strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Film

Hey Folks

And by folks, I refer to the singular. It's been a fairly action packed few months. I was really busy with school in the fall semester, especially near the end. I discovered that the workload and complexity of the courses as I proceed through my degree plan were increasing to the point that I was burning myself out. I managed to pull off the grades, but I felt I was sacrificing true understanding and deeper absorption of some really important concepts. So, in reaction I have decreased my courseload to two going forward. The heavier courseload was predicated by my (I think now, false) assumption that I needed to take a full courseload to receive all of my GI Bill benefits. I had actually been told that by multiple advisors at Berklee, but I managed to get the supervisor of financial aid to weigh in and he said otherwise.  Apparently taking two courses for 3 months would be the same as taking four courses for 1.5 months. I won't know for sure until I look at my explanation of benefits after this semester is complete, but I think it's accurate. It's a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I'm not taking these courses at Berklee just to check a box or get a certificate. I'm taking them because I truly want to learn this material. 

There's not much new to report at work, same behavior from the same jackasses. I compiled a DBQ report for October which essentially was unchanged from the report a year ago. Submitting this report to dickless did result in more maneuvering as expected and he actually endorses the idea of counting exams for providers in the interest of capturing workload. That being said, it's apparent that the same non-performers are being protected and given credit for "other duties" which essentially means they're getting a pass since he's unwilling to grow a pair and actually do his job. I'm not surprised, it's essentially what I expected from him. My only faint hope is that eventually when the contract supports runs out (if it does) he'll be left to explaining why the clinic can't meet the demand to his bosses. He probably already has detailed plans on how he'll tap dance his way out of that scenario if/when the day comes. I just can't bring myself to give a shit what he and the other oxygen thieves are getting up to. Life's too short.

On the homefront, we finally got Aeyong her new car, a 2016 Toyota Highlander. It worked out pretty well, and it's a really feature packed nice car. We traded in the Ranger, so I've got the Pathfinder now. We saw Patton Oswalt and Kathleen Madigan on back to back nights at the Majestic last month, and they were both hilarious. I got a cool one off poster that was made for Patton's Majestic show featuring him as various Star Wars characters. On that theme, I've mostly gotten all the concert and music posters framed and put up in the drum room as well as the upstairs living room. I bought four different framed artists renderings of Jimmy Page, David Bowie (as a statue head from the Man Who Fell to Earth), Kate Bush in a sort of airbrushed painting from the back photo of Hounds of Love (probably my all time favorite photo of her), and then an alternate view of Battersea Power Station (from Animals) in black & white with a small colorized flying pig. I think it's the same photographer who shot the album cover, just an alternate view. 

Continuing in the home decorating theme, I sort of grabbed the torch from Aeyong and attached jet packs to my feet before taking off. Aeyong had bought a Daenerys Targaryen doll from one of the local stores a year or two ago. We had incrementally bought these little pop figures (cartoonish versions) of the other GOT characters in the subsequent months. I had seen an article or video showing various Star Wars characters from The Force Awakens, and this led to more exploration into miniatures and figurines. I added several pop figures from TFA including Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. This led to further investigation, and long story short, I've ordered several miniatures from Star Wars, LOTR, and GOT. This includes premium versions of Darth Vader, C3PO/R2D2, and Rey with BB8. The pop figures are little rubber/plastic dolls and fairly cheap, but the premium format figures are made of quite sturdy material and feature multiple poses, articulations, working lights, etc. 

I have some cool versions of Tyrion and Arya that we've already received. Also coming is a miniature of Strider (it's called Aragorn, but he's definitely in ranger mode with this figure). I also have ordered some really cool Weta miniatures and artwork. The biggest is a huge miniature of Smaug laying on his pile of gold with a tiny Bilbo underneath. I'm also getting a miniature of Bag End, and I've got my eyes on Minas Tirith. We're also getting some lovely prints of various LOTR/Hobbit scenes - a wide angle Bag End with Gandalf at the door, a close up of Bilbo looking out the front door, a wide angle of the Argonath with the fellowship in canoes crossing the water, and a shot of the meeting pavilion from the Hobbit where Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman held their dawn counsel. 

