Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Cat?

I get attached to things I shouldn't...I have absolutely NO idea why I built a shelter out of rubbermade totes and blankets for the feral cats that live outside my apartment complex, or why I thought it was a good idea to leave food out there, but I did...and now one has started coming up to the patio to stare at Kitty, eat the food, and snuggled up in the makeshift home I threw together. I have no idea if this cat is fat or pregnant, male or female, or so completely diseased that it's not going to survive the month, but s/he looked at me through the sliding glass door this morning as if to say "thank you" before going in for a second helping of food. Now all I can think about is if there's any feasible way to make this cat my own...
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Requiem for a TV Show

Because I have no life, I spent all of this past weekend watching all 18 episodes of Caprica on DVD. If you know me, you may remember how huge of a Battlestar Galactica fan I was/am. Even when I wouldn’t miss a Friday night out at the bar with friends, my priority was to catch new episodes when they aired (so much so, I was even late to my own Birthday Party in 2009). Still, when Caprica was beginning on SyFy, I had already made the decision to not get cable TV in my new apartment. As Caprica would be the only cable TV show I wanted to watch (at the time…damn you The Walking Dead…), it didn’t make sense to pay $50 a month just to watch it (a decision that, as it turns out, was rather smart. The show was divided up into two nine episode chunks to be aired months apart. I would have spent considerably more than the $70 for both DVD sets had I gone the cable TV route).

Caprica, if you care, was the prequel series for Battlestar. Prequels apparently being all the rage after George Lucas did such a stellar job with those last three Star Wars movies he put out (seriously, as an aside, can anyone name any ‘prequel’ that’s come out that’s generally been well received? Sure the Star Wars movies made money, but most people thought they sucked. The Underworld prequel kinda fell off everyone’s radar, and Caprica? Well…we’re getting to that). The basis of the show was to introduce to viewers how the Cylons (those dastardly evil robots that went and blew up all of humanity in the Battlestar pilot) not only came into existence, but also how they came to be the evil human killers that they ended up being. This would unfold while telling the story of two grieving families - The Graystones and the Adams, as they struggle with the loss of their daughters, who exist only as avatars in a virtual world after dying in a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, the show failed to find its audience, and Caprica was canceled after airing only 13 of the 18 episodes (which thankfully were included on the DVD set).

Since SyFy announced the end of Caprica last October, there’s been a lot of people playing The Blame Game around the Internet. Fans of the show are crying foul because the week before the cancelation as announced, SyFy revealed plans for a second Battlestar prequel series called Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome (which no one has pointed out how close that title is to Showtime’s original series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but whatever…). The fans think SyFy axed Caprical prematurely because they had a new spiffy shiny toy to play with; meanwhile, SyFy has blamed low ratings on the cancelation, stating they loved the show and did everything they could to save it. There’s evidence out there floating around to support every claim people make, but what I haven’t seen anywhere is the one feeling I had throughout my entire marathon viewing session: Caprica was a schizophrenic mess of a show.

Like many dramas, Caprica had an ensemble cast. Notable stars included: Eric Stoltz; Esai Morales; and Polly Walker, joined by Paula Malcomson; and Allessandra Torresani. All in all, there were eight lead characters in Caprica, and almost twice as many recurring characters in major roles. When you have successful shows like LOST that juggle almost as many (if not more) cast members, eight leads isn’t really such a bad thing. Hell, Battlestar Galactica had a similarly large cast and it made it through 4 seasons and a couple of movies. The difference with Caprica though was that each of these characters had their own (mostly independent) plotlines that required a genre all of its own.

Eric Stoltz played Daniel Graystone, a wealthy and obsessive industrialist who ran a technology company with a lucrative government contract to produce cybernetic soldiers – the robots that became the Cylons. Esai Morales was Joseph Adama, father of Admiral Bill Adama, who would later command the Galactica. The world he came from, Tauron, was ripe with old world traditions, and organized crime. He was a lawyer, but that was mainly incidental to his role as a member of a Tauron crime syndicate. His storyline mirrored a lot of what you’d come to expect of the Sopranos. Polly Walker’s Sister Clarice Willow, a closeted monotheist in a plural marriage, hid her religious beliefs behind her public life as a worshipper of Athena, and her sinister motives to bring about worship of the One True God was a cause for most of the drama in the show. When the plot of Caprica focused around Willow, you felt like you were watching a version of HBO’s Big Love that focused only on the skeezy prophet character from the compound. Then you had Malcomson who played Dr. Amanda Graystone, wife to Stoltz’s character, who bounced back and forth between her husband’s storyline and Walker’s when she was helping the show’s interplanetary version of the FBI in a mini procedural drama like Criminal Minds or CSI. Only Stoltz’s storyline, and that of his daughter (played by Torresani) felt like true science fiction. Complicating matters even more was the fact that the world Caprica was set in was made to mirror a fictionalized version of Mad Men (Seriously. You had period dress mixed with Robot Soldiers, 1960 style cars on the street while jump ships travelled between worlds; flimsy transparent e-sheets of paper next to newspapers; and all of this taking place in a world where flip style cell-phones from the late 90’s existed side-by-side with rotary pay phones).

