Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie Watch: Horse Feathers & Niagara (and one day I will learn to spell "Niagara")

I am going to mention every single movie I watch this year.  I'm sort of curious.

Horse Feathers (1932) - The Marx Brothers.  Nothing will beat Duck Soup for me, but I'd definitely watch it again.  "Where's the seal?" won for best visual gag, but it had stiff competition.  I'm a sucker for any Marx Bros. flick, and this was a better way to spend 1.25 hours than whatever else was on TV.

Also, who doesn't like a movie about college football that includes cigar smoking on the field?

The movie co-stars the lovely Thelma Todd, who has a pretty chilling Bio page on IMDB.

Niagara (1953)  - For something so amazingly noir, this was one bright, colorful movie.  As I understand it, this was one of the movies that catapulted Marilyn Monroe to stardom, and its not hard to see why.  We forget sometimes that she's not just a still shot, she was an actress, and a pretty good one.  Not as good as Jean Peters (also an extraordinarily lovely woman), who is also in the movie playing a woman caught up in the noir story going on in the next bungalow over, but Monroe just fills a frame like few others, even when you know she's coming.  Also stars the always terrific Joseph Cotten as Monroe's anxiety-ridden husband on the path to Dark City.  And you will want to strangle Max Showalter (who would go on to play goofy Grandpa Fred in Sixteen Candles) for his corn-fed dorkiness.

And starring Jean Peters!  Who, yeah...  on the poster?  Is she one of those silhouettes on the bridge?  No?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In which I discuss pink Lego for entirely too long

Ten years ago I was in a particularly rabid part of my action-figure collecting phase and was at Toys R' Us looking for one figure or another, wandering the action figure aisle, which contained Spider-Man, pro-wrestling fugures, GI Joe figures, etc...  All toys the store, the toy manufacturers, their marketing people, and seemingly most of customers, seemed to believe were aimed at boys.

A very young boy, probably no older than four or five - old enough to start knowing what toys he wanted to go look at on his own instead of having toys handed to him - was standing down the aisle while his mother stood near an empty cart.  She waited for another mother to roll into the aisle with a child of a similar age (also a boy), and the first mother began addressing the newly arrived mother.

"Can you believe this?" she said, making sure her voice was loud enough for everyone on the aisle to hear.  "They're dolls.  My son wants to play with dolls.  That's all these are."  She made sure to roll her eyes and make big hand waving gestures.  Her son just sort of tensed up.  This was clearly not new behavior from mom.

"Well," said the other mother, more quietly.  "He knows what he likes."

"They're dolls," laughed the first mother, making sure she got the point across.  "I can't wait for him to realize that."

To break it down:

1.  Forget the clear marketing at boys (something geek girls complain about regularly), these are dolls, if that is your definition.  But they're also dolls with bazookas and anti-aircraft weaponry and robot arms and what-not.
2.  These are not dolls in the traditional Raggedy-Ann sort of fashion.
3.  If your son IS playing with Raggedy-Ann, God help him because I suspect you'll make his life a living hell.
4.  Way to emasculate your child in front of a store full of strangers.  In no way will that sort of thing come back to haunt you both.
5.  It wasn't clear what toys this mom thought were okay for 5 year old boys to play with, but it was pretty clear she wasn't too up on what 5 year old kids actually do.
6.  Nor did she notice "this aisle is literally full of people all shopping for the very items I am ridiculing.  Maybe I'm a bit of a jack-ass".
7.  We may not like it from an abstract sociological standpoint, but toys are actually sold differently to boys and girls.  The exact same toys, sometimes.

Pursuing this conversation is, of course, a politically correct landmine, as it treads into the territory of "what is" versus "what we think" or "what a white paper clearly demonstrated" or, basically, the cynical realities created by forces of nature, nurture, culture and marketing forces stronger than your best laid plans.  And the fact that when money is involved, all you have to do is consider that businesses are either growing or they are failing, and the rest just shakes out.  And why even getting your hackles up over this development is kind of weird.

Lego is taking heat over the recent introduction of Lego toys colored pink and purple and made extra cute.  Online and in social media, I have seen a lot of people complaining about Lego's latest efforts.

Monday, January 2, 2012

So, its really going to be 2012 then, is it?

I've been off work since before Christmas Eve, so tomorrow's return to the gristmill promises to feel like a bit of a shock.  I am a bit afraid that the end of the sofa where I've been placed for the past week will become confused to not have my mass pressing down upon it and may lift up and float away.

It was a lovely break.  I saw Steven and Lauren, saw TechnoJeff from days of yore, spent time with friends and family, had our best New Years in quite some time, caught a movie or two and our family Christmas went off without a hitch.  To top things off, UT won the Holiday Bowl (congrats to Oregon fans as well).

I did, of course, damage my wrist.  I am aware that this is going to take a while to heal, and that's a bitter disappointment.

