I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Radiohead Pablo Honey (1993: Capitol)

1. "You" - 3:29
2. "Creep" - 3:56
3. "How Do You?" - 2:12
4. "Stop Whispering" - 5:26
5. "Thinking About You" - 2:41
6. "Anyone Can Play Guitar" - 3:38
7. "Ripcord" - 3:10
8. "Vegetable" - 3:13
9. "Prove Yourself" - 2:25
10. "I Can't" - 4:13
11. "Lurgee" - 3:08
12. "Blow Out" - 4:40

On Saturday, April 26, the legendary musician Prince took to the main stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California. I am a really big Prince fan, and if my memory serves, this was a period of time in which Prince was only playing concerts in Las Vegas. It was a big news bit to hear that Prince was playing somewhere else. But for me it was still a let-down, because neither Las Vegas nor Indio, California are anywhere near any of the places I've lived in the last several years. Prince was preceded by Morris Day playing both "The Bird," and "Jungle Love," and Sheila E. playing "Glamorous Life." After playing several of his hits - "1999," and "Little Red Corvette," for example - and a few lesser known personal favorites of mine - "Musicology," "Cream," "Anotherloverholeinyourhead" - Prince took stage to perform a whopping eight-minute-long rendition of the infamous song "Creep" by Radiohead.

Shortly afterwards, videos of Prince's cover began popping up all over the internet. I remember going on-line the next day and finding a crappy iPhone video with terrible sound and shaky video, and I remember loving it. Could I make out the words to the song? No. Could I make out any of Prince's signature gestures? No. Did I enjoy Prince's whiny scream during the chorus? Of course. Over the next couple of days, I linked as many friends as I could to Prince's cover of "Creep" - I am part of a strong circle of Prince-loving-friends - while meticulously searching out better videos with crisp sound quality and video. But after a couple of days, this became simply impossible. Prince had taken down all videos portraying him performing "Creep" at Coachella, and I was no longer able to enjoy this convergence of two of my favorite musical influences.

As a Prince fan, I had grown used to the disappearance of most of my favorite videos on the internet. Prince and NPG records are well known on the web for ridding the internet of unauthorized pictures, videos and audio of Prince. I want to say that this was surprising for long-time fans of Prince, but I immediately decided to go back on that statement: For long-time fans of Prince, nothing is surprising anymore. But there was a time - people called that time the '90s - when Prince was using the internet in creative and innovative ways for the sake of distributing music. His 1997 album "Crystal Ball" was released on the internet and by 2006 Prince's use of internet marketing of his material won him a lifetime achievement award with the Webbies. But today the only thing that comes to mind when the words "Prince" and "internet" are uttered in the same sentence is Prince's Draconian attempt at controlling his works and his image throughout the span of the world's largest network. In 2007, Prince used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in order to take down a YouTube video of of an eighteen-month-old baby dancing to "Let's Go Crazy," leading to a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that was settled in Prince's favor the following year. By the time the lawsuit was settled, Prince had already engaged in several of his own, against Google, eBay, and several torrent web sites regarding unlicensed use of clips of his music, and eventually against his own fans for putting up sites with un-licensed images of Prince.

To some extent, I understand where Prince is coming from. One of the few things that always makes me angry when brought up is when people make fun of Prince for changing his name to "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince," "The Artist," and eventually to an unpronounceable symbol. People never question what drove him to this act. Well, the truth is that the record industry found some way to legally own the rights to the name that "The Artist" was born with. Prince Rogers Nelson was not allowed to use his own first name without having to pay royalties to record executives. Prince certainly went over the top - I don't think anyone would argue against that fact - but he was also right: there is a record industry that thrives on making slaves of talented individuals. This may be the moment in time that people can describe as the beginning of Prince's slippery slope of image protection, but it was also a moment when he was victimized and decided to take a stand.

There was a moment when Prince's weirdness, which has become a normal kind of weirdness by now, a socially accepted weirdness that is part of pop culture's canon, took a strange turn. Radiohead's Thom Yorke received a text message a couple of days after Prince performed "Creep" at Coachella. He said, when interviewed, that he thought it was hilarious that Prince would cover one of their songs live. Also hilarious to Thom Yorke was the fact that guitarist Ed O'Brien couldn't access the YouTube videos of Prince performing their song. Yorke and Radiohead went public saying that they should be the only ones with the right to block their song on the internet and since Prince had, as some of us might say, overstepped his bounds, Thom Yorke added, "Well, tell him to unblock it."

Like Prince, Radiohead has experienced their fair share of legal trouble. In fact, their best known public legal battle actually surrounded the very song that Prince was trying to have wiped from the internet, "Creep." While I have had a lot of trouble finding actual data regarding the lawsuit, it was decided in court that Radiohead's "Creep" borrowed extensively from the song "The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies, so much so that Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood of The Hollies are now credited as co-writers of "Creep." Radiohead took a hiatus from performing "Creep" that lasted nearly a decade, and rumor was that they no longer played the song because they owed Hammond and Hazlewood royalties every time it was performed.

