So did you know that since the reign of Queen Victoria, the last Wednesday in September has been given the name "Second Tuesday"? That's because it's not true. I missed a week. Oh well! Let's see what I found interesting in the past two weeks.
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I love The Muppets and am a big fan of off-beat covers, so when I saw The Green Album I knew I would eventually have to give it a spin. It starts off really promising: OK Go!'s cover of "The Muppet Show Theme" is weird and groovy, although it goes on a little too long. Things pick up with Weezer & Hayley Williams's cover of The Rainbow Connection, which gives us a harp doing the traditional banjo riff and a beautiful two-part harmony for the last verse. The Fray's "Manah-Manah" sounds nearly the same as the TV version, which is okay but nothing special. And then there's the Alkaline Trio's version of "Movin' Right Along" which could be my favourite song on the album: it's a fusion of the band's sound with the spirit of the original, where the band plays with it just enough to make it interesting without completely destroying the song. My Morning Jacket's version of "Our World," a song I've never heard before, is a nice little song that would be easily performed by both Muppets and rock stars.
And then...things start going downhill. Amy Lee does a creepy version of "Halfway Down The Stairs," which needs that kind of interpretation like Archie Andrews needs a goth-style makeover. Another lowlight is a really awkward version of one of my favourite Muppet songs ever, "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along" - a human should not sing lyrics like "What could be better than a saucy Irish Setter" straightforwardly. An adequate version of "It's Not Easy Being Green" almost pulls us out of the nose-dive, but then the album closes with Rachael Yamagata's version of "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" which seems weirdly-orchestrated just for the sake of being weird, and is truly unfortunately mixed (I don't need to hear the soft tisues of your mouth sliding against each other when you're singing). I like about half the album and the rest either underhwlmes me or makes me frustrated thinking about how much better it could have been.
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I have been curious about Matt Wagner's Grendel comics for a few years, so last week I got off my ass and took Grendel: Behold The Devil out of the library. If I had done my research I would have discovered that this was one of the last books in the series, but I decided to try it anyhow, figuring every comic is someone's first and that it might hook me hard enough to want to seek out the other comics. And boy, did it. In this volume Grendel is Hunter Rose, bestselling author by day and brutal crime kingpin by night. Behold The Devil is an examination of a "lost" episode in his life, and if this is anything like the earlier comics then I am in. Beautifully illustrated, perfectly paced, this tale of violence unfolds step by glorious step until the surprise (to me) ending. The violence is absolutely exq$uisite; the first five pages of Chapter One completely blew me away. I will be back for more, definitely, and will re-read this one with relish when I get back to its spot in publishing continuity.
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I saw Drive yesterday and it is GOOOOOOOD. It's not the big dumb action movie they're trying to sell it as, although sharp-eyed viewers would probably have figured that out by the use of pink font on the posters and trailers. It's a thoughtful, suspenseful action film, more along the lines of a Point Blank or To Live& Die In L.A. than a Fast & The Furious. I've heard a few people say the 70s & 80s homage is slap-dash and unsatisfying, but I really feel there's a lot to like. There are a number of very quiet moments, nearly TOO quiet, and there are a lot of very subtle performances that would have been completely extinguished in a lesser film. And when things go bad, they go really bad. Shocking, grotesque violence, with one scene that had me squirming in my seat. And the cast is great, too. Ryan Gosling's stoic performance may go a little too far towards stone-faced at times, but Carey Mulligan is note-perfect, Ron Perlman is fun and intimidating, Bryan Cranston is great as usual, and Albert Brooks is TERRIFYING as a crime boss. No seriously. I was shocked too. If you like film in general and action films in particular, then you need to make a trip to see Drive, and soon.
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After months of struggling to read, I broke into Grant Morrison's Supergods for Nerd Book Club and it is a really fun and fast (but uneven) book. I enjoyed his (admittedly skewed) examination of the Golden and Silver ages of superhero comic books, with a little bit of examination of how these books represent spiritual archetypes that have been with us for centuries, but these analogies didn't really going anywhere other than "Did you notice that? I did, it's amazing." Which is okay, I guess, and I enjoy seeing someone else's perspective on these familiar characters. And then about halfway through, it became less about an exploration of the character archetypes & how they could inform us about human nature and became part-history, part-memoir. I understood why: Morrison felt he needs to explain his motivations for writing, which are based on his life experiences, including his metaphysical ones. And while that fits into the theme of the book, which I won't completely reveal because I think finding that theme is part of the journey,
I think the memoir aspects could have been toned down and the thematic aspects given more direction and follow-through. The book is in some pretty desperate need of an editor, as things get a little meandery about halfway through and almost spiral completely out of control towards the end. (There are also some pretty obvious typos and things being mentioned out of sequence.) For me, though, being familiar with Morrison's style, I find the lack of direction is a trap he sometimes finds himself in, and I was able to climb out of it with him and bring something worthwhile along with me. So I ended up liking it and will probably re-read it in the next couple of years, but I would be really interested in a non-fan's perspective on the book. I don't know if it would be easy to follow or impactful for someone who doesn't have strong connections to the characters or the writer like I do.
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Two weekends ago I went to visit a friend and we had a marathon of all 25 episodes of the first season of Community Season 1. That marks the seventh time I've gone through the first season in under 12 months. Which probably sounds silly but it really is that good. I noticed jokes and references this seventh time that had completely passed me by the first time, which means that either a) I am not very observant or b) these are some amazingly great episodes. I would like to think that the answer is b). Regardless: if you haven't seen Community, you really should. It is one of only a handful of shows that represent the pinnacle of television comedy, and I have no doubt that it will be remembered very fondly in the coming decades.
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This "week," I would like to take a moment to talk about...The Playboy Club. When I first heard that there was going to be a prime-time drama about The Playboy Club, I was dubious. I thought that it was just a lame way to grab ratings by cashing in on the Mad-Men-60s-style-chic and parading beautiful women around in Bunny costumes and their underwear. And I will admit: it was partly that. But honestly, only partly. By the end of the first episode I thought, despite myself, that there was something more there. They introduced a lot of characters, and involved a lot of interesting themes: politics, race relations, organized crime, sexual orientation, gender roles, and a handful of interesting mysteries. And there were musical numbers! And did I mention a half-dozen beautiful women? Sure, some of the characterizations were groaningly broad, and the "Hugh Hefner in the shadows" bits were pretty awful, but I thought there were things to grow on. I felt even more positive about the show after the second episode, where things felt a little rushed and some plots were given more time to breathe. And that meant, of course, that it would be cancelled. I just didn't think it would have been by episode three! I thought for sure I'd get a half-season out of it at least, where they could wrap at least a couple of plot threads up. Instead I got three episodes of what was a pretty promising show. I guess most viewers didn't see it the way I did, but I really think that The Playboy Club is up there with American Gothic as one of those promising shows cancelled way too early.
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Last Monday my brother got me royally drunk, tied some training wheels on me, and set me up in his hockey draft. I apparently did okay, stealing some players out from under some of the other guys, and I walked away thinking I did okay. And then three days later he sent me a text saying I had drafted someone who had already retired. And nobody noticed. So I have a lot more to learn, I guess.
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And that's it. More song updates to follow, for sure, but now it's time for me to get on the exercise bike. Curse you, bike.