Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I'm a big fan of the punk band Green Day.  It's kind of weird calling them a "punk band", because the lead singer is over 40 years old.  They formed back in the late 1980s and achieved major success with their album Dookie in the early 1990s. 

I have all of their albums—over the last ten years, they have released the hugely popular American Idiot, which was turned into a Broadway musical.  However, even some hardcore fans may not know that there are two albums that are Green Day, but not really Green Day.

In 2007, the band released an album called Foxboro Hot Tubs, based on an alternative band that they formed.  (It was really just Green Day with a couple of other guys. 

The album sounds like Green Day (kind of).  Because there are other members, the sound is a little different but overall, the songwriting is very Green Day—very catchy with good hooks and interesting lyrics.

Foxboro Hot Tubs weirder counterpart is the new wave band The Network.  They released an album a few years earlier in 2003 called Money Money 2020

This band sounds like Men Without Hats meets Devo meets Green Day.  The really weird part is that the band all wear masks.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the vocals are Billy Joe Armstrong's (the voice of Green Day).  This is a darker, stranger album and definitely has pieces of Green Day in it, but overall it sounds like a different band.  If you like the techno-sounding bands of the 1980s, you will enjoy this little offshoot album.  

Friday, March 21, 2014


I am a big Ricky Gervais fan.  I watched him back in 2000 with the British version of The Office, also known to us hardcore fans as The Office.  I like pretty much everything he has ever done.  There was a TV show that was recently lanched in the U.K. called Derek.  (It is now available in North America on Netflix.)  It's a quirky television show about a simple person who works at an old folks home.  It's not really a very funny show, but it is really heartfelt and more like comedy-drama.  A dramedy?  A coma?  In any event, the show is really moving, because we get to watch Derek (Ricky Gervais) interact with friends and clients (who are mostly old people waiting to die in the home). 

The music on this show is fantastic.  I am not a big fan of classical music.  To me, it is old person music.  I am not an old person!  I can walk up a flight of stairs.  I know how to use a self-checkout machine at the supermarket.  I am young, dammit!  

The composer of the classical music that was used in the show is an Italian musician named Ludovico Einaudi.  I grabbed one of his albums and absolutely fell in love with the music.  Instead of thirty violins all battling it out like crazy chickens in a small coop, the music is melodic and simple.  Check out his song Ancora here: 

Of course, the snobby snobs have to come down from their snobby ivory tower and criticize that Ludivico Einaudi is too simple—that the masses may like it, but he is not considered "real" classical music.  I love this.  I am gladly one of the heathens who doesn't get classical music.  It's too complicated and quite frankly, I don't really enjoy it.  So I love this criticism.  I truly do.  Let me explain: I am a huge KISS fan.  I love those old dudes dressed up in spandex breathing fire and setting off pyro.  The critics Hate KISS.  Yes, that was hate with a capital H.  So to me, Ludivico Einaudi is like the KISS of the classical world.  (He does not, to my knowledge, spit fire or start every piano concert with "who's ready to rock???"

I really like melodies (which is why I like KISS and 1980s cheesy music.  You spin me right round baby right round—where was I?  Oh right.  This is one of his biggest mainstream songs, called Divenire:

It's like most art: either you like it, or you don't.  I like it.  Even if he doesn't shoot fireworks and have a 20-foot tall drum riser.  

Monday, March 17, 2014


* * * NO SPOILERS (because I am not a dick)

DC Comics has had an up-and-down ride with movies over the past thirty years.  They set the standard back in 1978 with the movie Superman, and while it was ground breaking for its time, fans haven't had a truly great Superman movie since (although a highlight in the 1980s was Richard Pryor stealing digital pennies in Superman III).  With the success of the Dark Knight trilogy which started in 2005, DC Comics put forth a solid effort with Superman Returns in 2006.  It was okay—not horrible, not terrible, but just okay. 

Time for some Zack Snyder.  He has directed the movies 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead, just to name a few.  Snyder is at the helm for the latest Superman movie (out on DVD and Blu Ray) called Man of Steel.  It is basically a "reboot", meaning that they took the old script from the 1978 movie (and the Superman II sequel), dusted it off, added a ton of special effects, and modernized the look and feel of the movie.  Snyder has a specific directorial style, and either you like it or you don't.  (I happen to really like it—I enjoyed Watchmen and 300 quite a bit.)

For comic book nerds like me, there is a definite difference between Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men, and DC superheroes like Batman and Superman.  The difference (in the comic books) is the depth of the characters.  In the Marvel comics, Spider-Man is cool, but Peter Parker is not popular—he can't get the girl, he's picked on by the bullies, and he keeps his temper under control despite money problems, no date on Saturday night and some super villain trying to destroy New York City with a goblin glider.  (We've all been there.) 