While one might argue that the myriad of storylines and genre in Caprica presented a cafeteria approach, offering “something for everyone”, you’d then be ignoring the fact that some things just aren’t for everyone. There’s a reason why some people choose to watch V while others watch CSI, and why The Sopranos and ER weren’t one show. If you don’t like procedural/crime dramas, you don’t watch them, even if something like Big Love is sandwiched in there. And even if someone was wholly invested in the story of Zoe (Torresani) Graystone’s journey to find resurrection for her virtual being in the real world, if the previews for next week’s episode led you to believe that it would mainly focus on the Adamas and their Old World Crime Family, the impetus to tune in may have been turned off.

That isn’t to say that Caprica was a bad show, it wasn’t. I wouldn’t have devoted my weekend to watching it if it had been that painful to watch. However, I truly believe that it cast too wide of a net in the hopes of recapturing the Battlestar audience and new viewers as well. The characters were intriguing, and the hint of answers coupled with the teases we got to some left over Battlestar questions were enough to keep hardcore fans going, but the show got mired in way too much set up. It may be after-the-fact armchair quarterbacking, but off the top of my head, I can think of at least three ways Caprica could have sped things along and gotten more out of its first season:

1.) Graystone’s drama with his rival, and his struggle to keep his company. This was almost a pointless storyline, serving only as a means to get Adama’s crime family tied into Graystone Industries. Of course, in the pilot episode, Graystone had to ask the Tauron Syndicate to steal a vital processing chip from his rival to win the Cylon contract. This right there would have been enough of an impetus to get the Adamas and the Graystones together, but instead that favor was widely ignored until the rival came back into the picture and the storyline got convoluted (the cost of this was about three episodes).

2.) The Adama backstory and Crime Syndicate backstory. As Caprica was meant to be about the rise of the Cylons, the side story that focused on the Adamas ate up a little too much screen time. Every minute of screen time taken up by the Adamas was one that could have been focused on speeding up the main plot. At least one entire episode was consumed with the motivations of Joseph and his brother Samuel (who may actually be one of the most interesting gay characters to ever be introduced into science fiction). As a sub story, it could have (and in my opinion, should have), been planned out to unfold over subsequent seasons.

3.) New Cap City. I’m loathe to include this on this list, because it was my favorite part of the first two-thirds of the show, but it drug on for a really, really long time, and all it really amounted to was a way to get virtual Zoe connected with virtual Tamara (Adama’s dead daughter who was also trapped as a virtual avatar). This was a plot line that also really seemed to have no payoff, so even if the show runners were planning on going somewhere major with the ‘Avenging Angels’ later on, you’re left feeling completely empty with this story.

Sadly, the most riveting moments of Caprica were never aired prior to the notice of cancelation. These are the “Things to Come” flashforward that ended the Season (Series) finale. Probably intended to be a teaser for Seasons 2 and beyond, this three minute segment instead became a “guess what you’ll never see?!” torment. From things like the Cylon robots finding religion to Zoe getting a real body with skin and hair and everything, this showed viewers that far more than what was teased when the series was announced was going to happen (and when you find out in the director’s commentary for the finale that the plan was to have Zoe meet the Final Five from Battlestar, well, that just made me cry a little!). I’ve said before (and firmly believe) that if a network believes in a show (see: the exact opposite of ABC and V), they should never, ever cancel it in its first season. Even the best shows have to start out somewhere, and as we saw with LOST’s second season (and a good deal of its third), even the ‘best’ have their shaky moments. Unfortunately for Caprica, their shaky moments lasted for most of their first season.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ladies and Gentlement; My Mother.

