Too Many Curses

Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez

by A. Lee Martinez

Martinez wrote another book I enjoyed quite a bit, Gil’s All Fright Diner, which also focuses on a place that’s menaced by the occult.  Too Many Curses follows the adventures of Nelly, a Kobold servant of an evil wizard.  When the wizard dies, Nelly has to figure out to do with the malevolent castle she’s left caring for.

Martinez weaves an enjoyable story with likable characters and lots of little amusing tidbits.  He takes jabs at the stereotypes of the sword-and-sorcery genre, with monsters like “The Monster That Should Not Be” and “The Door At The End of The Hall.”  But the book develops a more complex and amusing plotline than these jokes would imply.  We can’t help but like Nelly as she bustles about the castle minding the monsters and cursed souls.  Martinez also weaves in a few narrative threads that serve nicely to move the plot forward.

Too Many Curses reads quickly and without much weight, but this isn’t a bad thing.  Its value comes in the surprisingly touching story that hides between the goofy jokes and silly characters.  I’m looking forward to reading Martinez’s other work.

Black Friday, in music!

The Creative Commons experiment is my at-school desk music.  At home, I’m still continuing my progress through all my music in alphabetical order.  Here’s the most recent:

  • 2: Trailer Trash – A twangy, folksy country band with a local Minneapolis bent.  I got these CDs as part of my dad’s collection, and they’ve grown on me despite the description I gave them at the beginning of this entry.  Much later, after I’d come to think of them as music I listened to, my mom mentioned going to one of their shows at a bar.  Sigh.
  • 2: U2 – I like U2 a lot and simultaneously think I don’t like them enough.  One of my friends from high school (a regular reader — Hey HT!) had an encyclopedic knowledge of U2 back before I’d listened to anything that wasn’t on the radio.  Both albums that I have were gifts, and I feel like I should go buy Joshua Tree just to up my cred a bit.  As much as any U2 album relates to cred.
  • 1: Van Halen – my dad’s collection again.  “Hot for Teacher” amuses me.
  • 5: Van Morrison – Brown-eyed girl aside, this guy is trippy.  Two of the CDs I have are from the “New York Sessions” album, and they are WEIRD.  He’s got a song called “T.B. Sheets,” about the bed-sheets from someone suffering from T.B.  He talks about their smell.  And that’s not the weirdest.
  • 3: Violent Femmes – one of those holdovers from high school.  I remember being absolutely scandalized by “Add it up.”  I’ve enclosed a bit here, but keep in mind that they are scandalous, or really just profane.  I saw VF perform at a festival when I was a junior or senior in college, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was somewhat demeaning to still be performing these stunted-growth juvenile songs from your late teens when you were approaching forty.  I mean, I watched the bassist perform his amazing “Dance, M-Fers, Dance” song and then step off stage to hold his elementary-school age daughter. (NSFW Clip of Add It Up)
  • 1: The Wallflowers – “One Headlight” punctuates a one-week trip to South Padre Island I took in my sophomore year of college.  I’ll write about it another time, as it deserves its own entry.  But Jakob Dylan’s song, all the rage at the time, became a kind of musical doorstop on the radio dial as we drove down along I-94; we’d know we found a good place to hear the music we liked when our scan of the spectrum hit upon Dylan’s raspy voice.
  • 1: Wayne Toups & Zydecajun – sounds like all zydeco music to me.  I’m sad to say.
  • 5: Weezer – Weezer has followed me ever since “The Sweater Song” started haunting 93x or The Edge or whatever the alt rock station was.  I saw them open for Live.  I played the crap out of Pinkerton one summer.  The same for the Green Album.  All these songs are as familiar as can be now.

You know the holidays are here…

Miracle poster
Miracle poster

…when I write a post about Miracle on 34th Street.

I’ve written about this movie so many times that I’m running out of stuff to say.  I’ve already pointed out amusing lines and bits of unreality, the tiny details that make me delight in the filmamong other things.  This time, I found myself pondering the bits of this world that occur off screen:

  • We wondered how Fred is going to get his home mortgage.  Presumably Doris makes good money as a VP at Macy’s (or whatever she does), but Fred has just quit his law firm and planned to take cases from “a bunch of people being pushed around” — but not likely to pay as much as the push-around-ers.  It occurred to me as I watched that Fred foreshadows Alan Shore (the ravenous, shockingly clever lawyer at the center of Boston Legal).  While Dailey’s not as unethical as Shore, he has the same panache for courtroom antics and the same remarkable ability to play to the judge’s weakness.  We can suspect that he’ll get hired at David E. Kelley’s 1940s law firm.
  • I wondered, today, if Macy meant it when he fired Mr. Sawyer after the “psychologist” started the Kringle debacle.  Sawyer already seems to have financial problems and a harpy of a wife (and a brother-in-law slouching around the house).  Given his poor people skills and the influx of soldiers looking for work after the war, we can suspect that Mr. Sawyer’s family is in for a long haul.
  • Finally–and I should caution that when I suggested this, Jenny said it was “horrible”–I wondered how Kris finds the house at the end of the film.  For those of you who haven’t seen it — shame on you, by the way — Kris arranges for a house that the little girl, Susan, has asked for.  It’s the exact house that she wants, and Fred kisses Doris in the entryway.  Until this viewing, I’d always assumed Kris just looked around until he found a house for sale that met Susan’s needs, then directed them toward it.  This year, it occurred to me that perhaps Kris found a house that was perfect, but whose owners were not interested in moving.  During the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Kris conducted a campaign of terror and harrassment to chase the family from this home so Susan, Fred, and Doris could buy it.  I picture Fatal Attraction-style pet murder and Cape Fear terrorizing.  While Doris and Fred smooch in the lobby and Susan cavorts on the tire swing, some family somewhere else cowers in fear of the man with the cane and the bushy white beard.

The Engels Leren problem.

Warning: VERY NSFW!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q79U3KafaXs]

In listening to French music over this last week, I had two thoughts.  First, I wondered if listening to music in a foreign language you don’t really understand gives you access to a more “pure” music experience.  My thinking for this is that lyrics serve both a musical and an informational purpose.  If one values the musical above the informational, then listening to music that’s not in English (or is beyond comprehension in other ways), seems like a good way to disconnect the informational from the musical.  In that respect, I feel like I do the same thing when I listen to music while I work.  Because I’m not paying attention to the words, I get a better sense of the rhythm, timbre, and harmony than I do if I’m trying to listen to the lyrics.

A friend of mine suggested that this idea of “purity” only works if you value music over lyrics.   I can see that argument.  I’m also inclined to think of my relationship to music much along the lines espoused by the Drew Barrymore character in Music and Lyrics.  Namely, that music is like physical attraction to a song, lyrics are like getting to know the person.  The former brings you together, the latter keeps you together.  This concept works for me.

The other idea I had about foreign-language music is what I’m calling the “Engels Leren problem,” in honor of the hilarious commercial cited above.  How can I play the French music I mentioned on Monday if I don’t know what they’re saying?  Maybe I’d be advocating sodomy!

I give you permission to re-kill me

Bruce Campbell's Right Hand 2
Bruce Campbell's Right Hand 2

Stacy takes the position at the head of list of weird films I’ve seen in the last year, and probably takes a position among the top five or ten weird films I’ve ever seen. The film has a three-part plot stemming from the premise: that all young women die of a mysterious disease sometime between the ages of 15 and 17, then reanimate as flesh-eating zombies–called Stacies–who can only be killed by being dismembered into 156 pieces.

  1. A scientist and his military bunker full of support staff are researching the Stacy phenomenon and trying to find a cure.
  2. A group of three young women are working to earn the 1,000,000 yen needed to hire a celebrity Stacy-killer to “re-kill” them after they reanimate.
  3. A puppeteer meets and befriends a young woman in “Late Stage Happiness,” a two-week mania that preceeds Stacy-fication. She has asked him to “re-kill” her.

The film’s plot is trippy enough, with horrifying gore effects involving wiggling bits of bodies and lots of blood everywhere. But on top of that, we have trippy Japanese ads (as in the image above, for home chain saws in the “Bruce Campbell’s Right Hand” line, we have zombies who give off a blue fairy dust that makes their victims docile, and we have a strange group of zombie-killing soldiers called Romeros.

But then on top of it, there are some secondary ideas about the Stacies being motivated not by hatred or hunger, but by love, and a strange end to the film that suggests a post-war world in which humans and Stacies co-exist and intermarry. That’s right, I said intermarry. I’m not sure what else to say about this film except that it is strange, strange, strange.

Music Monday

Salut ca va?
Salut ca va?

The Pierre Richard’s Family, Salut ça va?

Billing itself with keywords “rock punk disco ska musette,” I expected something a bit heavier, with less accordion.  Then their ID3 tag in iTunes comes up with the genre blues, which absolutely doesn’t fit.   These songs bounce along with what I assume is whimsy, with a hint of Dead Milkmen spoken-word growl.  A few of the songs, like “Un homme complexé,” “Help me,” and “Bourré” have solid hooks that are very enjoyable.  “En Normandie” zips along enjoyably, while “Truc à l’arrache” has a jaunty electric-guitar trio feel to it.  My favorite song from the album is “Teenagers,”  whose hilarious casio underbeat and hyper eighties “Mickey” feel makes me smile each time it comes around.  In tone, though, it’s pretty different than much of the album.   The Pierre Richard’s Family develops a wide range of tracks, from the downright goofy to upbeat songs bordering on the music I’d expect to  hear from a whimsical punk or ska band.

