Spreading culture

I’m struggling a little with how to expose my kids to a broader range of interesting movies. I’ve given up on most TV; though I can usually get the younger one to watch Scooby-Doo, I don’t think I’ll ever get either one to sit through the original Star Trek. But movies seem like they’re so much a part of our cultural lexicon that I feel like I’m doing my kids a disservice if I don’t broaden their horizons at least a little beyond Disney and superhero movies.

But where to start? I haven’t watched films in the theatre for years, and I’m a little afraid to go too far back in time because most of the films I can think of will likely lead smack into a discussion about American racism.

Take the 1956 movie Around the World in 80 Days. I wouldn’t normally have thought of it, as I haven’t seen the movie, but the Victor Young soundtrack was in a pile of records given to me by a family member and it seems to fit the bill—big, epic adventure movie, no adult themes, iconic moments (the balloon scene!). But then, it’s a film that goes around the world, and I shudder to think how the different cultures visited are depicted. I guess there’s no substitute for seeing the film myself and making my own conclusions…

Successful friends: The Parking Lot Movie

This week, the documentary The Parking Lot Movie hit the iTunes store for download or rent. A movie about the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville and the philospher-kings who work there, it features an appearance by Our Very Own D.R. Tyler Magill (that’s him above), with music by another friend, Sam Retzer.

I have rarely laughed so hard when listening to a soundtrack as I did when the first cut came on, Rikka Rikka’s “Life in a Nutshell.” To paraphrase does it no justice; you simply have to hear it.

There’s also a set of outtakes on YouTube: check this one that Tyler leads off:

I am going to have to start a whole new Glee Club history chapter about this thing; both Sam and Tyler sang with me, back in the day.

DVD Review: Foyle’s War, Series 4

foyle's war series 4

Sixty years after its conclusion, World War II continues to provide an inexhaustible flow of stories. While many follow traditional narratives of Good vs. Evil on the world stage, a set of quiet television dramas from England have told a different story:
what does the Last Just War look like from the home front?
Foyle’s War explores crime stories in a small village against the backdrop of the war. And Series 4, now available on DVD from Acorn Media, begins at a particular point in the war:
what happens when your allies come to stay and fight the war from your soil?

The first episode, “Invasion,” is a case in point. The story opens with a young boy playing in the street, whose eyes widen at the sound of motors coming up the lane. As Jeeps roll by, he runs back to the house shouting, “The Jerries are here!” The boy’s mistake sets the stage for the next 90 minutes, during which a murder mystery plays out against a background of mutual Anglo-American distrust.

This is, in fact, the sort of video that can be challenging to watch without bringing context from current events. One uncomfortable resonance point includes the angry speech from the farmer whose land is requisitioned by the war department, asking whether the Americans have come to help or to stay. Another, the scene of Foyle providing background on British behavior and customs to a schoolroom full of American GIs, only to be confronted by an isolationist private angry at having been dragged from the US to save the British, is an uncomfortable metaphor for American foreign policy.

What the series does best, though, and what episodes 3 and 4 in the set deliver in spades, is show warfare from the perspective of those left behind at the home front: spouses, retirees, war profiteers, and the police themselves. One critique of the series is that the producers spend so much time on getting the historical atmosphere right and exploring these characters that they can lose the thread of the main plot; with each episode featuring some level of murder mystery or other police case, that can be a little frustrating. But overall the show is one of those rare viewing experiences that is quietly compelling. I’ve tried, and failed, to do other things while the program was on (like for instance writing this review), and for an inveterate multitasker like myself to confess that is high praise indeed.

I was just made by the Presbyterian Church!

Thanks to a Slashdot poster, here’s a magnificent set of mistranslated subtitles for Revenge of the Sith, also known as The Backstroke of the West. Apparently the English to Chinese to English process turned out some fun translations, such as “the Presbyterian Church” for the Jedi Council. Which is, you know, pretty amazing.

As in, “the Presbyterian Church like enjoys you not.” Which, I believe, is how Amendment B was originally worded before it got into committee.

Hacking TiVo — not for the faint of heart

Every now and then I realize I’m at the far boundaries of my hacker cred. Such as when I read the directions for hacking a piece of popular hardware and turn pale. Today it looks like extending the TiVo with low level hack functionality like telnet, etc., requires rebuilding the kernel on the machine.

However, TiVo released an official SDK called the TiVo Home Media Engine (HME) last year, which allows developers to extend the platform with third party applications. I was pretty excited about this until I checked out the list of third party applications, which is pretty small even taking into account the additional list of downloadable apps. I’m frankly surprised that there aren’t more developers hopping onto the platform. What’s going on?

