Get ready for adventure with Royal Caribbean (syringes not included)

The ads for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines crack me up every time I see them. For those of you who don't pay quite such close attention to cruise line ads as I do, these are the ones telling you all about all the fun and exciting things you can do on a Royal Caribbean boat to the peppy backing of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." the people behind these ads not realize that it's a song about the lifestyle of a heroin addict, or are they just counting on the fact that probably 99% of the cruise-going audience they're aiming at doesn't have the slightest clue what the song is about and wouldn't know Iggy Pop if he bit them on the ass?

I would assume the latter. Funny, though, that the ad execs decided not to include lines like "Of course I've had it in the ear before" and "your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick."

This is nearly as funny to me as...

...the time Ronald Reagan praised the "message of hope" in Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." I've looked pretty hard for the message of hope in that one and come up with nothing.

...the ill-advised Mercedes ad that used Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz," which is probably the funniest misuse of a song in any commercial ever.

...the simply bizarre and nonsensical use of the Prologue from the Who's "Tommy" to sell a prescription allergy pill a couple of years ago.

Of course, the use of "Lust for Life" is mostly just funny - it's not actively annoying like the constant use of "Salisbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel in pretty much every single teevee commercial and movie trailer in the last four or five years.

And in the end, there is no ad in the history of the medium nearly so unintentionally hilarious as the current one which begins with a voiceover declaring, "In the mood for a little excitement? How about a subscription to USA Today?" 'cuz if USA Today is anything, it's exciting.

A Question

What is it about writing fantasy novels that makes authors feel the compulsion to create 10,000 pages' worth of Epic Saga?

I was at the library with Mle a couple of weeks ago and, nerd that I am, I was perusing the new fiction with the little "SciFi" and "Fantasy" stickers on the spine. Pretty much every fantasy novel I looked at said something on the cover along the lines of "DARK SORCERY - Book III of the Yet Another Story About Dragons Saga - Sequel to STEREOTYPICAL WIZARD!"

Honestly, if you really, truly have a compelling story that can't be told in anything less than eight 1200 page rat-squasher volumes, more power to you. On the other hand, if you're like most fantasy authors, you've got a story that could be told in a single volume with thousands upon thousands of pages of meaningless filler - Robert Jordan, I'm looking at you. Even the great George R.R. Martin, much as I love him, is guilty of it, too. I won't say I'm not hooked on "A Song of Ice and Fire" right thru to the end, but you can't tell me I'm the only one who thinks "A Feast for Crows" is at least a little dull. Still, better have a good story surrounded with filler than have a boring, poorly-written, trite and cliche story surrounded with filler - Christopher Paolini, Terry Goodkind, I'm looking at you.

There's plenty of writers out there writing good fantasy in self-contained volumes. But it's annoying that you have to put so much effort into finding it. In the end, it's at the feet of the readers. If we keep buying this shite, they're going to keep writing it. Simple as that.

"This man's got the third rarest disease in history, dammit!"

Seriously, why do the other doctors ever argue with House? Why do they keep banging their heads into that particular brick wall?

"Well, House, you've been right about the last six hundred and twelve mysterious and all-but undiagnosable cases we've seen in this hospital, but this time, you're wrong!"

Lovely weekend followed by a Monday of ups and downs

The flight back home to Denver was delayed by an hour or so (due to "high winds," apparently), which meant that we arrived after the SuperShuttle closed down for the night, and only just in time for one of the meager few RTD SkyRide buses that run in the wee hours. We crawled into our lovely, comfy bed sometime after two in the A.M. I don't know if it was really Hellish enough to be Hell, but it was a little too Hellish to be purgatory.

Anyway, 'twas a great weekend. At long last, we got to meet Monkey, who is every bit as hott and cool and fun to hang out with as you'd expect. I got to be a big huge nerd, traipsing thru used book stores in search of nerdbooks (and I found several, including a used copy of Craig Thompson's Blankets), and the requisite Bay Area visit to Comic Relief, aka the World's Greatest Comic Book Store, where I snagged a copy of Charles Burns' Black Hole, which I've been dying to read for months now. We went to a Burning Man party, which I wasn't wild about - it was a clothing exchange, and I can barely get up much interest in buying new clothes, let alone sorting thru a giant pile of someone else's manky old t-shirts. And some of the people there desperately needed to be clued in that the liberal application of patchouli oil isn't the same thing as taking a bath. Still, it was fun to watch, and there was some yummy free food.

And then, after the special trip home last night, I got to get up at 7:00 (after something on the order of four-and-a-half hours of sleep) to go to my drawing class with my craptacular drawing teacher. Ugh. She's a good artist, don't get me wrong. But she's average at her best times when it comes to imparting her knowledge to others. And I don't think she likes me any more than I like her, and I think she bases her grades on how much she likes a given student. Bleah.

Still, I rocked on my history mid-term, which the prof handed back today. My essay was "very finely crafted." And that's pretty shweet.

Overall, I've been fairly useless today. I have a couple hours' worth of algebra to sit thru in a few minutes, and then it's home to sleep like one o' them, whaddayacallit, rocks, or logs, or dogs, or something like that, for the next sixteen hours.

