Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Fate of Spider-Pig?

This is my belated review of The Simpsons Movie.

Fanboy ranting aside, I must say that The Simpsons Movie marked one of the better movie-going experiences I've had in a while. In addition to the Marge Simpson mask that I left the theater with, I can happily report that the film gave me a good 80 minutes of laughter — plus one moment of genuine concern when Julie Kavner surpassed the usual limitations of cartoon voice acting and, for a moment, really made me think Marge had decided to leave Homer forever.

I'm writing this now, when most of my readership has gone out and seen The Simpsons Movie, in hopes that I'd hear what you all thought. Though it amounted to as much as I could have hoped for from such a film, I have a few small critiques:
  • The lack of Mr. Burns. Easily my favorite character on the show, Mr. Burns's unabashed evil is something I look forward to. He has perhaps an even smaller role than even Flanders, which is a bit of a shame.
  • Other marginalized characters: Agnes Skinner, Moe, Apu, Patty and Selma, Groundskeeper Willy, Kirk Van Houten, Mrs. Krabappel, and Santa's Little Helper.
  • General focus on the Simpson family at the expense of the supporting characters. I realize that though I've laughed more at Homer than anyone else, the supporting roles make the show — especially the ones I perceive as either "predators" or "prey." And some of the ones who received airtime instead? Very strange. Lindsay Naegle? Really?
  • Total absence of Rainier Wolfcastle, as near as I can tell. Of course, President Arnold Schwarzenegger is basically the same character. But… you know.
  • And what, for the love of God, happened to poor Spider-Pig (a.k.a. Harry Plopper)? Did he die with the collapse of the Simpsons' home? I need closure on the character whose theme song has been stuck in my head all weekend.
  • Lamely, I read somewhere that the movie's creators tried to work in every character who has every been depicted as a resident of Springfield and therefore tried to catch as many non-speaking background characters as possible. Is it just me, then, or did I see Astrid Weller — Isabella Rossellini's character from the episode in which Homer makes outsider art — at a disproportionately high frequency?
Ralph Wiggum, however, appeared in precisely the amount he needed to. And Dr. Nick Riviera joining the likes of Maude Flanders, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Snowball II and Bea Simmons? A very welcome touch.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mario Athletic

Some pretty cool stuff, I suppose, in this high-speed clip of some Super Mario World acrobatics.

The Return of Jumpman

He shall jump again. And die again. And probably swing a hammer again.

There's an awesome article up on about one of the better Mario-related fan projects I've come across — a homebrewed sequel titled Donkey Kong 2: The Return of Jumpman. Jeff Kulczycki of ROMHACK has apparently gone through the considerable effort of creating a full-on sequel to the original arcade Donkey Kong, complete with four new levels. From what little is glimpsed in the screenshots, the game plays more or less like the original game, just with more bells and whistles. The best part: The revamped ROM goes on sale on August 20 at

Some screens of the new levels:

the foundry

the mixer (note the "pies" from the original game)

the crane

and the incinerator

In short: too cool.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Small Feet, Big Steps

We took Dante to the beach near the Bacara today. Nothing could better describe the afternoon that the following photos.

You may notice the large black birds in the last few frames of the slideshow. (Well, technically, the last two are me, shirtless, attempting to wash sand off Dante at the showers and getting my torso clawed in the process. But the birds are damn close to the end, let me tell you.) The birds, which Spencer thinks may be cormorants of some sort, squatted on rocks at the edge of the beach, looking juts a little like unpleasant old women, perhaps those who cluster together and do sinister things in Greek mythology. They didn't seem the least bit intimidated by my presence and only set out for the ocean when they felt hungry.

Despite their shiny wings, the cormorants — or possible pseudo-cormorants — walked to water instead of flying. Their gait struck me as rather odd, so I shot a video of one returning back to the rocks. Here it is, in three installments.

Don't get me wrong. Dante was by far the start of the outing. But there's something just slightly creepy in the way that those birds walked, almost as if they were poorly mimicking how humans move.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where the Bloodbath Happens

Until I saw them without international martial artists hopping around in front of them and clobbering each other, I never realized how beautiful these backgrounds to old Capcom fighting games really were.

In order: Dan's Thailand stage from Street Fighter Zero 2, B.B. Hood's wartorn ghetto stage from DarkStalkers 3 and Ryu's dojo from Street Fighter II.

