retsuko: antique books (books)
I've had the distinct pleasure of reading Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78prm Records recently, as well as Kate Leth's short but very good Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed. Both of them are very, very good reads, and both of them are organized around two main ideas that, while they seem very dissimilar on the surface, actually end up being a meditation on the same subject in the end.

The first idea has to do with the nature of collecting: why do we do it? What are we trying to prove in the end? Tattooing and record collecting may seem diametrically opposed here: one is external, personal; while the other is internal, and, depending on the collector, only as external as he (because the record collectors that are profiled in the book are almost all men) wants it to be. Petrusich opens her discussion of 78 collectors with one of Baudrillard's famous quotes, that when we collect something, we are ultimately collecting ourselves. It's clear from Petrusich's work that she understands the deep, obsessive call to collect. She understands it so much, in fact, that she learns scuba diving solely so that she can try to find a treasure trove of lost 78s at the bottom of a silty, dangerous river, and despite coming up empty-handed, she still tries to find these lost pieces at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales. Leth's approach to collecting tattoos is a bit more practical, since she makes the point right away that tats are permanent. If you're not sure about your idea, she advises, "...wait one year. That may seem long, but you'll have it forever. Don't rush it!" Collecting images that mean something to you, or rare shellacs that mean something to American music, is no easy task, and neither author approaches this endeavor as something to be taken lightly.

The second, and more complicated idea, expands on the first and asks: what is permanence? If a tattoo or a record collection immortalizes us somehow, does that make our existence now better, and are the costs necessarily worth it? Leth states flat out that people shouldn't get tattoos when they're young, siting her own mistakes as evidence: "I had my first ink done at age 14. Would I recommend that to anyone? Hell NO.... I had no concept of permanence--I was going to like what I liked at 14 forever." Petrusich, on the other hand, has a longer space to discuss the notion of permanence and collecting, and she does just that. Some of the collectors she profiles are winners of Grammy awards for their contributions to American music history (they collected pieces of musical history that would have otherwise been erased or lost forever), but some of them are obsessive weirdos who collect indiscriminately and leave their mess for others to find after death. Add to this mix that 78s aren't built to last and there's only a finite number of them in the world today, and getting into collecting these items is not something a layperson can do on a whim. Petrusich makes no bones about the fact that the collectors she meets are almost all male, and that the collecting world they inhabit is an uber-masculine one: "... if mismanaged, the urge [to collect] can manifest as a kind of mania, a macho possessiveness." This macho urge to OWN ALL THE THINGS makes for an odd life. For Petrusich, it's an amazing experience, tracking down awesome, funny characters who take her to backwoods rummage sales and recording studios in other places, but for some of her subjects, the cost of permanence isn't even a footnote in history, just a hobby to pass the time. Immortality is sweet for those are careful, decisive, but for many people, it's a vague promise that disintegrates over time.

Both of these books taught me something. Leth's work is relentlessly practical and helped me finally nail what kind of tattoo I want and where I want it. I also realized that I only really want the one, as long as I can find an artist to work with whose work I love. Petrusich's book taught me so much about the early blues scene in America that I hadn't previously been exposed to, and I suspect a lot of the followup to this work will be hunting down as many of the songs that she mentions so that I can hear them for myself. But it also made me evaluate my own small collection of stuff: a few My Little Ponies (Nightmare Moon is just too damn cool, OK?), some Funko Pops, and my Doctor Who/Ponies crossover project. It definitely appears that I've been collecting parts of myself, but their permanence is a little suspect now. They make me happy, though, and in the end, that's the best part of collecting anything, at least for me. I find it ironic that my obsessive, masochistic completist streak is limited to series of books, but not to objects. After Petrusich's work, I think I kind of dodged a bullet there.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
Somehow I've made it to lots of movies in the past few months and not blogged about them! To whit:

Man of Steel: This is one of the most beautiful movie soundtracks I've heard in a long time; it sounded hopeful, which is a quality a lot of music aspires to, but very little actually achieves. The main theme was gorgeous and subtle, and I liked the way it slipped around the edges of scenes and moments. The rest of the movie... well, subtle and gorgeous aren't words I'd use to describe it, but it wasn't terrible or terrific. It just was. I liked seeing smart!Lois Lane, and I loved the scary female villain, Faora, and there were several very good examples of showing and not telling, most notably the first truly heroic act Clark attempts as an adult. (If running onto a burning oil rig to rescue its trapped workers isn't super-heroic, then I don't know what is.) But the whole of the film felt rather flat and contrived. It didn't help that General Zod looked a lot like Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute on the "The Office" (I kept expecting Zod to try and sell paper products or beets to the bewildered people of Metropolis) and seems to have attended the acting school of "Come on, skull, pop out of my skin!" Maybe bargain matinee-worthy if you've not seen it and/or are invested in the Superman mythos?

Much Ado About Nothing: As counterpoint to all the bombast of Man of Steel, this movie is all fizzy and spritely fun until it's suddenly not, which I think is more Shakespeare's original's fault than anything Whedon or his cast did wrong. I'm convinced that Amy Acker was born to play Beatrice; she embodied the role in every good way, and I was so happy to see her showing off her marvelous range and dramatic gifts all over the place. It's a strange little story--contrived drama! star-crossed lovers! dumb assumptions about foolish things!, but I knew that going in, based on the title alone. :)

The Heat: It's not Bridesmaids, but it's respectably hilarious and actually has quite a bit of tension and pathos at its core. I think Paul Feig is trying to sneakily jumpstart a national dialogue about terribly lonely people and how they live their lives (or don't), and the majority of the pathos lay in both of the main characters tackling that solitude they'd built around themselves, or that other people had built around them. It was actually a little touching to see genuine feelings and personal growth in the midst of violence and profanity. Definitely get out and see this if you have the chance; it would be nice if this made a nice little profit and showed the studio, oh, hey, lots of people would like to see more movies with cool ladies in them! Surprise! Sarcasm!

Fast and Furious 6: This was surprisingly excellent in many ways, and its diverse cast and largely gender-balanced script put so many other movies to shame that... well, I'm going to say this, even as I disbelieve I'm espousing the statement as a whole, but: HOLLYWOOD COULD LEARN A LOT FROM THIS MOVIE AND ITS SUCCESS. Ahem. I didn't think this was a waste of time at all, not by a long shot, and Yebisu and I have been having a very entertaining time ever since catching up on the ones in the middle of the franchise that we missed (which, so far, haven't been as good #6.) I did tire of the macho slugfest towards the end, but that's how I feel with a lot of guy movies, so... still, as a whole, it was awesome, fun, and entirely stupidly entertaining. (Also: Han/Giselle = OTP forever!)

In the trailer park department, other than the Hobbit, Part 2 trailer, I think I've not seen anything that I've been super-excited for. I was doing pretty well with The Conjuring trailers until the one that was with The Heat started pushing my "OMG-Children-In-Peril" button, so that one's back in the DVD watch pile.
retsuko: (stars)
I was perusing some of the "Best Of" lists of movies and books this year in various sources (LA Times, NY Times, The Onion's A.V. Club), and realized that in most cases, I had only heard about half of the works on all the lists. This has never, ever happened before. In the case of books, I feel slightly better about it; books don't get the same pop culture treatment that movies do (the movie section of the newspaper is like the star high school quarterback, while the book review has been trimmed and pared down to chess club level status at this point). But in the case of the movies... gah. This is really how having a child has changed our lives. It's not an entirely bad thing, of course: we don't spend as much on movie tickets as we used to, and when we do see a movie, we're very, very picky about it. I'm also finding that most movies really don't lose much between video format and the big screen. But going to movies just because we felt like it was something that both [ profile] yebisu9 and I enjoyed a lot, and I hate to think that is not only no longer an option, but our general pop culture knowledge has declined because of it. The pay-off of this exchange, raising a child, is wonderful and awesome, and well worth losing movies. It's just a strange revelation for me, a reminder of how much things have changed.