Dive! Dive! Dive! Awoogah!

Last night, after an afternoon with Mle's family, we went with our friend with whom we're staying on this trip to a bar near her house in Oakland. It's called the Alley, on Grand near the Grand Lake Theater, and it's one of the coolest bars I've ever been to.

First off, we ordered drinks without noticing the (tiny) sign above the bar that said it was cash only. Between the three of us, we had eight bucks, and two drinks came out to ten. "Well, the ATM's not working," the bartender told us, "so just give me the eight and I'll spot you two." Very cool - not too many bartenders I know (and I've known more than a few) would have done that. And they were good drinks, too - at least, mine was. I ordered a Beam and Coke, and I got Beam and Coke, not Beam and Coke and Coke and Coke and Water and Coke, so that was good. Mle sez her Kamikazee was good, too.

The walls of the Alley are covered with business cards from years' worth of patrons. And I do mean years' worth - some of the cards were on the order of, "Spuckler's Plumbing - call KL-5273." We sat in an oddly shaped booth lit mostly by the red glow of the neon sign in the window, listening to people sing along with the piano player, everything from jazzy piano bar standards to "Me & Bobby McGee" to a group of five or six people enthusiastically (and probably not just a little drunkenly) singing "The Teddy Bears' Picnic."

Yeah, it's a dive and a half, but it's a great dive. There weren't thirty giant-screen TV sets with bassitbaw on them. There wasn't a sound system blasting out awful Nickelback songs at eardrum-shattering volume drowning out all conversation. It wasn't calculated or over-decorated. It felt genuine and fun. All in all, it's one of the best bar experiences I've ever had.
If you're in Oakland, give the Alley a try.

the de Yeuughh Museum

Greetings from lovely Oakland, California! We're here in the Bay Area for a few days, visiting old friends and enjoying the lovely Northern California spring weather.

Today, we met up with an old high school friend of Mle's to visit the newly-reopened de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. It's been closed for renovation forever and ever - in the nearly five years I've been traveling to San Francisco with some regularity, it's always been closed. I'm a big fan of art museums, and I was looking forward to seeing this one.

The building itself is quite beautiful, a truly great piece of architecture.

And that concludes the positive portion of my remarks about our museum outing, sad to say.

Where to begin? The building is striking from the exterior; the interior is somewhat less inspiring. The galleries are difficult to navigate and have no sense of flow or connection. Many of the galleries are poorly lit, too. Their crowd control is nonexistant (more on this later). The collection itself is uninspiring at best - I didn't see a single piece that made me say, "Ooo..." or made me want to stop and inspect it more closely. The staff were unhelpful at best, and some were actively rude.

The museum enforces policies which make no sense - we were told that we would have to remove our backpacks and carry them at our sides. After witnessing several women walking around with purses slung over a shoulder that were as big as (or larger than) our packs, we put a strap over one shoulder and carried them like that for a while. Eventually, a guard approached us and said that we had to carry our backpacks by the handles at our sides in order to prevent them from "bumping into the exhibits." No one was able even to begin to explain how our backpacks were any different from the dozens of purses we saw being carried in exactly the same manner...

And boy were there a lot of great big clunky purses. Nobody told us, but apparently Thursdays are Decrepit Old Lady Days at the de Young. The place was simply crawling with bluehairs. I've been to a lot of art museums, and I've never seen one nearly so crowded as the de Young. There was just no way to get in the right "art museum" kind of mood with such horrendous crowds packed into the place.

The giant crowds were apparently there to see something called "Bouquets to Art," which has to be the absolute lamest promotional event I've ever seen at an art museum. They've commissioned local florists to create flower arrangements "inspired by" the museum's artwork., interesting...pieces of the florists' craft are then displayed alongside the art, to indecisive effect at best.

I donno...I guess if you're trying to draw in hordes of old ladies, you could do worse than put on a flower show. But, in my somewhat amateur opinion, if you're trying to re-establish yourself as a top-flight art museum after years of being closed for renovation...maybe the flowers aren't such a great idea. But they didn't ask me, I guess. Bastards.

Movie Trailers

So I really did dig V for Vendetta, though perhaps my initial post about it doesn't really convey my enthusiasm...

Anyway, speaking of Nerd Movies, there were some pretty sweet trailers before V for... First off, the full-length trailer for X-Men 3, which is now apparently known as X-Men: The Last Stand. And I gotta say, I have my doubts. I've had my doubts ever since Bryan Singer pulled out, and they only multiplied when I heard Brett Ratner was going to replace him. But, the trailer looks pretty sweet. It made me ril, ril excited to see the flick. Looks like it's loaded with cool stuff, including Kelsey Grammar looking wikid awesome as the Beast. I still don't know how they think they're going to pull off anything doing justice to the whole Phoenix Saga in a two-hour movie...but my hopes are higher than they were.