The question that is raised by Prince removing his cover of "Creep" from YouTube is whether or not the performer has any right to bootlegged copies of his/her performance when the performance is a rendition of music copyrighted by another individual. When I heard of this clash of musical titans, I was immediately on Radiohead's side. For one thing, Radiohead has had so much trouble with people trying to claim this song that they deserved a little bit of a break; they deserved for someone to decide that "Creep" was, in fact, their song. For another thing, I wanted to be able to watch Prince perform "Creep" on YouTube just like Thom Yorke wanted to watch Prince perform "Creep" on YouTube. That lovable nut would just have to give some ground to someone else for once, I thought. But according to the Bootlegging Provision of the Copyright Act, Prince was in the right to have this video removed on his behalf. Basically, this provision suggests that bootlegging of live performances is against the law. While it does not grant copyright of the song to Prince, it does grant Prince the right to have his performances removed since he was, in fact, the person performing them.

I read a blog article where the author took the position that Prince's rendition of "Creep" was actually an entirely new song. Whereas Radiohead's original song had to do with alienation and fear from love revoked, Prince's "not-cover" spoke of sexual revolution and belong through being a freak, essentially binding people together through love, sex, and orgasm. Were this the case, however, I think The Hollies would tell you that Radiohead might have an easy-to-win lawsuit on their hands. The lyrics may be the same, but the chord progression, the general sound, and the song structure are the same. "Creep" does not belong to Prince, regardless of whether or not the rights to his cover performance do.

In 2010, Prince declared that the internet is over. He spoke of the inherent evils surrounding computers and advanced machinery, that the data just fills your head with numbers and disrupts your consciousness. I agree that attention, understanding and even ones concept of self are besieged by technology, and that there are terrible consequences that follow all of the greatest innovations, but I cannot agree that the internet is done with. There was a time when Prince was able to make more money than most in the business by giving away his music on the internet. When Radiohead released In Rainbows on the internet, customers were given the choice of paying any price they wanted to for the album. Basically, anyone who wanted to could get the album for free. Continuing with the notion that Prince innovated and then abandoned, Radiohead has realized that you can give away music for free and still make more money than anyone else in the industry. A lot of the reason for this is because the album teases forthcoming tours, and few people in the history of music have been so successful at touring as Radiohead. Is Prince using lawyers to make him money because he fears that he will soon be unable to raise money by touring, or, as I mentioned above, has he simply gone off the deep end regarding the consequences of his legal battle over his name? I don't suppose I can divine the answer to that question.

Do I want to watch Prince perform "Creep" on YouTube? I think you can answer that one for me. Something's gotta give.

Arnold 365, Day 302 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Guild Index: Season Five

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=b6705281-0625-41ed-b45d-c38f4ed3c2e2&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 1 - Road Trip!' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 1 - Road Trip!</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=dca75875-9924-4215-bfdd-cd526cf5cc9f&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 2 - Crash Pad' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 2 - Crash Pad</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=277ebba3-3634-4c94-915e-a5295d261851&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 3 - Megagame-o-ramacon!' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 3 - Megagame-o-ramacon!</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=201abf36-e2ca-4206-9ae9-ffe97737e21c&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 4 - Ends and Begins' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 4 - Ends and Begins</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=fad91ee7-47a4-45df-8f80-d70d79232a12&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 5 - Focus Problems' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 5 - Focus Problems</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=bfd009b3-2db3-4825-ba1b-3cc546a7044a&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 6 - Revolving Doors' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 6 - Revolving Doors</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=b9d69b75-6b41-47ed-ae9a-dd4c0fc812c9&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 7 - Downturn' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 7 - Downturn</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=41791843-cfd2-48f9-ad5d-3b935336822a&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 8 - Social Traumas' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 8 - Social Traumas</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=6cbea512-0d90-43df-adab-b7b083f4702c&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 9 - Invite Accepted' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 9 - Invite Accepted</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=e638a5ab-20e1-4bb1-a1a7-efaca7ecf491&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 10 - Strategy Timez' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 10 - Strategy Timez</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=69723af4-7503-4078-9551-5bd4bebb66be&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 11 - Costume Contest' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 11 - Costume Contest</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=d2db480a-7d46-4770-bc68-2bee14dd8756&src=CPSmall:embed::tag_recent' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 12 - Grand Finale' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 12 - Grand Finale</a>

Arnold 365, Day 294 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

X-Men: Regenesis - October 19, 2011 - A Simulblog

The following is a simulblog with Arthur of Arthur the Lesser. You ought to be forewarned: there will be spoilers.

I will link to Arthur's article when it is made available.