So, I finally just admitted that I need some sort of vision correction device, so I went and got contacts. This was Tuesday of this week (1/18/11). So the other night, I'm on the phone with my mother, and decide to tell her that her son now wears contacts. The following is a transcript of the conversation that followed:

ME: Guess what else I got today? Contacts.

MOM: (audible sigh) What do you need with those?

ME: To see properly.

MOM: Well, you need to be careful with those things. You can poke your eye out.

ME: Mom, seriously, you've worn contacts almost as long as I've been alive...

MOM: You'll lose them.

ME: Maybe. But I have the same prescription for both eyes, so it won't cost too much to replace them.

MOM: I know, but you need to be careful. You need to take care of them, and clean them, and make sure you wash your hands...

ME: Mom! Seriously, I got contacts. I didn't adopt a child...

...God help me if I ever *do* decide to adopt a kid...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I prefer they remain an Army of "Minus One"...

It was probably bound to happen.I should have seen it coming the minute my roommate signed his life over to the National Guard actually. The writing was on the wall then, and as soon as Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed (and I lost my Golden "Get out of Jail Free" card), that writing became bold, italicized, and then underlined with a few too many exclamation points. Yes friends.I just got a rather soft-sell recruiting pitch from the National Guard.

A 'soft-sell' by the military (any branch of the military) is still more uncomfortable than having to walk past the kids selling candy or popcorn or whatever outside of Walmart. And let's face it; that shit is uncomfortable. I mean, you see them standing there, and the decent, human side of you hopes that they can sell enough of their crap to fix the tire on their broken down bus to get to nationals or whatever, but you just don't see the point of giving them your money because you don't care *that* know that when you get done in the store that they're still going to be there, so you either have to walk past them on the way in and the way out, or, you have to walk clear to the other side of the goddamned store and go out the other set of doors and then walk diagonally through the massive parking lot just to get back to your car. And by that point in time, the whole $.04 you've saved by going to Walmart instead of Target is just no longer worth it.

Anyway, this entire scenario happened by accident. Curt (the roommate, for those of you new to this whole thing), gets a call yesterday from his Masters telling him that he needs to go to Camp Dodge (again) to fill out (more) paper work. He asks if he can use my car, and I have to say "no" because I've got shit my civilian ass needs to accomplish today that requires a car. He has to call said Masters and tell them that he'll need a ride, but discovers he left his phone in the backseat of his friend's car (it's a girl people, so get your head out of the gutter.). Anyway, he needs to call, so he uses my phone. Apparently, the creepy ass National Guard people save every number that comes through, and when they call to let him know they're on the way to come get him, and can't reach him on his phone, they call mine. Three 5 minutes. I don't know where these people learned phone etiquette, but where I'm from, calling someone three times in 5 minutes is a tad bit on the psycho side. Still, it got me to pick up the call, despite having no idea who was calling. So the phone call goes a bit like this: "Is Curits [Last Name] There?" " This is his roommate." "Where's he at?" "Who the fuck is this?" "This is the National Guard." (Thinking to myself: 1. I just said 'fuck' to the National Guard, and 2. I'm pretty sure the National Guard isn't a person.) "Well, he's at home" "He's not answering his phone." "That sucks." and then there's a lengthy exposition from "The National Guard" about how they're going to pick him up and it'll be 'Chapter Two' if he's not ready to go when they get there. I may have said something to the effect of "I don't know what 'Chapter Two' is, but it best not involve you breaking into my apartment." and then they may have laughed. After a rather awkward pause where I was waiting for them to ask me to go home and wake him up, the "National Guard" asks "So now with Curt leaving, when can we expect you to sign up?" to which I replied with "Ohmygod.ummm, Never?" Which of course then begged the question (apparently) "Never? Why is that?" Normally, this is when I would have used my magic "I Am Gay" card, like I did in High School when I was getting called by these people (who seemed to have individual names back then.)on a weekly basis, but of course I'm not sure whether that actually works anymore, and I didn't really want to say anything that may hamper Curt's exodus either. So, in a rare moment of restraint for me, I just told "The National Guard" that it really wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.which STILL wasn't good enough for Them/Him, because he asked "well young man, what is it that you want to do with your life?" (and, as an aside, I really have no fucking clue whatsoever what I want to do with my life, but that's a terrible answer to give to someone like "The National Guard".) to which I told him that "Right Now? Hang up on you and get back to work." He started saying something else, but by that point I had hung up on him to get back to work.

