Archive | November, 2013

Cult Classics: Ulysses 31

30 Nov

ulysses 31

 

For me a cult classic is something that you have to dig for–it’s not something that everybody already knows about or talks about.   I’ve yet to hear anybody talk about this cartoon at great length, and have recently rediscovered it.   As a kid it was the sort of cartoon that was on after school that I watched because it’s on.   However, returning to this years later, the show is extremely strange.

Combine the weirdest parts of Japanese anime and French animation with Homer’s Odyssey, and put it all in space.   It’s not really a retelling of the Odyssey but more “inspired” by the story if you know what I mean.   What this adds up to is a dark space opera that has Ulysses, his son Telemachus, an alien girl, and No-no the robot, flying a ship filled with floating dead bodies through space.

The tone is almost bleak to say the least.  Each episode they encounter a planet, usually filled with desolate landscape and underpopulated, where the people there try to stop them from moving on.   The design is really strange, part star wars, but they include these alien organic elements that are really creepy.  Add to that vast scenes filled with no talking and spacey sounds (not really music) really gives this show a sense of loneliness and isolation that I’ve never seen in a cartoon before.     The writing is of the same tone as classic Doctor Who, and often comes close to quality.

There’s also a cheesy element–at one point Ulysses is trapped in a giant pinball machine, and the theme song is like someone decided the Top Gun music wasn’t enthusiastic enough, and the dubbing doesn’t really match the mouths–sometimes to the point where I wonder if what we’re hearing in English is the same as what was said in the original script at all.

Anyway, I’d highly recommend this–it’s good Saturday morning cheesy fun.

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Poetry Review: Larry Levis’s “Blue Stone”

18 Nov

Blue Stone

Someday, when you are twenty-four and walking through
The street of a foreign city…
Let me go with you a little way,
Let me be that stranger you won’t notice.
And when you turn and enter a bar full of young men
and women, and your laughter rises,
Like the stones of a path up a mountain,
To say that no one has died,
I promise I will not follow. 

Sometimes a poem touches me even if I don’t really understand all the pieces of it.  Clearly, this is the point of view of an older man talking to a younger person, could be his daughter or son.   He wants to watch young people, not in a dirty way, but to see their happy innocence.   Rising laughter because nobody has died yet.  And the old man is removed from this laughter.  He says it rises like stones on a path to a mountain, and he promises he will not follow.  Something about this tone catches me a little in the throat.   His promise that he will not follow–because he cannot?  Because the laughter, while familiar is beyond him?  Because he no longer has days where no one has died?  And also the promising not to follow goes with the not trying to be one of the young ones, to not get hip to them or anything like that.

To be a peeping tom with sex is creepy, but sort of understandable–but to be a peeping tom of joy, there’s something seriously wrong here.   That this is the closest to joy that this lonely old man can find.   To be left out.  To choose to be left out because he knows so much.

And why is this called blue stone?  I don’t know–blue for the mood of the speaker, stones for the laughter.   Or maybe how instead of climbing up a pebbled path, he’s surrounded by heavy blue stone.  I don’t know, I have yet to find an explanation for that name that gives me the proper frisson and connection.  Beautiful poem though.

 

 

tips for teens

16 Nov

I don’t know why, but I feel the need to dish out some advice to teens.   Mostly because it’s a very transitional time for people, and also because it’s good to remind myself.

Here’s the short list:

1.  Stay out of jail.

2.  Don’t get yourself or someone else pregnant.

3.  Don’t pick up an addiction.

4.  Finish High School.

The way I see it, if a teenager can do these four things, they’re going into their twenties in good shape.   These are the very basics, and they don’t guarantee happiness or anything, but if you accomplish these four things, you’ve covered all the stuff that can do long term damage for you at this point.   Now if you want to be happy–this is what I’d do:

1.  Take care of your teeth.  Nobody will tell you to do this, but god! If you just remember to brush and floss every day now, you won’t have to deal with all the stupid teeth stuff later on which is painful, expensive, and never as good as what you’re born with.

2.  Work-out.   I’m not saying that you have to get a whole exercise regimen, but find an activity that is physical to do for 20-30 minutes a day.   It can be anything that just gets you up and moving.  A good walk is enough, hike, dance, ANYTHING.  Not only will it put  you in better shape, but regular workouts make people happier.

3.  Avoid processed foods, but otherwise don’t sweat your diet.  If you can cut the soda, chips, and sweets down you’ll be fine.  Those things are meant to be once-in-a-while treats, not food you eat daily.   

