game of basketball.

Also, I was tickled that Sway was brought in as one of the announcers. We haven't seen Sway in how long? For awhile the former radio host was ubiquitous on MTV but he's been gone for a minute. Now he's back in the movies! Bonus points for giving Sway a paycheck.

FINAL VERDICT (39/100)
I have to admire Benson Lee's gumption in using his previous film all over this one. Not only does Franklyn say out loud that Planet B-Boy is the Bible for modern day b-boys, he also uses extensive footage from the film. If you look at Battle of the Year as an after the fact commercial for Planet B-Boy, it's very effective. It's not often I pass judgement on the dance movies I review, because the genre clearly offers something for everyone, but in this special case I say that you should rent Planet B-Boy and get the documentary experience. It's full of actual drama, great dancing, and you really find yourself cheering for the competitors.

There's also no jingoistic rhetoric against other nations. The trailer had me a bit worried about all the "down with Koreans" talk but that was thankfully dialed back in the actual movie. I was a little afraid Lee had sold out his peoples. Why he felt the need to dramatize this story and make an inferior fictionalized version of his classic is beyond me though. I hope he got paid big bucks to become a Hollywood director. Here's a few Planet B-Boy clips to whet your appetite.

In the end, Battle of the Year suffered from an ill fit into my scoring matrix. Still, it got a strong showing from using plenty of actual dancers, and it gets some respect for attempting to meld sports and dance movie cliches. Even though it's the lowest rated movie on our list so far, it's still within shouting distance of Step Up Revolution's forty-four points, so that's something. If you're seriously into breaking, this might be a must-see, but otherwise I'd suggest a pass. Plus, don't support Chris Brown, ever!

Crap, am I a hypocrite?

30 September 2013

Dark Doo Wop

Listening to: Haim, Days Are Gone. This is a tough one as Haim and Icona Pop both just dropped albums. We've been plugging Haim over at The End Starts Today and rightfully so, as the three Haim tracks I've had in my possession have been on infinite repeat. After just a few quick spins, I can confidently say that Haim's debut album is absolutely essential cruising pop. Basically it's summer in eleven tracks, and even though summer is basically over, Haim has officially arrived.

As for Icona Pop, their lead single, "All Night" isn't quite up at "I Love It" level yet, but it's comparable, which is a huge compliment. Where was this track in July? We could have used it at dance parties everywhere. The song's Paris is Burning vogueing video is kind of killer too.

Last thing, I'm a bit late to the MS MR party but I've been digging their 2012 album, Candy Bar Creep Show. MS MR has got plenty of Florence and the Machine in them and I quite like their semi-new single, "Fantasy." I didn't see the Game of Thrones Season Three trailer their other song were featured in but know all about it now. Who knew moody pop and Westeros went so well together?
If you like anthropomorphic food, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is the film for you. Maybe I've collected anthropomorphic vegetable salt shakers in the past, maybe I've watched my fair share of Veggie Tales, either way, while I hate nature documentaries that anthropomorphize animals -- ahem, March of the Penguins -- I love it when human personalities are attributed to food!

When I saw the trailer for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 earlier this summer, I was already one hundred percent in. After watching the film, I can wholeheartedly give it a superior grade. It's absolutely silly, filled with chuckle worthy puns, and for all illiterates out there, no advance book reading necessary. Fun note: The screenplay was co-written by John Francis Daley, aka Sam Weir from Freaks and Geeks.

A bit of research on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs wiki revealed that there are "foodimals" and then there are "food people." The latter are "sentient food that have developed a higher-level of sentience and sapience, and posses no animal-like traits and instead have human-like qualities and behavior." The former are animal/food portmanteaus like tacodile, hippotatoes, mosquitoast, buffaloaf, and watermelephants. Do you see how amazing this is? The star of the show for me was the leek, who just seems to be screaming in fear all the time. See? Anyways, Cloudy 2 is right up there with Despicable Me 2 for best animated movie of the summer. If you're into laughing and giggling and that type of thing. Otherwise watch Prisoners, which was pretty decent also.