Might it be that the original hardware hackers who blazed the trails aren’t excited about playing with the official SDK precisely because it’s official?

Talk hard

I’m in a sketchy Travelodge (well, only as sketchy as the places I’ve stayed outside Tanglewood for our residencies, so not bad, just not the Ritz. Hey, there’s free Wifi.) in Lancaster, PA tonight. Just finished re-watching (for the first time in probably 15 years) Pump Up the Volume, the movie about the deep anxieties of teenage life as expressed through pirate radio that was so, so much better than it deserved to be. And of course in retrospect the parallels to blogging and podcasting are obvious. Got an issue? Seize the air. Talk hard. And your friends and fans will come out in droves to support you.

Well, maybe not so much that last part… In fact, the one thing in retrospect that was disappointing about that movie was that Mark “Hard Harry” Hunter, when he faced the crowd of high school students, FCC goons, and school administrators in that parking lot as he was being arrested, didn’t have to face his dad. Who, of course, was not the clueless wonder that Mark thought he was the whole time, but you never got to see that except in his slapdown of the principal. Mark never gets to reconcile. Or, more likely, never gets that look of anger fighting with disbelief from his dad. Of course, maybe it’s better that way, and you’re free to hope that, based on the evidence in the last scene, his family will understand him.

But this part, the connection to people you really know you, is probably the hardest part about blogging. I didn’t filter much when I started writing this site, and you can tell, particularly in the fall of 2002 when I hit a hard patch of depression. I put a lot out there. Was that because I felt free to do so while I was on the other side of the continent from my family? I don’t know. Lately though it seems to me that I filter too much on this site because I know so many people who are reading it, and they’re not so far away now. Not the concert reviews or the technical articles, or even the occasional political rant, but what I am thinking and doing at any given time. The site used to be about me. Now it’s about some of what I do. Not sure how I’m going to change that, but I’d like to. Fortunately I don’t have as many bad things going on, but it would be good to share some of the good things too.

I need to shake up my writing style a bit. It’s hard as my time to write becomes increasingly constricted, but I’ll start trying. After all, if Pump Up the Volume was powerful enough to encourage Amanda of the Dresden Dolls to write brilliant meditations about belonging and to try to get the attention of Conor Oberst at the same time, I can at least acknowledge the movie’s power by trying to write more honestly.

Well, speaking of honesty, I should probably acknowledge to myself that I need to sleep. There’s a family reunion tomorrow, along with an early morning church service that I need my voice for. So be it…

—Oh, and by the way. Anyone think the FCC has goons like the ones in the movie, who drive around in yellow vans that say FCC on them and triangulate radio signals and generally act like The Man? Don’t be silly. It’s the RIAA that does that; well, that and the Department of Homeland Security, who for some reason don’t contain the FCC as yet. Which is odd, since it seems to contain every other Federal agency in charge of infringing on the rights of American citizens in the name of the common good.

Sleep tight now.

Snakes on a Plane countdown 4: Cobra Starship

If you followed any links from Jeff Rowland’s copy Overcompensating that I pointed to yesterday, you may already have seen the music video for the Snakes on a Plane theme. Just in case, here it is:

You can also download “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” as an MP3, thanks to a bunch of MP3 bloggers, including the DIY Rockstar.

Now that this song is permanently embedded in your brain (and retinas!), what’s cool about this band is that, rather than being a b-movie version of the Black Eyed Peas as it might appear from the video, is that it’s essentially an indie supergroup. Featuring Gabe Saporta from Midtown, Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, William Beckett from Academy Is…, and the incomparable Maja Ivarsson from The Sounds (plus a special appearance from Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy), the whole group comes together with a full on sonic assault that parodies big soaring movie themes while managing to be genuinely thrilling. Not what you’d expect from a bunch of ex-emo folks.

And as you may have noticed, Samuel L. Jackson is in the video, about two minutes in. And you might recognize his attire.

Snakes on a Plane countdown 3: Jeff Rowland

overcompensating, Snakes on a Plane, way back in September 2005

In our ongoing series of Snakes in a Plane related crap leading up to its opening on Friday (see previous posts on the T-shirt and the TSA alert), I want to touch briefly on the role that Jeffrey Rowland, webcomic author (and owner of TopatoCo and creator of the Snakes Flying a Plane t-shirt), has had on building the hype that is the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon. In fact, one could almost say it’s all his fault. (One would be wrong, but one could say it.) The sequence of events:

September 2005: Jeff brings himself into the SOAP world, confronting an irate Samuel L. Jackson (you can tell it’s Sam cause he has the pimptastic purple lightsaber; see illustration to the right) and reveling in the sheer awesininity of it all…

July 2006. Jeff appears with Samuel L. Jackson at the San Diego Comic-Con to talk about Snakes on a Plane, in July 2006. See the follow-ups about his adventures: decision to go, gets onto the roundtable with Sam, frets about how to talk with Sam and not get shot, mistaking Sam for Laurence Fishburne, coming up with new names for the movie, which leads to…

August 2006, when Jeff gets to go to the movie’s premiere. Which is where he’s heading pretty much right now, to walk the red carpet and record bonus material for the DVD of the movie. Who says there are no rags to riches stories on teh Intarweb?