4.  Ignore popularity.   Popular is this strange power in high school that exists nowhere else.   I’m not saying there’s not cliques and such in the real world, but they don’t really matter all that much.  Right now popularity seems like everything, but truth be told the most popular person in class has no more real friends than you do.  You don’t believe this, but it’s true.

5.  Sex is your decision.  Never have sex when you really don’t want to.   Right now all the adults around you are probably telling you different things about sex.   Ultimately, even with all this advice, you’ll be on your own here, because even with all the rules in the world, you’ll probably find a way to do it anyway.   I’m not going to talk about the right time, or the right place, but I am going to say never have sex if you’re scared, or feel like it’s expected, or someone’s pressuring you to do it.  You need to protect yourself until you’re ready, and only you decide when you are ready.  Nobody else.

6.  Stick to your real friends.  There are people who, while they might not be exciting, will support you through thick and thin.  Those people you need to stick to, because you’ll be tempted to gravitate towards people who are exciting and cool instead.

7.  Try not to be a snot, even when people deserve it.   That’s just classy.

8.  Never bully or pick on other people.   

9.  Be kind to the elderly.  For whatever reason there seems to be a mutual distrust between the very old and teenagers.   Probably because both are grouchy, hormonal, and sick of people talking down to them.   Older folks have a lot on their plate–they usually don’t have much money, their bodies hurt, and while the world will flock around and support you if you have a fatal illness at a young age, if your old and death is right around the corner you pretty much have to face it yourself.   It’s scary.   I would like to see all teenagers be as nice to them as the kid with cancer in high school.  They need it.

10.  If you drink or do any other naughty thing (which I’m not condoning, but this is real life we’re talking about) make sure you are in a safe place with people you trust.  Bad stuff can happen, particularly because you’re inexperienced with this sort of thing.  Stay safe.

11.  Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in real life.   Not only does that stuff come back around to you eventually, but while a stupid comment will get forgotten in the real world, online stuff is there forever.  Assume that people will see stuff that you wouldn’t want to.

12.  Detach from your phones and electronics once in a while to interact with the real world.  You need to learn how to have conversations with people, how to connect and enjoy others.  Developing this will get you way farther than anything else at this time in your life.   

One Hit Wonders

15 Nov

One hit wonders are an interesting phenomenon.   To be clear, I am not including bands that are well established groups that happened to have a crossover single.  Jimi Hendrix might have had one top 40 hit, but that doesn’t make him a one hit wonder in my book–his music had more influence than most of the top 40 combined.  The groups I count are ones where they are known only for one very significant song.

Take the group Steam.  You don’t know them by their name unless you’re a music nerd, but if I started singing “Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” you know that song as if you were born with it in your head.   That song has a place in our cultural landscape to this day, though I could pass the band on the street and never recognize them.   They will always be the band that wrote that song, even if they had five more albums to their name.

In general I can place one hit wonders into three groups.

Novelty Songs–I include holiday ones here too.  Things like “The Monster Mash,” “It’s Raining Men,” “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”  There’s a million of these things.  Most of these songs are funny at first, but right on the verge of annoying.  Whether it’s “I’m Too Sexy” or “I Touch Myself” nobody was wondering why these groups didn’t have follow-ups.  Their scope was too small.

Trend Followers–For example “Winchester Cathedral.”  When this song came out the British Invasion was very trendy, so they made a generic British Invasiony sounding song.  It was catchy, but because the band never got an image beyond that, they had no place to go.  “Green Tambourine” did that with psychedelic pop.  There’s a million disco songs that go with this, and in the late eighties-early nineties–generic soul songs.

Songs so good that they’re impossible to follow–These are the songs I love.  Songs that could come from some no-name band and have an impact because they were so good, but the band either had terrible marketing, were actually not that talented and tripped over a great song, or could make great songs but not great albums.   “I ran (so far away),” “Black Velvet” “Stay.”   However, I could argue that these songs are better than many of the “hits” because they are popular because of the music, and not because the band had an image or anything.

 

Poetry Review: “A Short History of the Apple” by Dorianne Laux

11 Nov
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days. —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929
 
 
Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve’s knees ground in the dirt
of paradise.  Newton watching
gravity happen.  The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber’s bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain’s honeybees:
white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.
 

This poem is an idea cloud of everything that comes to mind with apple.  What’s interesting here is that Laux combines mythology and facts to make a history.  It’s an interesting bait-and-switch, because though her subject seems to be apples, what she’s really showing us is what makes a history.   For her it is not facts and figures–there’s no science here, but a collection of associations, stories, and sensual memories.   History at its heart is an irrational thing, based on our impressions of the present more than what actually happened in the past.