The really cool thing is that Aeyong is into it, and actually wants to display the artwork and miniatures around the house. My first instinct is to keep most of it in the home theater area, but ultimately we're going to run out of room and it will naturally spread. I don't care if this fits with the better homes and gardens of vacuous assholes aesthetic. This is the stuff we're into, and we can do what we want with our house. It's a bit childish I suppose, but in a repeating theme for this blog and my adult life, I still like the stuff I liked as a teenager and I learned a long time ago to do what makes me happy not what meets other's approval. Stephen King made a comment in an updated preface for a comprehensive version of the Dark Tower series (which I've finally got around to reading, mea culpa) that his adult personality and tastes were basically established by age 19. I think that's essentially true. I know most of the stuff I really value was already present in some shape by that age. I've expanded my tastes a bit and I've accumulated a lot more music, books, movies, etc. in the intervening years, but I essentially still love the same stuff.  Continuing the geek acquisition theme, I got a really cool Marvel Graphic Novelish omnibus of the Dark Tower series that I need to hold off until I finish the proper series. I'm on the Waste Lands at present. I had gotten on a bit of a coffee table book kick in the last year which included Jimmy Page's photo biopic, the Kate Bush photo book created by her brother, a comprehensive three volume set of my favorite webcomic Ctrl - Alt - Del and several others. My geekdom spreads its tendrils like kudzu. 

I've gotten some new albums over the past few months. I especially love Beck's 2014 album (yes, the one Kanye had to interrupt the Grammy presentation about), Morning Phase. This is easily one of my favorite albums, and it's gone on the stress reduction anti-depressant album list (sharing space with the LOTR soundtracks, Zero 7, Metheny, Emmanuel and a few others). I've also added a few more Radiohead albums, and I really love Kid A.  I went back and got three Big Audio Dynamite albums as well as The Big Heat by Stan Ridgway. This was after Matt had posted several 1985 era tunes on Facebook. I had forgotten how much I loved that music. This isn't the complete list, but I also added Mozart's Requiem and Symphone Fantastique by Berlioz. 

The past few months saw some devastating losses, but one positive addition. In music we lost David Bowie, Lemmy, Scott Weiland, and several other key musicians. In my personal life, we had to have Bridget put to sleep in November. She was 15 years old, and the small benign growth on her abdomen had grown so large it was affecting her movement, breathing, and she was beginning to behave erratically.  We grew concerned that she would hurt herself, as she was doing things that didn't make any sense. Aeyong was finding her digging in the back yard for hours in the early hours of the morning. She just seemed confused and not herself in the past few months. She didn't seem comfortable or happy anymore and we had to make the hard decision. We had a similar experience with Lucy. Once they got to the point that their personalities changed and they no longer seemed comfortable, it was time to let them go. It's still the hardest thing we've had to go through. These are our children, and as much as I loved and miss my parents, their loss didn't hit us as hard as losing our pets. The silver lining is that we noticed our two other dogs were missing her (unsurprisingly), but we also have grown accustomed to a three dog dynamic since we first got April in 2007.  So, on that note, I charged Aeyong with finding us a new puppy. She looked at several shelters and eventually found our new chihuahua (mix?), aptly named Skittles. She could have also been called skittish or skitters, but Skittles seemed appropriate. She was a rescue and she still has some of that street mentality (she apparently wasn't fed well and has a predilection for plants, acorns and various other flora). She is a sweetheart and I think she knows she is a member of our family now. 

I would be remiss if I didn't further discuss one of the most devastating losses I've ever experienced as a fan of music and the creative arts in general. Two days after the release of Blackstar (on his 69th birthday), David Bowie suddenly passed from this world. Apparently well aware he had terminal cancer, David composed and produced this album as a sort of swan song and parting message, and it's proven to be an amazing piece of work. I can't give the album an adequate review in this space, and neither can I adequately express how much David and his work meant to me. I'll do my best in the future, through spoken word and music alike. For what it's worth, his loss has proven to be just as devastating for artists around the world of every age and genre. Almost anyone of note has expressed their immense sadness at his loss and the profound effect he had on their lives. The number of tribute songs and covers are too numerous to count. I have been working on versions of his music for years, and so a short term plan (which was already in the works long before he passed) is to put together a cover version of "Life on Mars" with me performing all the parts including vocals. This project derived from a desire to put together an audition for the Music Composition program with Berklee (I'm currently in the Music Production program, but want to dual major), but it's also been a long term goal to further my musicianship, production, etc. skills in being able to cover entire tunes by myself. Life on Mars was one of a few select tunes that I felt capable of not making a complete ass of myself in the process. We'll see. 

