Sunday, July 7, 2013

Forced Ultrasounds

I think I have a solution to the problem of states passing mandatory ultrasound laws that force women to have medically unnecessary procedures. Two solutions, actually. 1. The next time a state tries to pass legislation, ask the bill's sponsors to include a religious and moral exception. 2. Stop calling them "probes." Start calling them "dildos."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Eve: Songs for Different Outlooks

How are you approaching New Year's Eve? Are you looking wearily back? Optimistically forward? Or are you living in the moment? Whatever your mood, there's a New Year's song for you.

If you're eager to tell 2012 to shove off, try "Thank God It's Over" by Jim's Big Ego.

If you hope that wishful thinking will make a difference for 2013, check out the new Rescues song "Everything's Gonna Be Better Next Year."

If you're focused on the ever-present now, then it's time for Ben Fold's "Picture Window."

What song fits your perspective?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Facebook Theology, Part 1

Sometimes I simply can't understand what people are thinking when they post crap on Facebook. Here's this morning's version:

What They Probably Thought When They Shared This Image: "Ooo... this mentions God! I like God! And it's upbeat, too. If I share this on Facebook, that will really cheer up everybody who's having a bad day!"

What It Made Me Want to Do: I want to comment on this post 100 times. The first 99 times would be links to news articles. Articles about children being shot by racists. Articles about a cop who raped a woman. Articles about a soldier who shot civilians. Articles about poverty. Articles about disease. Underneath that list of articles chronicling the latest horrors the world has cooked up for us, I would write, "Do you honestly believe that your God wants this? Do you think your God arranged all of this just to set the stage for something good that's going to happen to you later today? If you do, then you need to go to church and apologize."

What I Actually Did: Incoherently muttered and swore to myself in the manner of Yosemite Sam.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Casting Ready Player One

I just finished Ready Player One. Since the movie rights have already been sold, I thought I'd take a crack at casting it.

Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Diato, Shoto: Go watch Ratatouille and pay close attention to Patton Oswalt's performance as Remy. Listen to him when talks about food. Hear how much joy and excitement it brings him, how much he wants to share his excitement with the world. Patton (and everybody at Pixar) absolutely nailed what it means to be a geek. That's what a Ready Player One movie needs: 5 young Patton Oswalts. Each of the main gunters needs to be able to convey the knowledge, passion, and dedication that makes somebody a geek.
That being said... I know this is getting off to a bad start, but I honestly have no idea of who to cast the main heroes since they're all supposed to be so young and I just can't think of the right teenaged actors for these parts. (I have faith, however, that you'll be able to help me in the comments section.) There is one young gunter who I have plenty of ideas about...

I-r0k: He's a total poser, so even though he's in high school he'd want his avatar to look stronger, older, more attractive, and cooler than he is in real life. One way to go would be to cast an actor in their 20s who's all of the things i-r0k would want to pretend he is. The very funny Donald Glover springs to mind. But to really establish i-r0k as a poser, I like the idea that he'd make his avatar look like a classic movie star (a contemporary star from our perspective.) i-r0k would want to see himself as somebody like Keanu Reeves or Will Smith. I can easily imagine Parzival and Aech calling him on it, too. ("Who died and made you Neo?") Since the humor would come from the disparity of the famous, action movie veteran getting trash talked and acting like an insecure kid, my final answer is Dwayne Johnson. I know that turns the name "i-r0k" into a terrible joke, but I swear I didn't mean it. I just like him because he's a great comic actor and his massive size would really solidify the character's poser status.

James Halliday: He's lonely, obsessed, sad, world weary, brilliant, and crazy. My first thought was Matt Frewer. He might read a little too old if you want to hold onto 40 as Halliday's base age. Robert Downey Jr. is another good pick, but Wil Wheaton already called dibs on the part, and we have to play by the rules. Sorry Robert. Wil Wheaton is Halliday.

