Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jurassic Park: The Definitive Movie of My Childhood

I was thinking recently about what it would be like if I could take a time machine back to 1993 and have a conversation with my 11 year old self. What would we talk about? Star Trek, almost definitely (The end of Star Trek: TNG is going to blow your mind, little Me). Girls (you are going to get SUPER into girls). School (ummm, high school is going to suck almost as much as Middle School). And probably movies.

I assume you have a list of favorite movies. We all do, right? If I had to put together a top 5, it would probably look something like this:

-Lord of the Rings (I consider the whole Trilogy to be one movie)
-Ratatouille
-The Royal Tennenbaums
-the Avengers
-Who Framed Roger Rabbit

This list changes at least once a week, by the way. Right now, my logic is that these are the movies I re-watch (or would re-watch if they were out on DVD/streaming) the most.

My 11 year old self's list would look very different. It would probably look something like this:

-Hook
-Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
-Aladdin
-Who Framed Roger Rabbit
-Jurassic Park

That last one is probably the most important one. I remember Jurassic Park the way I think kids of a previous generation remember Star Wars, and/or Indiana Jones. It was- without a doubt- the definitive film of my childhood. I was OBSESSED with Jurassic Park. I read the book, I had some action figures (even though I was kind of too old for them at that point), I read every magazine article I could get my grubby paws on about the movie.

True story- as an incredibly uncreative 11 year old, I created my own version of Jurassic Park called Cretaceous Park (after the Cretaceous era when most of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park ACTUALLY lived) wherein I was one of the people working at my Jurassic Park analogue and I had to round up dinosaurs, and whatnot. I would draw pictures of myself riding stegosauruses and fighting pteranadons.

Why did I like Jurassic Park so much? Why did every eleven year old in America love Jurassic Park so much?

Well, first and foremost, it's legitimately a great movie. Go back and watch it again. It holds up. Of the five movies I have listed as my 11 year old self's favorites, the only one that holds up better is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because it's actually a really smart film that you can probably appreciate MORE as an adult than you did as a kid. But it's an awesome movie.

On top of that, it's a visual spectacle. One of the coolest experiences you can have at the movies is seeing something you have never seen before. At the time it came out, no one had ever made film dinosaurs that looked as real as the dinos in Jurassic Park. When you watched that film, you really believed that the T-Rex was a real, breathing creature. When the brachiosaurus stood up when Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and co. show up at the park, you could almost see that beautiful sauropod walking across the plains.

Plus, um, dinosaurs. Who doesn't love dinosaurs? I mean, other than Young Earth Creationists who think that God hid dinosaur bones in the Earth to test their faith? I was OBSESSED with dinosaurs as a kid.

It's just a fun, awesome movie. It's Steven Spielberg at the peak of his powers. When I go to the movies, when I shell out $10 plus (or the equivalent of $10 in 1993 dollars) I want to see something big, and over the top that I have never seen before. That's what Jurassic Park is/was.

I was talking to my brother (Tommy) on the phone recently, and I said "I think I had more fun watching the Avengers than I have had watching any movie since Jurassic Park" and I realized as I said those words that they were 100 percent, totally true. Jurassic Park was/is awesome. And more importantly, whenever I think about it, that warm, nostalgic memory of childhood just washes all over me.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Promote My Friends' Creative Projects Wednesday

I really like Twitter. It is- far and away- my favorite social media thingy. I heard a great quote, and I don't remember who said it but it basically goes "Facebook makes me hate people I know, and Twitter makes me love people I've never met". I use twitter as a news aggregater, a way to keep up with friends, a place to read funny jokes, a place to share information, and a place to post funny bits of my own.

I can be found on twitter at twitter.com/seanofkelley
Chelsea is on twitter at twitter.com/chelseaofkelley

Yes, we have matching twitters. Yes, it is gross.

I also tweet for work at twitter.com/worldbookinc, and for Improvised Star Trek at twitter.com/improvstartrek.

Anyway. One of the cool things that happens on Twitter is "Follow Friday". On "Follow Friday" people recommend other twitterers whom they think you should follow. I love @drunkhulk, so I think you should, to use Twitter terminology #ff him. I'll tweet that at you, @drunkhulk will get a new follower, and the world will be a better place. We're building community worldwide one tweet at a time.

In the spirit of "Follow Friday", last week, I started a new thing called "Promote My Friends' Creative Projects Wednesday". I know, I know. It's not as catchy as "Follow Friday". I'll work on the title. I need to come up with a cool hashtag.

