If you read only one blog full of ranting and raving about sports (local and otherwise), movies, TV shows, miscellaneous pop culture, life and other assorted flotsam and jetsam, make it this one!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quick Review: American Sniper

This is long-overdue, delayed due to my usual procrastination and recent return to work. But for the last two days our computer and phone systems have been out of service and I'm running out of ways to amuse myself, soooo...

I can't wrap my head around the chatter over American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood-directed tale based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history (because of 160 confirmed kills during four tours of duty in Iraq). There's a lot of controversy over (and this is my general impression because I haven't really kept up with it all) whether it has a biased point of view because of its depiction of Iraqis and/or whether it's a pro-war film. This strikes me as misguided.

The film is so focused on Kyle (Bradley Cooper, who dioes well) specifically -- how his father taught him to hunt, how terrorist attacks inspired him to join the military, the cumulative effect of his time in Iraq and all those he killed -- that even his wife (Sienna Miller, wasted) is a minor character. There's no room in this tale for the bigger issues -- whether the war was just, our treatment of Muslims, how we do or don't take care of returning vets. And Eastwood clearly wasn't trying to delve into these issues. He wasn't trying to do what he did with his Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima films.

And because of this, for me the film itself is a bit lacking, six Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) notwithstanding. There are tense moments but overall I wasn't very moved. It came off as a little too matter-of-fact. My grade: B.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Most-Played 2014 Songs (And 2013 Too!)

I got through my recent project of listening to every song I own. I didn't listen to them all. I skipped some, I listened to others for a minute or two, and when I had multiple remixes of particular songs (hi, Madonna!) I chose the ones I liked best. I really need to do a better job of listening to all of my music on a regular basis instead of the same things over and over. I reset the iTunes play counts to zero and we'll see how I do at that. (By the way, I may end up switching over to Google Play because my iPod Classic is acting a bit nutty and, with Apple discontinuing this device, at some point I may need to start listening to my music on my phone. Great if I have wi-fi, but if not...)

Here are the songs I listened to the most in 2014...and after that, 2013 (because I didn't post one of these last year). Note how there are some songs in both lists, which is why I need to listen with more variety. Also, lots of ties. In other years I'd play some songs another time to break the tie. I didn't bother this time.

2014 Most-Played

1. Meteorite - Mariah Carey
2. Happy - Pharrell Williams
3. Counting Stars - OneRepublic
4. Mmm Yeah - Austin Mahone (feat. Pitbull)
5. Are You What You Want To Be? - Foster The People
6. Swine - Lady Gaga
7(t). Coming of Age - Foster The People
7(t). Timber - Pitbull (feat. Ke$ha)
9(t). Best Friend - Foster The People
9(t). Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) - Lana Del Rey
11(t). Sexxx Dreams - Lady Gaga
11(t). La La La - Naughty Boy (feat. Sam Smith)
13(t). Love Me Again - John Newman
13(t). G.U.Y. - Lady Gaga
15. Fashion! - Lady Gaga
16. Hideaway - Kiesza
17. Team - Lorde
18. Lay Me Down -  Avicii  (feat. Adam Lambert and Nile Rodgers)
19(t). I Need a Dollar (from How to Make It In America) - Aloe Blacc
19(t). F for You - Disclosure (feat. Mary J. Blige)
21. Stay The Night - Zedd (Featuring Hayley Williams Of Paramore)
22. Royals - Lorde
23(t). Sing - Ed Sheeran
23(t). Applause - Lady Gaga
25. Get Lucky - Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)

2013 Most-Played

1. Get Lucky - Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)
2. Your Body (Oxford Hustlers Club mix) - Christina Aguilera
3. Scream & Shout - Will.I.Am (feat. Britney Spears)
4. The Night Out (A-Track Vs. Martin Rework) - Martin Solveig
5. Sweet Nothing - Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch
6. Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) - Lana Del Rey
7. Applause - Lady Gaga
8. Love You Like A Love Song (Jumpsmokers Club Remix) - Selena Gomez & The Scene
9. Sexxx Dreams - Lady Gaga
10. Pound The Alarm - Nicki Minaj
11. Diane Young - Vampire Weekend
12. Locked Out Of Heaven - Bruno Mars
13. Madonna Has A Kiki - Madonna/Scissor Sisters (mashup)
14. I Need Your Love - Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding
15. All Around The World - Justin Bieber
16. I Love It - Icona Pop (feat. Charli XCX)
17. We Found Love  - Calvin Harris (feat. Rihanna)
18. One (Your Name) - Swedish House Mafia (feat. Pharrell)
19. Let's Go (Radio Edit) - Calvin Harris feat. Ne-Yo
20. Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Extended Mix) - Florence & The Machine
21. Fashion! - Lady Gaga
22. Vocal - Pet Shop Boys
23. Love is a Bourgeois Construct - Pet Shop Boys
24. Don't You Worry Child - Swedish House Mafia (feat. John Martin)
25. Treasure - Bruno Mars

