Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

This is so fun and original that it deserves to be famous. I will forever wonder -- why did they change the "We're a Couple of Misfits" song to "Fame and Fortune" just one year after first airing? The new song degrades the story, is not animated as well, and isn't as fun or clever. Sure, it's a little shorter -- is that why? No one seems to know what motivated this change. The DVD has the original song. Hooray for DVDs! The Rankin/Bass studio must have been a very fun place to work.

I love it when Santa hears the elf song, and then just says, "It needs work. I have to go."

And I know it's juvenile, but I giggle every time he says "Every year, I polish up my jingle bells for eight lucky reindeer." Somehow, I don't think that would have made it in nowadays. Sorry to infect you with that unwelcome meme.

Achievement Unlocked

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much achievements mean to people -- and Sabrina Haskell pointed me to Achievement Unlocked, which I finished, just so I could say that I did. It shouldn't have been as much fun as it was!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Colbert Christmas

This was a little too snarky for my taste, but I absolutely loved the Colbert / Stewart duet of "Can I interest you in Hanukkah?"

Best Cartoons of the Year 1964

I bought this in a weird little bookstore in Ocean City, Maryland a couple years ago. It has some really fun cartoons! One of my favorites is a gag on the newly invented carphone -- a fellow in traffic is talking to his wife: "I'm approaching exit 8, dear. You can put on the potatoes now." I wonder what gags now will become normal in the future?

A Miser Brothers Christmas

This unexpected sequel to "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (I'm not counting the boring "The Year with a Santa Claus" or the confusing "The Year with Two Santa Clauses") was suprisingly good! I really thought they would mess things up by over-modernizing, or by making the characters unlikable -- but they did none of that! They were amazingly true to the Rankin/Bass aesthetic, right down to timing, animation details, and camera movement. It had Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving in it, for goodness' sake!

Gears of War

Okay, I didn't really finish this, but I think I played all of it that I'm going to. I played it at the insistence of Lisa Brown, who party wanted to show me how good it was, and partly as part of a campaign to make me engage in things that I think I'm not going to like. I was shocked at how incredibly well designed it was. The interface for taking cover is absolutely amazing -- I have never felt safe playing an FPS before -- here I felt like my character was doing sensible things, and that I could think for a minute and plan a strategy. There has been talk about the fact that more women play Gears than they do the average FPS. Cliffy B. says it is because the story has "heart". This seems to be nonsense to me -- I think women probably like playing because it has a great co-op mode, and because the cover system lets a player really feel in control of the gameplay. I'm not much for FPS's, but I'd think about playing this one again!

On a separate note, it really made me wonder about the FPS aesthetic -- a ruined world filled with people who look like football players... why does this very American theme keep repeating? I have a theory, but it is complicated, and probably wrong.

Glimmer Train Stories #55

I used to be hooked on the glimmer train. I read every issue for years when I lived in LA. Somehow, after I left, I didn't want to read it anymore. I think maybe the depressing stories helped balance out LA's endless summer. If you've never been on the glimmer train, it might as well be called "wistful stories of depressing poverty", for all the stories are wistful, and most of them are authors writing about something sad happening to someone poor (usually them). At least this issue had a funny story (wistful, yet funny). In LA I could read a whole issue in a month or two. In Pittsburgh it took me three years to get through this one. Though I must admit I looked for a new issue when I was back at the bookstore. Wistful stories in a beautiful binding and a custom bookmark? I can't resist.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Every time I watch this, I am struck by the simple beauty of it. Mostly, I am struck by how its many flaws (editing, animation problems, pacing) are what make it so beautiful. The show is like the Christmas tree -- ugly and small, but sincere -- and it is our love of it that makes it beautiful. The creators of it had no idea how it would be received -- they were seriously concerned that they had made a black mark on the franchise. It is wonderful that America loves something as simple and honest as this.


This movie always draws me in... I'm not sure why.

My Man Jeeves

This is my first time actually reading (ok, listening to) the Jeeves stories, and while I expected a lot, I got even more! The stories are just so engaging and delightful. And Martin Jarvis made an excellent reader. I look forward to getting more of these!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Except for the big budget, this is a Roger Corman movie, through and through. I had low expectations -- I assumed it would be just another superhero movie, but I was surprised to see it was something very different. It was certainly clever and amusing, but what really struck me was the power of the love story. Its deep theme seems to be that there are some people on this earth who, even though they love each other, have a relationship that is ultimately self-destructive, and for the good of themselves and everyone around them, they must stay apart, even though it is painful. I would never have expected such a meaningful story from such a goofy movie.

