Fantastic Beasts – thoughts

06
Dec

When I left work on Monday, I wasn’t expecting to go out to a movie, though given that I’ve got a couple of sick (for varying definitions of sick) teenagers, and a bouncing nine-year old who was bothering them, after knocking out out a one-take bass line for a related demo track* for the Humdingers, the spouse and I took the youngest out for a couple of hours so they could rest.

We caught a matinee of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them in a mostly empty theater (which, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll realize is the best way to see a movie). I wasn’t expecting much going in, honestly, but I found I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, though found a couple of things frustrating, given the meta knowledge I have of the franchise.

I expect I’ll get spoilery here, so if you’re going to bail, bail now….

we good?

Anyway – the story itself, with Newt Scamander wandering around NYC collecting his escaped beasts with the help of a couple of american wizards and a muggle no-maj aspiring pastry chef, was engaging and enjoyable (especially our baker Jacob taking in the spectacle of the wizard world and falling in love), but kind of suffered by being secondary to the larger story that’s getting laid out here and will quite likely be belabored across five movies, which is pretty clearly going to be the rise of evil wizard Grindelwald parallelling muggle WWII, as hinted at in the later Harry Potter novels.

I guess I can understand the need to ease people into things, especially folks who’ve only seen the Potter films, which leave most of this ancillary historical worldbuilding out. That said, while the movie delivers the promised titular Beasts, it lays the foundation (occasionally awkwardly) for a much darker story of political corruption and wizard fascism; the introduced and dropped plotlines (particularly Jon Voight’s newspaper publisher and rival sons) were kind of ham-handed, but you know they’ll come up later when this franchise takes its turn away from the rather innocuous “Fantastic Beasts” title into dark urban historical fantasy and fascist allegory.

So much for 2 Fantastic 2 Beasts and Fantastic Beasts 3: Tokyo Drift

That said, I kind of dig that that’s the story they’re going to try to tell – it’s a logical progression for Rowling, who’s gotten to be a much better writer since the Potter books wrapped, taking on darker non-fantasy stories with the Cormoran Strike mysteries (which I love). That she’s writing these herself lets her stretch her muscles in that area while still giving the Potter fans more to chew on; I just hope she’s up to the task – screenwriting is a different animal than writing novels, and the wizarding world she’s laid out so far hasn’t stood up to much scrutiny once one scratches the surface.

We shall see. The one thing that bugged me, however, and this is the big spoiler….we got some Grindelwald in this one, and he’s played by a slick, dark, and competent Colin Farrell…who then turns into Johnny Depp, once again doing his acting like a cartoon through a bad wig thing. If we’re going the route I think they’re going, the suave “Mr. Graves” persona is the one who’s going to seduce a world into lining up behind his schemes, not fat albino Johnny Depp with a weird moustache (Young Dumbledore certainly wouldn’t be seduced by the latter, if that’s still canon). That’s a missed opportunity.

Still, we got Ron Perlman as a goblin running a prohibition-era speakeasy, which makes up for a lot.

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* – “The Erumpent Tango”, coming soon to a nerd music venue near you!

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eh, monday

05
Dec

As I look at my calendar, it’s eight point something business days and counting until my work year is ended. I’m going to try to not do a daily countdown; that would get tedious. That said, as mentioned on Friday, I have a handful of basic tasks to supervise the accomplishment of, and I’ve already managed to avoid the half-assed holiday parties this directorate throws, so you could say I’m mostly good. I have a plan. If I stick to it, and deflect any other additional tasks, I’m gold, Ponyboy.

This weekend I got out a bit; the spouse and I actually got some of the Christmas shopping done; I’ve still got a bit to go (and I gotta come up with a couple of good nerdy gifts for the exchange this weekend at the holiday party/band gig I so look forward to), but it’s more than just that one thing I grabbed a while back in a fit of inspiration now, so I’m showing progress. I never made it to Secret Sandwich Society, but that’ll come – we just couldn’t handle getting into the city. Our date seemed to go better than a certain teenager whose name I won’t mention though.