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Three Semi-Recent Quick Reviews

Okay, so I haven't written lately. And out of the blue, I got called back to work at the seasonal job with the state, so I'll be working five days a week through approximately May. With that and the travel time to and from work, it leaves me less time to procrastinate. But I really want to try and keep this going on some sort of regular basis.

I haven't seen many movies lately, but now that I'll have some spending money I'm going to make more of an effort there as well. Meanwhile, here are the three movies I've seen but haven't written about. I saw two just before Thanksgiving and the other the day after Christmas.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1: Another of these franchises splitting the final chapter into two in order to squeeze every penny out of its fans. So there's lots of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) agonizing over things and people but she's not really doing a whole lot. I was amused by the attempts to use her in propaganda films for the revolution, but this isn't what helped the first movie catch on. My grade: B-minus.

Interstellar: Looks great, well-acted, surprise guest star with an agenda, interesting premise (finding a new planet to colonize as Earth is dying somehow) but lots of WTF. I mean, society just gives up on technology? Can you imagine this happening to our smartphone/videogame/HDTV-obsessed society? And the science of it all just went over my head...although I figured out who the "ghost" from early in the film was so quickly I'm almost embarrassed. My grade: C-plus.

Into the Woods: I would like to have seen -- or see, if it's around somewhere -- the stage version, because I get the feeling the film version didn't do it justice. The fairy tale plots seemed very rushed to start, and once they converged, there was still quite a bit of movie to get through. Songs weren't bad, though. For me, on my personal scale of filmed musicals, it's not nearly as bad as Les Miserables but not nearly as good as Moulin Rouge. My grade: C-plus.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weeks In TV, BTW...

I've decided to stop those weekly summaries of my TV viewing. Besides the fact that it's not like there's a huge audience hanging on my every word, I can't figure out a way to make it consistent. Do I go into huge detail about characters and plots and such? If I did that I'd have to take notes while watching. Also, it would be a pretty brief post when shows are on breaks (as most of them are right now). And it seems like it got repetitive. How many times can I point out the same flaws about "Gotham" from week to week? Anyway, I'm thinking I'll just use Twitter when needed.

Just a couple observations on the shows based on comic books...

I'm really torn about whether to revisit "Gotham" when new episodes return in January. I want it to be successful, but consistent quality just isn't there. They're introducing more and more future Batman villains when they hardy can deal with those they've already established. The crime-of-the-week plots have been pretty dreadful, and so much of the acting ranges from over-the-top to zombie-like.

On the other hand, "Arrow," "The Flash" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" are killing it right now. The two DC properties are intertwined (there will be more crossovers), yet distinct. "Arrow" has deviated a lot more from its comic book mythology, while "Flash" is more faithful in some ways. Both shows are introducing more characters (in a better fashion than "Gotham"), basically building up their own version of the DC Comics universe -- without, of course, DC's biggest stars. It would be great if they could work these shows into their movie universe, if Warner Bros. can really get that off the ground with "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." But they've already cast a new Flash for a movie sometime in the future, which is too bad.

Meanwhile, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has not only its own comic book derivations but an already-established movie universe, and Marvel is apparently using the show to not only tie into their movies, but introducing concepts in the TV show that will carry over to future films. It's a shame they can't get the rights to Spider-Man and the X-Men back, though.

The Stones, k.d. lang, AND...

As I explained here, I'm in a desperate and probably futile quest to listen to every song in my iTunes at least once during 2014. (Update: still 3,607 tracks left. I have 17 days left. And that doesn't even count Christmas music, which I don't play the rest of the year anyway.) At one point yesterday, I heard the Rolling Stones' "Anybody Seen My Baby?" from 1997, and I heard something familiar in the chorus (skip to 1:23):

You're probably thinking of "Constant Craving" by k.d. lang (skip to 0:44).

