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Archive for June, 2009

100-Word Review: Dave Matthews Band’s “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King”

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The spirit of former Dave Matthews Band saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died during recording from complications from an ATV accident, infuses every bit of Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.  His licks open and end the album, and Matthews sings quite clearly about his missing friend on several tracks, most notably “Why I Am” — but rather than feeling morose, Groogrux King instead seems to be a celebration, a fitting tribute to a musician whose sax had helped define so much of the band’s sound.  First-time DMB producer Rob Cavallo brings a welcome warmer, more lush tone to this record.

Grade: B

(Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — these 100-word constraints are problematic.)

Written by Allen

June 10th, 2009 at 10:00 am

100-Word Review: Metric’s “Fantasies”

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Metric provide catchy, edgy New Wave which blindsided me, burrowed its way into my brain, pitched a tent, rolled out its sleeping bag and now refuses to leave.  Emily Haines’ voice, which vacillates between sweet and throaty, isn’t overpowering or bombastic, but it doesn’t need to be:  its softness works well with the band’s solid pop hooks and James Shaw’s fuzzy guitar licks.  Some of the lyrics take a serious turn toward the vapid, but I’m willing to forgive that affront when the melodies are this strong, such as on “Sick Muse,” “Girls Gold Guns,” “Gimme Sympathy” and “Satellite Mind.”

Grade: B+

Written by Allen

June 9th, 2009 at 10:00 am

Posted in 100-Word Reviews,Music

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Originally published October 2, 2005. Last night, I finished writing my first article for the ‘Zine, the section of our site where we pump out content we hope fans of our games will enjoy.  (The article goes live next Tuesday — rest assured I’ll link it like hell once it’s up.)  I’m not going to spoil anything about the article yet, but the process of writing it…man, that process got me thinking.

See, I had fun writing it.  I was writing something which was entirely up my alley and doing so in a tone and voice which come very, very naturally to me.  I’ve spent so much time trying to write things I didn’t especially enjoy writing because those things were The Things Writers Write — I’m mainly talking about fiction here, in all its forms and genres.  But what the last month’s worth of updates on this site and the writing of that article last night have taught me reminded me is that I’m not a fiction writer.  I can do it, and occasionally do it relatively well, and I’ll probably do it again at some point, but…it’s not My Thing.

Writing about pop culture?  Totally My Thing.  Effortless, in that way that the work comes to you easily when you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing — where even the hard work doesn’t really feel like work, you know?

The sad thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve come to this conclusion.  Presented below is my post from the last time I realized this was true, way back in October 2005 (so excuse, please, the dated pop-culture references).  I’m reposting/updating it here mainly as a waypoint for myself so that hopefully I don’t get so lost again…and also as ammo for you people to use to kick my ass, if necessary.

Man…feeling that buzz of doing My Thing was nice, I gotta say.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot the last few days about the current quote that’s over there in the sidebar right now. For those of you reading this through an RSS feed, or if you’re reading this entry after the quote’s been changed (or you’re reading it three-and-a-half years after the fact — ed.), here it is:

“It’s a reactive thing, like a Geiger counter; you click whenever you come close to whatever you were built to do.” — Stephen King

That’s a valid analogy. When you’re doing whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing, you just know. The puzzle pieces in your head click together perfectly, the picture comes into focus, however you want to say it–you get the buzz, the feeling of the internal compasses of your mind and your heart and your actions all finding true north at the same time.

(Incidentally, I think the same is true of the people in your life. I’ve had plenty of friends that I liked perfectly well but never felt that “buzz” about. I tend to think that those friends who do give me that buzz are the people that are supposed to be in my life for some reason. It’s more than just a matter of getting on well with the buzzworthy people; it feels almost karmic to me when it happens. Sometimes the reason I’m supposed to be around that person is obvious, other times not, but I always make sure to notice when it’s there.) Some people discover very early in life the activities which give them that special sense of This Is Right and True; some never find it at all. Some people get close but never quite make that final adjustment necessary to get it.

That last batch of people, I’m pretty sure, includes me.

See, the thing is…in the same way you just know when you’re doing That Thing You Do, you just know when you’re not, or when you’re not quite. In my case, I know I’m supposed to be writing. I’m getting more and more sure of that the more of it I do.

But what am I supposed to be writing? Ah, there’s the rub.

I have a number of writer friends (any number of whom might be reading this–feel free to pipe in, y’all) for whom this particular problem doesn’t ever seem to have surfaced. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if for many of those people, there never was any decision or exploration necessary; they write what they write because that’s what they write. They write what comes naturally. Or so it seems to me…I’d love to hear some feedback about this particular point.