Saturday I got the scheduled service done on my car; my bit was trivial (with synthetic lubricant, I didn’t even have an oil change this time), though I got to watch a couple of people mourn the loss of their timing belts (thank the maker I have a chain). After that, I built a stage for the Celtic Christmas extravaganza, watched the family do their thing (actually all of them!), then I tore it down again. I wasn’t alone in this , but it scratched some muscles I haven’t used in a while, both literal (ow my back) and figurative (yay stage crew!).

Sunday…groceries, a complete failure of an expedition to find adequate women’s shoes, cleaning a fish tank, and sitting down and watching three hours of David Lynch’s Dune, which is probably an objectively terrible movie, but I love it for the overacting, the fact that half the dialogue is internal monologue, and the sheer baffling scale of the thing. It’s so overblown, it’s amazing in it’s audacity.

Oh yeah, in there I kind of learned how to play one of the band’s new songs. It’ll be fun. I’ve never played a tango on stage before.

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friday random eleven: “busted mental transmission” edition

02
Dec

So, the week after Thanksgiving break, a break that included a bunch of dance-y stuff (along with some interesting-to-watch drama in there), and just enough time to disengage from things that jumping back in for the last three weeks of my work year took a little bit of time to normalize. I did some good work this week, though I did it through a bunch of end-in-sight annual adult-equivalent-of-senioritis, attempts to stay out of some extended social circle drama, along with my internal depression monster starting to hit the annual holiday nerve buttons, but I managed.

And now it’s December. I’m okay with that. Today begins my “two weeks until I’m done with work for the year” countdown. I’ve got a few more tasks to handle in that period, and I am diplomatically deflecting the rest (like the person who just asked me and my team to support a “last minute” software test between the 19th and 23rd. Um, no).

Otherwise, I’m staring down a weekend that’s got me assisting in set-up and teardown for a dance thing, and honestly, not much else. Next weekend’s a bit busier (band gig, more dance things), though it’s a week away and I’m not worrying about it other than starting to go over some tunes. I think my lovely wife and I are going out on something resembling a date tonight (a friend pointed out a potentially neat newish restaurant in town we’re going to try), which sounds like exactly what I need right now.

And that’s about it, really. Here are some tunes that Pandora spit out this morning. Post-punk, prog rock, 80s new wave, and Cookie Monster singing in Norwegian (or something Scandinavian, at any rate) …I’ll take it.

  1. “Nanook Rubs It” – Frank Zappa
  2. “Varden Brenne” – Einherjer
  3. “Broadsword” – Jethro Tull
  4. “In A Big Country” – Big Country
  5. “Kids In America” – The Donnas
  6. “Den Forgaengelige Tro” – Svartsot
  7. “School Days” – The Runaways
  8. “Shout” – Tears for Fears
  9. “Be Good” – Frumpies
  10. “Take On Me (Extended Version) – A-Ha
  11. Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield

…oh, can I just say how much I still love the cover to Working Class Dog?

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to give you an idea of my day

01
Dec

I’ve got meetings straight through from 10am to 2pm today. Who needs lunch anyway? At least they’re all on the phone so I can make appropriate obscene hand gestures.

It’s been a joy thus far. So far, the highlight was when my VOIP phone system rebooted while I was briefing one of the most powerful women in the entire federal bureaucracy.

Thankfully, we’re cool. She likes the fact that I’m using her pet program to uncomplicate a lot of things and save a bunch of money.

Still, it can only go up from here….

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the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king

22
Nov

Artists have always had a particularly useful place in society; as my SCA bard friends could tell you, it’s the jesters and fools who are often given leave to tell the truth when others can’t. The Hamilton cast proved that this weekend, Saturday Night Live has been doing it for pretty much my entire lifetime (even that awful 1980 season), and folks like George Carlin and Lewis Black (to name a couple of my favorites, but not to suggest they’re the only ones) have been calling out people in power for as long as there’s been a stage or an empty street corner to call from.