You may recall that, to avoid possible lawsuits, lang and Ben Mink, the writers of "Constant Craving," were given songwriters' credit on the Stones song. And yes, I did think of it. Eventually. But another song popped into my head first:

Not exact, but close enough for me. (Wonder if the writers of this song thought about suing k.d.lang?) Just a little more evidence that it's very hard, if not impossible, to create a completely brand new song. Everything borrows something that came before it, even if only slightly.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Musical Three-Minute Eggs

Lately I've been listening to, as much as I can, all the songs in my iTunes library that I haven't played all year. (Oh, good lord, another year is almost down the tubes...) In order to get as many as I can out of the way, I put them all in a playlist and then put it in order of time (length of the track). That meant a lot of very quick tracks, such as those little interludes (musical, spoken word, whatever) that artists like Janet Jackson put in between songs, or old WAV files such as lines from cartoons, went first, in very rapid order.

The other day I got to the 3:00 mark -- all the songs that, according to the mp3 info, are exactly three minutes long. (We interrupt this story for a DISCLAIMER! With mp3s sometimes being obtained from various sources, there can be a bit of blank space before or after a song, so you may not hear exactly three minutes of music. We now return you to our previously scheduled programming.) This reminded me of something my former boyfriend used to do. He told me that, in order to make soft-boiled eggs, they had to boil for three minutes. So he would play the song "When Will I See You Again" by the Three Degrees, because it was exactly three minutes long. That gave me the idea for this post: the list of 3:00 songs in my iTunes library. And while I don't have that Three Degrees song, I do have a cover, as you can see...

When Will I See You Again - Erasure
You've Really Got A Hold On Me - The Miracles
Children Of The Revolution - Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer
Hello - Kelly Clarkson
Sing - Kristin Chenoweth
The Way You Look Tonight - Olivia Newton-John
Dance To The Music - Sly & The Family Stone
Every Little Bit Hurts - Brenda Holloway
She Tracks My Tears (mashup) Smokey Robinson & The Miracles/The La's
Darts Of Pleasure - Franz Ferdinand
Christmas in Hollis - Run-D.M.C.
Paid To Smile - The Lemonheads
Burning Man - Third Eye Blind
The Fool On The Hill - The Beatles
Shoplifters Of The World Unite - The Smiths
Do You Know The Way To San Jose - Dionne Warwick
Shiver - Maroon 5
Your Wonderful, Sweet, Sweet Love - The Supremes
The Right Thing To Do - Carly Simon
Vacation - The Go-Go's
The Ballad Of John & Yoko - The Beatles
Now That You Got It - Gwen Stefani
Promises, Promises - Dionne Warwick
The Christmas Waltz - Kristin Chenoweth
Favorite T - The Lemonheads
Candyman - Jason Nevins feat. Greg Nice
The Christmas Song - Ella Fitzgerald
It Takes Two - Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
Kill The Pain - INXS
Liar Liar - Debbie Harry
For One Night Only - Bodyrockers
Everything Is Everything - Phoenix
Rushing - Moby
Gimme Some Lovin' - The Spencer Davis Group
Give A Little More - Maroon 5
Never Can Say Goodbye - Gloria Gaynor
Airplanes - B.o.B (feat. Hayley Williams of Paramore)
Santa Stole My Lady - Fitz & The Tantrums
Somewhere Along The Way - Nat King Cole
Give Love On Christmas Day - The Jackson 5
Little Of Your Time (Of Montreal Remix) - Maroon 5
Sleigh Ride - Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra
Somebody To Love - Jefferson Airplane
Baby Come Home - Scissor Sisters

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Week In TV - 11/9/14

This week there were no new episodes of The Flash or Agents of SHIELD on Tuesday. ABC ran some hour-long special about Marvel Comics and their TV and movie forays, followed by election coverage. No idea why the CW had a repeat. But many of the episodes more than made up for it...

Gotham: The best episode of the series thus far. Not perfect. Still some wonky scripting and acting (I'm looking at you, woman who plays Barbara, Gordon's girlfriend) but much tighter. There was no weekly crime to solve, the entire episode focused on the aftermath of the Penguin's public appearance at Jim Gordon's arrest. I was hoping they'd keep this tighter focus but, instead, I've read in the past week of the forthcoming introductions of yet another two future Batman villains.

Arrow: The episode was titled "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak." Fun episode. Love her. (Her mother, not so much.)