For me, that process of finding what I have to say, of finding the stories that are mine to tell, has been quite a trial. And that trial’s still not done. I’m getting closer, I think, but even on the novel I’m 15,000 words into, that buzz is still elusive. It’s been there in parts; I’ve lightly detected it in those areas where I started to understand my characters and found myself with vision for where the plot was going. But I’m not really not sure writing YA fiction is My Thing. I’m not giving up, not at all, not on this particular book nor on that category of fiction as a whole, but…

I’ve been getting some strong Geiger counter readings from another writing quarter altogether.

The clicks got louder and louder this week as I read a back-and-forth email conversation between two writers I really enjoy, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman. For those of you unfamiliar with the names, Simmons is a columnist for’s Page 2 section and Klosterman is a columnist for, among other places, Spin. Each of them has different specialties–Simmons primarily writes about sports, Klosterman primarily about music–but both have a wonderful appreciation for and understanding of the broader canvas of pop culture. (At this point, any of you who know me very well at all are probably nodding your heads and can see the source of those Geiger readings.)

I read this conversation between Klosterman and Simmons and I very much had that feeling of “getting it.” It wasn’t just a feeling of “I can do this”…it was a feeling of “I should be doing this.” I don’t mean specifically that I should be either a sports columnist or a music columnist, but I should be part of the cultural conversation. I’m inspired by each of those writers, actually, in the way each one weaves in elements of the greater cultural consciousness into their columns. I know that there’s a great many people who dismiss pop culture out-of-hand as lowbrow or not worthy of serious discussion, but neither Simmons nor Klosterman believes that. And neither do I.

Pop culture is American culture, it’s the commonality that allows us to talk to others with whom we might not share race, creed, class, sexuality or gender. Even if I don’t know your or don’t have a lot in common with you, if I discover that we both have an interest in, say, “Gilmore Girls,” then that’s a talking point, somewhere to begin. It’s a bond. Is it a strong bond? Is that shared interest alone enough to sustain a friendship? Or a community?

Surprisingly, it can be–as just one small example, look at the phenomenon surrounding the “Browncoats” who so loudly supported “Firefly” and now Serenity. That’s a fairly large, strong, devoted community (and regionalized series of sub-communities) made up of a diverse set of people whose only real tie is a love for this particular fictional universe. And it’s enough. They frequently arrange social events to bring their members together, frequently (but not always) involving screenings of “Firefly.”

And again, that’s just one relatively tiny example. Look around–how many times do people gather together just because they have a love for some particular aspect of our culture? How many people get together for Dave Matthews Band concerts? For “Lost” viewing parties? For release parties for the newest Harry Potter book? For standing in line for weeks for the newest Star Wars movie? For performances of “Avenue Q” or “Spamalot” on Broadway? Popular culture by its very definition is our culture, it’s everybody’s culture, and that fact alone makes it worthy of discussion, from the most wretched of reality TV shows to Norah Jones’ albums.

Futhermore (lest we forget that this blog is All The Time All About Me), pop culture is an area where I have something to say. Reading Simmons and Klosterman’s conversation struck that chord within my head and my heart that told me: “These are your people. This should be you.” Will writing about pop culture win me any literary prizes? Nope…but it would make me happy.

So what am I gonna do about it? Oh, hell if I know. But when I do, you will, too. Chances are good that it will either involve this site or Moviegeekz. It looks like I have an awful lot of thinking to do over the next couple of days and weeks about just what my goals are going to be, how I’m going to get there…and about the greater cultural impact of Wedding Crashers.

Written by Allen

June 8th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Continuing Up

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Finishing up my inadvertent Week of Pixar-Related Stuff:

disneypixar-upFor the second straight weekend, Up was the top movie at the box office in the United States Ummm, oops, scratch that…Up was the second-place movie at the box office in the U.S. this last weekend – its gross dropped only 35% from last weekend to this weekend.  People, that’s absolutely spectacular, at least for most movies, and it’s still pretty impressive even by Pixar’s lofty standards (see chart below).  For some perspective, industry pundits celebrated Star Trek’s 42% second-week dropoff as an example of excellent staying power, and this is…well, it’s seven better, isn’t it?  (For further comparison, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian fell off 55% between the first and second weekends and X-Men Origins: Wolverine fell off 69%.)

The lesson to be learned here?  Short movie titles lead to better audience retention numbers, of course.