As I am trying to get this wrist right, I took my parents up on their offer to help me put away our outdoor Christmas lights, so today was de-Christmassing the house (inside and out), an activity for which there are no appropriate carols or songs.  The folks, now retired, have time on their hands and I fully intend to abuse this privilege.

The lights are down.  The tree is packed.  Who knows what things will be like in 11 months' time when those boxes find their way out once again.  Its a year end ritual, and I get it.  Its how we mark the time.

Had dinner tonight with my folks and Jamie's folks at our local Tex-Mex spot where they usually know us, but all the usual staff was AWOL.  I'm guessing tonight was their holiday.

I may recognize the calendar start of the New Year, but it always feels like there's a gray period between raising a glass or stealing a kiss at midnight and finding yourself back at work and writing 2012 in that first email.  Putting away the garland, fake tree and nutcrackers becomes  part of saying adios to the year that was and makes way for the year that is happening now.  A clean slate.  Tabula rasa.  As I said, there seems like there should be a catchy song for this occasion.

For me, New Years has always been more about saying good-bye to last year than greeting the New Year.  There's probably something to that, and the fact that I like to be at home with a cocktail when the clock strikes 12.  I am a person who likes to do his reconnaissance before engaging with a new activity or situation.  I ask lots of questions about people I'm to meet.  I pour over schedules and room layouts.  A blank year brings with it the unknown, and I think the only sane response is to eye that year like a new person or job.  You have to suss them out a bit before you can start declaring how great this person or job actually is.  I have no bold proclamations for how 2012 is going to be "awesome".  I have no idea what my life will look like by April.

I am not blue that the holidays are done or that the year has ended.  I've got stuff coming up.  We've got a lot on our plate for 2012.

But this marks the end of the Holidays and a year.  Me watching the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (tied up at 31-31 in the 4th) with my own two dogs, a borrowed dog (Cassidy is here while Jason is out of town), and the usual gas-logs masking the source of the false fire.

Here's to 2012.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In 2012 I'd Like to See...

Here are some things I'd like to see in 2012:

On Cryptids:

  • TV audiences accept that if we ever do catch footage of a ghost, UFO or bigfoot on video (which we won't because, well...), it is not going to show up at 11:43 PM on a Saturday on Animal Planet.  
  • The TV audience realizes that the people who are pursuing these things have decided to divorce themselves from reality for reasons that probably have to do with a lack of hugs in their formative years, because they played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as kids, and/ or they might just not be very bright
  • Except for Mothman, which is totally real

On Comics:
  • Indie creators look at the marketplace and quit making the same five indie comic books over and over (you are only allowed to do zombies, vampires or were-beasts if your last name is Roberson and/ or you are going to do something entirely new with the concept).  
  • On the flipside, I'd like to see DC and Marvel just make solid comics about their major characters (like Waid's Daredevil).  
  • Someone, somewhere in comics makes a first issue that does half a good a job as your average TV show at setting up new characters, a setting and a conflict instead of just seemingly throwing genre bits on the page.  This may mean your first issue is more than 20 pages.  I'm sorry.
  • Comic readers will realize that Dragon Ball Z and Pro-Wrestling are not the be-all/ end-all of storytelling, and we hit at least YA-levels of narrative in more comics.
  • The stuff inside comics will be half as interesting as the stuff happening outside the comics
  • Creators will realize they have the power to take things into their own hands if they can work out new models of vertical integration and a few step up to act like business people (Image for 2012)
  • Publishers like IDW will realize their real job is to reach an audience outside of the direct market, including pricing models that work for folks on the street
  • I have nothing to offer Marvel and DC.  You're both offering me small selections of books I'll pick up, but its clear its time for major changes at both companies.  I am waiting for your corporate bosses to clue in to this fact.
  • You would sell more comics if they were 25 pages for $2.  I'm just saying.

On Television:

  • My cable service will realize that offering me 200 channels is not something that's cost effective for either of us.  I watch shows, not networks.  If one cent of my money is going towards baking shows, bridal shows, home-shopping shows, pregnant teen shows, etc...  then cable may have quit making any sense for me.  (I really just need local news and TCM, HBO and ESPN at this point.  I believe everything else winds up on Hulu.)
  • Someone will come up with a News Network that actually shows me the news and not Nancy Grace and that horrid Jane Velez-Mitchell being
  • Another season of Louis would be great.  As would the continuation of Venture Bros.  

On the Election Cycle:

  • For me not to want to gouge my own eyes out by June and wish for the replacement of our voting system with a monarchy
  • For the unbelievable distortions and fantasy/ paranoid fabrications to be covered as such by mainstream news media instead of being looked at as if the complete distortions have a grain of truth
  • For voters to actually think about what a candidate is really saying and weigh that against whether or not that's something a @#$%ing lunatic might say

Who was your New Years' Kiss?