American Horror Story: Freak Show: Wow, did this episode go places! Big revelations and plot turns, and guys in tighty-whities! I actually watched it a second time.

The Big Bang Theory: Big sweet moment when Amy starts to tell Sheldon something important and, after a minute, he stops here with "I love you too." Awwwwwwww.

Bones: I am beginning to wonder if I really need to keep watching this show. It's not awful but it's really rather standard. And with Thursday being a big TV night, maybe I can just let it go, or at least just watch episodes On Demand when I'm not watching anything else.

Scandal: I feel like this show is going in circles at times with the whole B613 thing. Someone needs to be stopped and other characters plot to stop them. And I can't fathom a seemingly smart White House chief of staff, who's played plenty of dirty tricks over the years, being stupid enough to get involved with a guy AFTER he learns the guy's a prostitute, start paying him for their "dates" and even shell out money for a place in lieu of hotel rooms. Shouldn't he suspect someone might be setting him up for something?

How To Get Away With Murder: After this one, only two episodes remain until we, the viewers, learn who actually killed Sam. So then all that's left is to find out how they get away with it? And this has me wondering what will happen in Season 2? I wonder if this show is sustainable?

The Simpsons: "Simpsorama," the crossover with Futurama. Sooooooo much better than the Family Guy crossover. Bender is sent back in time to kill Homer Simpson (as it turns out, because of something Bart did that led to creatures destroying New New York in the 31st century). Lisa: "Why must you kill my dad? Especially when cheeseburgers are doing the work for you?"

Family Guy: Another one I'm starting to tire of. Used to be kind of a guilty pleasure, although I don't really believe in that concept, but now it's more guilty than pleasure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Week In TV - 11/2/14

Going back to listing these in chronological order, just because...and Family Guy was a repeat again.

Gotham: Another stupid "crime of the week" along with the usual goings-on amongst the regular characters, same major mediocrity -- up until the moment Jim Gordon is being arrested for the murder of Oswald Cobblepot, at the same moment Oswald himself waltzes into the station to reveal that he's alive after all.

The Flash/Arrow: I have a feeling I'll keep lumping these together. This week on The Flash Felicity from Arrow visited Barry Allen (who, you may remember, was introduced last year on Arrow), with the last scene between them taking place on her train going back home. The next night she wasn't on Arrow at all until almost the very end, when she walked in and asked "What did I miss?" wearing the same clothing she wore on the train. Good continuity. Meanwhile, remember the complaint I referred to last time? Here it is: each week the villain was someone who had powers, received in the same explosion that caused Barry's transformation into the Flash. Well, in this episode we were introduced to Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold, the first of Flash's "Rogues." He has no superpowers, only a weapon that creates ice, but his real skill is his intelligence, which allowed him to get away with a number of crimes prior to acquiring that cold gun. More of this, less of the so-called "freak of the week" crooks.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: A U.S. Senator uses a Hydra attack on the UN (made to look like SHIELD's doing) as a reason to propose a major offensive against SHIELD. Convienently, his brother is SHIELD agent-turned-Hydra traitor Grant Ward, now held prisoner by SHIELD. A family reunion soon, I'm sure.

American Horror Story: Freak Show: Remember those stories that had Krusty being killed off on The Simpsons? Wrong series, wrong clown. Also, we said goodbye to Patti LaBelle after only two episodes.

The Big Bang Theory: Guest-starring Billy Bob Thornton. He did quite well. I think he could have a future in acting.

Bones: A murder at a forensic scientists' convention. Oddly enough, I happened upon some other show during some remote-clicking that also featured a forensic scientists' convention. I can't remember which show it was, though, thus making this anecdote less interesting.

Scandal: This sentence, describing part of the plot of this episode, demonstrates that sometimes Wikipedia is a mess: "When a former Republican president dies, Olivia represents the allegedly assassinator, Leonard Carnihan; who claims to be innocent and he claims to prove it by matching the bullet used in the assassination to his gun." There's more, but I think I've proven my point.

How To Get Away With Murder: I'm not sure which had me more amused, Asher's dancing (and even sort of twerking) at the start of the episode or the revelation of the woman he hooked up with at the end, both of which took place the day/night of Sam's murder.

The Simpsons: They actually did a somewhat topical story, as Mr. Burns begins fracking, using Homer to persuade the town to sell their mineral rights to Burns (for $5,000 per person), until about the 47th time Marge says "Our water was ON FIRE!" and it finally gets through to her husband. Not bad, as later episodes go.