Basically, I have alot of friends who are doing alot of cool, creative things. I want to help you, person who lives on the internet, learn about those things. So every Wednesday, I am going to use my limited social media powers to highlight three friends' projects. In addition to tweets, I will also post about those projects here at Frakking Shiny.

Since I started last week, I'll post six projects here this week, this will include last week's creative projects, and this week's.

15 Minutes to Obscurity:

My friend Irene from Improvised Star Trek directed this video:


Hold:

Nick Wagner from Improvised Star Trek, and his roommate Dan Granata made this great video for a short film contest:

http://vimeo.com/46943550

Gambit:

James Asmus, whom was once a member of the illustrious improv team The Washington Generals with me, is now writing comic books- specifically, he is currently writing "Gambit". Here is a commentary track he did for the first issue with Comic Book Resources:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=40390

Mindsilt:

Jeff Ford, formerly of the Playground supergroup Space Robbers, writes a very funny blog called Mindsilt. He talks about being a performer, and a Dad, and watching reality TV. Check it out here:

http://www.mindsilt.com

The Craft Store:

Rachel Lewis, another old Washington General, is in a new web series called "the Craft Store":


Saturday/Saturday:

Jason Chin, the creator/director of "Our Feature Presentation", and "Whirled News Tonight", along with about a million other improv shows, is directing/hosting/producing a new variety show at iO Chicago called Saturday/Saturday. You can learn more about that show here:

http://ioimprov.com/chicago/io/shows/saturday-saturday

Klout:

And finally, Jon Dick, an old friend from UMass Amherst, Mission Improvable (my college improv group) and life in general, is now working for Klout. Klout is a web site that measures your social media influence. It can be found at http://www.klout.com

So, why promote friends' creative projects? Well, because these are humans whom I really like. Most of them are really smart, and funny, and they're doing some really neat stuff. If any of these things looks interesting to you, check it out. I hope you enjoy. There will be many more "Promote My Friends' Creative Projects" Wednesdays to come.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Superhero on Superhero Violence, or My Thoughts on Avengers vs. X-Men

Do you remember "Kingdom Come"? The comic book mini-series by Mark Waid and Alex Ross from the 90's? If you haven't read it, you really should it's excellent.

Here's the premise of the story- a few decades in the future, most of the old school superheroes, Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern, etc. have retired or cut back on superheroics as a new generation of much more violent superheroes has risen. These new superheroes have killed off most of the world's supervillain's, and spend most of their time fighting each other.

The whole series was a critique of the comics of the 90's, in particular, the comics that Image was putting out (Spawn, WildCATS, etc.) which featured heroes with giant muscles and giant guns who had no issues with taking out bad guys with EXTREME PREJUDICE! But, it was just as much a celebration of old school, aspirational superhero comics as it was a critique of the EXTREMENESS of the 90's.

What does this have to do with Avengers vs. X-Men?

Well, the future of "Kingdom Come", where superheroes spend most of their time fighting each other rather than assisting their fellow man, reminds me alot of the current Marvel Universe.

Let's look back on some of Marvel's biggest events over the course of the last decade or so:

-Avengers Disassembled featured the Avengers fighting the Scarlet Witch- who was/is a superhero (I realize this has been retconned so the whole thing is now Dr. Doom's fault. I 110% support this retcon).

-In House of M, we discovered that the real villain of the story was Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch's brother, and also- a superhero.

-Civil War- this is kind of the biggest example of superhero on superhero violence in that half of the good guys in the Marvel Universe fought half of the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe over the issue of government superhero registration. Captain America vs. Iron Man! For all of the marbles.

-World War Hulk- the Hulk takes on all of the other superheroes in the Marvel U!

-X-Men Schism- clearly the X-Men were feeling left out after a few years of watching the Avengers fighting each other, and in Schism they got in on the fighting each other act. Cyclops and Wolverine beat each other up!

-Which brings us to Avengers vs. X-Men wherein the Avengers and the X-Men come to blows over control of Hope Summers (aka Jean Grey, Jr.)

Basically, for the last ten years or so, the Marvel Universe has looked like the future shown in Kingdom Come. I should actually specify that Marvel MOSTLY looks like this in their event comics- the individual titles tend to be refreshingly...superhero-y? Iron Man is currently taking on the Mandarin, Ed Brubaker's Captain America has featured Cap taking on just about every great villain he's ever had- the list goes on.