I have been having a difficult time lately expressing how big and how sad it is that the final issue of Uncanny X-Men was released this week. Uncanny X-Men is the longest running book put out by Marvel Comics. With a couple of exceptions, it has run non-stop since its "genesis" in 1963. Those exceptions include the "cancellation" from after issue sixty-six and the temporary suspension of the book during the Age of Apocalypse and replacement by Astonishing X-Men. But even the canceled book continued to put out reprints from issue sixty-seven until ninety-three, and Astonishing X-Men was merely another name for Uncanny X-Men during the alternate-universe account of what would happen if Xavier died and Magneto continued in his footsteps. As of today, the longest running Marvel book is X-Men: Legacy, which was originally published as X-Men, Volume 2. The longest running current comic put out by Marvel is a book that came out when I was eight, a book that I had every variant cover for. This makes me old. This also makes me kind of sad. I think that we must view Uncanny X-Men #544 first and foremost as a moment for mourning.

The first page of this book is a reprint of the original 1963 X-Men #1 with alternate dialogue and narration. At the beginning we had Professor Charles Xavier trying to make five youngsters - Scott Summers (Cyclops), Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), Warren Worthington, III (Angel), Henry "Hank" McCoy (Beast) and Robert "Bobby" Drake - into heroes. The dream of the first issue is transformed into the nightmare of the final issue. Cyclops has, in many ways, transformed into a Magneto figure, now militaristic, segregationist, and willing to do anything for the cause. Marvel Girl has died a couple of times now. It appears that she may be permanently dead right now, unless one believes that she is likely to return in Marvel's Point One series which, at the very least, seems to deal with the return of the Phoenix in some form. Angel has gone through several transformations, but it appears that he may be the new Apocalypse and may also be irredeemable. Beast has been away with the Avengers for some time, but returns to criticize his oldest friend's deplorable methodology. And young Bobby Drake, who remains in so many ways a good-spirited child at heart, remains loyal to the school and the brighter side of the dream. Strangely, Professor Charles Xavier is never mentioned. When at first I saw a figure dictating the story of the X-Men, I thought it would be Xavier writing his own variation on There and Back Again: A Hobbit's Tale and then closing the book at the end. But Xavier is nowhere to be seen. Maybe I'm not reading all the right books, but I have yet to see mention of where Charles Xavier stands on this whole schism thing. For right now, that is my biggest mystery.

Cyclops admits, at the end of the story, that he feels that he has finally graduated from Xavier's school. In this way, Uncanny X-Men is framed as the struggle of Cyclops and his allies as they wish to accomplish the dream of a mentor. Cyclops has completed his instruction and now becomes the instructor. But did anyone else feel like the tone of this issue is incredibly dark? I got the vibe that, even in his own book, the general feeling is that Cyclops is doing the wrong thing. Going into a reboot, however, I had thought that this book would have more of a hopeful vibe. But I don't get the feeling that there is any hope on the island called Utopia. I don't believe that Cyclops or any of his followers feel hopeful for the world. As a matter of fact, the only individual who seemed the least bit hopeful at the end of Uncanny X-Men's run was Mr. Sinister. (And maybe Uncanny has always been the story of Sinister as well. He's been placed behind the scenes of so many events, after all.) Two things happen with Sinister: 1. he experiences a transformation that I don't completely understand, and 2. he acts as if he can predict the actions of Cyclops and the mutants surrounding him and, moreover, he likes what he sees. After all, he does say, "The X-Men are over. The future? Distinctly Sinister." I think we can assume that Sinister will be the main adversary over at Uncanny.

Assuming that Professor Xavier doesn't pop out of a closet in Utopia, Cyclops has been abandoned by all of his original allies. And the people who remain are mostly individuals who have often been the foes of the X-Men and the whole of the Marvel universe. In many ways, Cyclops has thrown himself into the lion's den, but in many ways he has become just as much or more of a lion than anyone else there. I've mentioned time and time again that Cyclops is one of my favorite characters, but I have a strange sinking feeling in my gut regarding Uncanny X-Men #1 and the following stories. I don't like that Uncanny seems to be the book that plays to the hawks and Wolverine and the X-Men seems to be the book that plays to the doves. Wolverine's criticism is important. If a child believes that being an X-Man entitles killing those who stand in the way of your principles, then there is a serious problem. For Uncanny to continue being a great comic, I think Scott needs to grapple very seriously with Wolverine's criticism and his reason for leaving. Maybe it is too late for a school. Maybe Wolverine is moving backward. But moving forward cannot simply mean killing for the sake of a cause. Cyclops needs to find another way. We've got enough of this might makes right talk in the United States of America, and quite frankly, I don't want to hear it in the book that has shaped a lot of my own beliefs and ideals over the years.

The Uncanny X-Men that we knew has concluded. Something completely different is coming. Uncanny X-Men #1 comes out November 2nd, but before then we will see the other side of the coin, with Wolverine and the X-Men #1 coming out next week, October the 22nd. There should be an Arthur blog up before then, but if it doesn't happen, just stare at this splash page from Uncanny X-Men #544, a page that I immediately put on my desktop background:

Arnold 365, Day 293 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Guide to Video Game Lingo 12

1. Tea bagging (verb) - also known as corpse humping, face humping, or head humping; to crouch up and down repeatedly over a slain player of NPC in order to humiliate or entertain players.