I'm back from San Francisco, trying to catch up on all manner of things online. Basically I'm behind on everything but with the help of some late nights and my reunion with my double computer screens, I'll have everything from 2013 caught up and finished with by, say, 2014? Deal.

I scurried back to New York in time for a live taping of Slate's Cultural Gabfest. As a longtime fan, I was more than excited to see Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner in person. I was a little late as usual but settled in on the side of the stage and gazed out into the crowd. It's been awhile since I've looked upon a 99% white people occupied space and been like "Ah, these are my people." However, that's exactly what I said this time, as clearly anyone motivated enough to pay and sit through a Gabfest taping should be my friend immediately.

While I'm here, let me recommend the Grantland Pop Culture podcasts. Grantland split off their sports and pop culture pods and so much the better for it. The chemistry among the hosts are superb and I especially love Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald's witticisms and references. High recommend.

Also, snuck in a ballet the other day, much to the astonishment of friends and family. My Foursquare blew up with comments. Really? Why does nobody believe I would go to a ballet? Did I not write a combined 3500+ words on Center Stage and White Nights? Was I not pushing a three hour ballet documentary on you just a few short years ago? It's more shocking that I haven't been to the New York City Ballet yet.

We watched Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" because well, animals. It was pretty good and the costuming and narration -- words by John Lithgow -- were a nice change up from straight ballets. One complaint: Apparently it's de rigueur to bring babies and tiny children to the ballet. To the matinee showing at least. I don't get it. There are spaces where it's highly distracting to hear the constant shushing of a baby or to see the physical bouncing required to keep him/her quiet. The ballet is one of those places. This could be a controversial stance but I'm sticking to it.

Also, Verdi's "The Four Seasons" is not the same as Vivaldi's. Now you know. As in, now I know...

11 September 2013

Right Cycle


Listening to: TLC, "What About Your Friends"
Today at 8:21pm: Shooting bricks at the Mission Playground

At Raven Bar this weekend, it was mostly Nineties hip hop (an endangered commodity) and they played the videos along with the songs. Half the time, in-between dancing, I was just watching the TVs thinking about how I'd never seen the video for a particular track. Like the "What About Your Friends" video. Watch that thing, it's Nineties perfection. Of course, having Miley "Twerk" Cyrus stare out from the Youtube ads next to T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli wearing strings of condoms on their baggy pants -- worn to promote sex education and safe sex -- is just, well. It's something. I don't have the vocabulary to describe it.
I hate Will Ferrell movies, barely tolerate Marky Mark, but The Other Guys has elevated itself to must-see status based on the strength of these TLC scenes, which my friends used to reference constantly for infinite amusement. It's the little things you know?


I'm currently running around San Francisco for a few weeks, for various things. A houseboat trip, our birthday, a camp wedding, a roast/toast birthday. September in the Bay lined up nicely. The weather was wonderful too, for a second, and I was all like "I should come back!" Then on day three I waited forty five minutes for a bus, got on the wrong one out of impatience, and my trip from Nob Hill to the Mission ended up taking an hour and a half. Aha, that's why I can't do SF anymore.

Well, that was my line of griping until I got my hands on a friend's spare bike. It's a Public Bike and those things are beautiful. The Public Bike bells look like oversized Skittles and it's impossible to not want one. I may get one and I don't even own a bicycle. Ding ding.

Astride a bicycle, I can zip the three miles down Polk Street to Valencia in like fifteen minutes. After a summer spent using the heck out of New York's Citibike, I've decided bicycles are the only real way to get around. Anywhere. I used to love walking around in cities but now I'm just like, "bike, bike, bike" all the time. I was initially fearful of San Francisco's vaunted hills but with the right gear switching, it's not a big deal.

For our birthday, George planned a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito for brunch. It was an inspired idea and clearly proved that wisdom comes with age. She also suggested we hand out Doublemint gum as favors, because well, that's what twins do. On Saturday morning, our really hardcore bike gang gathered at Sports Basement Presidio and off we went -- two birthday balloons streaming behind us. Well, after the delay of fixing my rear tire. Somehow I managed to blow the inner tube thing not fifty feet from the entrance. Whoops.

