Monday, April 30, 2012

The Baldening

It's been nearly two years since I cut my hair. That was never the plan. I don't particularly like having long hair. It gets in my face, clogs the drain, and since it's curly, is always horribly knotted. For a while, my plan was to simply make it to a year of growth, but my hair was just long enough that I thought, "if I can hold out until it's ten inches long, I can donate it!" A brilliant idea! But having never had a substantial length of hair, I didn't really know what was needed of me.

At Christmas this past year, my little sister, Emily, straightened my hair (because there's nothing a little sister likes to do more than play with her brother's hair). She noted that my hair was in terrible condition. The ends were dead and split and someone needed to cut them so healthy hair can grow out. I scoffed at her to myself believing that I'd just let my hair grow beyond ten inches so the dead parts wouldn't matter. I was at nearly nine inches in length at Christmas anyway. There was still plenty of time for me to grow my hair long enough and still get it cut before my wedding in July (the end of July, no less!).

But here we were, four months later, and my hair had barely grown at all. Certainly not at the half inch a month I was led to expect. It dawned on my that perhaps having poorly maintained hair meant that when I brushed it, the dead parts actually broke off, leaving my hair situation in stasis, no matter how much I yelled at it. My hopes of donation dashed, I plotted a new strategy. One of shock and awe.

Two thoughts informed my decision. The first was that my hair was longer than it'd ever been and that it would be fun to go from one extreme to the other. The second dates back to residual guilt from my college baseball days (freshman year, I believe). The team decided it would be fun to either bleach their hair, or shave it to the scalp. Those were the choices*. Knowing that if I bleached my hair, I would disappear (I am very pail, already), I shaved my head but just on the lowest setting on the trimmers. I couldn't bring myself to go all the way (though I did leave my sideburns, to interesting effect, and the team seemed to appreciate that). So it was settled. I was going to shave my head without telling anyone.

My mom was in Portland for a visit with my dad flying in on Thursday, so I thought Thursday morning would be the ideal time to do it. Sadly, circumstances greater than my hair plans got in the way, but the scheme was solid. I told Andrea that I was going to shave my beard and shower after climbing and that was that. I came out of the bathroom and Andrea was shocked. Later, I we Skyped with my mom and she was in awe. Mission accomplished!

I've always felt that girls have a luxury of being able to drastically change their looks with relative ease (acknowledging that doing your hair in different styles can be very time consuming). If I want to shake things up, I have to wait for my hair or beard to grow out before I can do anything which is why I enjoy the suddenness of chopping it all off or showing up some place with muttonchops (I refuse to have any form of goatee, van dyke, or soul patch. Normally, mustache would be on this list, but I kind of wanted to leave a mustache with my shaved head to go for the Bronson look).

Anyway, enough people have asked why that I felt it a valid excuse to indulge myself in this tale.
So much hair to grab.

I was a little nervous my head dents would look weird.

*I've always found these efforts at team unity to be kind of pointless. You already where the same clothes (called a uniform, of all things...). You're already united in a common cause. Why do teams feel compelled to go even further? 

Sex and Crossword Puzzles

There are two free weeklies in Portland, the Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury. They both cover local and national news items, but they're really a vessel for what's going on in the city, activity-wise, just like every other city's weekly. I only occasionally pick them up because I'm not really a culture vulture or scenester (and I get enough information from the Portland Mercury blog on that front). However, if I do have time to glance through one of these papers, I'll grab the Willamette Week because it has an edge: a crossword puzzle. Often, this crossword puzzle is on or across the sex-line page:

Perhaps it's naive of me in this age of naked men and women being but a brief internet search away, but I like to think that there's some nerdy kid out there, wholly uninterested in sex but massively into crossword puzzles, who grabs the Willamette Week because, hey, free crossword, and slowly begins to notice the barely clothed women encouraging him to spend his parents' money on sex calls or go to a strip club. Eventually, he no longer grabs the weekly for the crossword, but the sex ads. He is a new man with new priorities. That's the sort of romantic coming of age story I can get behind.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Recommendation: Monsters in the Movies

John Landis has made a few of the most purely entertaining movies ever in several genres. An American American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers, Three Amigos, etc. He's also responsible for overseeing a shoot that ended in the deaths of two child extras and Vic Morrow (someone wrote a book about it). I'm not going to lie that learning about this and his flippant responses soured me a bit on the man who is incredibly interesting to listen to when he talks about movies but can seem like kind of a dick (unlike Joe Dante, who seems like the coolest guy on earth). I've learned to separate the man from his movies (as I'm sure most Roman Polanski fans have done).
Fortunately, Monsters in the Movies is all Landis talking about movies, horror movies at that! So it's right in my wheelhouse for enjoying the man and the material. The book is filled with hundreds of fantastic images be they promotional material or scenes from the movies. And the book is exhaustive! From Georges Melies to Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, it covers basically everything. It also features interviews with some of the greatest people to work in horror: David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, Sam Raimi, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, and so on. There are fun observations (I love the collage of the Monster Carry), acknowledgement of tropes (i.e. Scary Kids), and details the evolution of some icons (Godzilla and King Kong).