Rating: Worth listening to a few tracks.

cover-the-wind-whistles-window-sills
Window Sills

The Wind Whistles, window sills

I really like this album.  The Wind Whistles has a light, poppy sound, reminiscent of the Kimya Dawson songs from Juno in which she sings along with other folks.  Each of the songs has a good melody, and as I skipped from one to the next, I found myself saying “Oh yeah, I like this track too!” with nearly every song.  This whole album will definitely enter my music rotation/collection.

In particular, “Gold Fever” works really well, leading off the album with a defining sound that appears in nearly every song, but with variations.  The dark songs like “Devil’s Cauldron” are moody and atmospheric, while the light ones–particularly the Belle and Sebastian-like “Ballad of a Jailbreak wedding”–are just lovely to listen to.  I’m not as keen on the slower songs, like “River,” and the feedback/distortion in “Where does the Garbage go?” turns me off.  My favorite song is “Good Friends won’t Rip you Off,” a song that gets in your head and gets you out there to tell others about the album.

Rating: Worth downloading the whole album.

Alphabet Meme

So Brian tagged me with this meme from Blog Cabins:

The Rules

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter “A” and the word “The” do not count as the beginning of a film’s title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don’t know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under “R,” not “S” as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with “S.” Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under “R,” not “I” as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under “L” and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under “C,” as that’s what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number’s word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under “T.”

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type “alphabet meme” into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you’re selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

Brian writes quite eloquently about the value of this exercise as a way to think categories and ideas. As a fellow fan of Robert Ray’s methods and writing, I’m equally enamored of the task, and rely on Brian’s conversation about it to support my own.

I think he put more thought into the list than I am planning to. The context of “movies I like” seems implied, but the rules don’t actually say how to pick the movie for each letter. I’m also trying to limit it to movies in my collection. I couldn’t come up with a movie I own that starts with Q, so I put in one I would like to own.

So here’s the list:

  • Apocalypse Now
  • Brazil
  • City of Lost Children
  • Diner
  • Enemy of the State
  • Fever Pitch
  • Godfather, The
  • High Fidelity
  • In the Line of Fire
  • Jerk, The
  • Killing, The
  • Limbo
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Office Space
  • Paper, The
  • Quiz Show
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer
  • Trouble with Harry, The
  • UHF
  • V for Vendetta
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • X-Men
  • Yes Men
  • Zero Effect

The Harvest

The Human Artifact blurps its way into orbit
The Human Artifact blurps its way into orbit

by Robert Charles Wilson

A moon-sized alien object appears in the sky over Earth and hangs out, silently orbiting, for two years.  Then, suddenly, every person on the planet is offered a chance to become immortal.  One in ten thousand refuse the offer.  This book is the story of what happens afterward.

Wilson does a good job mixing individual motivations and experiences with the larger questions and results of a worldwide change like this.  He doesn’t dive too much into the science of it, but he does posit small machines (neocytes) that transfer the humans to the new “artifact” being built to take Earthlings into space.  There’s a bit of discussion, too, about how they build the artifact, but only in as much as it allows him to create the world the survivors have to live in.

  • I like the mix of personalities and characters in the story.  It’s a bit challenging to think about what you’d do in that situation, since all but two or three of the recurring characters choose not to take immortality–we’re inclined to agree with their ideas.  But these are 1 in 10,000.  We’d most likely be in the 10,000.
  • I was particularly interested in Wilson’s ideas about how bad people (murderers and jerks alike) would come to acknowledge how they’d been on Earth and what misery they’d caused.
  • The story creates an almost-entirely absent alien species who intervene via machines.  They build machines to purify water and run electricity, and other machines, called helpers, that appear in each town and “help” people figure out where to go and what to do.  At the same time, the aliens terraform Earth to try and undo some of the destruction we’ve wrought in the last few centuries.  This causes massive storms and other trouble that increases the dramatic tension for our characters.

Not too amazing, but another enjoyable outing from R.C. Wilson.  Nicely done.

See also: Darwinia

On making “friends”

Myspace: I never use it, so most of my friend requests are from mysterious women overseas who are just looking for someone to love.  And to visit their private porn page.  REJECTED.

Facebook: most of my friend requests are either students or college friends I haven’t heard from in years.  I accept nearly every request as long as I really know the person.  I’ve turned down a few strangers, but only after they fail to respond to my “do we know each other” message.  ACCEPTED

Jamendo: I’ve just joined this music site, and there must be some script people use to troll for friends.  I’ve gotten several friend requests already.  Since I’m on the site to try and find new music, I accept all requests.  So far, though, I’ve only gotten one PM, which was urging me to try out a band whose music sounds like house music I’d expect to hear at a trendy-five-minutes-ago bar.  I politely told the person that their music wasn’t to my taste. ACCEPTED.