"He won't be of any use to you. He's too busy tea bagging the innkeeper."

2. Bunny hopping (verb) - the basic movement when a player jumps repeatedly rather than running, sometimes resulting in an increase in speed.

"If he'd just stop bunny hopping, I'd be able to frag him."

3. Griefing (verb) - the act of deliberately irritating or harassing other players, often done in groups.

"I don't really want to play any more. The server just has too many people griefing other people."

Arnold 365, Day 292 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jennifer Lawrence

Actress Jennifer Lawrence. I first encountered Jennifer Lawrence in the not-so-glorious role of Ree in Winter's Bone. In this film she flexed her serious acting muscles, probably better than almost any other actress in 2010. Since then she's skirted the line between superficial and deep roles with emotionally complex characters in otherwise somewhat insignificant films such as The Beaver and X-Men: First Class. (X-Men: First Class could have been significant if it hadn't been preceded by Thor. Thor kind of made it difficult to notice any other superhero film in the summer of 2011.) My hope is that Jennifer Lawrence manages to find time for really interesting roles in smaller films and doesn't get too big for her britches. The odds are against this, especially considering that she's going to star in the next big children's book franchise to hit the big screen, The Hunger Games, but I remain hopeful.

Electric Cheetah

There are a couple of things that you should probably know about Electric Cheetah.

The first thing that you need to know is that Electric Cheetah has a seasonal menu. I was originally going to write an article about Electric Cheetah earlier this year and one of the things I was going to rave about was their brisket sandwich. It was a really fantastic sandwich, but if you go there today you will not be able to order it. While this may seem frustrating, it is actually not so bad because of the second thing you need to know.

The second thing that you need to know is that basically every sandwich and most of the other entrees on any given Electric Cheetah is really good. I've never had a bad sandwich or meal at the Electric Cheetah. Some have been better than others, but unlike many of the other places I recommend that have one or two things that are absolutely fantastic and a bunch of other things to skip, you're more likely to love your food at the Electric Cheetah than you are to be unhappy.

But if you're looking for a bull's eye, there is one thing that I have never seen leave the Electric Cheetah menu. The third thing that you need to know is that if you have not ordered A Classic French Dip at Electric Cheetah before, you are missing out on the best french dip sandwich I have ever had. This is basically the signature sandwich at Electric Cheetah, and almost everyone I know recommends it. I've never been the biggest fan of the French Dip before Electric Cheetah - it's just so easy to make an unremarkable French Dip sandwich. But there's something about the mixture of slow roasted beef, Nantucket roll, Swiss cheese, horseradish cream and au jus that just makes A Classic French Dip fantastic. My hypothesis is that it has a lot to do with the clashing tastes of the horseradish cream and the au jus, but then again, it also has a lot to do with the quality of the beef and how it is cooked. What I can say for certain is that the French Dip will not fail you.

The fourth thing that you should probably know is that Electric Cheetah is getting hotter and hotter each year that I go there. I think that the Cheetah started as a hip restaurant in/near Eastown, but as word began to spread almost everyone in greater Grand Rapids now knows the name Electric Cheetah. As a result, weekends and evenings are likely to be kind of packed. I don't want to discourage you from going, though. Even though the restaurant is not so elegant that you have to make reservations, it never hurts to call ahead and let them know you'll be coming and how many people you will be dining with. It was a lot easier to sneak into Electric Cheetah without a wait when I used to go there at 2 PM on a week day during the summer. But on a Saturday night, during/around the Art Prize festivities, it can be kind of crazy.

Come for A Classic French Dip. Stay for the other appetizing sandwiches and dinners. And if you've tasted each and every delicacy that Electric Cheetah has to offer, just wait a couple months and the menu will be different. Invest some money in your local economy. Eat at the Electric Cheetah today.

Electric Cheetah
1015 Wealthy Street Southwest
Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Arnold 365, Day 290 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Left 4 Dead

You know, when the vampire trend was spinning out of control and spitting out some of the worst films and television programs known to man (as well as some really cool stuff; I won't forget that), I started believing that it was time for people to start getting into zombies.

When I was first in college, getting my philosophy degree, I descended into the world of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. These films were some of the best movies I've ever seen. I used to watch horror films because of how ridiculous they were, but now I was watching zombie movies that were smart and told me something about "human nature." To this day, Dawn of the Dead remains one of my favorite movies of all time.

Left 4 Dead was a franchise that came about long before the zombie thing started to feel like it was being done to death. And the brilliance of these games stems from the fact that it feels like you are inside of a Romero zombie movie. You are controlling one of four main characters.

I've come to love this game enough that it has crept into my every day life. For example, whenever someone has a headache, I have the unhealthy compulsion to shout out "Pills here!" And sometimes when there is a girl crying in public I like to shout out "WITCH!" OK, that last one was a lie, but I have definitely said the former quite a few times.