In any case, the movies that I get a chance to see and enjoy fall mostly into the comedy category (Bridesmaids, the adult, cringe-worthy hilarity, and The Muppets, sweet and musical and funny), action-drama (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, a tremendously satisfying conclusion), and straight-up drama (True Grit and The Descendants). We've pretty much stopped going to documentaries (*weeps*), although this has more to do with the timing of the art house movie theaters near us, rather than issues with the genre. I'm still hoping to get to see Tintin, but that's not going to happen before 2012.

Books are much the same story--read in a very slapdash fashion here and there. I've really enjoyed continuations of my favorite series, like the new Percy Jackson series, or the latest Thursday Next installment, which rewarded me for all my faith in the series by being one of the funniest and most inventive adventures yet. I also very much enjoyed more serious works, like The Wilder Life (the life story and legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her much beloved Little House books) and The Lace Reader (see previous entry.) Again, my nonfiction reading has suffered. Years ago, I vowed to myself to always have a nonfiction title going at the same time as a fiction one, and technically, I *have* one (Tesla: Man Out of Time), but I'm not rushing to read it as much as I should be. (Tesla's life story is fascinating, but the electrical engineering talk that takes up much of chapters leaves me confused and rather bored.) This will probably be the subject of a pop culture resolution for next year (see below).

Music-wise, my Top 25 most played are pretty similar to previous years--Susumu Hirasawa (the Paprika OST is STILL awesome!), Neko Case, Barenaked Ladies, etc. etc. Newer entries include The New Pornographers, Neko Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, which is absolutely fantastic, and Flight of the Conchords. (My love for adorable pop music parody knows no bounds.) If I had to sum up 2011's musical trend in one genre, though, it would be kick-ass lady folk-rock/rocky-folk, like Florence + The Machine, Aimee Mann, my perennial favorite Dar Williams, and the afore mentioned Neko Case.

2011 was also the year of "Probably Far More TV Than Was Good For Me." On the other hand, even though I watched a lot of TV, it wasn't just junk that I passively consumed. I discovered several new fandoms (Adventure Time, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary) and am currently having the pleasure of watching several great American novels (most notably Mad Men) set to TV. There was a fair amount of TV that was pre-screened for our son, but as long as he enjoys good quality programs like Shaun the Sheep and Sesame Street, I think the good news is that I won't go crazy. (I also fully expect him to adore something I hate, but I will burn that bridge when I get there.)

There have also been quite a few manga volumes and comics littering up 2011. Of all of these, the two I'm most looking forward to are the next volume of Wandering Son, a beautifully drawn and translated story about transgender teens by a mangaka who obviously loves her characters and the next issue of The Unwritten, a story which gets more and more interesting with each passing and not nearly frequent enough chapter.

Finally, my pop culture resolutions for 2012! )

Happy 2012 to everyone who's been reading!
retsuko: (caffeine)
In Books:

Uglies & Pretties, by Scott Westerfield: If there was ever a series that should be turned into a manga, it's this one. Westerfield's description of the Pretty People is a homogenized manga vision waiting to happen, with larger eyes, smaller mouths, and cheekbones to die for. (Not to mention perfect teeth, symmetrical features, moving tattoos, perfect clothes, etc. etc.) And the good news is that the manga is forthcoming! I look forward to reading it. However, the books themselves, as they are now, are quite good, too. They can truly be classified as "page turners". I went through the first one in about three days, and that's saying something, considering that I've been managing a fussy one-year-old, two classes, and various other commitments. The world that Westerfield imagines is dystopia at its worst best (or best worst, whichever you prefer.) On a post-apocalyptic Earth, all children are raised to believe they are Ugly, but that's OK, because they'll be made Pretty on their sixteenth birthdays. Except... what if you don't want the operation? And who's really in charge of what's considered beautiful? (One of the most chilling details of the books is that all Pretties have the same color skin, on the basis that it's the most Pretty and eliminates conflict.) The heroine of these books is Tally Youngblood, who starts off as a reluctant participant in what appears to be a minor rebellion, but ends up taking more and more perilous risks for what she believes in. (I haven't read the third book of the series yet, so please no spoilers.) I am very pleased in these books exist in contrast to the emphasis on physical beauty at all costs that seems to permeate American society and hope that readers will question standards of beauty as a result of reading these works. Hand this to your nearest teen reader!