Nolan Sorrento: This needs to be somebody who can be as good as Tilda Swinton was in Michael Clayton. (Her performance in the negotiation scene... holy crap was that good.) On the one hand, Sam Rockwell is perfect for the part. But after Iron Man 2 (it was okay) and Charlie's Angels (ugh) does Sam really want to play this kind of schmucky/evil character again? I thought about Nathan Fillion and Billy Crudup... but I finally landed on William H. Macy. The idea of him playing the, um... transformed version of Sorrento is just funny to me.

Acererak: This is a special effects driven character, so first let's talk about the voice actor. When I played D&D as a kid, I imagined everybody having a British accent. It just felt more regal and medieval that way. There's a lot of great options, but the two actors that leap to mind are Jonathan Pryce and Tim Curry. They've got the vocal chops and, as a bonus, they've got geek cred that would impress the hell out of the gunters (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Legend, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Brazil...) It's close, but I'm going with Jonathan Pryce. Now, about the visuals. Most of the book takes place in a CGI world, but in the spirit of the 80s, I think this creature should be done the old fashioned way--with a life size puppet. Therefore, this one has to go to Brian Henson. I'm a puppet geek, so I could have tried to impress you with other people who's last name isn't Henson... but Brian is the puppeteer behind one of my favorite on screen villains: Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.   

The Sixers: Every Sixer in the game has the same avatar. They clearly have to all be played by Nolan North. It's not up for debate.

Ogden Morrow: Unlike Halliday, Ogden let's his true physical age show (which is going to be visually important to show how much time has passed since the 80s), but he still has a playfully energy about him. I'd be surprised if Ernest Cline wasn't visualizing Dr. Meredith in Real Genius when he wrote Ogden's scenes. Personally, I was visualizing Kevin Murphy when I read the book even though he's too young. Anyway, the role calls for somebody with a sparkle in his eye and an anti-authoritarian streak. Martin Mull is a very tempting choice, but I'm going to go with David Ogden Stiers. If you don't recall M*A*S*H as well as I do, you may only remember the gravitas and pompous qualities he gave Charles, but he also fleshed the character out with gleeful, almost boyish notes. If you're not convinced, just forget M*A*S*H and think of his work as Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast.

Narrator: Yeah, the book doesn't have have an omniscient narrator since it's told from the point of view of its protagonist... but for structural reasons, I keep thinking of the film opening with a modified, almost Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-esq sequence based on the books "human condition" sequence. So, here's how it adds up: HHG2G + Narration + Atheism = Stephen Fry.

Newscasters: IOI owns a large portion of the media, so the newscasters that pop up throughout the story really have to convey every spooky implication. They're significant in the way the newscasters were in Bob Roberts -- although in this reality, every one of them is like the smiling characters played by Susan Sarandon and James Spader. There aren't going to be any alternative, questioning journalists here. My picks: America Ferrera, James Rebhorn, and Felicia Day.

Max: Matt Frewer! I knew I'd find a part for him!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life After A Cappella

With the huge number of college a cappella groups out there, it should come as no surprise that some of the alums of these groups should go onto careers in music using (GASP!) instruments. Here's a before and after comparison of four of the best.

Sara Bareilles

Back in College

Before she became the newest judge on The Sing-Off, Sara Bareilles sang in a UCLA's Awaken A Cappella. The collegiate a cappella repertoire is mostly made of cover songs, but that didn't stop Sara and Awaken from singing her original composition "Gravity." The recording was selected to appear on the Best of College A Cappella 2004 compilation.

Life After A Cappella

For her solo career, Sara sat down at a piano, got a band, and recorded a new version of "Gravity." And a little thing called "Love Song." (I think it sold a few copies.) Here she is singing her super catchy "King of Anything" on Craig Ferguson.

Jonathan Coulton

Back In College

Jonathan Coulton sang in the prestigious, if not especially hip, Whiffenpoofs. Here's his solo turn on "Midnight Train to Georgia."

It doesn't begin to hint at the performer he'll grow to be, but it's not bad when you consider how hard it is to be soulful when you're surrounded by men in tuxedos (white tie, no less.)

Life After A Cappella

Jonathan Coulton is a reveared singer-songwriter. Many of the songs are noteworthy for their nerdy sense of humor, but he doesn't write throw-away novelty songs--the songs are built on a very real emotional foundation.