Now, for the sake of brevity, I'll refrain (for this post) on sharing with you all my conflicted and complicated opinion on our modern military, and focus rather on why I'm pretty much the very last person that said Military would want in their ranks.

1.) I HATE fake people.and if there's any word to describe military recruiters (aside from skeezy), it would be 'Fake'. I remember Curt mentioning to me during his recruitment process that he was just thrilled and amazed by how nice everyone was to him.well duh. Of course they're nice. If they actually told you about how terrible they were all going to be to you once you signed up and swore in, you'd probably do an 'about face' and run the other way. There's a really good chance I'd be abandoned by the Used Car Salesman in Uniform during recruitment as I'd be going in to the process knowing they were lying out of their puckered little arseholes, and would be overly preoccupied with trying to trip them up. Not to mention, I'd want every single one of their 'promises' in writing.

2.) The military seems to be obsessed with making their recruits and members do really odd little acts of contortionism. Thus far, Curt's talked about "Duck Walking" and "Smurf-Jacks", the latter of which involves doing a jumping jack while squatting down. That my first thought after hearing this story was "I wonder if they got proper authorization from Peyo Inc. to use the word 'Smurf'?" probably isn't indicative of a successful military career for me either.

3.) They (the Military) expect people to get up at 5 am. No, If I'm not going to be able to get out of bed in order to make it to work on time, the odds of me getting out of bed at 5 am so I can go do a fucking 'Smurf-Jack' are slim to none.

4.) I once spent a night in jail.I didn't like it. I made a pretty rational decision after getting out of jail (not even really 'jail' so much as 'the drunk tank') to never go back. So far, from everything I've heard about the Military, sounds a lot like Jail, only you volunteer to go into it, and then they brainwash you into wanting to stay.or send you overseas and let people shoot you.or throw rotten fruit at you. Either way, it doesn't strike me as something I would ever expect to wake up and think "Hey, you know what sounds like fun."And if you disagree with me, you're probably either a.) Curt, or b.) stupid. Military = Voluntarily Going to Jail.

5.) It's me. I used to get offended when people would say to me "You'd never make it in the Military", because I took it to mean they saw me as fat, or lazy, or whatever, and they all envisioned me laying out in the PT Field, passed out cold from doing push ups or something like retrospect though, I think I understand what they mean. I don't particularly thrive in a structured environment. There's a reason I don't work at a call center any more. I don't need to be told when I can eat, go to the bathroom, when I can talk.and god help me if someone tells me a I can't smoke while having a cigarette. While I consider myself matured past the "I'm a grown man and can do whatever I want" attitude, I also consider myself developmentally sound enough to not need to be told what to do, and when to do it, every minute of the day.

Granted, if you're completely delusional, I can see where the above list could be taken as "5 reasons RJ needs the military", but that's just stupid. Me in the military is a Court Martial and 'Other than Honorable' Discharge just waiting to happen. In my imagination, the most likely scenarios involviing me in a National Guard drill are: I start laughing; I punch the Drill Sergeant in the nose; I Ally MacBeal dream about punching the Drill Sergeant in the nose and then start laughing; I grab my stuff and announce to the entire platoon "Screw you guys, I'm going home." The last one would certainly be the most interesting. I mean, you have to wonder what would happen in that instance. Would they chase me down and haul me back? Would they shoot me? That seems a little extreme, but then again, so does making people do Smurf-Jacks (Smurf is a Registered Trademark of Peyo, Inc. All Rights Reserved.) at 5 am. Then there's the fact that I work for a Veteran owned company, that has me on assignment at the VA, and that makes most of their money off of Federal contracts. The smart money says that they'd frown on having an AWOL soldier on their payroll, and I'm not entirely sure if "getting fired for being an AWOL soldier" flies with Iowa Workforce Development when trying to get unemployment.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Natalie Portman is the perfect White Swan.