Normally, I hate reference books, but this one has enough commentary and visual stimulation that it practically forces me to pick it up. And at 10"x12", that's a feat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Never Trust a DVD Company That Releases Crappy Horror Movies

A result of how I stock my Netflix queue is that I watch a lot of bad movies. I put anything on that has interesting cover art and a fun sounding synopsis without doing any follow-up research. What can I say? I like surprises...

Cathy's Curse came in the mail this week and I was pretty excited for some schlocky fun. The cover promises a certain type of movie:
The promise of a scary, sexy time.
That image doesn't seem to conflict with the description:
Years after his father and sister were killed in an automobile accident, a man marries and brings his new family back to his first home. Once there, his daughter undergoes horrible changes as she falls under the curse of his long dead aunt.

It's not like Netflix is trying to put one over on me. It's the DVD company. They knew that they'd sell more DVDs with the promise of some titillation (and nothing can help a bad horror movie more than great gore and boobs). Instead, I got this:

I kept thinking the movie was going to jump ahead a few years, but no. It's all about a ten year old possessed girl, which would be fine if it didn't suck so much. I learned a valuable lesson from this experience: don't trust anyone.
Seeing this could have saved me a lot of time.

In a way, I feel like I got the authentic Grindhouse experience. The films shown in those theaters often had advertising (or advertising that had a movie built around it) that didn't match the film to get butts in the seats.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Great Fan Catches*

One of my favorite things about baseball is the way the game extends into the stands. Fans get to keep various souvenirs that fly out of play (generally baseballs) or, if they have to give a bat back, they typically will get some signed swag in return. Because things are constantly flying into the stands, it gives fans lots to anticipate and lots to do. Most dream of catching a foul ball**. Some cower in fear (like my old roomie did) while others rise to the challenge whether they're holding a beer, pizza, or their child. Even when the action only gets close to the stands, it gives the fans a chance to steal attention away from the game. These are a few of my favorite moments***:

If you've got any favorites, please share them!

* This was one of the most annoying posts I've ever written. I couldn't find half the videos I wanted and when I did find them, they weren't embeddable because MLB has stupid rules about sharing game action.

** I didn't catch one, but I did get one that landed near me and tossed it to a kid even though I really needed a baseball. Moral of the story: I'm a saint.

*** h/t to Deadspin for introducing me to most of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Surprise Records

As part of my alphabetical journey through my record collection, I've been expecting this day to come. Several years ago, I fancied "wallpapering" a room in album covers. It didn't matter if the record was any good as long as the cover or I felt it would make an interesting addition to a larger whole. It just so happens that two of these albums (bought at a thrift store) came up back-to-back. Here are the covers:

This will always amuse me.

Little about the album artwork leads me to raise my expectations about the music, so perhaps that feeds my reaction a bit, but both albums were very listenable. I doubt they'll make my regular rotation, but I wasn't unhappy with the experience. Rock Killough, who looks more like an biology teacher than a musician in his picture on the back cover, reminds me of the Jim Croce/Joe Cocker ilk. A singer/songwriter with a touch of the blues. There are moments where the album goes from serviceable to engaging and the musicianship is quite impressive at times. Unfortunately, I can't find any samples from the above album, but here he is much older (and sounding a little like Ray Stevens*):

The Ramsey Lewis Trio are a pretty good jazz group. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I think it was more along the lines of crappy smooth jazz or some awful funk, but I might listen to this again** (having said that, I did let a two year old run around with the actual record to play with).

Given the YouTube presence, clearly The Ramsey Lewis Trio are the more popular of these artists. 

*That could be a mistaken first impression of this song, since I haven't heard it before as he has little presence on YouTube (unless he's also a rock climber) and YouTube was being a pain and wouldn't load any videos after my first sample.
** May not be the best example due to the above asterisk.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Honor of William Finley

I haven't been posting much lately because of work and my mom flying in for a few weeks, but this is important to share.

William Finley died. He has been in many of Brian de Palma's films, but most notably, Phantom of the Paradise. In honor of him, I've been listening to the music from that film and it's incredible so I had to share it with you while I pray that Criterion releases Phantom on Bluray soon (why not? They released de Palma's Blow Out). With that, here's some songs (all written by Paul Williams!) and a nice, sad little story from Edgar Wright (and his Trailer from Hell). Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

First Memories*

Anyone claiming to be able to pinpoint their first memory is full of shit.