Sure, you occasionally get some blowback, as with the Dixie Chicks “Shut Up and Sing” business back in 2003, but the intervening decade has shown that said a hell of a lot more about country music and it’s culture and gatekeepers than anything else. Artists have their own special kind of influence, and this influence rightfully scares those looking to abuse power, because it’s coming from a corner they can’t even attempt to control without looking weak and thin-skinned.

This morning, a friend of mine posted the relatively famous photo of Woody Guthrie you see above, which simply and effectively shows the power artists have when we strap on an instrument and get out there and do our thing. I understand that when I personally get up on stage these days, it’s mostly in service of naughty jokes about beloved fantasy properties, but it’s important for us to never forget that as artists, we’ve got access to a long history of being able to speak truth to power where others couldn’t, and every note we play or sing has the potential to bring down empires.

That’s a sobering thought, and I take the responsibility seriously.

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friday random eleven: “reversing the bi-polarity of the neutron flow” edition

18
Nov

happy friday, folks. It’s been a week of ups and downs, not the least of which involves waking up to find that somebody hacked my ebay account and bought a few unauthorized steam/itunes gift cards. It was thankfully only 45 bucks’ worth, and I’ve already nipped it in the bud, but this isn’t the kind of crap any of us need to deal with.

Been dealing with some crap (in the shape of a certain individual) at work, though I think that’s largely been avoided/worked out; we’ll see. The issue will all be overcome by events in another workday anyway. I’m simply tired of trying to hit a moving target and being gaslighted about what I and my team committed to contribute to a project. Whatever; I’m letting it go.

The above situation, along with some other general life things has really been tweaking my anxiety/depression; I’m normally a reliable “semi-regular down cycle” guy, though I’ve been getting a little bit of the peaks as well this time; it’s weird. Still, when you add up seasonal changes, the aforementioned work stuff, all kinds of life things, the recent national political scene, and the coming holidays, such an experience is not unexpected.

Probably doesn’t help that I just finished reading a Jenny Lawson book all about mental illness (and more than a little taxidermy), which made me laugh with familiarity, but just might have planted a couple of suggestions. Maybe.

I did accomplish one thing this week that should likely reduce some stressors; thanks to my excellent credit rating allowing me to re-arrange some financial commitments, I’ve managed to significantly improve my cash flow situation, allowing me a lot more liquidity each month and grab some savings via much lower interest rates. I kind of feel like a grown-up again, which is nice. I make way too much money to feel as poor as I was feeling after paying the bills each month for a while there.

Another nice thing was that I got to play some music with some friends last night; it was nice, both the making of the music, and hearing through that experience that a friend’s personal situation (which was somewhat dire) is on the mend. Also, her runaway cat thought lost came back home while I was there. I’ll take it as a sign.

Nothing I can think of on the horizon this weekend; probably pay the bills, make my kids clean the house, finish off Game of Thrones season six, and try to relax, because next weekend with the holiday and the big Irish Dance Extravaganza™ to deal with, is gonna be a little crazy. At least I’m working a short week again.

Some streaming pandora tunes for you – nice mix, with a longship’s worth of viking metal for some reason. On my daughter’s recommendation, I’ve been flirting with Spotify this week, but I keep coming back to the old standby. Spotify, to be fair, has more of my friends on it (hell, more than a couple of records I play on are on there), and maybe I just haven’t figured out how to use it effectively yet, but I’ve curated my feed on big blue enough that I can just click it and go and have a decent background soundtrack for hours.

  1. “White Wedding” – Billy Idol
  2. “Tonight’s Alright” – The Donnas
  3. “Zombie Woof” – Frank Zappa
  4. “To Holmgard and Beyond” – Turisas
  5. “Power of Soul (live” – Jimi Hendrix
  6. “Luxtos” – Eluveitie
  7. “Space Oddity” – David Bowie
  8. “Overkill” – Men at Work
  9. “Dondergod” – Heidevolk
  10. “Telomere” – Mystery Jets
  11. “Godzilla” – The Doubleclicks

Oh, because I still keep doing the Eleven thing: Doctor Strange-r Things; why didn’t I think of this?