How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime

I love this book. I had never realized how very many of the weird movies that I thought were special came from the same person. To think that "X, the Man with X-Ray Eyes", "Bucket of Blood", "House II", "Battle Beyond the Stars", "Rock and Roll High School", "Death Race 2000", "The Wasp Woman", and so many more all came from the same creative mind was eye-opening for me. I had always assumed that I was just cobbling together bits and pieces from the world that matched my viewpoint -- but to realize that, instead, I just seem to have an affinity towards a single creative individual -- well, I'm not sure what to make of that. I was startled to see that I operate my studio much the way he operated his -- taking few risks, carefully controlling costs, and not being afraid to change the work to fit the budget. There is something important here, and I can't put my finger on it. Roger manages to be the opposite of an artist (his films are all about making money), but they are also the opposite of corporate flimmaking (his films are strange, singular visions). His incredibly fast filmmaking creates situations where there is no time for artifice -- and as a result, his actors often have a genuine quality. Most compelling of all, he takes tawdry, exploitative concepts, and weaves into them novel, powerful stories -- just where you would least expect to find them. It's a special kind of magic that will leave me thinking for a long, long time.

Fleet Foxes

This album sounds so much like winter to me. The powerful "White Winter Hymnal" has something to do with that -- but there is something more, something deeper -- there is a cold quality to the powerful harmonies, and a wistful quality to the voices that can only make me think of long walks through the snow.

Buliding Virtual Worlds 2008

It's hard to believe another year of BVW is behind me. The show had some really fun moments, but was the most technically disastrous one we've had yet! Randy would never have approved of the risks we took with live worlds that really had no potential for a backup plan. Oh well -- at least it was exciting! And some of the worlds were tremendous fun. And I do love putting on a show. And the "Get In Line" experience was incredible! The whole thing was a real credit to the ETC. I'm so glad they let me do this!

A Prairie Home Companion

What a strange movie. I find that Garrison Keillor has a real hand for the short story, but for some reason, his longer stories feel so thin -- they don't seem to hang together well. The difference is hard to understand. The story of how this movie came about is interesting -- Garrison wanted to do it, and had Robert Altman in mind as a director. Altman's wife heard about it, and was such a big fan of the show, she convinced him to do it. Once Altman was attached to the project, all kinds of stars were willing to get on board. The story, though, feels strangely improvised -- an unconvincing mix of fantasy and reality, where none of the characters seem to matter that much. Still, it had a homey, homemade quality that I always like. And Lily Tomlin can make anything okay.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I... finished... Braid. This is kind of hard for me to believe, but it is true. My obsession with time travel helped drive me forward, but so did the elegantly crafted puzzles, carefully designed to let you move on to others if any one became too difficult. As a puzzle game, it was wonderful -- simple, elegant, with surprises around every corner.

But that is almost irrelevant. Braid's power comes not from merely being a well-designed game, but instead from its shocking final level. Playing it was an astonishing experience for me -- I felt like the Bruce Willis character in the Sixth Sense -- absolutely dumbfounded to find that the world is not at all what it seemed to be. Videogames have tried to make social statements in the past: Seven Cities of Gold, MULE, Missile Command, The Marriage, Bioshock, and dozens more. But none has ever made such a deep, shocking, multi-layered statement like Braid. It uses its central game mechanic to force the player to confront the nature of memory -- how one uses memory to hide from painful truths, how one repeats memories over and over, thinking about how things would have been different with different actions, and how we avoid painful memories, twisting them into memories we can deal with, memories we can accept. And at the same time, all of this is put up against a question of the value of games, the value of striving. What happens in Braid is so multilayered, that I have a hard time picking it apart. But honestly, I think I like it this way -- I fear if I untangle it, I will spoil the elegant, powerful beauty of the braid.

The Butterfly Effect

I have a weird compulsion that requires me to watch every time travel movie. I don't know why. I suspect that it has to do with actual time travel. Anyway, despite the gratuitous sex and violence, I was really pleased with this imaginative time travel concept... I've read and watched a lot of time travel stories, but this seems to be the first with the idea of "lifeline" time travel. I wonder if J. J. Abrams borrowed this idea for Lost, or came up it independently? Something in this story affected me deeply. Whatever my compulsion is about, this movie is part of that destiny.

I hear that Rudy Rucker, Daniel Clowes, Jack Black, and Michel Gondry are teaming up to make a film version of Master of Space and Time. It's like the whole world got together and said, "What would Jesse really like?"

Jingle Jangle

It's the Archies. So, you know. But see those plastic discs on the jacket? I'm wistful for my childhood just looking at those. They weren't much fun, but they exert a strange power.