1. Birthdays. I celebrated mine with a lovely dinner out with my beautiful wife. The evening was great. but didn’t entirely stave off the existential dread of realizing that I have been walking this earth for thirty-two years and still feel lost and clueless when it comes to dealing with adult problems (i.e. something beyond not being able to collect all of Ben Franklin’s draft pages in Assassin’s Creed III). Do all adults deal with this much doubt and worry? Did my parents have as little an idea of how to handle this stuff as I do now? Yikes.
2. Movie Trailers. Last week made me excited about the 2013’s film prospects, especially in the sphere of science fiction, comic book-y movies that let me stave off death by feeding my adolescent power fantasies and maintaining my arrested development. That sounds like a somewhat mature self-critique but on the other hand, GIANT ROBOTS! PUNCHING MONSTERS!
And, KHAAAAAN! (maybe?)
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
If the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings, then I guess it wasn’t that bad. Peter Jackson leads another expedition to Middle-Earth with the film version of the early adventures of Bilbo Baggins. Somehow, he has turned the lightest and breeziest of J.R.R. Tolkein’s tales into a six hour epic on par with the LOTR films in terms of ass-numbing theatre seat occupation. While the earlier trilogy was a nearly flawless adaptation of a genre-defining work, The Hobbit shows some serious seams where the source material was stitched together to create a trilogy worthy whole. Maybe it was because Jackson and his fellow screenwriters had to look at things to cut for the Lord of the Rings films and were forced to stretch the The Hobbit into a trilogy, but this movie dragged. There were several high points, but despite the enthusiastically varied showcase of beard-ery, axe-based ass-kicking, and people riding animals that are not ordinarily used as mounts (eagles, rabbits, reindeer, etc.) the movie felt like it could have lost about an hour of run time and still been packed with incident. The effect is somewhat surprising because in the previous trilogy, the film makers showed an admirable ruthlessness when it came to cutting parts of the story that had no place in a compelling, breathless on-screen experience. Things like the Tom Bombadil story were excised from The Fellowship of the Ring while there are many scenes and plot lines that should have been cut from The Hobbit. (I’m looking at you, entire sequence with Radaghast the Brown, Middle-Earth Middle-Managers Quarterly Report, and Troll chef trickery.) Still, the Riddles in the Dark sequence is appropriately off-putting and there wasn’t anything on-screen that I hated. There was simply too much of it.
1. Thor smashed me pleasantly in the face with the mighty hammer of its polished superhero/mythological/space fantasy mashup. Thor has never been my favorite character, either in comics or in Norse mythology, but this movie was the real deal. My biggest concern going in was that the Asgardian fantasy trappings would look inherently goofy captured in the real world. Thor works pretty well for me when he’s running around punching frost giants and cracking trolls in the jaw with his hammer. Walking down the streets of NYC, the whole thing can fall on the wrong side of goofy. Kenneth Branagh largely avoids this problem by keeping the Godly sections of the movie distinct from the mortal, except for a few scenes where the Warriors Three strut down the street in full-on medieval garb, but that’s mostly played for laughs. I also loved how much of a Bro they made Thor as he learned his humility. The S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff took up a good chunk of time, but didn’t feel too shoe-horned in. I am salivating for Captain America and the Avengers will be awesome.
2. The Hot Sauce Committee (Part Two) by the Beastie Boys has been at the top of my most anticipated albums list. It rocks. I had kind of forgotten how many sucka MCs are out there, so I’m glad the Firm of Horovitz, Yauch, and Diamond is back to school them all with their blistering similes.
3. Archer is the funniest show on television. I’ve been catching up with the last season on Hulu, and the show is really coming into it’s own. What started as a take on the more self-centered and misogynistic aspects of a James Bond-style superspy has developed into a workplace comedy with just a hint of surrealism. The episode “Placebo Effect” had the eponymous secret agent search out the criminal mastermind who had been selling counterfeit cancer medication (sugar pills and Zima). He insists on a “rampage” of revenge, and ends up interrogating the Irish mobsters behind the scheme while physically falling apart from the real meds he finds and engaging in an elaborate Family Feud homage. Hilarious.
The Social Network. I am an unabashed fan of Aaron Sorkin, from the heights rapid-fire walking and talking he reached with The West Wing to the swiftly forgotten self-aggrandizement of Studio 60 One the Sunset Strip, I have enjoyed them all. I’m also partial to David Fincher. Trent Reznor’s instrumental work basically got me through studying for law school finals with its dark ominous tones. So why did I avoid a movie that puts all three together while it was in theaters? I have no idea. Something about The Social Network failed to grab my interest. I thought it looked good and made vague plans to Netflix it eventually, but I never worked up the energy to see it during its theatrical run. Not even the Oscar buzz for the film could get my ass in the seat. Something about the subject matter just didn’t appeal to me. But having finally watched it, I have to ask myself: What took so long? This movie was awesome. Well written, directed, and acted. The most compelling part of Facebook’s creation myth was the portrait it paints of Zuckerberg: ruthless genius and profoundly sad dude, a Charles Foster Kane for the Internet age. I especially loved the framing device of present-day depositions taking us back to the early Harvard days of the social networking behemoth.
Portal 2. This game makes my head hurt. In a good way. I’m still puzzling my way through the single player campaign, but I can already tell that Valve have hit this one out of the park. I’m almost completely desensitized to the simulated sensations of video games. Rarely do I get a visceral thrill. But the dizzying possibilities set up by the simple mechanic of creating a portal between two points in space often leaves me feeling slightly breathless. The voice acting is great as well. I could listen to Steven Merchant read the phone book, but the voice of the robot Wheatley is hilarious.
