Saturday, July 31, 2010
Let the Right One In: Swedish vampires and their American imitators
Friday, July 30, 2010
One Man Lord of the Rings: nerd comedy gold
Charles Ross is the Canadian behind the now-legendary One-Man Star Wars Trilogy which he's been touring with for over nine years now, and last year he finally acquired the permission from Peter Jackson & Co. to perform his rendition of the Tolkien classics. One Man Lord of the Rings is done in the same style as his Star Wars trilogy: reenacting all three films by himself in just over an hour, without any props and wearing only a black jumpsuit. He plays 42 different characters, depicts each one as a unique entity (Legolas constantly brushes his hair, Denethor can't stop greedily eating baby tomatoes), and provides ample nerdy inside jokes throughout.
Of course Ross' impression of Gollum is spot-on. This is often considered the mark of a great Lord of the Rings reenactor, but I don't think it ends there. His true success is his perfect Uruk-hai voice. Most people don't even think about what these baddies sound like, since they play a relatively small role in the story. But it's a voice we all know too well: "FIND THE HALFLINGS!" This unique death-metal-vocalist-in-the-army voice is nearly impossible for most people to do, but Ross gets it exactly right.
The real key of it all, of course, is the humor. We didn't pay to see The Lord of the Rings in 65 minutes. We paid to see a hilarious parody of The Lord of the Rings in 65 minutes. If you've never read the books or seen the movies, this performance probably won't be funny at all, but that's how it should be. It's a production aimed squarely at huge nerds who would get the White Tree of Gondor tattooed on their arm *cough cough*. Not only does Ross perform Star Wars and LotR at theaters, he also does it at nerd conventions around the world. I love it.
I had forgotten how much I love Woolly Mammoth. The building itself features beautiful industrial-modern architecture, and the people working there are active in the vibrant D.C. indie theater scene. If you've never been to a play at Woolly Mammoth, you really need to experience it firsthand. Unfortunately, One Man Lord of the Rings only runs through the end of this week, but there's a lot more to choose from, like The Vibrator Play and The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
Charles Ross' attention to detail in his work is fantastic. He hits many of the key lines from the films that aren't exactly integral to the storyline, but are famous lines nonetheless. He does a full recreation of Legolas' takedown of an Oliphaunt followed by Gimli's "That still only counts as one!" He puts adequate emphasis on Sam's slow-motion "sharrre the loaadddd" from The Return of the King. But my favorite has to be his subtle reference to the greatest Lord of the Rings-related YouTube video of all time... "They're Taking the Hobbits to Isengard":
Thursday, July 29, 2010
The ten worst flags in the world
9. Dominica: It's as if they searched the rainbow for the ugliest shade of green possible, then combined it with a spectrum of more unappealing colors to conjure a vomitous flag. And what's the role of the red and purple that only appear on the extra-dull seal in the middle? Purple on red on green = bad design. There's too much going on here, and none of it is attractive.
7. Burundi: This is almost a well-designed flag. The unique-yet-simple design is there, the national symbol is there... but then they had to choose the colors. This particular shade of green is almost neon green, and it ruins the whole flag. It's like a technicolor Christmas! With three Stars of David! The coat of arms of Burundi is well-designed and features a fearsome roaring lion. Why didn't this carry over to the flag?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Speculating about Winter Classic uniforms
The Pens logo displayed here was never actually used on a uniform. It was the team's official logo for only one season: '67-'68, their first in the NHL. Instead of a logo, their jersey featured a diagonal "PITTSBURGH" lettermark, much like the New York Rangers' sweaters, who also have a logo that doesn't appear on the uniform. These sweaters were ditched the following season in favor of the aforementioned unis they wore from '68 to '71, so this basically guarantees us Pittsburgh's sweaters for the '11 Winter Classic will be modern renditions of one of these two from their inaugural season:
These don't look nearly as great as the throwbacks they used in '08, but they're still a classic hockey design. The Pens established powder blue as a part of their color spectrum with the '08 WC jerseys-turned-thirds, so I'm leaning heavily towards Pittsburgh choosing powder blue again for '11 over the white one. I'd rather see them go with white, though, because it would mix things up a bit. They'll probably add nameplates to the back of the sweaters to comply with current NHL regulations. As a side note, the number font on these jerseys is fantastic, and I hope it's retained for the WC.
The Capitals' Winter Classic logo is taken from jerseys they wore for over two decades, from their inception in 1974 to 1995. There were a few modifications during this era (changing the positioning of the stars, adding or removing trim on the numbers, etc.), but they remained basically the same. The big question is: white or red?