The Goatee Template

This is a thing?

And this question and answer...I can't even...

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Mess That Is...The 76ers (And The NBA)

I'm a little shocked that I feel the need to rant about the 76ers. Basketball is my fourth favorite of the four major pro sports. So I don't watch Sixers games or other NBA games nearly as much as I watch MLB, NHL or NFL games. But this is brought on by a tool named Scott O'Neil. He's the team's CEO. He was interviewed on WIP-FM, the main sports talk radio station, Saturday morning. I was not up early enough to hear that, but I heard a few lines that were excerpted for the station's sports updates at :20 and :40 each hour. In one of them he commented that the Sixers were "fun to watch," that he had fun watching the game the previous night.


In that game, Friday at Milwaukee, the Sixers trailed 82-81 with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter. And didn't score again. Not a single point. The lowly Bucks scored the final 11 points of the game to finish off a completely forgettable 93-81 win. The 76ers missed their last 14 shots from the field and, during those amazing final 501 seconds, didn't get to the free throw line once. After Saturday night's loss in the home opener, they're now 0-3 to start the season.

But Scott O'Neil thought it was fun.

This comment came a day after he decided to take some verbal jabs at Larry Brown, the coach of the team the last time the Sixers were actually any good, because Brown had the temerity to criticize the team's current approach to building a team: by destroying it completely.

Their strategy the last year-plus has been to get rid of just about every half-decent veteran player they had, ditching high salaries and acquiring draft picks and woefully inadequate, untalented replacements, in order to turn into a mediocre team into one that is not remotely capable of winning, trying to maximize their chances of getting the top pick in the NBA draft. Last season they finished 19-63, second worst in the NBA, but only got the third pick in the draft thanks to the league's lottery system of allocating the top picks.

The draft is the other part of the strategy: picking players with an eye to improving years down the road, instead of players who might help the team now. As a result, for two years in a row the Sixers picked players who were injured in college, and wouldn't be fully recovered for months. In the case of Nerlens Noel the Sixers had him sit out the entire 2013-14 season. This year's top pick, Joel Embiid, seems to be on the same slow track. (Added to the Andrew Bynum disaster, this would make three consecutive years that the 76ers' key summer acquisition would fail to play a single game in the following season.) Also, another draft acquisition (Dario Saric) is under contract with a team in Turkey and can't play in the NBA for at least a year, possibly two.

The end result is a team that will struggle to reach last season's 19-win mark, looking to get yet another top pick, and then hoping that their young talent will flourish. And, with money to spend because they're well under the salary cap, the 76ers hope that will entice quality free agents to sign with them, and voila! they're one the best teams in the league, fighting for a championship.

That's all well and good. But they're charging full price for the tickets they're selling for the slop they put on the court last year, and this year, and probably next year as well. Scott O'Neil doesn't have to pay to watch this dreck so he can have all the fun he wants. The average fan? Not so much.

And this is the NBA's fault. Because of the way the league operates, with ridiculously complex rules for the salary cap and free agency, and a draft system that, even with the lottery in place, still encourages teams to essentially lose on purpose, the only way for most teams to become true contenders is to follow the slash-and-burn process the 76ers are currently undertaking. It's a joke.

Here's a prime example of the cap idiocy: last week the 76ers and New York Knicks made a trade. In addition to a couple of future draft picks (the 76ers may now have 76 picks over the next few seasons; you normally get two per year, one in each of the two rounds), the Sixers acquired a player, Travis Outlaw, from New York and sent one of their players, Arnett Moultrie, to New York.

After the trade, the Sixers cut Outlaw. The Knicks cut Moultrie. Because of the salary cap complications, the Knicks couldn't just cut Outlaw themselves They had to trade him so they could keep another player on the roster.

It's the same stupidity on draft night. Unlike the NFL, where teams will trade up in the draft before the pick comes up, in order to draft a player they want, NBA teams draft players first, and then trade them. It's lunacy. Players get drafted, march up to the podium to pose for pics with the commissioner and put on a cap with their new team's logo. Five minutes later they're on some other team.

76ers fans, to be sure, support what the team is doing. They want a team that can legitimately compete for the NBA title. I can't blame them. But I also can't be bothered to watch any of their games, unless there's absolutely nothing else interesting on TV or someone gives me a free ticket.