The overall ride wasn't hard, really it was a cakewalk, but it felt great. Obviously I like my accomplishments in small doses.


So far, this San Francisco trip has been all about being active and doing things outside. I've barely touched my computer, it totally misses me I'm sure. Between all the biking, tonight's basketball session, and a cardio dance class the other day, I'm freaking beat. I mean, my life is usually pretty sedentary -- and that's the way I like it.

About that dance class. My friend Palak started teaching Doonya: The Bollywood Workout at Metronome Dance Collective and we popped over the other day to check it out. Let me just say that I have newfound respect for all that hopping around. I was winded after fifteen minutes, wanted to collapse after thirty, but somehow found the strength to make it through to the end. I'm pretty sure I've never taken any cardio classes before. By design.

And the last dance class I took was I don't even remember when. So any (in)ability to pick up routines, make sure my hands and feet are approximately where they're supposed to be, stay on rhythm while trying not to fall over, all of it proved impossible. Still, I tried my best and it was super fun. But so sweaty. So so sweaty. Newsflash: Cardio workouts make you sweaty. Shocker! Anyhow, if you want to get your Indian dance on, pop over to Potrero Hill.

Semi-related, here's our other friend in these bhangra competition videos. She is superb. I don't even have to point her out because you can't miss her. She's the one that's the best.
Last thing, there is now boba in the Mission courtesy of Boba Guys. Rejoice! The Boba Guys' logo features an anteater, which is truly inspired. Zot, zot, zot! Co-owners Andrew Chau and Bin Chen did posts at GOOD Magazine's website for awhile, starting with "Meet the Boba Guys and Watch Them Start a Business (2011)."

Thankfully they now have a permanent location on 19th and Valencia. Please visit them because otherwise the Mission will be bereft of boba. And we can't have that. Their menu also features a horchata drink plus boba. Why has this not been invented before? Absolutely delicious. I've already been to Boba Guys three times this past week, and would have gone a fourth time tonight if they hadn't closed already.

That's another thing I forgot about San Francisco: Everything closes so damn early. We left Raven Bar around two, when we were barely warmed up. How are people supposed to get some proper birthday dancing in around here?! On the ride home, George and I kept repeating, "It's over? It feels so early. It's really over?"

20 August 2013

All or Nothing

Listening to: N'Sync, "I Want You Back." It's strange, but I've never seen this video. I wonder if it was as good back then as it is now.

It's rumored that N'Sync is reuniting this Sunday at the Video Music Awards. Is this a dream? Is this time travel? Am I barely twenty years old and back in college again? What is happening?! I know, what kind of grown ass people are still excited about N'Sync reunions?

My friends, that's who!

See, back in college, a lot of us danced together. Like in groups, on stage, for other people. We were always practicing, always hanging out, and (some of us) hugely neglected our studies. Was this the era where I had dyed hair, danced in camo, and wore giant pants? Of course. It was the late Nineties, what else were you supposed to do? One of our getups included raver UFO pants that could turn into a backpack. I mean, how handy is that? So yeah, that was my last year and a half of school. Dance, dance, dance.

Let's rewind back to the 1999 VMAs, when Britney Spears and N'Sync joined forces for a performance that blew our minds. Watch it here, right now. After years of grunge and alternative music and all that sullen stuff, teen pop was back. Boy bands were way back, everything old was new again. It was the Eighties redux with Britney versus Christina subbing in for Debbie versus Tiffany. And Backstreet Boys and N'Sync did their best to become New Kids on the Block. (Did NKOTB have any challengers? I can't even recall.) In my mind, this was a defining moment, my generation's Michael in 1988 at the Grammys. Okay that may be overstating it a bit. But still, it was real good okay?

To be honest, prior to this VMA performance, I had been a Backstreet man. I think all of America was. They had the better songs, they had the cuter guys, they held every edge over N'Sync. But this particular performance exposed their weakness: Backstreet couldn't dance. And N'Sync could. Like damn, N'Sync could dance. And then next year they did the TV head thing and killed it again, officially leaving Backstreet in the dust. Historical note: How funny is it that at the 1999 VMAs, JC is clearly the star, not JT? That would change just a year later, obviously.

