Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams

Just some guys, taking it easy.

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Codes and Keys: A Review

A quick listen through the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Codes and Keys, and it’s clear that this is the group’s finest album yet. With their last album, Narrow Stairs, some fans were ready to write the group off as a band that would live on only in the hearts of people who watched The OC in High School.

Codes and Keys seems like a progression from their 2005 album, Plans–more “concept” style songs that don’t rigidly follow traditional song structure. That is what they have done on their latest effort, while at the same time, shedding some of their abundance of angst and sentimentality.

Now that the band has been fairly well established, it sounds like they have become much more comfortable in expressing their creativity. You can tell it is the album they wanted to make. It is not so much an album of memorable hooks, but hidden sonic surprises, sprinkled throughout each track. It is an album that will continue to surprise you with each additional listen.

Codes and Keys is definitely worth listening to and the sound is unique enough that it may have some good shelf life. If the band continues to develop their sound and continue to push themselves like they have done here, Death Cab for Cutie are set to be one of the more memorable bands of the last decade.

Turn it up!

-Daniel


Today is Tomorrow. It Happened.

The movie Groundhog Day is a timeless masterpiece. Directed by Harold Ramis in 1993, this film is highly philosophical and yes, even spiritual.

After the basic premise has been setup, there is a key scene in which Bill Murray’s character, Phil, asks his drinking buddies a question: “”What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was the same and nothing mattered?” This question is the key to unlocking the pure joy that is to be had in watching this movie. He’s not just asking fellow bowling alley patrons a silly question; the movie is asking you, the audience. If your reaction to this question is the same as the drunken barfly, “Well, that about sums it up for me,” this is where you should start paying attention.

At the beginning, Phil is the kind of guy who is truly self-centered, rude and has a huge ego. But, after being stuck in literally the same day for an undetermined amount of time (I read somewhere that the director thought it would have been in the neighborhood of 40,000 cycles of the same day), Phil experiences a soul-crushing despair, even to the point of trying to kill himself over and over. It never took.

But, like any good protagonist, he learns and changes along the way. He is eventually able to break the “curse” and go on living his life and is a better man for having the experience. So, what did he do that got him out of his perpetual misery? This is the important moral or lesson of this story.

Phil, having nothing but contempt for the “hicks” he was surrounded by in Punxsutawney, PA, starts learning more about them, and to know what they are like, how they ticked. Phil stops looking inward. He starts focusing his attention on the people around him and learns to accept them as they are. Phil leaves his cynicism in the dust. He learns to play the piano, buys an aging homeless man a meal, and even helps fix some little old ladies’ flat tire. He has become kind and giving to others. Why? Because nothing else was working!

There is a lot of religious philosophy in this movie, but I am of the opinion that you don’t have to be religious to find meaning in it. Anyone can take it to heart and be the better for it. If I’m not mistaken, Christian theology actually teaches that these lessons are meant for everyone. If the world is what we make of it; change yourself and you will change the world.

In the immortal words of Bill S. Preston, Esq.,

“Be excellent to each other.”

-Daniel


Free Comic Book Day 2011

This last Saturday was Free Comic Book day, and this was the first year I participated in this great event. My special lady and I drove around to (almost) all the local comic shops to see what we could snag.

The first place we went to had a fairly good collection of comics, but there was also a big card game going on and it was wall-to-wall big, sweaty nerds. I wasn’t sure what it was they were playing, but I think it was Magic the Gathering. We got our free comics and didn’t stick around too long.

The next place we went to was more pleasant experience. A bigger open space and a wider variety of comics. Including more independent writers and artists and not just super hero comics. Plus we were given the tour by the daughter of the family-run shop. She was dressed as Super Girl and was quite familiar with her own mythology. Before we left, she insisted we see her song and dance routine. It was…we were good sports. It was a song about Super Girl and I have not for the life of me been able to find out who it’s by. There are at least three different teen stars with a songs about Super Girl.

The next place we went too was closed so we hit up the big chain store and it had been pretty much picked clean.

At any rate, we had fun and got a big stack of free comics. Plus, it’s a great way to promote literacy in young readers!