They're equally sharp jerseys. Assuming Pittsburgh will wear powder blue, the Caps will most likely go with white, because to comply with NHL rules, one team must always don white. But I hope the Caps wear red. First of all, a team is required to wear white so the opposing club's uniforms don't clash. Here, however, bright red clashes much less with powder blue than white does, as seen in 2008. Plus, we must realize these specialty jerseys are created with marketing and profit in mind. They want fans to lay down cash for it. The red sweater would be much more cohesive for fans to wear at Verizon Center, where "Rock the Red" is the mantra. White speckled in there would just dilute the image of the Caps faithful.
The other factor to take into account with both teams is the potential for turning these one-off sweaters into future third jerseys. Four of the six teams that have played in past Winter Classics adapted their WC sweaters into third jerseys afterward (or in the case of the Philadelphia Flyers, road jerseys). That number may even rise to five, as the Sabres are likely to turn some variation of their WC unis into road sweaters for '10-'11. The Pens would be replacing their old WC-thirds with new WC-thirds, depending on the reception the new throwbacks get. It would be more interesting with the Caps, because they have yet to introduce a third jersey since they started wearing their current uniforms in 2007 (which are, in fact, modern interpretations of the '74-'95 sweaters). Owner Ted Leonsis has stated he doesn't plan on introducing a third in the foreseeable future because the Caps' current look is great, and as I mentioned above, he doesn't want to dilute the Rocking of the Red. After the Winter Classic, I guess we'll find out.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Inception: A flawed psychological beauty
I hoped this wasn't just cashing in on Batman's (or really, the Heath Ledger's) success. After all, the premise was intriguing: manipulating dreams. And the film features one of my biggest man-crushes, Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later fame. And the week of the film's release, it was universally praised by critics. So I thought I'd finally cave in and see it.
It's a great film. The psychology of it all immerses you in the experience and makes you really think deeply about it. The characters talk about a lot of things pertaining to dreams that we've all contemplated but not put into words. The idea that when you sleep for five minutes, your dreams can feel like they last an hour. The idea of never remembering how dreams begin: we always start in the middle of everything, in medias res. And there are always things we know are wrong--your girlfriend's hair is red instead of brown, or everyone has three arms--but we don't really think about the fact that they're wrong until after we wake up. The film explores how while we only use a fraction of our brainpower when we're awake, we can use it all when we're asleep, because we're fully connected to our subconscious; we can dream as fast as we can think.
Unfortunately, Inception falls into both the trappings of being a Hollywood film, and earning a PG-13 rating. Hollywood means the film is full of stars: Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page play the leads. While they don't ruin the movie, they're not exactly riveting actors either. And while the film's concept seems like it would provide endless possibilities for crazy dream scenarios, the accessible mainstream nature of the movie means instead of acid trips or social statements, the dreams the story takes place most in are...
- A car chase through New York City
- A fight in a fancy hotel, and
- An attack on a snowy military base.
I'm also disappointed Inception went for a money-making PG-13 rating. "But Jake! The Lord of the Rings, your favorite movies of all time, are PG-13!" you may retort. But not all PG-13s are created equal. The Lord of the Rings was based on an epic fantasy tale written in the '30s and '40s, and published in the '50s. It was great filmmaking without needing more blood and swearing or more controversial, risky decisions--making such an epic film trilogy in the first place was risky enough. Inception, on the other hand, is a modern psychological thriller written for the 21st century. Yes, people actually bleeding when they get shot would have been nice, but I truly believe this film could've been so much more with an R rating. The dreams could've been made more disturbing and "out there," the subplot involving DiCaprio's character and his deceased wife could have been much deeper and more twisted, and Inception would've benefited as a whole. Instead, Nolan & Co. went for PG-13, because adults would still see it while at the same time capturing the lucrative "teenagers spending their parents' money" demographic.
In the end, though, I can overlook these faults because if you just take Inception for what it is and roll with it, it's an engrossing film experience. Its psychology is thought-provoking, and the concept makes you walk out of the theater thinking about it more. I'd be willing to bet if I watch this movie a second time, I'll get more out of it, and that's the sign of good cinema. Plus, Sir Michael Caine appears in a couple scenes, and he's one of my favorite people ever. It's not a Picture of the Year, but Inception is worth a viewing or two.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Ranking the flags of the world!
10. Bhutan: A simple yet unique color scheme that features Druk the Thunder Dragon, badass national symbol of Bhutan. Normally I would complain about the complexity of the dragon (flags should be simple), but the fact that it's only in black and white and the way it goes along the diagonal line in the flag makes for a great design.
9. South Africa: After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa replaced its old flag with this new one to reflect its title of the "Rainbow Nation." The red, white, and blue horizontal stripes still evoke the country's Dutch history, but with an injection of green, gold, and black, colors of Africa. NAVA principles dictate you shouldn't use more than three colors in a flag, but it is very well executed here.