Just play the game.

Spoiler Alert: Death of Spoiler Alert

The whole Spoiler Alert project was a lot of fun for me, but it was also a whole lot of work. It didn't really turn into a community discussion like I had hoped, so I'm just not going to do it anymore. No hard feelings. It's not you. It's me.

Arnold 365, Day 289 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Venture Bros

In the tradition of such cartoons as Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Venture Bros quite brilliantly takes on the cartoons of our youth. As a result, it is, for the most part, aimed at those of us who were kids in the late 70s and the 80s. It is not a cartoon for children. Like much of anime, it is a cartoon for adults, and that is why it is featured on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

The distinctions that I have drawn above assume that there is some way of measuring whether and to what extent one is a child or an adult. Venture Bros does not make this assumption. Rather, with an emphasis on the psychology and politics of heroes and villains, it reveals that, like the rest of us, cartoon characters carry with them, throughout their lives, the pains of their childhood. They act out the wars of their parents. And, most of all, they are motivated by the things that they lacked in their youth.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that Venture Bros is a serious television program. No. Venture Bros is a comedy. A smart and witty comedy. A penetrating comedy. Sometimes a painful comedy. Maybe this means that they're making fun of the adults who watch this program. We carry with us our Johnny Quests and our Fantastic Fours, and where do we carry them? Into the office of our therapists.

Venture Bros is awesome. And, yes. That's a word I learned from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And, no. I do not want to lay down on a couch and tell you how I feel about this fact. (OK, I feel a little frightened. Smiling emoticon.)

Arnold 365, Day 288 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Guild

The really interesting thing about The Guild is the story behind The Guild. During the writer's strike, Felicia Day had a lot of down time. As a result, she was playing a whole lot of World of Warcraft. There came a point, however, when she needed to force herself to stop playing and do something worthwhile. So, she created a web series called The Guild that was essentially about trying to have a normal life while being devoted to WoW. Of course, since then it has been revealed that the characters are not playing Wow, but a game called The Game that is ridiculously similar to WoW.

Maybe we can learn something from the example of Felicia Day and The Guild. I know that I'm struggling to make something worthwhile come out of my free time right now. Maybe some people might think this blog is an example of succeeding in creating something beyond myself. But I know that there's something bigger out there that I could be doing. I just have to have the kind of vision that Felicia Day had during the writer's strike. I just have to make something great.

30 Rock

No network has ever made fun of itself nearly as much as NBC does with 30 Rock. A direct rip-off of the live comedy program Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock is capable of making fun of NBC, Lorne Michaels, and prime time programming, while also making time for pokes at producers, directors, actors and writers. Nobody is safe from 30 Rock, most especially not the people who are involved in making 30 Rock. And how could you lose with a cast of Tracey Morgan, probably my favorite SNL comedian, Tina Fey, one of the best writers for SNL, and Alec Baldwin, one of the most prolific and recognizable hosts of SNL. The only way that they could make 30 Rock better is to add the up-and-coming most prolific host, singer/actor/comedian/multi-threat Justin Timberlake to the cast. I just saw him in the movie Bad Teacher and I have no doubt that he's ready to join Tracey, Tina and Alec. ("Hi. I got you something." "What? You didn't have to do that." "It's nothing. It's, well, my favorite book." "Eat, Pray, Love?" "Yeah." "This, this is my favorite book too." "What's your favorite part?" "Love.") If you want some fun, superficial comedy that makes fun of everything else you see on TV, then watch 30 Rock. You're bound to have some office quotes for the next day that aren't simply dumb quotes from The Office. (Seriously? Planking?)

The Social Network (2010)

I remember hearing a friend of mine repeatedly say, "I refuse to see a movie about Facebook," and whenever he repeated these words they sounded like a moral stance. The subtext was obvious: "Nobody should see this movie. Why would anyone want to see The Social Network?"

I'll admit that I had some issues with the pacing of this film, but in the end it was one of those important movies that speaks to the zeitgeist of our time. I remember when Facebook was only available to select colleges, and my friend Becky, then a student at Central Michigan University wanted me to be her "friend." "We're already friends," I thought, but I signed up for an account anyways. Today, you're a social outcast if you're not on the social network. People don't buy web sites anymore. Even famous celebrities and bands will sometimes have either a Facebook page or a blog instead of a home page. For better or worse, Facebook has taken up more of the public consciousness of the United States of America than any other one thing.

The film The Social Network merely gives us the other side of the story, the part that we didn't know we were taking part in. It tells us about the motives behind this juggernaut, this behemoth that has taken over our lives. It commemorates the events that lead to our hypnosis.

There is a strong part of me, the part that is familiar with Buddhist teachings, that believes that Facebook is something that I need to be liberated from. It is something that keeps my consciousness from devoting itself to better and more important things. But if that ever happens I want it to happen as a result of understanding rather than ignorance.