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pinning others’ safety isn’t simple

14
Nov

I’ve got a safety pin on my sweatshirt; it’s small, unobtrusive, and kind of blends in with the background, but if someone’s looking for it, they can see it.

If you’re not familiar with this trend, the idea goes back to post-Brexit solidarity with refugees in Britain earlier this year (and, based on some other things I’ve read, it reaches back further to the “I’ll ride with you” movement in Australia back in 2014), and is intended as a symbol that the person wearing a pin is a “safe space” for someone who is feeling marginalized or uncomfortable in the current environment in America; a sign that you’re there if someone needs you.

There’s been a lot of media on this whole thing in the last week, from the bland to the slightly more detailed, from “hey, make sure you understand the implications” to “you’re embarassing yourself, don’t do that”.

That last one, in particular, makes me think a little bit. As part of the white, educated, sort of well-off, liberal, UU faction of the American tapestry, I’ve found myself uncomfortable more than once watching my bretheren in privileged tolerance totally miss the point of something with the best of intentions and end up accidentally being offensive in their ignorance. A friend of mine in the same circles (who, I’d argue, has a lot more background and training in these areas than I do) has been posting articles warning of misdirected activism, inlcuding a couple of those above, but the one I’m linking to here, dealing with the concept of “ally theater,”, definitely got me reflecting further on intentions and appearances.

“Ally theater” as it’s used above, describes this kind of activistm done with the intention to draw positive attention to oneself for one’s virtue. I worry about that. There’s a lot of this kind of thing out there, and while it is done, at least in part, out of good intentions, there’s a whole lot of patrician ““White Man’s Burden” subtext wrapped up in it as well, that none of us should be comfortable with. Outward Noblesse oblige isn’t really a good look on anyone, even if we all do have a duty to one another.

I’m not entirely sure how to take my point, tie it up in a bow, and stick a (ahem) pin in it…this post is a lot of rambling thoughts and a laid bare example of my thought process when presented with lots of points of view, each with equal, but different, value.

That said, as I wrote in the first sentence here, I’m still wearing a pin. I like the symbolism it represents. I like the idea of people choosing to be safe spaces for folks who feel marginalized by recent events. I’d like to think that I could be that person when put in that position. The pin is just as much, if not more, or a reminder for me to be that person as it is an outward symbol that I’m a resource for someone else.

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thursday/friday random eleven – “no politics” edition

10
Nov

Originally, the post directly below this one was going to be the lead-in to my usual end-of-week random ten eleven post, but started to take on a life of it’s own, so that’s how I let it go out into the world.

This post, other than the oblique mention in the previous paragraph, will be politics free. The rest of the world’s still out there, doing it’s thing. Let’s revel in that.

What have I done this week otherwise? I went to a parent-teacher conference and heard some really good stories about how my kid is doing in third grade. I made some kick-ass beef strogranoff. I took my son shopping for shoes and my eldest daughter for her first experiencing driving on a highway. I dealt with the usual mundane crap at work, and came home last night and spent two hours playing the hell out of my dad’s old 60s Gibson SG Special because I’ve been missing him lately, it’s a kick-ass instrument and doing so felt really good, getting lost in the music and the memories (even if I need to have the frets dressed).

Last Friday, I went to see Doctor Strange, like pretty much every other comics geek out there, and it was pretty great. We got the cool Ditko-esque visuals, a nicely modernized but still faithful origin story* thankfully mostly free of “chosen one” crap, a charismatic cast, and was surprisingly funny, daring to include the best Chuck Mangione joke since “King of the Hill”, in a world where flugelhorn references aren’t exactly thick on the ground.

I also dug the fact that they didn’t overplay their hand in terms of big story elements. Sure, they wedged in the Dread Dormammu (and the conflict with him/it was refreshingly not about big CG thing smacking into each other, but a clever conceit, exactly the kind of thing a wizard would do), introduced magic and multiversal dimensions and all that stuff, but hey let a lot of the character stuff play out leisurely. In the comics, Mordo’s turn from ally to antagonist** takes something like three pages (good old silver-age compact storytelling!); here, he doesn’t flip until after the credits, setting up a nice, complex recurring villain for the Doc and the other magical powers in the Marvel film universe.