She revels in language here, with several phrases just popping out–bees being white man’s flies,  winter banana, tin pot hat.   And how the apple can symbolize women’s shame, westward expansion, scientific progress, America, Snow White–all these ideas that don’t normally fit together put under the thematic circle called apple.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a whole dictionary that cataloged common things like this.   How rich it would be.

Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly

10 Nov

trumpeter of krakow

I’ve been going through the Newbery winners, and this one was…ok. We follow a family who has the philosopher’s stone, go to the city of Krakow after being burnt out of their farm in the Ukraine. What follows is a bunch of episodic adventures, and a lot of Polish mythology. The woodcut images are really nifty, and there’s a theme of superstition vs. learning that plays through most of the book, however the characters are all very flat. The main family is extremely goody-goody and earnest and the bad guys are all mustache twiddlers.   I don’t think this is a book to seek out, but if you happen to get your hands on it, it’s a mildly diverting read.

Movie Review: Friday the 13th Part 2

9 Nov

frida the 13th part 2

 

Well, even though Halloween is over, I’ve continued my 80’s slasher films, because they’ve been fun.   For Friday the 13th Part 2 I was pleasantly surprised!  This must be one of the best sequels to a movie like this ever.   SPOILERS FOLLOW so proceed with caution!

I think this film could be a good tutorial for anybody trying to make a sequel in a franchise.   Here’s what it does right:

–It assumes you’ve watched the first one, but is still simple enough to follow if you haven’t.   A lot of movies either completely start out new after throwing a few biscuits out to the original without worrying about continuity (annoying) or get so ham-strung in continuity it forgets to be fun.   F13 part 2 does neither of these things.   We get a little flashback scene at the beginning, and clearly all the action is based on the past movie, but it is happy to go in a new direction.

–It messes with its own formula.   This film knows what the audience expects–you think the guy in the wheelchair is gonna get stuck?  Nope.   You think that the girl from the last movie is going to go head-to-head with Jason?  Nope.  You think the funny one is going to die?  Nope.   The film has a deft hand at playing with the expectations an audience would have and changing them.

–The movie has an interesting theme, not covered in the first one.  Sure it’s not Shakespeare, but the theme of urban legend vs. reality is a very interesting one and brings the story into new territory.   The whole set-up is that the Jason story is now well known and there’s a fascination with Crystal Lake as well as the whole Jason experience.  We get campfire stories, and even theories over why he is the way he is.   What we don’t get is the total unvarnished truth.  Very clever.

–The movie doesn’t weigh itself down in exposition.   We don’t need to know the life stories of every counselor that comes to this place.

–Most (though not all) of what happens makes perfect sense if you think about it.  Like the ending–we don’t know what truly happened that night because the main actress is insane.   Jason’s house makes sense as well as his obsession with his mother.   Even little things, like how the cop acts, is perfectly in character and not blown over the top.

–The main actress uses her head to get past Jason.   In part 1 all of the characters acted like idiots, but here they make plans, they get prepared, they make semi-sensible decisions.

–The film has a sense of humor about itself.  One of the best jokes is when the girl gets out of the shower, and looks at the camera.  Is she facing a stalker?  Nope, she’s just getting out of the shower.

However, this wouldn’t be a fun movie if I didn’t notice some things.  For instance:

1.  The clothes–Look at the knit plaid overalls the first woman is wearing–why do they balloon like that?  At first I thought she was pregnant, but then later we see her being very unpregnant in a kimono.   Then there’s the shorts the jogger wears that manage to cover her belly button but not her butt cheeks.   Or what about the brown panties one girl changes into that bulge in the back in a very unflattering way?   And I’ve never seen so many half shirts in my life!

2.  So the first girl was traumatized by the killings at Crystal Lake, so she chooses to get a house in the nearby town?   Wasn’t she from far away?  Also what’s up with all the clown paintings she’s doing?  Therapy?

3.  They can’t use the Crystal Lake camp, so these people open up a new camp off the same lake–that’s awfully close.   Also, were there always two camps near this little podunk town?

4.  Jason’s house has a toilet that’s not hooked up with blades of grass in it.  I don’t even know what to do with that information.

5.  And the biggest bit–the dog.  So the dog disappears halfway through the movie, and the kids find a torn up animal with the very same ribbon on it.   They say the animal is unidentifiable.   (Though it looks pretty much like the same dog from here.)  Later the dog just saunters back in.   So did Jason kill some other animal and put a ribbon on it?  The thing is the person who owns the dog never even heard about this finding, so it can’t be to creep people out.   *shrug*