I'm not going to blame The Social Network. It was a fantastic film with great performances by that geeky guy, the guy from N'Sync and future-Spider-man. If there's anyone to blame for my dependence on Facebook, it's me.

Ukrainian Folk Band, "Highway to Hell"

Spoiler Alert: Fringe S04E03

While this episode was pretty interesting, a little mix of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (the child's psychic connection to the fungus), Star Trek (the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one), and Care Bears (the child doesn't feel like anyone cares for him), there wasn't a whole lot of development of the central season-long story arcs.

1. Walter and Olivia's Insane Outing

Not only is Walter bound to his laboratory and his living quarters, but he has to have continuing analysis by approved therapists to assure that he can remain out in the world. The appearance of Dr. Sindel casts a very troubling light on an upcoming problem. Walter needs to, at the very least, appear sane, or else he is going to be carted back to the looney bin. Of course, he's seeing his erased adult son Peter in reflective surfaces and hearing him everywhere, so we've got some sort of problem here.

The problem is only exacerbated by the fact that Olivia has been seeing the same person, Peter, in her dreams. She presents Walter with a picture that she drew of this "Man in the Mirror," a picture that she has been running through facial recognition programs.

The episode ends with Walter exclaiming, "We have to find him." And it sounds like the beginning of an adventure. But will this adventure end with Walter, and possibly Olivia also, in the mental asylum?

2. Aaron

This child, Aaron, who established the psychic link with the murderous fungus, has been alone for some time. Nothing is said about his parents. It is said that he has been staying with a neighbor for a while, but that the neighbor ignores him. He has absolutely nowhere to go and nobody to care for him. But Walter has a hole in his heart where once Peter lives, and Walter promises to care for Aaron.

At the end, Aaron is carted off to the hospital. We are left wondering whether Aaron will actually join the regular cast of the show, which seems to be what Walter promised, or whether he will be brushed off and only serve the purpose of making this particular episode work. I hope that he becomes a regular, and I think it is likely considering the mystery regarding his loneliness.

See you next time.

Arnold 365, Day 287 (Total Recall)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

X-Men: Regenesis - October 12, 2011 - A Simulblog

The following is a simulblog with Arthur of Arthur the Lesser. You ought to be forewarned: there will be spoilers.

I will link to Arthur's article when it is made available.

When Arthur agreed to simulblog the X-Men: Regenesis comics, he referred to himself as the "resident xologist," and I would have to agree. But when it comes to the X-Men, I'm no slouch myself. I may not know everything that has happened between "Operation: Zero Tolerance" and "X-Men: Schism." I may have asked a lot of questions about how Hope is now a teenager and who exactly this Dr. Nemesis guy is. But I've read every comic between 1963 and late 1988, and I'd like to believe that I know what is at the heart of the X-Men.

After the new 52 presented me with a chance to get into a lot of DC comics without having to have hundreds of issues of experience, I began to feel guilty that I had left my first love, the X-Men behind. I've spent so much time getting caught up on Green Lantern and Batman in the last year or so that I've completely stopped getting caught up on my X-comics - I should be at least to 1991 or 1992 by now, after all. At the same time, my entire twitter feed was dominated by silhouettes of who would be on which X-team after the events of X-Men: Schism, silhouettes that were slowly filled in. At work, one night, I asked my buddy Zac if X-Men: Regenesis would be a good place to start following the X-books again. He said yes, and when the fifty-two issue month of September was over I got caught up on X-Men: Schism.

In many ways, the one-shot titled X-Men: Regenesis is either an epilogue to the events of X-Men: Schism #5 or a prologue to the events of Uncanny X-Men #1 and Wolverine and the X-Men #1. The story itself is a little bit underwhelming: Wolverine and Cyclops campaign among their (former) friends and allies in order to make sure that they have the right team at their sides. In the process, we begin to understand the various motives that push characters either to stay on Utopia and join Cyclops' army or to fly to Westchester and start over with a new variation on the old theme of Xavier's dream. While the campaign trail is expressed in rational and peaceful terms, there is an underlying current of mortal combat between Wolverine and Cyclops as exemplified by a gritty primordial representation of what is happening. Are Wolverine and Cyclops campaigning? Or are they fighting to the death beside a fire wearing tribal garb? Is the tribal motif an attempt at exploring the depth psychology of the Schism aftermath, or an excuse to show our favorite X-characters in little to no clothing? I'm sure you can make that decision for yourself.

X-Men: Regenesis speaks strongly to the fact that there are plenty of reasons for choosing one side or the other, and that few of them have anything to do with what Wolverine and Cyclops are fighting about. Everyone has particular needs and motives, and many people are forced to make huge sacrifices. I'd like to take a moment to look into some of the driving forces that bring characters to one side or the other. Psylocke was one of the first characters who stood out. She agrees that she will be on Wolverine's X-Force team, but the school is not her way. She says to Wolverine, "We have to go forward. The school's the opposite of that." But when Cyclops offers a head-of-security position, there is an ambiguous discussion regarding her being a spy/counter-spy. Is Cyclops trying to get information from Wolverine's mission and block him from getting information regarding Cyclops' own mission? Gambit's motives were entirely suspect to me. He nonchalantly says, "Found all the trouble there is to find here. May as well head East." But hasn't he also found all the trouble there is to find in the East. He lived at Xavier's school for many more years than he did in Utopia. If you ask me, Gambit has three motives that he is covering up: 1. he finds a kind of kinship with Wolverine, 2. he is secretly an idealist devoted to the dream of Xavier's school, and 3. he believes that Rogue will end up there and he can rekindle his relationship with her.