A little Casiotone for the Painfully Alone to get you started on 2012.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year's Eve from Me and Cyd Charisse

60 years ago, Cyd Charisse helped bring in the New Year!

Here, Ms. Charisse dances her way into New Years.

May your New Years Eve be Cyd-worthy.

New Years High Definition Resolution

Ann Miller wants for us to have a Happy New Year! (from 1946)

My wrist is still pretty messed up.  It seems I pulled the tendon.  I'm in a brace, and the first medicine I tried did not agree with my tum at all.  I sort of sweated my way through UT's victory over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl (and kudos to Baylor for their stunning Alamo Bowl win over Wash last night.  That was one kooky game.).

Thursday I watched the better part of That's Entertainment and all of That's Entertainment III.  I finally have committed to memory the name "Ann Miller", which I have never been able to remember before, but who I've always found very spunky in the movie below (Easter Parade) and On The Town.

Jamie will be required to learn this dance routine in 2012.

Speaking of 2012, it may seem fruitless to try to better oneself, what with Mayan Astrological Apocalypse upon us, but on the off-chance a civilization that didn't have the wheel may have been wrong about stuff like The End of Days, I am making plans.

So here's the rundown for How in 2012 I Shall Become Physically, Mentally and Morally Superior

1)  I shall strive to lose an additional 20 pounds

Because, hey, why not?  I can certainly afford to lose some more weight.  I've plateaued as of Halloween, and I've been trying to maintain through the Holidays.  I can say in 2011 I lost weight while also building muscle mass, so more of that, I think.

It is a pain to buy new pants all over again, but I'd like to live a life as Hoveround-free as possible.

I have a pretty specific vision for how I want to go out of this world, and it is not going to involve getting hooked up to a lot of devices in my golden years.  Really, one must be in shape if they think they can take on a den full of mountain lions and put up any kind of fight.

2)   Less Twitter and Facebook.

I like you people.  I really do.  I don't know that hanging out online at night with twitter open while the TV runs is really "building" or "participating in a community", though.  You know where to find me, and I didn't say "NO twitter or facebook".

3)  Stop with the knee-jerk, acerbic posturing

Frankly, I think that less Twitter and Facebook may resolve this issue to an extent on its own.  One of my goals with Signal Watch as a blog has been to try to remain a bit more upbeat, and I need to extend that to other places online and in, I am thinking, my face-to-face communication.

I don't think it hurts to be realistic or to share your views, but I can tone it down quite a bit and likely have a friendly conversation which I'm just shutting down at the start at the moment.

4)  Get through 12 books in 12 months

Seriously, I'm so poorly read anymore, I feel like an idiot.  I'll continue with a mix of "books I should have read", non-fiction and the occasional throw-away, fun book.  I also need to start reading more for work, which I am not including in the 12-books list.

5)  Finish 6 chapters of my own thing

It takes me a long time to put a chapter down.  Not of the adventures of Kaya, which usually takes about 30 minutes to pound out (and his made me really wonder why I'm fighting writing this sort of thing, as it seems to flow like a fire hydrant), but the Great American Novel I work on sometimes when I'm not working here.

I'd like to finish all the way through before I'm 40.

I did write several chapters last year, which is a change of pace.  I'd like to continue on that trend, as I write The Least Impressive Thing, Ever.

That's it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: The Artist

Yes, The Artist is a silent movie.  Shot in black and white.  A period piece (it takes place during and immediately following Hollywood's silent era).  You will not recognize the two leads.

It comes to Austin on the heels of Hugo, an excellent handshake of a film to The Artist, the two acting as a sort of before-and-after look at the silent era of film, one looking at the earliest days of small film producers and this movie examining life for the stars within the studios as the transition to sound became a reality.

The territory will feel at least a bit familiar to the millions of us who love Singin' in the Rain,  and, indeed, our lead reminds me a bit of a love child of Gene Kelley and Douglas Fairbanks.  To catch you up: while sound revolutionized film, it also meant the end of many careers for working actors and actresses.  In Singin' in the Rain, Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont has a terribly annoying voice that doesn't match her aristocratic screen persona.

Ye Compleate Santor o' Yon 2011

A final Christmas gift from us to you this year. Collected here are the many videos Santor left us all behind. Watch in amazement as Santor warms each heart with the true meaning of Christmas.

Yon foretelling o' his'n arrival

The message of preparedethness

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I have no idea which chimp died

Randy has alerted me that the earlier reports of Cheetah the Chimp's death may be inaccurate.  It seems a number of parties and news sources are claiming that the chimp was not Cheetah.

Obviously I have no idea, so I'll just go with whatever.  Here's HuffPo on the topic.

One need only watch Antiques Roadshow or History Detectives to see how family lore about items around the house can be incorrect or a skewed version of a half-remembered story.   Sounds like this may be true of Cheetah the chimp.

Goodnight, Mr. Chimp, wherever you are.