The Baker Street Letters, by Michael Roberston: Harmless, but pointless. Two brothers, who I could never get a mental picture of (because there were no descriptions of them in the story), rent law offices from the bank that has its premises on 221B Baker street, and one of the conditions of their rent is that they deal with the letters that arrive for Sherlock Holmes. The younger brother, who has a variety of problems (most notably Plotdriveitis), sets off to LA to investigate two of these letters and his hapless sibling follows. Then there's some subterfuge involving the failed L.A. subway project, a few funny lines where the British brothers are mistaken for Australians, and a convoluted ending where one of the main characters is somehow ruined financially because he does the right thing. It was a fast read, but I couldn't really bring myself to care about anyone involved. At book group (which this was assigned reading for) I heard that this has been optioned for a TV series here in the U.S., and all I could think of was a snarky whine about this show doing its predecessor, Murder, She Wrote, proud. Yeah. Not a total waste of time, but not a good use of it, either.

The Ronin's Mistress, by Laura Joh Rowland: OMG OMG OMG. This series is SO GOOD! And it gets almost no attention or press, and I just want to weep. In this installment, Rowland gives us her interpretation of the popular 47 Ronin legend, complete with psychosexual drama, ritual suicide, and palace intrigue, all used to great effect. She also pushes her characters to their breaking points, in the best possible way. At this point in the story, our hero, Inspector Sano, has made so many enemies that the other shoe is going to have to start dropping, and soon. Rowland gets the drop started in fine fashion and parcels out some excellent character development for many of the regularly appearing characters, along with a truly engrossing murder mystery, told in a Rashomon-style multiple points of view approach. Of course, the thing that worries me is that the shoe is still dropping, and even though Sano solves the central mystery, he ends the story in a worse position than when he started. Future installments will no doubt have me shouting advice and recriminations at the characters, because nothing good can come from this, and I am very invested in almost everyone in the story. SO GOOD! Damn! You can start the series here, or at the beginning (Shinjuu), but either is well worth it! Damn!

In Manga:

Naruto, Vol. 28: I'm fairly excited to finally get past the time skip and see how all the characters have grown. But I'm worried that this story is teetering on the brink of the too-many-characters!chasm and the plot is about to focus on the characters I don't care about so much. I can see that Kishimoto wants to raise the stakes for our heroes (and token heroine) by elaborating on the villains and their elaborately slow and complicated plan. But I can tell I'm about to lose patience with said elaborate, slow plot, mostly because it doesn't have the ring of truth. It's one thing to have a "long con" plot device, but you have to keep referring to the con, somehow, even just in passing. ("I'm just biding my time here!" Thought Character X, as she faked a smile in Character Y's direction.) In the case of Naruto, the con appears to be so much waiting and seeing that I don't think it's ever going to stop being a con. Which is very frustrating, at least for this constant reader.

In Concert:

I had the good fortune to see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with a live orchestra and choir soundtrack last night. If this is touring in your city, I cannot recommend it enough. Howard Shore's score is beautiful, and the performance is moving and lovely, especially the performance of "May It Be" by a singer who I suspect is better than Enya (no autotune was necessary!).
retsuko: (cute but evil)
In Books:

Soulless, Gail Carriger: A wonderfully funny steampunk paranormal romance with a decidedly spunky heroine and her reluctant lover. It's a little tempting to write this book off as a send-up of Victorian manners and mores, but Carriger has included enough interesting paranormal details to add a lot of authenticity to the plot. I like the heroine very much, especially since she's proactive for the most part about facing danger. A book group read, and a pretty darned good one (although I suspect the group may not think so.)

On Video:

2012: For a movie that claimed to have the survival of the human race as one of its core themes, the value of human life in this film was almost less than a penny per person. There was some laughably terrible science in it, too, including tsunamis in the open ocean knocking over cruise ships, which is ludicrous. The few characters I liked or cared about suffered horrible deaths. I guess the disaster porn genre and I are not destined to be friends. The dog survived, though!