OK. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but I'm highly skeptical of their assertion. It appears to me that people are crafting a narrative around their first memory just to be able claim one. It's like when I default to Dr. Strangelove as my favorite movie. I don't necessarily believe it's my favorite, and it's certainly up there, but it's convenient to default to that. My experience with memory is very fluid, with bits and pieces fluttering about my brain. The only way I really differentiate my early memories is by zeroing in on a time period. In this case, it would be the time in the first house I lived in (I can't even remember the address... 215 N 25th Street?). Here's how my memories of that house breakdown:

Things My Parents Have Told Me That Feel Like Memories
These are stories that I've heard so often from my parents that they feel familiar and intimate like memories. Or things that feel familiar from looking at pictures.
-- Wandering out into the snow on in a diaper and climbing to the top of a slide in the backyard.
-- Throwing wet rags at a mirror to help clean it.
-- Sitting on a tree branch only to have it snap and me fall straight to the ground.

Things That I've Temporarily Forgotten That Will Come to Me in the Future Randomly or Being Triggered by Something Related
It's kind of like when you blank on a word or a person's name. It's in there, but it's not ready to reveal itself. Obviously, I have no examples for this category.

Things I Actually Remember But Have No Idea as to the Chronology
Truth be told, I have some idea. Like the time my older sister and I were begging to stay up to watch Roseanne. That happened towards the end of our days at that house. Not a candidate for my first memory, but...
-- Sneaking downstairs in the wee hours of Christmas morn with my older sister and seeing the knock hockey game.
-- My older sister falling down the stairs and hitting her head on the TV.
-- My younger sister falling down the basement stairs only to be saved by me because I was going down in front of her.
-- Trying to make it to a safe place to puke and throwing up while running up the basement stairs.
-- Chasing my older sister up the stairs playing "Land Shark" and her thumb getting caught in the railing and breaking.
-- Racing my sister to the bathroom, losing, being a poor loser and peeing on her.
-- Hiding my medicine under the couch cushions.
-- Climbing up my dresser to get something from on top of it only to have it fall back on me.
-- Jumping off of my top bunk with a friend and knocking the ceiling light out of its fixture and onto the dining room table.
-- My dad getting mad at me for not cleaning my stuff up and throwing my toy jeep against the wall, shattering it.
-- Being terrified of the back room in the basement but knowing dad had clay back there that I wanted to play with.

Yes, for some of these memories, I must have been older than others, but many are interchangeable (also, there's a distinct presence of "bad" things happening in these memories). So as I said, anyone claiming to pinpoint a first memory is full of shit.

*This post is only slightly an excuse to purge some childhood memories. We'll blame my son for making me think of this stuff.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jethro Tull: Grizzly, British, Heavy Metal Award Winning...

...Family Men?

This amazing picture is from the Living in the Past album. The range of expressions is almost as fun as the presence of the baby.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In Which I Profess to Being Glad I'm Not a Woman

Throughout my life, I have frequently thought about how happy I am that I'm not a woman. The crux of this thinking has basically always centered around three main points: no period, no pregnancy, no menopause. No aspect of any of these seems remotely appealing of beneficial. As I've grown older and more mature, I included the treatment of women to these reasons, be they lower wages (ironic, as Andrea is the breadwinner in our family) or the incessant cat-calling of creepy guys. Basically, being male, middle-class, and white is a pretty sweet deal.

Sure, there have been aspects of female living I've been intrigued by. I was always jealous that they had lower standards in the Presidential Fitness Club. When springtime rolls around, I feel a tinge of jealousy that women get to wear sundresses, which look like the most comfortable looking of clothing ever designed. I think it would be interesting to feel what a female orgasm is like (of course, I would hardly need to be female for long to do that). There may be a few more things, but those are the big ones.

Now that I have a baby, my list of reasons I'm glad to be a guy can grow in a way I never imagined before: breastfeeding. The demands on Andrea are completely ridiculous and annoying (for her. It's all pretty easy on me). Basically, she has to stop everything to make sure the boy feeds and at whatever time he desires. There's very little I can do to help at this point (around week three, we'll start bottle training him), so the minute he starts making faces like he's searching for a teat to suck, I have to take him to mom. That alone would drive me crazy. Then there's the other stuff that goes along with it, like leaking through clothes or on the bed and having sore boobs and pumping. It all looks fairly miserable.

So, yes, I'm glad I'm not a woman.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn

Drive was one of my favorite movies of 2011. Great performances (I'm a sucker for Bryan Cranston), awesome color, and amazing bursts of violence. Just a terrific time at the cinema. Shortly after Drive's release in Portland, the Northwest Film Center presented a Nicolas Winding Refn retrospective and knowing that I wasn't going to make it to any of the screenings, I decided to have my own, Netflix assisted Refn-spective (see what I did there?). Slightly complicating the planned marathon of the six previous films of Refn's available (Netflix doesn't have Bleeder), my son was born, so I had to do it over the course of a week. Instead of discussing each film in depth individually (Those films are: Pusher, Fear X, With Blood On My Hands: Pusher 2, I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher 3, Bronson, and Valhalla Rising), I'm going to give mostly overall impressions with some individual talking points.