Linked-in: Again, if I know the person, I usually accept them.  ACCEPTED.

Twitter: I haven’t had any stranger “follow” notifications yet, but I do reciprocate when people follow me.  RECIPROCATED.

On The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid

Avery’s been watching The Little Mermaid a lot lately, and I’ve come to notice a few things about it, nearly all of them bothersome and disturbing.  But first, her observations:

  • After Triton destroys Ariel’s humania collection, Avery turns to me and says “Her daddy broke her stuff.  She’s sad.”
  • Avery correctly identifies Ursela as “The Bad Guy.  She’s mean.”
  • Avery has started dancing to “Under the Sea.”

Okay, now my observations:

  • Ariel is shockingly thin. Anorexic even.  Look at those bony arms.  Ugh.  Add to that her shockingly reckless behavior (things work out okay, but not for anything she did) and her defiance of authority, and I’m pretty frightened of the message Avery gets from this film.
  • The film enacts a classic political marriage.  Triton and Prince Eric’s father certainly must recognize the political value of this wedding: an alliance between the Mer-people and the sea-faring folk of Eric’s kingdom.  Can you imagine the situation if Eric’s folk got in a war with another country?  “My father-in-law controls the ocean. Good luck with your shipping.”  It appears even more feudal when we realize that King Triton and Eric appear never to have spoken to one another (hence that creepy bow at the end of the film).  We can also see that Ursela was right — Eric did fall for Ariel without ever hearing her talk.
  • Ariel got pretty damn lucky with the way things worked out.  If she had enticed Eric to kiss her, she never would have gotten her voice back.
  • Speaking of politics, Sebastian’s jolly “Under the Sea” song reflects the myopic view of the courtly life.  He sings about how the sea is better than being on land, because being on land means fish get eaten.  What? How does he think the majority of fish in Triton’s kingdom get their sustenance?  He lives a pampered life in Triton’s palace and imagines the sea to be a safe wonderland.
  • The love story in this film is really a Romeo and Juliet ripoff.  Eric wants to marry a peasant girl, Ariel wants to marry a human.  They don’t actually know one another enough to really be in love.  They’re in the throes of passionate lust, and the lust of youth too–remember that Ariel is only 16.

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Awesome moments in parenting

Nearly-three-year-olds are fascinating. Avery is hilarious and temperamental, cute and so energetic she seems likely to explode; she oscillates between these states with alarming rapidity. But we can’t get over how many amazingly cute moments we see daily.

Rakin on Halloween
Rakin' on Halloween

Here are a few from the past few weeks:

  • Avery spots a flattened raisins box in the parking lot at the library. “I throw that away. Where’s the garbage can?” Jenny points it out and Avery starts to run to it. Then she stops, tells herself to be careful in the parking lot, and walks the rest of the way.
  • She hugged Jenny and I yesterday and said, voice muffled because her face was mashed up against our thighs, “I love you, guys.”
  • She popped into the bathroom and stuck her head around the shower curtain to tell me, “Be quiet, Daddy. Finn sleeping.”
  • Jenny: “Avery, don’t stand in the dog food.”
    Brendan: “Now there’s a sentence you never expected to say.”
  • Upon eating the last piece of Halloween candy for dessert the other evening, Avery asked, “We go trick-or-treating tomorrow?”
  • She helped me reinstall a towel bar that fell down the other day.  As we finished and sat back to look at our work, she said “Good job, Daddy!  Nice!

Slings and Arrows, Series 1 disc 2

Slings and Arrows: Ophelia
Slings and Arrows: Ophelia

See also: Slings and Arrows, disc 1

Jenny and I just finished Slings and Arrows series 1, and I have to say, it’s even better as it wraps up. The whirling dervish of the theatre company spins faster and faster, and the craziness continues.

The second half shows us a lot more of the young movie star actor who’s doing the theatre festival to help bolster his credibility in L.A. It’s an interesting construction, and one that I’m happy to shamelessly cheer for.

You’re also compelled, if you have a decent bone in your body, to hiss like it’s a melodrama at the villainess, Mark McKinney’s corporate girlfriend who wants to convert the festival into a showplace for middle-class incomes and round the clock Mama Mia! As the show progresses, she gets worse and worse, appearing more cartoony scene by scene. In yet another moment of marital synchronicity, I said to Jenny that I’d finally figured out who the woman reminded me of, and Jenny said “Samantha Bee” in that voice that makes it obvious she knew exactly what I was thinking.

The end of the show satisfies immensely. Just like a good sports movie makes you want to go out and play the sport, this show makes you want to be an actor. Or at least go to the theatre again. It’s great.