On TV:

The Cape: This is cheesetastic comic book fun, not deep or meaningful, but full of classic comic conventions, including ugly villains, noble motivation on the part of our hero, and all sorts of father issues. I love that one of the central images of the show is the father reading to his son, which is way more touching than I expected it to be. Unfortunately, the rest of the ideas don't have the same emotional resonance, but no matter. The bad guys are bad, James Frain gets to be menacingly charming, and there's lots of action in the form of circus performers, illusionists, and good old fashioned smackdowns between our hero and the assorted villains. Summer Glau appears to be wasted as a Oracle-like scientific genius with a vendetta against the Big Baddie, but perhaps her role will expand in future episodes. So far, it's good fun, which is more than I can say for a lot of shows on TV these days. (I am well aware that last statement made me sound like an old lady, waving her cane at those kids on her lawn!)

In Music: I am horribly late to the party on this, but Neko Case's beautiful album "Middle Cyclone" is well worth its purchase price and features some wonderfully catchy music and hauntingly lovely lyrics. ("Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" is deceptively earwormish and I have caught myself humming it in the shower several times since I downloaded the album.) It also features a half-hour track of crickets chirping, to the consternation of some listeners. At first I was a little weirded out, too, but the crickets turn out to be oddly soothing. In the end, I'm glad it was included.

Worst Band Names, 2010

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 07:42 am
retsuko: (music!)
The Onion A.V. Club's list of the worst band names of 2010 is here! As usual, there's some brilliantly crazy and stupid naming jobs:

* Stop with the unicorns, already! As much as my inner 4th grade girl's heart thrills every time she sees the word 'unicorn', it doesn't lend any "badass factor" to your band name, just an arched eyebrow of 'O RLY'. Examples:

Sex Unicorn (... what?)
Unicorn Basement (... sort of what?)

* Unintentionally funny? It's hard to tell anymore, since one of the bands claims that their life's ambition with their naming choice was to be featured in the Worst Band Names list. Regardless, intentional or not, examples:

Dangermuffin (I'm picturing a little English muffin, dressed up like Danger Mouse, threatening some bad guy and getting stepped on.)
Feng Shui Ninjas (This would make an awesomely crazy one-shot comic book, along with the Sushi Police.)
Begin By Gathering Supplies (... OK. And then?)
Piano Fondue (Is this a dinner theater battle band?)
Federal! State! Local! (It's the exclamation points that make this one work.)

* Second Person: You're not sure, but you think this is a bad trend for band names:

Kill You in the Face (... whut.)
Music Hates You (For listening to this band?)
You Might Think We're Sharks (Oh. I was thinking you were killer whales, but I'm glad you set me straight on that.)

Anyway, enjoy. Warning: Good for hours of time wasteage!
retsuko: (no internet logic)
The Onion A.V. Club's list of Worst/Funniest/Oddest Band Names of 2009 is up! Link contains some NSFW material, but the problem is more likely to be that your sounds of laughter and disbelief will distract co-workers from no doubt very important tasks.

Highlights include:

* Moth!Fight!

(I kind of want to hear this band. I'm imagining all insect-themed thrash metal tunes.)

* Predominant Moritification

(On what planet do either of these two words make for a good band name? But together, it's a certain kind of genius!)

* Rebels Without Applause

(If they do James Dean tribute music, then it's all good.)

* Baby Got Bacteria

(Maybe they're a bunch of epidemiologists with too much time on their hands and secret dreams of hip hop stardom??)

* We Must Dismantle All This

(To the tune of "As Time Goes By": We must dismantle all this, the music's hit or miss, the hype is do or die; the world will always welcome weird bands, as the 'net goes by. OK, that only sort of worked, but the name itself only sort of works.)
retsuko: (they wrote whut?!)
A while back, I wrote about the trailer for "Repo: The Genetic Opera", assuming that it would come out in theaters and I would go and see it on a sunny morning at a cheap showing. Then the movie wasn't released in the way I expected it would be, and when it moseyed over to San Diego, I didn't think I could stay up until midnight to see something potentially disturbing. But thanks to Netflix, the DVD is in my possession (albeit temporarily.)