The Pusher Trilogy impressed me insofar as through the first 40 minutes of each, I really didn't care much for the films. They all move deliberately with extended scenes of people acting like jerks and idiots. Not much happens and one wonders if anything will ever happen. To me, the title Pusher makes me think there's going to be a lot more drug pushing, but each of the films is about someone getting chewed up in the crime business and only tangentially related to pushing drugs. In this first film, this was unexpected and once I realized what was going on, I began to get invested in the fall of the character. Interestingly, the sequels follow different side characters from the first film a number of years later. While I'm not the biggest fan of sequels, I like this approach as it recognizes that every person in a film has their own story even if we don't see it. The concept expands the world of the trilogy (and also allows for an unending stream of sequels, should the need arise).

The Pusher trilogy has a very grimy aesthetic and very distinctive look, which is mighty impressive since it'd been almost a decade between the first and second movies. The camerawork is entirely handheld, which is probably part of why it took a while for me to get into the the experience. Because I'm a simple man, I watched Pusher 2 before Fear X. As a result, I was incredibly impressed with how different Fear X looked as I thought Refn was still learning his trade. In fact, Refn is quite accomplished over his filmography of varying his style as is appropriate for the subject. He's clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick, but he lacks the trademarks that made Kubrick so distinctive. I don't believe this is a bad thing.

Fear X is where I first started noticing the Kubrickian flourishes. Refn's shot composition and the way he can milk tension out of holding an image or with the use of music makes the experience of watching Fear X more impressive than it is. It helps that John Turturro gives a strong and understated performance, but the film loses it when Turturro is no longer the focus. The movie does a lot to show that Refn had promise (much like Ti West) beyond the handheld Pusher aesthetic (even though he returned to the Pusher world for his next two features because Fear X bombed and ruined his production company).

Something about Refn's work cries out for me to pair it up with the films of other directors (aside from the Pusher trilogy, which obviously would be shown together). Even though the subject matter is vastly different, Fear X makes me want to show it with The Shining because of the influence mentioned above and the treatment of hotel space and the general creeping menace vibe (and possible slow decent into madness). Bronson, which is easily the best of his pre-Drive movies, probably leads to the most interesting and bizarre pairings (and the most options). Based on subject matter alone, I'd love to have a double feature of Bronson and Chopper (starring Eric Bana). Both are about charismatic, slightly bonkers criminals and both are immensely entertaining. However, the more interesting TRIPLE feature would be showing Bronson with A Clockwork Orange (once again, the framing frequently suggests Kubrick) and Rushmore (there are many shots that evoke Wes Anderson, as well). Just thinking of that triple feature makes me all warm inside.

Bronson takes one of the more interesting approaches to a biopic that I've seen. It's essentially narrated by Bronson (and Tom Hardy's performance as Bronson is utterly incredible), but it's in some fantasy world where he's on stage in front of a crowd performing his life story which make up and costume changes (for those who don't know, Bronson is famous in England for being sentenced to seven years in jail and spending thirty in solitary confinement, so he's not getting up on stage any time soon). To use a hackneyed expression, it's an electrifying film and immensely entertaining.

Finally, I made it to Valhalla Rising which was probably the most surprising movie I watched in this collection because it wasn't at all what I expected from a movie about vikings called Valhalla Rising. I thought it'd be some huge viking epic along the lines of Pathfinder, instead I got a slow, mostly silent exploration of a journey to death. So obviously, the movie pairing for Valhalla Rising would be Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Valhalla Rising isn't a great movie, but it looks terrific and kind of washes over you. The music is great, but I wish Refn had been able to secure Mogwai like he'd intended.

Part way through Valhalla Rising, I realized something about Refn's films. Thus far in his career, he's not to interested in exploring female characters. The only movie so far to have a woman of any substance is Drive and she's a bit of a a plot device to get the driver into a messed up situation. Valhalla Rising only features a cluster of naked women briefly. Likewise, there are very few in all of his other films. I don't think this is a problem, per se, as like in prison or amongst crusading vikings isn't necessarily where one would find women, but I hope that Refn starts to focus on some strong female characters to go with the varied subject matter of his films (while he doesn't have the distinctive look of Kubrick, I do enjoy that Refn similarly tackles a variety of genres). With that in consideration, I'm still glad that we have Refn making movies. The guy's got talent and a different sensibility that sets him apart from most other filmmakers.