Man, that Britney and N'Sync performance, I think I've seen it a hundred times. At least.

This XX Factor article that posits Justin may need this reunion more than his former bandmates is kind of true. I mean, Justin is real boring nowadays. 20/20 was not good. I don't care what you say. The Thicke album is better, the Mayer Hawthorne album is way better, and if you want some more blue eyed artsy pop soul, try out How to Dress Well's "& It Was U." The latter is from 2012 but I just started listening to Tom Krell recently and his Total Loss album was inspired by Janet's Velvet Rope. Sold. Justin is dones. Actually I take it back, I am intrigued by Justin's upcoming gambling movie, Runner, Runner, costarring Ben Affleck. But only because I'm irrationally hoping it'll be almost on par with Rounders.

The N'Sync member actually doing interesting stuff is JC Chasez. After showing off his collection of bow ties on America's Best Dance Crew, Chasez has been spending his time assembling an eleven member girl pop group modeled after the Japanese and Korean supergroups. I am not sure how I feel about Girl Radical, or their first single, a cover of Gwen Stefani's "I'm Just a Girl," but I'm gonna keep an eye on them nonetheless. I'm curious if America is ready for a pop megagroup.

This is probably nice timing and a great idea by JC as he's basically decided to just do a Making the Band without the cuts and eliminations. Since nobody really has to sing that much, and Auto-Tune is a thing now, why not just shuffle his members around? I guess I'm hoping it succeeds. The "radicals" name is terrible though. It seems dated and appending it to every member's first name makes it even sillier. I do appreciate that Girl Radical is decently diverse. They're like 3LW cubed. Plus an Indonesian/Asian.

While doing some obviously heavy research for this post, I came across this book, Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. I think I need to read it immediately. It's not often you see Spice Girls and Michel Foucault in the same description. Catherine Driscoll previously wrote a critical introduction to teen films, which makes me believe that we are fated to be friends one day. Or I'll have to fly down to Australia to take a few classes from her. I mean, after this Sunday and the VMAs of course.

Since I'm here, I thought I better do a short compilation of some of my favorite dance videos. No wait, I better do this in a separate post because it could get awful lengthy. Also, I just found out this past weekend that the last Tony! Toni! Toné! is pronounced "to-nee" and not "tone." Whoops. I think I just got my Nineties card revoked. I can't even use my usual "But I'm a F.O.B." excuse because I was in this country for the Nineties. So embarrassing.

30 July 2013

Third and Fifteen

I haven't been in a bookstore in awhile, a terrible shame I know. This past weekend we slipped into McNally Jackson to see if they carried my trusty fantasy football magazine, Fantasy Football Index. I didn't have high hopes because well, McNally Jackson isn't the type of establishment to carry fantasy sports anything.

This despite Fantasy Football Index being the most literary fantasy football magazine of them all, meaning it has (relatively) dense text, non-gratuitous graphics, and enough content to be worth eight bucks. Over the course of the season, I'll dog-ear it and probably read through everything at least three times. Sometimes when I'm back home, I dig into old fantasy magazines I've kept around and take a spin through the Nineties, when Steve Young and Sterling Sharpe ruled the gridiron. Oh those were good times.

Earlier this morning, over computer chat, my friend asked what I was so busy with. "Fantasy," I shot back quickly, and she assumed I was doing book research or productive. It wasn't clear until much later into our disjointed conversation that most of my morning had been spent looking into potential fantasy football trades. If only I were so dedicated to actual writing, I would probably have finished five hundred projects by now.

Then again, some of my greatest work has gone into maintaining blogs for my fantasy leagues. Last season, I finally got into this sixteen team keeper organized by a few of my college friends. They had me on the waitlist for years and owners almost never dropped out. Seriously, these guys discuss passing their franchises down to their kids. Well, I finally got into Maize and Blue last year -- taking over the defending champion's team no less -- and promised them I'd be a one man blogging machine. Since I never break any promises, like ever, I spent an hour or two doing heavy duty research and then wrote the first article of the season, a 750 word opus about a blockbuster for Russell Wilson. Keep in mind that this is a fake league, with an audience of maybe sixteen people, give or take. Some might say that my writing energies are all focused on the wrong places, but to them I say, "Who cares, it's fun!"