If you’re looking for an escape from the real world for a couple of hours, catching this movie isn’t the worst thing you could do.

This weekend, I honestly don’t have much. I’m off tomorrow for Veteran’s Day, so I’m planning on sleeping in. I might be getting together to play some music with some folks later in the afternoon. Otherwise, it’s wide open, and that’s probably okay.

Here’s today’s mix out of Pandora – the inclusion of Zappa is nice (as is the depth of catalog for all things Zappa on the service):

  1. “Godzilla” – Insane Ian
  2. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” – The Police
  3. “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” – Frank Zappa
  4. “18 and Life” – Skid Row
  5. “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” – Cutting Crew
  6. “Cum on Feel the Noize” – Quiet Riot
  7. “It’s So Hard” – The Donnas
  8. “Livin’ On A Prayer” – Bon Jovi
  9. “Under the Sun” – Diiv
  10. “White Flag” – Joseph
  11. “War of the Gods” – Amon Amarth

Okay, fine…Stranger Things is going full 80s with season two casting.

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* –I’d argue, given the weirdness this one’s introducing, having the audience and the protagonist learn about it at the same time was a valid choice, even if origin stories are overplayed.

** –Yeah spoilers, but for a 50 year old comic book. Also – you think a guy who’s full name (in the comics) is “Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo” and sports a widow’s peak and goatee like that was going to ever end up on the side of the angels? It’s the most telegraphed face-heel turn since Sinestro joined the Green Lantern Corps!

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let’s go high

10
Nov

So that was a week. Look at the news, look at the social media feeds, look out your window. For all the (absolutely appropriate, as we need to hear it as part of the process) language about “coming together” and “peaceful transfer of power”, the country certainly doesn’t feel united.

After sitting on things for 24 hours, I’m not that far off from where I was, though where I was and where I am still maintains faith in all players’ acceptance and respect for the system we’ve all been using for the last 229 years since the U.S. Constitution was first adopted. Clearly, I’m not thrilled with our nation (via the system we all agree to use) picking the guy we did for the Oval Office, but like it or not, the guy’s #45 until he’s not (and the system has processes in place for that too).

While I definitely sympathize with and uniquivocally respect the right of all those people who protested last night in pretty much every major American metro last night (including more than 1000 in mine), I can’t get behind the “Not My President” rhetoric that’s coming out of the left right now.

Why? According to the system we have established, he is, or will be, come January 20. We may not like the guy (heck, even the supporters I’ve heard/read about in the last 24 hours always couch their support with some qualifier), but the electoral system (the one that counts) says he won, however narrowly. That and the fact that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote will probably dampen the impact of any “mandate” talk, but unless anything crazy happens in the next couple of months, he’s the guy in the chair for the next four years; yours, mine, ours, whether we like it or not.

And if, like me, you don’t like what that means, start working to do something about it. Calls to congresscritters supporting or opposing policy proposals means a lot more than blocking traffic on The 101 or the Downtown Expressway. Want to blunt his power for the back half of his term? Let’s break the trend of Progressives not showing up for mid-term elections and change the balance of power in Congress. Heck, run for office yourself, or if you can’t (for whatever reason) do that, find some advocacy group working to make the kind of change you want to see in your community.

If you don’t like the system, work to change it responsibly.

Mostly, though, I don’t like the #notmypresident talk because it sounds so damned much like what we heard from the right for the last eight years. Conservatives created a cottage industry of challenging the legitimacy of President Obama as the President, as an American, and in some quarters, even as a human being, during both his terms. It was ugly to watch, it was disrepectful, and it was insulting.

Even if the current President-Elect is ugly to watch, disrespectful and insulting himself, we’re better than that. Take Michelle Obama’s 2016 catchphrase to heart – “They Go Low, We Go High”.

And that’s all the politics I’m going to talk for a while.

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musings unencumbered by media commentary on the morning of november ninth

09
Nov

well shit.