Snakes on a Plane countdown 2: TSA???

Boing Boing: As with gels, liquids: TSA bans mother})(^!#$ snakes from planes. Heh. I give Hollywood a lot of credit, but surely they didn’t arrange a major international terror alert just to promote the movie, did they? Hmm?

Best not to ask. Besides, if they had, the movie would probably be called something else.

From the semi-official advisory:

Protecting the Aviation System. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be implementing a series of security measures—some visible and some not visible—to ensure the security of the traveling public and the Nation’s transportation system. TSA is immediately implementing following changes to airport screening procedures:

NO SNAKES OF ANY KIND WILL BE PERMITTED ON A PLANE. SNAKES ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED IN CHECKED BAGGAGE. This includes all pythons, boas, rattlesnakes, vipers, mambas, adders, and other known species of snakes.

Exception: some limited amounts of snakes may be allowed if Samuel L. Jackson is traveling; licensed snake charmers are allowed to have snakes in their check in baggage only if the name on the snake charming license matches the one passenger’s ticket; people whose name is Snake will be allowed on board but only after full body cavity search.

Snakes on a Plane countdown 1: The T-Shirt


A story that I didn’t get to tell from the Mozart residency at Tanglewood: I walk into the Pittsfield Subway store, having less than 30 minutes to get lunch before a conference call for work. I’m waiting for one clerk to finish my order. The other one, who looks a little like a burgeoning hipster but is probably still in high school, is ringing me up. She looks up, then does a double take.

“Hey, is that Snakes on a Plane??” she asks, pointing at my t-shirt.

I pause for a minute; I’ve just come out of a morning’s orchestra rehearsal at Tanglewood where no one noticed what I was wearing. Then I remember. “Well, technically,” I said, “it’s snakes flying a plane. You know… copyright. But yeah, Samuel L. Jackson wears this shirt in the video for the movie’s theme song.”

“Cool,” she said. I told her where to get the t-shirt (TopatoCo, home of discriminating Snakes Flying a Plane merchandise) and went on my way, marveling. I may be getting older than dirt, but I’m hip enough to have an inside secret that proto-hipsters in Pittsfield, MA want in on. Thanks, TopatoCo!

—Seriously, if SOAP turns out to be a lousy movie, it will still be memorable for having spawned snarky hipster knock-off merchandise and other leading indicators of cool even before it hits the silver screen. I’ll spend a few more posts this week hitting some of the other high points. (And, yes, therefore feeding the viral star-making machinery. Oh well.)

President Bail Organa

Just as well the West Wing is over. I’m not sure I believe Jimmy Smits as a president any more than I believe him as Princess Leia’s adoptive father.

Oh, hell. I’m too young to be that grouchy an old fart. I’ll miss the show.

It’s a Tivo world

We haven’t had access to a DVR since we got the HD TV, since Comcast doesn’t offer a cable box + HDTV DVR. In fact, we’ve hardly used the main TV setup since we got the HDTV. That’s about to change: we just picked up a Tivo + DVD burner combo from Circuit City, who were offering $150 rebates. The plan is to pass standard-def signals to the Tivo from the HD box and pass hi-def directly to the TV.

This plan meant that I had to free up some space in the stereo rack. That’s OK, though: last weekend when I replaced my old cheap Technics turntable with the Denon, I pulled out my 50-disc Sony CD changer. In addition to the fact that almost all my CDs have been ripped, and our DVD changer can play any that I still want to hold onto, the CD changer was the last piece of Sony tech in the rack, and I really want it gone.

I’m looking forward to hopping onto the Tivo bandwagon. One of the other frustrating things about the Comcast unit was the inability to get programs off of it. The DVD burner, plus the ability to network the Tivo, should open some new frontiers.

It’s time for the Muppet Wiki

Nice database of all things Henson related shaping up at the Muppet Wiki. There are already some pretty comprehensive Muppet sites out there, so it will be interesting to see if the wiki format adds anything new. But you have to be impressed with a format that includes a full biography of Mahna Mahna and a listing of every appearance of the Swedish Chef.