And, even though he looks kinda cool in the trailer, seriously, is there any mutant with lamer powers than the Angel? He's sorta the Aquaman of the Marvel Universe, isn't he?
"Hi, I'm Storm, I have absolute mastery over the weather."
"Hi, I'm Magneto, and the forces of magnetism are at my command."
"Hi, I'm Wolverine, and I heal almost instantly from even the deadliest wounds."
"Hi, I'm the Angel, and, um...I've got wings. I can fly 'n' stuff."

Anyway...also had a second viewing of the Superman Returns trailer, which remains wikid awesome, as well. Brilliant choice, throwing in the Marlon Brando v.o. and the John Williams score right off the bat. Very evocative. Gave me nerd-chills up and down my spine. I remain a little dubious about certain things - both Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth seem more than a little too young to play their parts, first and foremost - but I'm really looking forward to it. I think Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor alone could make the movie worth seeing...

My Dirty Little Secret

I'm about to reveal something that will probably get my testicles revoked.

I don't have a single dime riding on the outcome of this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament. In fact, I didn't even fill out a bracket.

There, I feel better having said it.

I'm a sports nut, mostly. I can watch football (college or pro) all day long. I love major league baseball, especially the playoffs. I've had a hard time getting back into hockey since the Unpleasantness...but I do still love hockey. I'll watch soccer, lacrosse, rugby, Aussie rules...all sorts of sports that Americans traditionally don't like and don't usually get into.

But basketball just bores the fuck out of me. I try. I make a halfhearted effort to follow the Nuggets. I tried to watch bits and pieces of the first two rounds of the Tournament. But trying to watch basketball is just guaranteed to drive me to find something else to do. It's not that the action is difficult to follow -- it's not. It's not that the strategy or finer points elude me -- they don't. It's just that the basic sport itself and the people who play it bore me to tears.

March Madness is going around, I guess...but I haven't caught the bug.

V for Vendetta

Any and all discussion of movies may contain spoilers - read at your own risk!

There are those who will tell you that this movie is a bold, brilliant political statement. That it's important. That it means something, like Richard Dreyfuss' mashed potatoes. This is not exactly true. It's not exactly untrue, either.

On the whole, it's a good movie -- better than I expected it to be. And in many ways it succeeds. It's very timely. I didn't have a whole lot of difficulty imagining John Hurt's lines as the leader of the fascist regime coming out of the mouth of George W. Bush, that's for sure. That said, as much as I loathe and despise the current administration, we're pretty far from fascism. And seriously, how bold and brilliant can a political statement be when it boils down to, "fascism sucks!"?

The original comic book had more to it than "fascism sucks." It was more about the difficulty humanity seems to have in breaking out of a cycle of violence-as-answer. The government is violent, so V reacts with violence, so the government becomes more violent still, and so on and so forth in and endless escalation. This is where the film breaks down at least a little, especially at the end. The army of Londoners in Guy Fawkes maskes, striking image though it may be, doesn't really work. The concept of V's actions leading to mass revolt is something Alan Moore wisely avoided. In their screenplay, The Wachowski Bros. sadly fell into that all-too-easy facile solution. The thing is, the nature of the story isn't about easy answers, it's about difficult choices.

Still, the image of an army of Londoners in Guy Fawkes masks rebelling against their fascist oppressors is striking and rousing. I don't think it really works, but it's pleasing on an emotional level. And this is, altogether, a very good movie. Natalie Portman is quite good. Hugo Weaving does as well as anyone can while trapped behind an expressionless mask for the entire movie, and his voice is definitely right.

Interesting, also, to see John Hurt playing what amounts to Big Brother, more than twenty years after playing Winston Smith in "1984."

Things Should End

We usually watch "Survivor" on Thursdays at 7:00, but it wasn't on 'cuz of the bassitbaw on the Columbia Broadcasting System, so we wound up by default watching "That '70s Show" on Fox. It's a show that I used to think was pretty funny, and I still sometimes watch the syndicated reruns.

I hesitate to use the phrase "jumped the shark," because I find it to be an insufferably stupid phrase. But man-0h-man does someone need to put "That '70s Show" out of its misery. Kelso's gone. Foreman is gone, but everyone still hangs out at Foreman's house, so they can still have Foreman's parents on the show. It's not even remotely funny, Laura Prepon has gone blonde in spite of being so hot as a redhead, they've got some longhaired cipher as a placeholder for Foreman... I didn't crack a smile once.

It happens to every popular teevee show, I guess. I mean, have you seen "The Simpsons" lately? It is in this case especially painful to see what was, in its heyday, the greatest teevee show ever, a show that reached such giddy heights of pure hilarity wallow in such depths of craptacularity.

"ER," once so compelling and compulsively watchable, now so repetitive and ineptly written...

I guess the upside of some of my favorite shows ("Freaks & Geeks," "Firefly") being killed before they could get going is that they never had the chance for the slow descent into crap. It's sort of the TV corrolary to my world-famous "Upside of the Murder of John Lennon" theory*.

* That being, of course, that John Lennon's untimely death, tragic as it was, at least prevented the Beatles from inevitably reuniting for eight or nine Official Farewell Tours and becoming horrifying self-parody, a lá the Who and the Stones.