[ More: The Sigil of Slateman ]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The The (Not the Band)

Not to gloat, but I have a pass to see The Simpsons Movie tomorrow — that is, a full day earlier than the general public. In looking at film's title on the ticket itself, however, I noticed its verbal awkwardness.

Being the translation of the TV show The Simpsons into a film, it poses a problem. The "the" at the beginning of the show's title — which, in my experience, is more often pronounced, as opposed to just saying "I'm watching Simpsons" — has to vanish. Though it's technically correct if you're speaking the title as it's used on the show, you should probably refrain from calling it The The Simpsons Movie, even if it is The Movie version of The Simpsons. And you sure as hell can't say The Simpsons Show Movie or The Movie Version of The Simpsons or even The Simpsons' Movie. I guess you could just treat the title The Simpsons like it's a unit, modifying Movie, but even then I think it's curious that the internal italics of the original TV show title get absorbed by the italics of the movie title when the TV show is ostensibly being referenced in the movie title.

It would have been so much easier if they just called if The Simpsons: Viva Rock Vegas.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Can-Do Girl

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Moe, the girl who survived a kangaroo attack in Sydney and whose Independence Day arrival back in California was celebrated by me with eye-puss fireworks, has asked me to burn her CDs of music I listened to during the period in which she was gone. I have made three CDs, each burned by theme. These are the CDs. They represent what I've been listening to listening to for the last year and a half or so.
  1. Bees - "Chicken Payback"
  2. Chromeo - "Needy Girl"
  3. Le Tigre - "I'm So Excited"
  4. Stephen Malkmus - "Kindling for the Master"
  5. Orange Juice - "Blokes on 45"
  6. Stellastarr* - "My Coco"
  7. Grand National - "Cherry Tree"
  8. The Slits - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
  9. Goldfrapp - "Satin Chic"
  10. The Greens Keepers - "Lotion"
  11. DataRock - "Computer Camp Love"
  12. Professor Murder - "Free Stress Test"
  13. CSS - "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above"
  14. CSS - "Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex"
  15. April March - "Chick Habit"
  16. Of Montreal - "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger"
  17. Architecture in Helsinki - "Do the Whirlwind"
  18. Apples in Stereo - "Same Old Drag"
  19. I Am the World Trade Center - "Love Tragedy"
  1. Animal Collective - "Leaf House"
  2. The Magnetic Fields - "When My Boy Walks Down the Street"
  3. RJD2 - "Smoke and Mirrors"
  4. Eisley - "Telescope Eyes"
  5. Andrew Bird - "Skin Is, My"
  6. Teenage Fanclub - "Cells"
  7. Belle and Sebastian - "Meat and Potatoes"
  8. Mike Doughty - "I Hear the Bells"
  9. The Presets - "The Girl and the Sea"
  10. Neko Case - "Margaret vs. Pauline"
  11. Mates of State - "Along for Ride"
  12. The Knife - "Heartbeats"
  13. The Ditty Bops - "Short Stacks"
  14. Bill Callahan - "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to Be a Man"
  15. Menomena - "Wet and Rusting"
  16. Klaxons - "Gravity's Rainbow"
  17. The Decemberists - "Mariner's Revenge Song"
  18. The Good, The Bad and the Queen - "History Song"
  19. The Polyphonic Spree - "Lithium"
  1. The Fiery Furnaces - "I Lost My Dog"
  2. Louis XIV - "God Killed the Queen"
  3. Spoon - "I Turn My Camera On"
  4. The Coral - "Pass It On"
  5. The Replacements - "Alex Chilton"
  6. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "Me and Mia"
  7. Need New Body - "Show Me Your Heart"
  8. Aqueduct - "Growing Up With GNR"
  9. Nada Surf - "Indochine"
  10. Bishop Allen - "Empire City"
  11. The New Pornographers - "The Jessica Numbers"
  12. The New Pornographers - "High Art, Local News"
  13. The Marbles - "Magic"
  14. The Features - "The Idea of Growing Old"
  15. Dogs Die in Hot Cars - "Lounger"
  16. Dogs Die in Hot Cars - "Godhopping"
  17. The Decemberists - "The Sporting Line"
  18. M. Ward - "Right in the Head"
  19. Cold War Kids - "Hang Me Up to Dry"
  20. Amy Winehouse - "You Know I'm No Good"
  21. The White Stripes - "Icky Thump"

Orange Smile

Hannah leaves good thank-you notes, it turns out.