But the case of Storm is where I think we need to focus. Storm believes that a lot of Scott's militaristic ventures are horrible, citing X-Force as "an abomination." She feels used by Cyclops because of her great power, and her inclination is to go to Wolverine's side. But Cyclops plays Storm and gets her on his side, making her believe that she is the good individual who will keep all of the former baddies on Cyclops' side from creating further abominations. Of course, there's already solicitations for a book called Magneto: Not a Hero, so Storm might have her work cut out for her. Of course, my reason for looking so closely at the case of Storm is that, near the end of X-Men: Regenesis she represents a case of great instability. I could see her jumping ship if she feels that Scott's mission is irredeemable. Reflecting back on the book, there are many cases of instability. Kitty and Colossus could switch sides in order to be together. The same is the case with Magneto and Rogue. The Guthries could switch sides simply because they feel cured of whatever curses them. And Emma Frost could switch sides on a whim simply because she's not getting enough attention from Scott.

At the end of the issue, we are told that Cyclops' side - Colossus, Namor, Storm, Emma Frost, Magneto, Psylocke, Hope Summers, Dazzler, Domino, Warpath, Dr. Nemesis, Cypher, Madison Jeffries, Magik, Magma, Sunspot, X-Man and Dani Moonstar - will be featured in Uncanny X-Men #1 (on sale November 2nd) while Wolverine's side - Gambit, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Rachel Summers, Toad, Cannonball, Chamber, Husk, and Dust - will be featured in Wolverine and the X-Men #1 (on sale October 26). But there are a lot of characters who aren't on either of those lists. And some of the teams don't seem as heavily affiliated as others. X-Force seems to be at the whim of both Cyclops and Wolverine. Dazzler's X-kids team doesn't seem heavily involved with Cyclops' militaristic methodology. And X-Factor investigations seems like it may exist outside of the battle lines. And let's not forget the myriad factors that could make parties switch teams or decide to abandon the methodology of either side. While Marvel has presented Regenesis as being pretty black and white with its marketing campaign, it seems like everything is still pretty grey. Oh, and what of the fate of Professor Xavier? Where's he going? And Archangel? Has he just gone completely to the dark side? Will Cable's rebirth and X-Sanction tie in heavily?

But, finally, the most difficult question, the question at the bottom of the last page of X-Men: Regenesis: Whose side are YOU on? This has eaten away at me for some time. After all, Cyclops is probably my favorite Marvel character, and I understand that in many ways he has had to bear the weight of Xavier's dream even more heavily than Xavier himself. But the truth of the matter is that Wolverine is right. If a young mutant believes that killing all those who oppose her is what it means to be an X-Men, then Xavier's dream has failed. In other words, I'm with Wolverine. While the split is promoted as the new Blue and Gold teams that were established when (Uncanny) X-Men split off into both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men, volume two, it is also just as comparable to the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, two teams who have battled on and off since X-Men #2 in 1963. And Cyclops' side is the none with all the villains on it, villains who are always switching sides, and why stop now? In many ways, Wolverine's decision is a step backwards, and the events that are unfolding make it irresponsible to presume that simply opening a school is enough, but Wolverine's decision is the right decision.

Next week's Regenesis title is Uncanny X-Men #544, the final issue of Marvel's longest running comic book series. It should be awfully sad, especially since I've read a few hundred of those issues myself. Until then, read Arthur's article, once it is up. And don't forget to weigh in on whose side you are on.

Arnold 365, Day 286 (Last Action Hero)

Banner by Adam Friedli.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anton Yelchin

Actor Anton Yelchin. I have really been disappointed with the last two movies I've seen him in - Fight Night and The Beaver - but for some reason I'm still writing a blog about the guy (and I only write blogs about people, shows, movies, etc. that I like - leave that negative stuff for other bloggers). The simple answer: While Yelchin often chooses bad movies, he is a fantastic enough actor that it doesn't seem to matter. Whenever you see Yelchin in a film, you know that Yelchin is going to be good in that film. While Yelchin is very much himself, looking comfortable in every role I've seen him in, he's also capable of transforming into other characters, sometimes highly established characters. Consider the fact that he's played two of the best known science fiction characters of all time, Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation and Pavel Chekov in Star Trek. This kid is really fantastic, and I imagine that in the near future we'll see him get more and more picky with his scripts. When that happens, we will live in an age of Anton Yelchin.