There’s a old urban legend that claims when Natalie Portman was starring in a stage production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”, a member of the audience was so horrified by her acting that he yelled out “She’s in the Attic!” when the Nazi’s came on stage. No, it’s not true, and no, I did not start this rumor. I’m not sure which of those is more surprising…or more disappointing. 
Let’s face facts kids: Natalie Portman is one of the single worst actresses ever.  Yeah, she’s pretty, and yeah, she seems nice, but being nice and pretty doesn’t make you talented.  Why in the world this woman keeps getting high profile acting gigs in big blockbuster movies is beyond me.  Granted, I think she nailed the role of *Queen* Amidala in “The Phantom Menace”, but the reason I emphasized the word ‘Queen’ was because it went to shit the moment the role switched over to *Senator* Amidala, and she had to start showing emotion. 
Think about a Natalie Portman movie, any Natalie Portman movie.  Regardless of the role she’s playing, or the emotion that she’s supposed to be conveying, you can bet your ass that you’ll get two things from her: 1.) that stupid raspy, billowy voice; and 2.) a blank, vapid stare.  When she smiles, it’s only with her mouth and teeth, and her eyes are still glassy.  Same when she cries. Or yells….or, whatever.  And what baffles me, is that there’s actual proof out there that she doesn’t have to do this.  If you watch the original trailer for “The Phantom Menace”, you’ll hear her actually yell, forcefully, the line “Get to your ships!”  But in the actual movie, probably changed up during re-dubs, you get billowy, raspy Natalie voice for the same line.  You feel the urgency and strength in her voice ONLY in the trailer (and, of course, there’s also the SNL Gangsta Rap video she made, but I’m pretty sure Andy Samberg got her soused just minutes before they made that…). 
So all of that brings us to my first “WTF?!?!” decision of 2011, when I voluntarily decided to go see “Black Swan” last Friday.  I figured that if nothing else, I owed it to myself to see what all the fuss was about, and I hadn’t witnessed a good train wreck in awhile.  What I wasn’t expecting to happen though, was to end up loving the movie…which I did…but not for the reasons any of you may guess. 
For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Black Swan”, let me give you a brief and spoiler-free summation of the plot: A ballerina finally gets her chance to become a star after being cast as both the White Swan, AND the Black Swan in her company’s performance of Swan Lake (as an aside, if I had known this movie was going to be about ballet, I never would have agreed to go see it). The ‘drama’ begins though when we (the audience) learn that the character Nina, played by Portman, is a tremendously talented, technical dancer, but that she’s completely frigid.  Nina is so cold, so emotionless, that she’s unable to seduce a single man, let alone an entire audience. To wit, she’s the perfect virginal, chaste (boring) White Swan, but a horrendous seductive and passionate Black Swan.   We were about a quarter of the way through the movie before I changed my position from ‘relaxed in my seat, watching a train wreck’ to ‘upright and attentive, taking in every line, every moment of this film’.  Indeed, my brain was on fire as I came to realize the truth about this movie: “Darren Aronofsky made the perfect metaphor for how wretched of an actress Natalie Portman is…and he cast Natalie Portman in it!”  If there was any doubt about it, let me be clear: The man is a genius (and I’ve used too damn many colons in this paragraph). 
So…about all of the Oscar buzz surrounding this movie (Entertainment Weekly called Portman ‘The Contender’ for this year’s Best Actress award)…despite how many people have seen this movie, and raved about it, everyone seems to be missing the point.  The category is “Best Actress”, not “Best Metaphorical Portrayal of Oneself in a Motion Picture.”  The movie is amazing, but only for the fact that a vapid, emotionless, frigid ‘actress’ is playing a vapid, emotionless, frigid character.  I can’t say that the movie isn’t enjoyable, and I won’t say that the characters aren’t believable, because they are, but to give a craptastic actress the highest honor and award given in Hollywood because she nailed a role that she plays in every single movie she’s ever been in? Well, that’s a insane as the Academy awarding ‘Best Original Song’ to “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”…
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Monday, January 3, 2011

Born and Raised in South Detroit...

(Or at least "Living in the area of Des Moines that seems intent on mimicking it...)

Raise your hand if you've ever had someone fire bomb your apartment complexes parking lot...Yeah, that's what I thought. Guess who *does* get to raise his hand cuz he's sure? That's right, this guy, right here. And I slept right through it!!! Apparently sometime between the hours of 5 and 6 am on January 3, some dumbasses threw Molotov Cocktails into the windows of cars in the complex and at the leasing office. That's just fucking fantastic. As a friend put it: "Alcohol abuse and Vandalism" all wrapped up into one neat little package.

January 3 of course being the first day of my new lease that I signed back in November, so I wouldn't have to move in the dead of winter...Good Job RJ!