And then the back:


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heavy-Handed Symbolism

It's bad when it starts to sound like a book.

Art imitates life, at least most of the time, but when my life started sounding like something I might read in a book — a book I wouldn't especially enjoy — I realized I had made some mistakes.
"Drew toiled away as an editor at a newspaper, where he spent his days reading what other people did — some other person's actions recorded into a news story which in turn reported who died, who arrested whom, who was elected, who was interviewed. On occasion, he'd edit a story that someone else wrote about something a third party wrote at a different newspaper. It wore on Drew, but he himself never left the office. No, he was held prisoner by his leather desk chair, his flat screen monitor and the humming overhead fluorescent lights. Somehow, their power combined to trap him in his windowless corner, his eyes darting from side-to-side until they stung."
And so the book would have read, this book that I wouldn't have liked, not only because I don't need a retread of how my working day plays out but also because where the book would be going next would just make me want to put out my eye with a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil.
"It was at that point, then, that Drew realized that his work as an editor did more than earn him a paycheck; it came to define his very existence. For when the workday ended, he made no more effort to enjoy the world around him than he did while on the clock. He'd merely go to his house and perform a slightly more casual version of his job, reading the writing of others and only occasionally jotting down anything himself. Even more seldom would he actually offer anything of value, anything that gave insight into himself or the world he lived in, which day by day grew smaller and smaller. Drew wasn't living life. Drew had no story to write. Drew was merely reading and editing reports of the lives of others."
What a shitty book!

It's a book that does not deserve to be written, much less read. But as I drove home last Friday night, I realized the comparison was apt. Had I read a book about a boring, unsatisfied character who spent his days editing the stories of others because he had no story of his own to write, I would have accused the author of implementing some heavy-handed symbolism. But it's not symbolism, really, because this proposed scenario is accurate, and those cute little tricks authors use to further convey their story's meaning don't work in the world beyond the written page. Yes, I said it. I'm no atheist, but I don't believe life unfolds using literary devices like foreshadowing, callbacks, rising action, falling action or symbolism. I really am an editor and I am jealous of the people whose articles I edit, as they're going out and existing in the world and I'm merely sitting at my desk, existing in my office, perhaps waiting for the occasional email or phone call to be returned from someone interesting but never really doing much myself. And I really hadn't been writing about myself or anything that I could even attempt to make interesting.

Then I drove home.

Solo drives home are sacred to me, in the same sense that long showers and darkened movie theaters are. It's in spaces like these that I can filter out the distractions of "I wonder if he's updated his blog" and "Sure, I'll check my email again" and "I wonder if someone voted that I was hot or not" and really think, provided I've already shouted myself hoarse from "singing" along to the hits of New Order. Just me, my thoughts and a small number of stimuli that keep me too busy to get bored but idle enough for my mind to wander. It was during one of these drives a few months ago that I realized how much joy video games had once brought into my life and that putting a joystick in my hand might put a smile on my face. Shortly thereafter, the Wii arrived and brought with it a chance to toy with exciting new and nostalgic old technologies. Ask the roommates. If I'm not whipping a Wiimote around, I'm Dixie Kong again, for the first time since before high school. (Unlike ten-year-old Drew, however, I play in moderation. That helps.)

The Friday drive prompted me to solve my current symbolism problem in a similar ways. First — and this one relates right back to my sacred space problem — is to start going to the movies again. I haven't been since Paris, Je Taime, even though there's little in the world that makes me happier than stepping into a movie, even if it's one I don't particularly enjoy. It's almost better that way — talking about what a colossal failure it was makes for a better story anyway. If movie-watching is my religion, than a multiplex is my cathedral.