During the last NFL season, Alex Pappademas, a non-football fan, did a column for Grantland about following the Cincinnati Bengals. In it he talks about everything but football, dropping references to Piotr Rasputin, James Ellroy, and Steely Dan, among many other wonders. His column was one of my favorite football reads last year and I'd consider aping the idea -- much like I tried to copy Nick Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" Believer series -- but it's hard to watch football with no television. And I generally abhor watching sports in bars. Someone gift me a TV, thanks.

I wish I was better at writing about fantasy, since really that's what my million practice words were probably spent on. I've been playing fantasy for too long to suck this much -- at both the writing and playing parts. I submitted last year to Grantland's Fantasy Island writing competition but didn't even get to sniff a jockstrap. Oh well. I guess it's good I failed since it sounded like a lot of work. And we know how I feel about that word.

Also, I like it when Stephen Elliot interjects fantasy football asides into his Daily Rumpus. I'd like to interject more fantasy stuff into my conversations but there really isn't anything more boring than hearing about somebody else's fantasy team. Unless you're a good writer I guess, like Pappademas and Elliot, then you can talk about anything. So I guess I'll just stick to whatever it is I write about...

Wait, I got sidetracked. I was supposed to be talking about books, not football. What I wanted to focus on was showrooming in bookstores. Actually, not even focus, just admit to that mortal sin. Yes, most of the time when I'm in a bookstores nowadays, I browse real fast and jot down titles of stuff that I'll look up in full later. And sometimes if I'm feeling especially lazy, I'll just take a photo of the cover. I know it's bad, because I always do it surreptitiously, with a glance to see if employees are watching. And not the kind of bad where you feel so good afterwards. This is just bad bad, the guilty kind of bad.

Showrooming is ruining retail, it's leading to the demise of brick and mortar stores, etc. Where will people go to read books if everyone shops at Barnes & Noble but buys discounted online!? These are great questions I have no answers for. All I know is that I showroom and rarely buy a book in stores anymore unless it's a must-have right then or a person I know wrote it. I don't know if this reveal will lead me to being excommunicated from the writing community. Are we supposed to not participate in showrooming? What's the right move here?

Either way, I think I'm super good at picking out intriguing stuff on the fly because I snapped six photos and I batted a perfect one thousand. I picked up Thomas Israel Hopkins' The Year of Living Autobiographically because, well, the title. And the premise. Hopkins wrote one status update per day -- within Facebook's imposed 420 characters -- but never posted it, instead collecting it into this slim self-published volume. I only read a few entries but was charmed by the premise and execution.

Then, with time winding down and dinner reservations waiting, I nabbed photos of the really intriguing Inferno (A Poet's Novel) by Eileen Myles and The Chairs Are Where The People Go by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti. On the way out, we swung by the middle grade section right by the stairs and I was sucked in by the covers for What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, Michael Edna's Momo, and After Iris, another book about a dead identical twin. Identical twins dying is so a trend right now, be careful all you lookalikes!

The lesson I learned during my foray into the bookstore was that covers matter, placement matters (all the books I grabbed were face out on shelves or on tables), showrooming is wrong, and um, buy your fantasy sports magazines at the bodega on the corner of St. Mark's Place. Also, I still don't own any of the aforementioned titles because I'm backed up on everything book related. I can't buy anything until I make at least a small dent in my to-read pile.

Included in the post photo is evidence of my crimes -- those are my thumbs. I have a whole collection of these on my computer from all the showrooming I voluntarily participate in. I'm going to author jail. Oh wait, tautology. Or redundant. Eh, whatever. Closing thought: If the punishment for writers showrooming and buying on Amazon was poor sales for their work, would anyone ever do it? My unwitting answer was obviously "yes." I apparently struck some sort of reverse Faustian bargain. Currently I have no knowledge or power. Maybe I'm destined to live forever or something. Otherwise I demand a refund. Or at least a deep discount.