This brings us to the big problem that I have with Superman, at least in the past.  Bullets bounced off of him.  He can fly through suns.  From a writing standpoint, where is the possible conflict and drama?  Superman beating up a couple of guys robbing the 7-Eleven seems kind of cheesy.  Who wants to watch the equivalent of a full-grown man beat up on a couple of school children?  (Please note: for legal reasons, I am no longer soliciting offers to beat up school children.)

Snyder does a good job in this movie of having the bad guys be worthy adversaries—people from Krypton—mainly General Zod and his thugs, who I always thought were awesome villains in the comic books.  Why is Superman battling "The Toyman", or a magical elf, when he could be fighting other Kryptonians who have the same powers that he does?  It is terrific and they finally do the battle scenes justice in this movie—when tough guys collide, everyone start screaming and get out of the way. 

The other thing I enjoyed was they made Superman an outsider.  He's an alien, and that means that he should not see his powers as a blessing right away.  I mean, we all know that weird kid in elementary school who was six inches taller than everyone else—wouldn't it be even more weird if there was a guy in your biology class who could see through walls and hear a bird a mile away?  Makes sense. 

There are some big names this film as well—Russell Crowe is Superman's Krypton dad, Kevin Costner is Superman's "Earth" dad, and Laurence Fishburne is Perry White.  Michael Shannon (who is a terrific actor) plays the creepy General Zod. 

Because I am a total comic nerd, one interesting note: there was a character in DC Comics called Faora who was an ally of General Zod.  She was represented in the original 1978 movie (and the sequel) as a character named Ursa (a short-haired, black spandex-wearing villain from the Phantom Zone).  In Man of Steel, she is played in the movie by Antje Traue.  I like strong women in the movies (not just screaming, flapping their hands and calling for help), and Faora does a great job of kicking some serious Earth-butt. 

This movie is not on the same level as The Dark Knight Rises (few movies are), but if you are a fan of action movies like the new Star Trek films, or the X-Men movies, you will find a couple of hours of heartfelt characters and solid action.  It worked for me—I cared about Clark, and enjoyed seeing Superman acting truly super.  Besides, there's nothing quite like watching the Earth burn to kill a Saturday night.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I'm not afraid of flying, so I seem like a bit of dink when I see someone else who is nervous during a flight.  I'm one of those guys who sits in the airplane seat and immediately starts falling asleep.  (I admit, I would make a lousy pilot.)  In the unlikely event that the airplane ever hits a bit of turbulence, I just fall even deeper into sleep.  If you ever read about some horrible plane crash and find out that I was on it, chances are I was very, very asleep.  (Unless of course people start yelling and screaming, in which case I would be very, very annoyed.)  

In any event, I picked up a copy of a book about anxiety, panic disorders, phobias and other mental disorders and read it on my vacation.  Nothing says rest and relaxation like reading a chapter about pooping your pants, sweating and vomiting uncontrollably when public speaking!  The book is My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel.  

Scott Stossel is first and foremost a journalist, and he's also the editor of the Atlantic magazine.  He is also a great writer.  The book is a strange (but effective) combination of a history of medicine, psychiatry and disorders, both real and imagined, throughout the last few hundred years.  This would otherwise be a clinical look at such things as panic attacks, separation anxiety and the fear of almost everything, except that there is a twist—Stossel confesses that he has been diagnosed, or has suffered from almost every type of anxiety that there is.  He is admittedly anxious, takes perscription medicine and alcohol in order to publicly speak, and has undergone therapy for over thirty years, with varying degrees of success.  And he also soiled a bathroom once during a weekend retreat and bumped into John F. Kennedy junior while wearing minimal clothing.  The book is weird, hilarious, and extremely interesting. 

What I really liked about the book is that the author knows logically that having phobias is kind of stupid, but he cannot control his body's reaction when his brain triggers the "flight or flight" response.  For example, we all logically know that it is not logical to be deathly afraid of cheese, or walking outside of the house, for example.  So why do people like Stossel get queasy stomachs, uncontrollable sweating, and occasionally throw up?  I'm not the bravest person on the planet, but I did jump out of an airplane, and I was no where near the level of anxiety that Stossel goes through on a daily basis.  Imagine going on vacation, and your entire time is spent locating and not venturing from the public bathrooms.  The personal stories from Stossel's life are fascinating, disturbing, and Stossel's self-depreciating sense of humour gives an otherwise sad and depressing look on life an ultimately uplifting sense that anyone, even he, can at least live with (if not overcome) these debilitating disorders.  If you are wondering why you are anxious, depressed, or have phobias, or if you are like me and want to gain a greater understanding of why some people behave really strange, I recommend this book.