From a poetic standpoint, I guess the fact that it was chilly and raining when I left the house this morning was appropriate. The rain was falling like the markets started to do last night as I was going to sleep, not particularly confident of the result I was looking for, but still holding out hope that a couple unlikely bastions o fwhite working-class resentment in the Northeast would fall our way. When I went to sleep, the cat was still in the box, in quantum flux, but things were starting to smell a little ripe.

Waking up to the news that “Donald J. Trump is President-elect of the United States” wasn’t the result I was hoping to see, but when I turned the lights off at around 11:30, it’s what I was pretty sure I was going to get.

And, like a lot of people, I’m trying to come to terms with that.

Being a gainfully-employed, well-educated white guy, I honestly probably don’t have that much to worry about personally, other than my retirement investments tanking, at least temporarily, given what the markets started doing once the outcome started to become clear last night. That said, I’m not just looking out for me. I’m not sure what this is going to mean for the kids I’m getting ready to send out into the world; I’m having a hard time imagining, given the rhretoric coming from the right, that my daughter, who will ideally be graduating from college four years from now, is going to have a favorable employment environment. I can’t be entirely confident my LGBT friends and neighbors are going to have the same general sense of their arc of history trending towards justice. I worry about the health and well-being of pretty much everyone who’s not a straight white Christian male, be it in terms of being able to get medical care, practice or not whatever religion they see fit to, or walk down the street unmolested. I have a hard time seeing the country trending toward a sense of shared purpose; I can’t see the surprisingly large segment of the population of this country who spent the last eight years indulging their inner racist outwardly because a black family was living in the White House are going to settle down and suddenly play nice and gracious because their guy won in what was actually a very tight squeaker of an election.

But, it seems like that’s what happened. I’ve purposely not looked at any of the coverage yet before getting my hot take tapped out in electrons and sent out there. I wanted to get my thoughts out there before reading anyone else’s commentary. That’s what you’re reading here.

What’s a little odd, but not really, is the fact that I’m kind of resigned about the whole thing. I ought to be hopping mad, but I’m just kind of numb. I suspect that’s mostly my Gen-X ironic detachment coming through, as I become increasingly aware that I’m part of a forgotten generation whose lot in history is to basically keep things chugging along while the larger generations on either side of us bang on each other…well, I guess it’s mostly the boomers punching down at the millenials with crippling student debt and shitty job markets, but they’re both kind of standing on my neck to keep that slap fight going.

And last night was, I’m hoping, the last gasp of the older generation raising their stink about their world crumbling. By the time this Trump term comes to an end in 2020, no matter what happens, white folks are going to be the minority in this country. No matter how many red ballcaps the rust belt wears, old-style manufacturing isn’t coming back; we’ve moved on to a high-tech and information based economy. That’s just the way things are. it’s bigger than the United States; it’s just the way the world is going, and all the screaming and pouting and insults aren’t going to change anything.

Leading from that, I don’t think the world is going to end; merely the image of the world exemplified by “great again” embroidered on those red hats. That world, that soft-focus black-and-white image is gone. Donald Trump isn’t going to bring it back, if it ever existed at all. The universe keeps moving on, mostly oblivious to all of us.

Not that I don’t think even four years of a Trump presidency isn’t going to leave a mark or two. I can’t see typical republican policies (and rest assured, that’s what’s coming) doing anything different than it ever has – the rich aren’t going to create jobs if you lower their taxes. Education and infrastructure don’t get better unless you fund them adequately. Foreign affairs aren’t going to improve with the application of bullying and bluster. And yeah, the courts are probably going to be regressive for years.

In any case, that’s where the world is this morning. I think, in the end, we’ll survive it, but the next person, whoever that is, is going to end up spending their four or eight years cleaning up after what Trump leaves behind, keeping that person from actually leading this country on to better things.

I hope all those angry white, working-class folks up there in the northeast are happy, because I don’t see it getting better, in the near term, for them, or for me.

As for me, besides what I knocked out in the 800 or so words above, I see it as kind of the bell-end of a pretty shitty 2016, where we lost a bunch of influential artists and gained…this.

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