The Economist. I am a long time subscriber to the best weekly magazine in the history of the printed word, and their recent release of the iPad app has opened the magazine up for me in new and more convenient ways. My chief issue with the paper is the sheer deluge of information it rains down on my every week. Classically liberal, but intensely focused on taking the long view of the weeks news stories The Economist delves deeper and takes a wider scope than any other paper. This week’s edition goes deep into the dysfunctional workings of Californian politics with a special report on the failings of “extreme democracy”. It’s more riveting than it sounds. Plus, infographics!
1. Samurai Movies. Last Saturday was an active one for me. The day began with the traditional Samurai Saturday Kurosawa movie viewing. The Criterion Collection on Netflix Watch Instantly has proven a handy tool for filling out the gaps in my samurai movie knowledge, even while it gives me a chance to go back and watch some of my old favorites. Sanjuro was new to me, but I loved every minute of the film.Toshiro Mifune was at his gruffest, but still stole the show in this story of a group of inexperienced young Samurai dealing with a rebellion and taking advice from a grizzled old drunk. Mifune delivers the goods, as ever. I’m not sure why I get such a kick out of these old movies. Sure, part of it is the unquestionable bad-assery of dudes just straight up wailing on each other with swords. But the violence is surprisingly low key. (Until it isn’t). But there is a lyrical quality to films like Sanjuro and thematic depth to movies like Rashomon that I prefer.
2. Triple Rock Brewery Firkin Festival. After the film ended and the Beautiful Wife returned from her trip,we met up with some friends and made our way out to the East Bay for some delicious craft beers at the Triple Rock Brewery Firkin Gravity Beer Festival. Some of the finest small brewers in Nor Cal showed up with kegs of their most delicious brews. All of them served the old fashioned way, relying on an angled keg and Sir Isaac’s Newton’s specialty to make the suds flow. I tasted probably the finest Imperial Stout ever from Ballast Point. It was called “Sea Monster” and it tasted so good that it made me want to float through the gulf stream and hassle 17th century sailors. My local brewery, The 21st Amendment brought their “Imperial Jack” ESB, which was brewed with Maker’sMark barrel oak chips and tasted like it’s ideal setting would be to drink it from a Mason jar on the front porch of a large Kentucky home.
3. Punks fighting hipsters with bikers watching. The East Bay Rats are a motorcycle club based in Oakland. After the beerfest, we moseyed along to their clubhouse for an irregular Fight Night. I do not ride a motorcycle and I have never attended a soirée at a clubhouse before, so I had nothing to calibrate my expectations aside from my fervent appreciation of Sons of Anarchy so I didn’t know what I was getting into. The night was billed as Punks Versus Hipsters, and they started out trying to match the mohawks to the moccasins, but over time the match ups moved away from that theme and anyone who wanted to enter the boxing ring took a turn. It was awesome. The bikers that I met were all nice guys.No one removed anyone else’s tattoo with a blowtorch, so Sons of Anarchy may have oversold the danger. The bouts were all overseen by a referee, the fighters wore gloves, and everybody hugged after the match. It was more like a Smoker at a local boxing gym than Thunderdome. The club house was super crowded though, and it seemed like a popular event.
1. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is probably my all-time favorite beer. I’ve been on a serious IPA kick for the last four years or so, and the hoppy goodness (90 IBU) that the fine folks at Dogfish Head consistently deliver in every bottle tickles my nose most pleasantly. The high alcohol content (9%) means that I can’t drink as many as I would like in any one sitting without starting to talk kinda loud and possibly riding the wrong bus about five miles in the wrong direction. Still, it’s a wonderful beer. I continually monitor their website in case they post a job opening for in-house counsel, but until they do I’ll keep drinking it.
2. The Strokes are a band that I’ve followed since they first broke onto the scene during my first year in undergrad.
Julian Casablancas and company have delivered album after album of kick-ass songs. Maybe the didn’t turn out to be the Indie Messiahs who would change the Face of Modern Rock; as some of the more ardent critics proclaimed them after Is This It? but I have enjoyed the slow progression of their sound all the way down to AnglesIt’s been on daily rotation since I downloaded it from Amazon for $3.99 in one of the best daily deals Amazon has yet put out there. This album has a slightly 80s vibe to it, but in a good way.
3. Dragon Age II is my first real exposure to the series.
I did try to get into Origins but I was stymied by the difficulty level. I ended up not having fun because even when I micromanaged my party to within an inch of their lives, I still got schooled by nearly every Darkspawn we ran across. I was a big fan of Mass Effect games, so getting reacquainted with the BioWare approach to role playing wasn’t that hard. Dragon Age 2 is easier than its predecessor, in that it is actually possible for your followers to make rational decisions for themselves, such as drinking a health potion after they get knocked on their ass by orc-blades or not jumping in front of the toughest bad guy in the room when they are out of stamina. I also like the self-contained nature of the smaller scale adventure. Your hero basically just hangs out in the city and the setting changes temporally instead of spatially. That being said, I do wish that the you could check out more areas in the city and run through the same damn dungeon ten times. Nothing is more fun than setting up a cross class combo and having your rogue disorient an enemy just long enough for your spellcaster to bring the mystical pain. I also enjoy the way you go into conversational cut-scenes covered head to to in the gory ichor of your foes and just start chuckling with your buddies like it’s the end of Scooby Doo.