I'll have a shoe with cheese on it...

‎"Anha nemo afichak orze ma jelloon meshes. Emmas mae fothaan majin anha zalak volderat kristasof yeri."

Yes, you guessed right. It's the Dothraki translation for: "I'll have a shoe with cheese on it, force it down my throat, and I want to massage your Grandmother" 

If you're doubting the accuracy, that's translated by the guy who created the language for Game of Thrones. At my request. Quite the indulgent philologist, if I do say. And I do. Be do be do.

Feel free to use it in conversation. Thank me later.

'Tis been awhile

It's nearly November and I've been firmly ensconced in my new job for the past few months. Life has settled into a fairly predictable pattern. We're still trying to sell the Killeen house, fortunately we have a new realtor that actually has been trying to justify their 3% although the house probably isn't much more likely to sell in the near future. The Killeen market, while being healthier for sellers than DFW is still very much a buyer's market and very much down.

On the homefront the most significant developments (in my narrow minded view of the world) have been a substantial upgrade to the home theater and this year's most significant musical gear upgrade, the Axe FX II. On the home theater front, we now have a system that truly discourages going to the movie theater anymore. The only reason to go to the theater now is for those movies we're really dying to see or just an excuse to do something. The specific equipment upgrades include a new Epson 9700UB HD LCD projector, Golden Ear Triton 5.1 surround system, a Yamaha Aventage RX-A3000 receiver/amp, apple tv 2.0, and a Carada 117in viewable screen. We now have a home theater experience that I can be happy with indefinitely. I don't foresee making any changes unless something breaks beyond repair or until 4K becomes the new standard. Watching movies on that size screen with the new speakers is actually better than most theater experiences we have and I'm not talking about the ability to pause, go to the bathroom, lack of screaming kids, etc.

I just got the AxeFX II last week and haven't really had time to reveal how significant an upgrade it represents. I love everything I have discovered so far, and one nice new feature is the ease of achieving quality tones with minimal effort. Great tones were in the Ultra, but it took a little more work and tweaking. It seems with the Axe II that great tones are just a few clicks away. There definitely is a higher level of clarity and responsiveness. It's somewhat equivalent to the difference in sound between my old home theater system (klipsch center and bookshelf front l/r with unmatched kenwood surrounds and sub) and the new matched Golden Ear 5.1 system. You just hear so much more detail and the quality of the different timbres is so much higher. I don't think I'll ever be an audiophile or tone chaser to the level of an Eric Johnson, but I have a new appreciation for what higher quality equipment can do to the listening/playing experience. With the guitar, it still holds true that the most important aspect of sound comes from the player's hands/brain, but having powerful sound processing that is so user friendly and streamlined really helps the process. I'm going to start alternating my electric playing with my acoustic so I can continue to progress on both fronts. I've been in a fairly strictly acoustic phase for several months and while I've made some decent progress, it's been to the detriment of my electric playing. Part of the appeal of the acoustic is analogous to piano in that it's easier to play fully formed songs as a solo artist, where with the electric I'm mostly working on guitar parts that are part of an ensemble/band.

The amount of divergent interests and goals I have in my life makes it difficult to pursue them all with any regularity. I'm trying to get back into studying Korean while I'm also trying to write, compose new music, continue improving on three different instrument disciplines, working on my ear and theory, fitness, etc. Not to mention I have a full time job and like to chill out with a good movie or book on a regular basis as well. I guess it's still a good thing when you so many different interests that there isn't enough time in the day to pursue them all.

Movie Review - Pirates 3

The same cast of characters from the first two movies returns with the addition of several Pirate Lords played most notably by Chow Yun Fat and Keith Richards (in the role of Jack Sparrow's father, although I couldn't immediately tell a difference from his last Stones appearance, and I kept waiting for one of the other pirates to call him Keef). The story is a bit confusing as it consists of a meeting of the same Pirate Lords, the release of a mythical creature called Calypso, attempts to free Jack from Davy Jones Locker (the world of the dead?) and the battle(s) to gain control of the chest with Jones heart in it, control of the Black Pearl, control of the high seas, etc. I think there were at least three sides in the movie with the British Navy as one, Davy Jones & crew as another, and then the collection of the main characters as the third. 