Up has already grossed $137 million and is still going strong after weekend number two, meaning it’ll easily sail over the $200 million mark with a decent shot at $250 million by the time it’s done, which would put it in the upper echelons of Pixar’s top moneymakers (but well below Finding Nemo, their biggest hit to date).  For more numberiffic comparison, here’s how the nine previous Pixar flicks did in their first two weekends and overall:

Flick First Two Weekends Total Domestic Gross Second-Week Dropoff
Up $137 million ??? -35.0%
WALL-E $127 million $223 million -48.5%
Ratatouille $109 million $206 million -38.3%
Cars $117 million $244 million -43.9%
The Incredibles $143 million $261 million -28.7%
Finding Nemo $144 million $339 million -33.7%
Monsters, Inc. $122 million $255 million -27.2%
Toy Story 2 $116 million $245 million -51.6%
A Bug’s Life $68 million $162 million -48.4%
Toy Story $64 million $191 million -30.8%
All statistics courtesy the amazingly useful

So, it’s official:  Up is a blockbuster commercially and critically:  an astonishing 98% fresh on and, honestly, probably already something of a lock for next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar (or at least a nomination; we do still have half the year left).  That makes Pixar ten-for-ten, consistency which is almost mind-boggling.  They’ll have to wind up with a swing-and-a-miss someday, of course, but this streak is one I’m hoping doesn’t end anytime soon.

Written by Allen

June 7th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Movies

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Review: Up

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I read a discussion of Up recently — I don’t remember where — which said that the movie was ultimately about acceptance of death, which is an awfully adult theme to find in a kids’ film. (Truth be told, of course: Pixar movies are family movies, not kids’ movies, and there’s a big difference.) I think that statement’s close, but not quite accurate: it’s more fair to say Up deals with the ability or inability to accept change in all its forms and learning to let go of the past, whether that past was one or seventy years ago. Up reminds us that when someone we love passes on — or even just passes out of our lives — life doesn’t end for those of us left behind.  Up suggests we appreciate the little things in life and that those little things can be bigger than the biggest adventure.

And Up gives us these weighty messages wrapped up in the gaudy Mylar of thousands of helium-filled balloons.

As I discussed in my ranking of the ten Pixar movies to date, the “worst” (for some awfully lenient definition of “worst”) of their films don’t engage the emotions nearly as much as they engage the eyes.  That fault most certainly does not plague Up – I have to admit that I cried while watching it, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever done that before.[1] Pixar started their career by finding the humanity in inhuman characters (toys, bugs, monsters, etc.), but in Carl Frederickson they’ve created quite possibly their most human character yet.

Director Pete Docter lays out all we need to know about Carl in the first ten minutes of the movie, covering sixty-odd years of his life during the opening sequences.  His crankiness is given believability and meaning; grumpy though he may be, he doesn’t fit the simple Grumpy Old Man stereotype.  Carl is not ill-tempered by nature but by circumstance, and it’s the circumstance of meeting Russell, his young opposite, which begins to bring him out of his emotional hole.

Russell couldn’t be much more Carl’s antithesis:  young where Carl is old; optimistic and exuberant where Carl is withdrawn and cranky; brave and adventurous where Carl is shuttered.  Even visually the difference is clear:  Carl is almost a perfect square, Russell is almost a perfect egg.  What the two have in common is something of a common history, and the bond which develops because of it, each affecting the other, ultimately provides much of Up’s lift.

I must talk for a minute about the dogs which feature so prominently in Up.  To see just what an amazing feat of modeling and animation these dogs represent, what a leap in quality, please go back and watch the first Toy Story.  Even at the time, watching Buster felt like a “they’re not quite there yet” moment in the middle of an otherwise technologically mind-blowing (again, for 1995) movie: his square, awkward build and clunky animation left plenty of room for improvement.

And improve they did.  Each of the dogs here has not only a distinctive and well-rendered look, but a clear and well-animated personality as well.  Dug was especially done well:  his character model may be cartoonier than the other dogs’, but that more cartoony look allowed for more expressiveness, which the animators used to fantastic effect.  His look also visually sets him apart from the other, more realistically-modeled dogs so that we never group him in with the “bad” dogs.  Dug stands out as my favorite character in the movie:  the fact that he always remains Just A Dog and never an especially “humanized” or anthropomorphized dog (even though he could speak) was one of Docter’s nicest touches.

[1] I cried during The Iron Giant, but that’s totally different since I saw it on DVD.  Brad Bird lined up all of my emotional buttons and punched them all at once. The big meanie.

Written by Allen

June 4th, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Movies,Reviews

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