Coulton rise to fame happened while he was doing a project where he'd record and release a song every week for a year. Given his a cappella experience, it makes sense that his homemade tracks would feature great vocal harmonies, but don't forget that he's also a multi-instrumentalist. He played almost all of the parts on the Thing-A-Week songs.

Coulton is currently recording a new studio album -- produced by TMBG's John Flansburgh -- with a full band.

John Legend

Back in College

John Legend used to sing with a pop/jazz group at the University of Pennsylvania called The Counterparts. His solos on songs like Joan Osbourn's "One of Us" and Prince's "Somebody's Somebody" made it clear that he was a talent worth watching. Here's his version of "We Can Work It Out" (in the footprints of Stevie Wonder's cover version.)

Life After A Cappella

How good is this guy? He changed his last name to "Legend" (his real name is John Stephens) and absolutely nobody thinks it was an act of hubris.

Adam Gardner
Back in College

Adam Gardner sang in the Tufts Beelzebubs.

Life After A Cappella

You may know Adam as one of the singers and guitarists of the band Guster. Like the Beelzebubs, Guster was also a founded by Tufts students.

Gabriel Mann

Back in College

Gabriel Mann sang with Off the Beat from the University of Pennsylvania. During this time, he was well regarded for his inventive and extremely influential arrangements. While the Beelzebubs (especially Deke Sharon) are known for having taught college groups how to sing like rock stars, Gabe was credited for introducing an alternative sound to the scene through the use of complex charts and sylables that were more suitable to Pearl Jam covers than than the traditional "Ba," "Da," "Doo," and "Dum" sounds.

Life After A Cappella

Gabriel Mann has released several records as a solo artist. Most recently, he joined the quartet The Rescues.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

The fully instrumented songs by the former collegiate a cappella singers... are now getting covered by a cappella groups. To give you just a taste, here's The Rescue's song "Crazy Ever After" as covered by the Socal Vocals.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's Not Funny, Part 2

A quick update on Tuesdays post. I predicted Jay Leno would do the wrong thing. I just watched the monologue online. For a moment, I thought I would be proven wrong. Sadly, I was not. Somebody was assaulted, mutilated, and almost killed... but there was a penis joke to be made, so naturally Jay had to make it.

I'll say it again: It's not funny.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's Not Funny

Today a story broke about a criminal who drugged their victim and tied them up. While the victim was waking up, the attacker took a knife and cut off part of the victim's body and proceeded to mutilate it.

Does that horrify you? Can you imagine how terrified the victim must have felt? Can you see the blood? Can you comprehend the physical pain?

The victim was a man. The criminal was his wife. The body part was his penis.

Is it funny now? If you have a husband, would you laugh and say "I'm going to take a knife and mutilate your body and maybe watch you bleed to death"?

Perhaps you've already heard this story on Facebook or maybe a friend e-mailed you a link. If so, make no mistake--it wasn't because somebody wanted to call your attention to the horrors of the world or to raise awareness for domestic violence. You heard about it because somebody thought it was funny.

Of course, the story doesn't open with a graphic description of the attack. The lead is "Woman Cuts Off Husband's Penis." It's stripped of the graphic truth and boiled down to two ideas:
  1. Penis. Ha ha ha.
  2. Men aren't always the ideal husbands. Ha ha ha.
There is nothing about this that's funny. But that won't stop the media from treating it like there is. Even when you see this on the evening news and they deliver the story with a straight face, you know they like the story because they simply like talking about titillating things.

And if you stick around after the news, I guarantee you that Jay Leno will be making actual attempts to get laughs from this. I hope he doesn't. I hope he has the common decency to realize that domestic violence, torture, vivisection, and attempted murder aren't funny. Does anybody think he'll do the right thing? Yeah, me neither.

But you can. When you see the e-mail about the assault land in your inbox, don't forward it to your friends like it's a good joke. When you see a link on Facebook, just type the following as your comment: It's not funny.

Monday, July 11, 2011

As mentioned earlier, here's Ben Folds' audience participation recording of Working Day!

Yeah, I really like this song.