Second, I need to get back into music. I mean, I still listen to it, but there was a period early in college where I had taste in music that was a good five steps ahead of that of my peers. Some bangs-and-glasses hipster would be going on about some band and I could turn and tell them, "Oh, I had their album in pre-release. I got it through the paper. And did you know they're playing here? Tickets are sold out." I was a terrible snob about it. It was awful. But it was also so much fun, you know? Anyway, That's not so much the case anymore. When Moe got back from New Zealand, she asked me to burn her some CDs, "to hear what everyone was listening to while I was gone." Everyone — as in, the populace. The populace! Clearly, my tastes have grown generic. On that note, I'm making a promise to myself to get back into the swing of new and cool music and once again be that guy who hears about stuff before the unwashed masses do, just for the satisfaction of knowing I picked correctly. (I'm also going to cut back on the music snobbery, I'd wager aging hipsters stand a better chance at being decked than their young counterparts.)

Finally, in order to become an interesting protagonist, I need to do something. Change. Interact with other people. Advance the plot in a way that other characters won't. That's a rule that would seem to apply to literature and life both. I've been sedentary for too long here in Santa Barbara, both in the sense of not leaving the city often enough and not making the time I spend here any more worth anyone's attention. Now, when Spencer and Aly suggest that we head north or south — or even east, for that matter — I won't cop out with "I'm really burnt out from the work week," the excuse that's become my personal motto. A great deal exists between Los Angeles and San Francisco that I haven't seen and that I should see or should at least give a second look. And as more and more former regulars flee Santa Barbara to bigger cities, I have more reason — and means — to make a weekend of such a trip.

That's the plan, at least for the moment. Get out and do rather than sit home not. If all else fails, I'll just drive home and re-think it. At least then I could write about that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?

El Barto lives, and that makes me happy.

Worth the click, especially if you have any love for The Simpsons.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Japanese Horror Movie Hair

Having seen The Ring, The Grudge and Pulse in both their Japanese and American incarnations, I've noticed that the Japanese practitioners of filmic fright tend to make liberal use of flowing black hair to ratchet up the scary. In the shower, in darkened hallways, in bed — everywhere the cast of a given Japanese horror movie goes, they see black hair snaking around, foretelling their own imminent demise. A new film — known variously as Ekusute, Exte or Extensions — has fun with this motif. It centers on haunted hair that terrorizes the Japanese salon-going public. The heroine: Yuko, a hairdresser, played by Chiaki Kuriyama of Battle Royale and Kill Bill fame. I really wanted this film to be a comedy, but there's apparently playing it straight. Too bad. At the very least, I'm happy to see somebody else has noticed that this is a trend.

The Legend of Zelda... Fitzgerald?

News to me: Shigeru Miyamoto named the titular princess of the Legend of Zelda games after Zelda Fitzgerald.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Encyclopedia Drew and the Case of the Troublesome Tang

If you pick up a copy of this week's Independent, you might notice an item in the news briefs section that mentions the horrible sulfur stench that's been so tenaciously clinging the area around East Cabrillo Boulevard. (The same subject is addressed in a longer IndyNewsFlash item that went up on Tuesday, in case you're interested.) When the article came across my desk in an earlier form, the reporter had referred to the stink — which, it turns out, is emanating from stagnant water at the bird refuge being steamed up by last week's heat wave — as being a "problematic pong." Confused, I asked three nearby editors if they were familiar with this word — independent from the prefixes "ping," "beer" and "early video game sensation" and instead to mean "a bad smell." No one had, though we could all guess what it meant given its context.

I went to the dictionary and found olfactory sense of "pong" missing from the abridged Webster — that version being the one you don't have to pay for — as well as from the American Heritage Dictionary. had it, finally, defining it as I imagined it might be and giving its origin as "obscure."

Good to know it exists, I decided, and curious how it somehow escaped my notice for twenty-five years, but I felt it should be substituted with something the average newspaper-reader would know. Statistically, if four people who work at the paper had never heard of it, four randoms who just read said publication might not either. Worse yet, I worried it might be mistaken for a typo for "pond," since it was a body of water that made the stink to begin with.

Though everyone concerned agreed that the alliteration of "problematic pong" should be preserved, but I lost the ultimate vote and the chosen replacement was "troublesome tang." I am not particularly happy about this, in part because I felt "offending odor" worked just as well but also that olfactory sensations are not the first one might associate with the word "tang." Add to that the infinitely worse pairing with "troublesome," and I at least get an immediate mental picture that's very disturbing. Of course, if one really did have a troublesome tang, bad smells might a major factor in that trouble. I just hope I wouldn't have to print a news story about it.

In any case, if you read the brief and wondered why the hell that phrase in particular was chosen, I thought I'd offer an explanation.