The problem is that at any given moment one group is in league with another, someone from one group betrays the others and crosses sides, etc. After awhile I gave up on understanding where the plot was supposed to be going and just enjoyed the action and humor. Johnny Depp just seems made for this character and he is consistently funny throughout. The action sequences and special effects are as good as they come and although the movie was little too long at 2:45, the time went by fairly fast. If you consider yourself a fan of the first two, it's worth seeing in the theater once. If you weren't, this won't win you over. I give it a mild thumbs up.

Movie Review - Spider Man & Shrek 3

We saw Spider Man and Shrek 3 this weekend and in both cases, I suppose the third time isn't as charming as hoped for. If you liked the first two of each, then these aren't completely forgettable, but they both suffer from where they occur in the series. I think we've seen all we need to see of both these series now (although I'll be surprised if there isn't a least one more sequel for each). Spider Man 3 - a little too long and too many villains. This movie suffers from trying to do too much and thereby gives too little attention to anything, leaving you wondering at the end exactly who was that Sandman guy, and where the hell did the black gooey stuff come from? And why couldn't it wait until the next movie? I'd say it's worth a rental, but you may want to save your theater money for something else. It does look great, though.

Shrek 3 - is at least visually impressive as they have managed to continue the graphics improvements with technology to the point that some things in the movie look very convincingly real. Unfortunately, the charm of the first two movies gets a little lost in this movie in which Shrek and Fiona are much more mainstream characters, reminding me of some sitcom roles as opposed to the rude and abrasive (and more entertaining) Shrek from the first two movies. The best roles (and lines) in this movie are for the minor fairy tale characters;  Donkey and Puss-n-boots are also underutilized.  It's still worth a rental (in about 6 months) unless you've got kids who will probably demand to see it in the theater. I really wish they could do an R-rated Shrek. If you pushed the vulgarity, sarcasm and exploited the twisted fairy tale idea to its limit this could be really funny. Sadly, that'll never happen.

A common theme in many sequels now is that they all benefit from the newest technology and manage to surpass their predecessors on some audiovisual level, but that is often the only objective goal they seem to have in mind. Look at the Star Wars prequels, for example. They all surpassed the original trilogy from a tech standpoint, but they all were found lacking in script, dialogue and characters. I'm unashamedly a techno geek and I will often watch a movie that is otherwise forgettable if it looks cool, but I'm really starting to tire of the tendency to treat story and dialogue as secondary. Why can't we make great looking, epic movies that also remember the importance of storytelling at it's most basic level?  The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of how you can do both although they had the benefit of a great story to start with.  I often wonder if all the tech advancements have been a positive for the movie industry. A great story begins and ends with words and unfortunately in a visual medium this is sometimes an afterthought.

 

Popcorn season commences

There are some decentish movies coming out this summer, the overwhelming majority of which are franchises. Hollywood knows how to ride a horse until it drops. That being said, I am looking forward to the following corntastic flicks: Bourne Ultimatum, Evan Almighty, Oceans 13, Spider Man 3, Pirates 3, Harry Potter 5, Shrek 3, Fantastic Four 2. We typically watch dramas, comedies (and the less spectacular) on our big screen at home as you don't necessarily lose much compared to the multiplex. 

Those listed deserve at least one theater viewing.  We watch most movies at home and typically enjoy the experience more without the added multiplex frustrations (noisy kids, tiny seats, rigoldarndiculous food prices, etc.), but there still is something special about a screen so big you can't take it all in without panning your eyes left and right. I'm a big fan of IMAX, and I would probably go see more regular films in that format but they never offer them in the markets where I live (thanks Army, no really, thanks).

 

Movie Review - Breach

based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent responsible for what is considered the worst security breach in US Intelligence history. The story focuses on the short interval of time after the FBI had already begun an investigation into Hanssen. A young agent in training is assigned as his assistant to what is ostensibly supposed to be a sting operation to catch him as a sexual deviant with the true purpose of the operation being unknown to the young agent at the time. Chris Cooper delivers another great performance as the egotistical and domineering senior agent who looks at the entire agency and its personnel as being mentally and technically inferior to him. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill and successfully captures the earnest but inexperienced stumblings of an agent in training. 