And, honestly? I might have to watch this again.

I mean, I was surprised by how much I liked it. On the first viewing, it reminded me of a report that I did in eighth grade world history about the Globe Theater during Shakespeare's time and how the performers used ox blood during the blood-letting scenes because it looked more dramatic than any other type of animal blood (according to my source at the time.) There's a lot of blood in this, but it seems ox-blood-fake, set dressing for the sake of the overall tint of the film, and not actually belonging to any human being. And the music is crazy, running the gamut from Broadway-style crowd scenes (a chorus of singing prostitutes, a la Les Miz and Miss Saigon!) to punk to Puccini. But somehow it works, and I cannot say what the best thing about it is, the music or the singing or the acting, or the general over-the-top staging and melodramatic story. I suppose the best way to summarize it would be "Bertold Brecht meets Iggy Pop meets Elvira meets Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde meets West Side Story and they all do drugs together and then get in a knife fight and sing and it's a strange kind of AWESOME!"

I remember... I dismember!: This ain't your granddaddy's opera. Spoilers ahead, too. )

To those who were concerned about the squick/horror level: If you've seen any 80's slasher movie, I think you've seen the gore you're going to see here. If you don't like torture, you should probably stay away, although I thought those scenes moved by very quickly and didn't bother me like I had expected.

I may never think of Anthony Stewart Head in the same way again, though, that's for damn sure. I should also add that I was in a very specific mood when I watched this; I wanted something completely different and strange, and I wanted music, and I really, really enjoyed it. I think it I had been in a more fragile or introspective mood, I would not have enjoyed it and this entry would be very different.

Of course, the real question that I have is, will this be the new Rocky Horror Picture Show? Rocky is kitschy, campy fun. I don't know if I would call this movie "fun", although a lot of the music is very stirring. I don't think I can picture people singing along with Sarah Brightman's aria... and I'm not sure what props you would bring with you to Repo (maybe little glass vials?). On the other hand, this already has a kind of cult following, and if the midnight showing at the Ken is any indication, it could certainly happen. And if it comes around again, and there are people in costume... I might just have to go this time.
retsuko: (going on my LJ)
I had held off on writing this until now because I thought there might be a couple more books or movies that might squeeze their way onto this list or that; however, my plans for an additional movie were squashed when my Mom got sick last weekend, and instead of reading Meaningful Books, I've gotten on a trashy literature binge again that really doesn't do my literary Top 10 List any favors (but is terribly entertaining nonetheless). So, without much further ado: my Year in Review, 2008, Special Pop Culture Edition!

Top Books: YA 'Barbaric Yawp' vs. Nonfiction 'No Holds Barred' vs. Good and Good For You 'Literary Pedigree': Let's get ready to rumble! )

Top Movies: Blockbuster Backlash, and the Art House Aftermath )

Top Comics/Manga: 'Round Up the Usual Suspects!' )

My Top 25 Most Listened to Songs )

So, yeah, that's a lot of pop culture stuff. I am looking forward to 2009 for a number of reasons (i.e. continuations of assorted above-mentioned books and comics) and for discovering new things.
retsuko: (no internet logic)
The Onion A.V. Club's List of Worst Band Names is up!

Highlights include:

Insidious Decrepancy (I swear, that band name is going to appear in my Buffy game, although perhaps the way I misread it initially, as "Insidious Discrepancy".)

Druids of Huge

I Set My Friends on Fire (uhm... good for you?)

Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings

Carlos I'm Pregnant

Justice of the Unicorns (first album: Angels with Uzis)

Alas! Alak! Alaska!

Previously on Lost (They do musical recaps of 'Lost' episodes. The first song that plays when you hit the link is "The Island Won't Let You Die" and goes, WAAAALLLTTTTT! WAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLTTTTTT!)

Fatal Kitten Rampage


Clearly, I need to form a terrible band with a terrible name and get myself onto this list. I have missed out on my calling in life! XD

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