My Favorite Marvel: Magneto

In a previous post regarding Green Lantern Hal Jordan, I mentioned that the dream of Professor Charles Xavier was a strong motivating force in my life. Next thing you know, I'm writing not about how Xavier is one of my favorite Marvel characters, but about how his arch nemesis Magneto is one of my favorite Marvel characters. On the surface, this seems like a strange contradiction, but there are a lot of reasons it makes sense for me to like Magneto over Charles Xavier.

Charles Xavier is a rich boy who just happens to become interested in the rights of mutants because he is a mutant himself. He has every resource in the world at his command because of his wealth and his ability to read minds. I can count the amount of people who can relate to such a character on one hand, and that's only if you count Bradley Cooper's character in Limitless as a real human being in the real world. While Xavier is creeping around his parents' mansion trying to steal an expensive cookie from an expensive cookie jar, Eric Lehnsherr (or Max Eisenhardt), the boy who would one day become Magneto, was a Jew in Nazi-controlled Germany (and later Poland). The recent story called X-Men: Magneto Testament tells Max's story of great loss and suffering during the Holocaust. One of the best moments in the first X-Men film surrounded the first manifestation of Magneto's powers as being the moment when his family was dragged off to a concentration camp. And most of the best parts in X-Men: First Class similarly surrounded Magneto and his Holocaust suffering. Because we also suffer, we can connect with the troubles of Magneto.

As a result of his suffering, Magneto's intentions are more clear. Xavier has always dreamed of a world where humans and mutants can live in harmony. He was able to devote his life to dreaming as a result of the fact that he never had to fear for his life and hide from any authority. Xavier was born a wealthy white male in the United States of America. But because of the things that Magneto has witnessed in his life, he has a strong motivation for protecting the mutant population at any cost. He has seen what happened to the Jews and other "undesirables" during the Holocaust, and as a result he wishes to do everything in his power in order to prevent that from happening to the second group of people that he ever identified with, the mutant populace. Whereas the Jews prayed to God to deliver them from their trials, Magneto was blessed with the powers of a god, and surely he, if nobody else, would hear the cries of his people and respond.

So, why is Magneto considered one of the greatest villains of all time rather than one of the greatest heroes of all time? The beginning of Magneto's departure from heroics was his decision that his goal was to be accomplished by any means necessary. In the Ultimate Universe, Magneto conducts himself much the same as a terrorist would, destroying certain targets in order that his words can be heard. He takes over television broadcasts in order that regular humans should fear him. But most of all, Magneto has no trouble killing innocents in order to accomplish his end. The thing that we can relate to the most about Xavier's dream is that he intends to protect his people, but only through the right methods, and peacefully if possible. But Magneto's utilitarianism leads to destruction and corruption. Add in the fact that with Magneto's godlike powers, he puts himself above the rest of the population. Humans to him are like insects to a god. And instead of exercising great responsibility with his great power, he brings great pain and suffering to the world. Some might say that he had no choice. One like Magneto, who survived the fuhrer and gained considerable power himself, would have little recourse but to become another fuhrer. We would hope that he could overcome these feelings, that he could choose a path of peace and respect, and at times Magneto has done exactly that, but it does sometimes seem like fate that a terrorized Jew named Max would become a tyrant named Magneto.

I've mentioned a couple of times now that Magneto has put aside his hatred and become a hero here and there. As a matter of fact, I remember somewhere in the 200s of Uncanny X-Men, Magneto and Kitty Pryde, both Jews, attended temple together in memory of Holocaust survivors. And there was something incredibly touching about that. Furthermore, in nearly every alternate reality, Magneto is the one who is leading the heroes to victory, not Xavier. And let's not forget that in the recent events of X-Men: Schism, Scott Summers chose both Xavier and Magneto to provide expert suggestions for how to proceed in difficult times. There is a reason that Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr are first and foremost friends. They both believe in the same cause. And they both want to do the right thing for their people.

Though Magneto has some of the most fantastic powers, he happens to be one of the most real characters that Marvel has ever created. Whether he's villain or hero, both or neither, I think that I will always love him. He could mourn Xavier's death and unite all mutants in Xavier's dream (Age of Apocalypse) or he could kill Xavier himself (Ultimate Marvel). Either way, he's a fantastic character, and we have a lot to learn from him.

Cosplay Gallery: Fantasy Films

In the last few years, most of the major comic book conventions have become dominated by television and movies. I think there are a lot of hardcore geeks who have a serious problem with this, but I could go either way: There is now more money going into comic books and more awareness as a result of bringing these together, but then again, it kind of dilutes the convention into a popular culture/Hollywood convention and pops the bubble of the comic book reader microcosm. But when it comes to really creative Cosplay, I have only one answer: Whether it has to do with television, movies, comic books or video games, as long as it's a good costume, I'm in. These costumes from Dragon Con 2011 and Otakan 2011 are just the good costumes I was talking about.

Harry Potter

Red Sonja

Winged Monkey