He is tasked by his superiors to keep track of all Hanssen's activities, but at the same time develops a grudging respect for the experienced operative. The story revolves around the bond of trust that develops between the two men and the thin line the young man must tread to fulfill his mission while deceiving an agent who is probably one of the best in the agency at smelling a lie. The story is a fairly slow paced character driven drama, but retains its interest especially since its based on true events. I'm curious as to why they didn't cover more of the 15 years of spying and Hanssen's interaction with the Soviets, as it seems that would have been interesting to see as well. Overall a good espionage story.

Movie Review - Casino Royale

We Netflixed (yeah, that's a verb) this after watching it in the theater and my first impressions hold true, in that I think this is the most promising first Bond picture I've ever seen. Daniel Craig is exactly how I picture Bond, much more in the mold of a Jason Bourne with the story grounded in realism as opposed to trying to outexplode or outsex the previous versions. Not that there are not some nearly unbelievable stunt sequences and the requisite number of gadgets and toys, but never to the extent that previous movies showed. I liked the fact he had to drive a rental car at one point until he managed to win a better one in a, wait for it, card game. There is one sequence where Bond is chasing a guy through a construction site that is one of the most impressive I have ever seen and it's all on foot (counting the jumping, bouncing, springing, etc.). Suprising, the villian is very Bond-esque with a scarred and translucent eye and on paper would seem like another standard over the top villian, but he actually works and the physical appearance doesn't take away from his believability. The movie manages to capture the original Ian Fleming concept without glamorizing it more for Hollywood. I am really looking forward to future installments now. Not to say that I didn't like Pierce Brosnan, but his Bond (and the series in general) had gotten very stale for me, and I consider myself a pretty big fan.

Movie Review - Borat

I laughed nearly constantly during the whole movie. Sasha Baron Cohen is one of those rare comedians who is willing to do anything to serve the movie and the laugh. If you're not already aware, he plays a "cultural ambassador" for Kazakstan on a trip to America to promote his country. He enters into a variety of situations with apparently completely unwitting participants. It appears to be a sort of Soviet Bloc version of Jackass without all the stunts on the surface, but it's a very intelligent commentary on how perception and presumption color our behaviour much more than reality. To see how a variety of people treat Borat (from both the wealthy and social elite to the more average Americans) tells us a lot more about ourselves as a society than it does about Borat, who represents the extreme version of most Americans concept of people from his part of the world. Having spent six months in Kosovo, I can say that while his character has a ring of truth (and he is completely convicing, never breaking character the whole time) to him, it's all exaggerated for effect. The amazing thing is that no one in the film seems to realize he is an actor and take him as an actual representation of the typical man from Kazakstan. Definitely one of the most intelligent comedies I have seen in several years. Sadly, most people will just see it as like an exploitation for laughs movie, which it isn't.

Movie Review - 300

A very stylized graphic novel adaptation of the story of 300 Spartan soldiers who defended their country against thousands (depending on what history you believe) of Persians who were running roughshod over much of the civilized world. It's a combination of Gladiator for context and Sin City for the look, with more archetypal characters in the lead roles as opposed to going for real accuracy. Not for the squeamish, blood and interesting ways to separate it from the human body are explored here. Still, it delivers on what it promises and it was a good movie for the style. Worth a rental if you're not inclined to pay movie theater prices, although you need to see it on a big screen to enjoy it.

Movie Review - Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny

This reminded me of how Wayne's World appeared to be written after they had started filming in that they only had about 30 minutes of plot and passably funny material and the remainder was filler. They are much better on the shorts they filmed for HBO, and at this point they don't hold up for 90 minutes. I should add that I am a big fan of the D, having their "masterworks' DVD which is a much better representation of their humor.

Movie Review - Children of Men

 

a near future sci fi thriller about a time when the human race is headed towards extinction with no human births in nearly twenty years. A dark view of the future, similar in tone to Blade Runner, and reminiscent of the golden age of science fiction when writers like Asimov and Heinlein wrote stories with adult themes that provoked thought and discussion and not purely for entertaiment value.