8. Uganda: This is another flag with a unique color scheme. There is no traditional green, but the black / yellow / orange combination still looks distinctly African while at the same time setting this flag apart. Six uninterrupted horizontal stripes is fairly rare among flags, and the Grey Crowned Crane in the middle matches the rest of the design.
7. Angola: This is about an evil (in a 007 sort of way) a flag as you can get. The devious shades of red and black, combined with the gold emblem of a gear, a star, and a machete, add up to "Diabolical Soviets from a Bond film." But it's very distinctive. In 2003, a new, more optimistic flag was proposed, but it was never adopted. Because deep down, they all know this flag is great.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
City of Men: City of God Lite
Friday, July 23, 2010
International hockey jerseys: the countdown!
12. Switzerland (also wears a red jersey)
9. Czech Republic (also wears a red jersey)
Four teams so far, four red jerseys. I'm torn over the Czech Republic's sweaters. I should love them. They feature a great national crest--coats of arms are always a success with me, as they're both very symbolic of the team and they just look classy. The Czech crest stands alone without the country's name underneath, which is smart design. And the name/number font used on the uniforms is unique among international hockey teams. But there's just something about these sweaters that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps it's the striping, which seems very casually designed and of no real meaning to the team or country.
There are a couple obvious design red flags in Belarus' jersey. It features a crest as well as the country's name underneath, and the name is in English instead of Belarusian or Russian. But I love that this is the first uniform on my list that features a color other than red, white, and blue as a primary color: green. The team may not be very talented (in fact, it looks as if the goalie in the picture is lamenting after a goal has been scored against him), but green on an international hockey sweater is awesome. And I love the crest of Belarus: instead of a fierce animal or medieval shield, it's wheat. And flowers.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Player gender and race in video games
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Amanda Palmer + Ukulele + Radiohead = success
Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele is Amanda Fucking Palmer's first full release since leaving Roadrunner Records, the six-year home of her band the Dresden Dolls and her solo project. She had a tumultuous relationship with the label, who supported the Dolls in full when they released their debut but left the band in the dark immediately after the release of their second album. Now she's releasing an EP of Radiohead covers. On ukulele. And it only costs 84 cents, unless you want to donate more. Buy it.
AFP has a very polarizing voice. It's very deep for a female singer, and her sort of brash style goes against classical music thinking. My brother (who's in a choir) absolutely despises her, but I love it. Being both a big Dresden Dolls fan and a big Radiohead fan, I went into this expecting a lot. Let's take a gander at the EP, track by track. The links in the titles go to the original Radiohead songs.
- "Fake Plastic Trees" - It's a solid cover, but it's a shame the EP starts with this song--it's very direct and not changed up from the original very much, other than that it's played on a uke.
- "High and Dry" - Another slow song from The Bends. The fact that Radiohead's early music translates so easily to ukulele makes it not as interesting as I'd hope.
- "No Surprises" - This one's from OK Computer, but no surprises here. I'm getting a bit disappointed at this point.
- "Idioteque" - Finally. This song kicks ass. Partially because Kid A is lightyears ahead of Radiohead's previous work, but also because the more complex composition leads to much more interesting uke/piano/vocal work by AFP. This is the epic cover I was waiting for. It makes up for the three "just okay" songs before it. I'll go through a new phase a week from now, but as of this writing, the "Idioteque" cover is my favorite track on the EP.
- "Creep" (Hungover at Soundcheck in Berlin) - I was worried about this, because "Creep" is one of my least favorite Radiohead songs. It's off Pablo Honey, their first album, which is amateur at best. On top of that, it's one of their most popular singles, probably for a lot of the same "pop sensibilities" reasons I dislike it. But AFP pulls it off magnificently. This is the only live track on the album, recorded at a soundcheck before a show. Before she begins, AFP laments, "This is the saddest room I've ever played to." And the song is beautiful. It reminds me of "Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, which was probably the first ukulele song I ever purchased on iTunes. I'd go so far as to say I like Amanda Palmer's version of "Creep" more than Radiohead's original song.
- "Exit Music (for a Film)" - I was ecstatic to see this song on the track listing. It's the only song on this album that wasn't a hit single (I know they didn't release any Kid A singles, but "Idioteque" is arguably its most famous song), and it's a fantastic way to end the cover album. This is the most un-ukulele song on the EP, featuring piano heavily, but it keeps the dark, brooding tone of the original song with a very AFP-esque twist.
If you buy the EP from her website you get a bonus track, "Creep" (Live in Prague), but it's not "officially" part of the album so I'm not taking it into account when judging the work as a whole. As an aside, it's a good track, but not as great as her "Hungover at Soundcheck in Berlin" version. Anyway, the first half of Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele is only okay, but the second half more than compensates. And it's all only 84 cents, cheaper than a single song on iTunes, so I don't know why you wouldn't buy this album. Buy this album.