But in the big events? It's all superheroes fighting other superheroes.

And....I'm weary of it. I have major event fatigue in general. These big crossovers/mini-series that Marvel (and DC for that matter) does every year all kind of blur together and start to feel the same after awhile. If that were the only problem I had with them, the solution would be easy. I don't HAVE to read event comics. No one is holding a gun to my head and MAKING read Avengers vs. X-Men.

Here's the thing- I really like the characters in many of these events. I've been reading X-Men comics since 1991, and Avengers comics since 1997. I'm emotionally invested in these characters. I know it's stupid, but I care about them. I want to read comics that feature those characters.

I also want to read about those characters being superheroes. Superheroes inspire me. They're aspirational. They show (me, you, whoever) that the world can be a better place and that we need to use our talents and abilities to make it a better place.

Avengers vs. X-Men is fun at points. I mean, watching the Thing and Namor or Cyclops and Captain America slug it out is fun. It's nerd porn. We talk about this shit all of the time. "Who would win in a fight, Storm, or Thor?"

The problem (for me) is that to get the characters to a place where they are in a position to make the decision to fight each they have to act less than superheroic. The story only happens because Captain America, a superhero, and Cyclops, another superhero, do some fairly unheroic things. Instead of trying to have a conversation with Cap over custody of Hope, Cyclops blasts him in the face. When Cyclops sets about (and succeeding in) making the world a better place, Captain America breaks into his house and tries to kidnap Hope. To boil it down, in order to get superheroes to the point where they would fight each other, they all need to act like assholes to each other.

The other big problem I have with these superhero slobberknockers is that as much as the writers try to make both sides come off well, one side always ends up looking like the bad guy more than the other. For the first few issues of AvX, I actually thought things seemed fairly balanced. And then (Spoilers) five of the X-Men were endowed with the godlike power of the Phoenix Force. They have since- taken over the planet, imprisoned most of the Avengers in a hell-like pocket dimension, and destroyed the nation of Wakanda, amongst other actions. It's hard to read that stuff, and not decide that the X-Men are the villains of the story.

Before I go on, I should probably say that Cyclops is my all time favorite superhero. It made me so happy when Joss Whedon wrote Astonishing X-Men because he really treated the character as a superhero, and a bad ass superhero at that. Since then, he has been written as a character who had to make increasingly morally-compromising decisions to save Marvel's mutants, and now, in AvX, he basically comes off as a new Magneto (the old Magneto is even working under him). I miss reading stories where my favorite superhero acts like a superhero. So, part of my issue with the story is personal. MY favorite character is the one who comes off as the bad guy here. That's my bias.

You know what was great in the Avengers movie? The Hulk, after years of being portrayed less as a superhero, and more as a monster, was finally, for the first time in decades, shown as a hero again, to use a phrase I've used a bunch, he was portrayed as an aspirational character. The Hulk was inspiring in that movie. All of the heroes were- that's partly why it was such a great film.

I get it- shades of grey make stories more interesting. When superheroes do things that are less than superheroic, it makes them seem like more fully developed, more human characters. That's part of what makes Marvel great. I mean, Spider-Man is awesome in part because Peter Parker is  a colossal fuck up sometimes. Wolverine and the Hulk are great because they have to overcome their own violent natures in order to be heroic. I don't mind showing that superheroes have their dark sides, but it's gotten to the point where these event books almost exclusively focus on superheroes worst qualities. And I'm just bored with it. I get it. It sells books. It's just...not for me, I guess.

It does look like Marvel's new...rebranding, MarvelNOW is going to focus on superheroes being superheroes, so I do have that to look forward to. I just hope that after AvX ends, it's a few years before Marvel does another big Superhero vs. Superhero crossover. Maybe the good guys can just fight the bad guys for a few years?

I'm also sick of major characters getting killed off in events, but that's a whole other blog.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cutting the Cable

                                         (Pictured- prominent 1990's superhero, Cable)

When I was a wee Sean, I lived in South Hampton, New Hampshire which is a town of about 800ish people right on the border with Massachusetts. By "right on the border' I mean "If I walked south for 3 minutes I was in Massachusetts".

South Hampton is a small town, and it's fairly rural. For the first few years that we lived there, you could not get cable television. Until I was in the third grade, I lived in a world with roughly five TV stations, one of which was a French station. Cable was something that existed mostly at my grandmother's house in Newburyport, MA.

But, when I was in the third grade, cable television came to South Hampton. My father never really wanted it (he is very, very frugal- real quote from my dad "Never pay for water, parking, or dirt.") but my mom convinced him to get it, and we did. I had Cable for the rest of my childhood.

And I LOVED Cable. I used to watch Cartoon Express on USA, old Hanna Barbera cartoons on Cartoon network, and movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Hook, and Return to Oz on HBO. Where prior to Cable my TV watching had been limited to weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings, Cable had children's programming 24/7. As I moved into my teens, I started watching Comedy Central, VH1, and pro-wrestling on USA (again) and TNT.

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, my roommates and I, of course, sprung for Cable. I watched Food Network voraciously- especially Good Eats with Alton Brown which basically taught me to cook real adult food myself. I also watched anime late at night on Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network kind of grew up with me, which was neat) and whatever was on Comedy Central (South Park, SNL reruns, etc.)

So, for a long time I had a pretty good relationship with Cable. It was as an adult though that I came to a pretty horrible realization- Cable is really, really expensive. Most Cable packages (as near as I can tell) which include internet start with an introductory price in the neighborhood of $100 per month. That gets you a crappy internet connection, and basic cable. Oh, and since that's an introductory price, it only lasts for about a year. So, at the end of a year, your price goes up $20-40 a month. If you want premium channels (HBO, Skinemax, Showtime, etc.), HD-DVR and faster internet, it costs even more.

For 8 years, I was able to keep my costs down, and get a relatively decent level of cable and internet service by negotiating my price. By "negotiating my price" I mean, "we have multiple cable providers in Chicago, and if you threaten to leave yours for the other one, they'll usually give you a better rate". Even WITH that negotiation, as of June, I was paying $160 a month for cable and internet.

WHY does cable cost so much? Well, in part, it's because the content providers- cable channel owners like Viacom, and Disney charge the Cable companies huge amounts of money for marquee channels like ESPN and Comedy Central. That cost trickles down from the cable company to you (or me), the consumer.

But also, people will pay for it. People love Cable TV. People like HBO, and ESPN, and Comedy Central. Right now, when you buy a Cable subscription, you get all of these channels (and like, 500 other channels) bundled together at one big cost. In an ideal world, cable companies would give you the option to buy individual channel subscriptions- to build your own bundle- for a lower rate. I mean, even when I was watching the most TV, I really only watched about 5-7 channels. Wouldn't it be great, if I could pay $35, or even $50 a month for the channels I want, rather than $120 a month for those channels, plus 500 other channels that I will NEVER watch? Cable companies are not going to offer an a la carte option like that any time soon, because they know that most consumers will continue to shell out more money for the bundles, and they have profit margins to think about. If they gave people less expensive a la carte options, people might actually buy them.

You know what would be even better than that? Well, what if you could watch any TV show, sporting event, or movie you wanted, at any time? Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't you pay a reasonable amount of money for that? I know I sure would.

Wait a minute...

We've had a Netflix subscription for years now. When Netflix first started streaming movies and TV (in supplement to their DVD in the mail service) it literally changed the way Chelsea and I watched TV. We are very busy. It is not easy for us to be home regularly enough to watch a TV show as it's aired on a network. With Netflix (and similar services like HuluPlus, and even iTunes) we can watch our shows whenever we want. AND we can watch multiple episodes of a show in one sitting. As time went along, we watched more and more TV through Netflix, and less and less through our Cable subscription.

So, cable was very expensive AND not as convenient as watching TV through a streaming service. Streaming services do not yet have as much NEW content as Cable, but they do have TONS AND TONS of content.

We moved recently, and with the move, we made a pretty momentous decision- we cut cable. We got rid of it. For the reasons stated above. We are now 3 weeks into not having Cable. We have a Netflix subscription, we have HuluPlus, and this weekend I'm buying an AppleTV box that will let us stream content from our iPad, iphones, and MacBook directly onto the TV. We are saving $80 a month, and we have not lacked for stuff to watch. Right now, we have no sports stuff, but we really only watch baseball, and hockey anyway, and you can get the NHL package, and the MLB package through AppleTV. So assuming the NHL doesn't go on strike this year, we will probably get that.

Basically, you don't need Cable. You don't. You can watch TV over the internet. It's less expensive. It's more convenient- especially if you have a busy schedule. And it's just generally better. I'm done with Cable TV, probably forever.