Sometimes a Great Paragraph

This is the best paragraph I’ve read all year:

“…Avoiding the trash makes you miss truly astonishing moments of truth, genius, and invention. If you shut your mind to science fiction, you’re never going to read The Martian Chronicles or The Left Hand of Darkness. If you think murder mysteries are airport garbage, then you’re denying yourself The Horizontal Man or The Daughter of Time. If movies begin at Ozu and end at Roemer for you, then the subversive brilliance of Deathdream and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo will leave you in the dust. Die-hard rock-and-rollers will never discover Biz Markie’s The Biz Never Sleeps. Indie music hard-liners rarely venture into country music territory. Too bad–Dolly Parton’s Jolene and Waylon Jenning’s Honky Tonk Heroes are essential as Last Splash and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
From Patton Oswalt’s brilliant Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.

Patton is a true pop culture purveyor and deconsructionist. His first book is a great read.

-Daniel


Mmmmm, Pi

Today is National Pi Day. Don’t start salivating just yet; I’m talking about this kind of π. It got me thinking of a great little movie of the same name. It was the first movie of one of my favorite–and now Oscar nominated–director, Darren Aronofsky.

Albert Einstein once said that, “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” I like this quote because it draws a comparison between mathematics and language. Math does seem like a totally foreign language to me. Unfortunately, my brain is just not wired for math. I’ve read somewhere before that people who are good at math are just as likely to be good at learning a foreign language. This makes a lot of sense because language, like math, involves patterns. I just want to publicly thank all of my gracious and infinitely patient math and spanish tutors I have had throughout my academic career.

It’s possible that somewhere in this wasteland of infinity that we call The Universe, there is some sort of mathematical constant that explains, well, everything. Although, Larry Gopnik would tell you otherwise.

Now, I am a student of the Humanities, so I try to, at all times, remain humble and approach my understanding of the Universe with reverence and humility. Which I believe is the overall message of the movie, π. In the film, Max Cohen thinks he can find the patterns that exist within even the most complex of human systems. This hubris causes Max’s life to spiral out of control.

I believe it is important to know your place in this life; to know thyself and to know your limitations. I may be counting on my fingers and doomed to calculator dependency for the rest of my life, but I have accepted the magnitude of what I will never understand.

So to all you math maestros out there, I salute you.

-01000100 01100001 01101110 01101001 01100101 01101100


Biff Tannen: A Villain for the Ages

“Evil is done without effort, naturally, it is the working of fate; good is always the product of an art.” – Charles Baudelaire

Biff from the Back to the Future series is the greatest movie villain of all time. Not only is his dickishness the stuff of legend, but his villainy transcends time, space and generations.

The first time we meet Biff is in 1985. He has crashed George McFly’s car while intoxicated and somehow manages to blame it on George. “How could you let me drive your car without telling me it had a blind spot!?” Then, we learn that he is having George do his work for him, so he won’t be fired. There’s bullies and then there is Biff; he is what bullies feverishly but fruitlessly aspire to be.

When Marty McFly takes a journey thirty years into the past to 1955, he encounters Biff again–young Biff. In the past, young Biff is arguably an even bigger jerk than his older counterpart. He seems more…proactive. “Hey, McFly! I thought I never told you to come in here!” referring to the local diner. Of course he has mistaken Marty for his father George. This is the moment when we learn that Biff has been tormenting George for over thirty years. Biff is such a grade-A A-hole that he actively keeps George from frequenting a public place. Not to mention he has George doing his homework for him. Things never change. That is, unless you make them change.

As the movie goes on, we find out how Young Biff harasses Loraine, George’s future wife and once put in the right scenario, would actually have raped Loraine when given the opportunity. He’s not only the biggest douche in the world, but is downright evil. I know, it’s dark and unpleasant to think about, but it is in the movie. It would have happened, but thankfully George stepped up and finally put Biff in his place. George McFly gained the power of Self-Respect!

When Marty returns to the future, Biff is a like a harmless dog and, for some reason, working for the now successful science-fiction author, George McFly.

But, just when you think Biff is defeated, we take a journey to the not-to-distant future in Part II. Now Biff is an old man and has a grandson named Griff. Yes, grandson. Who is his son? or daughter perhaps? This is, unfortunately, a character we never meet. We also don’t meet the woman who fathered his child. I’m not sure I want to know about the Tannen women especially based on what Biff’s grandmother sounds like. Sheesh!

Griff of course, is just Biff with an even worse attitude and access to advanced technology like extending boots, an extending baseball bat, and of course The Pitbull.

Griff is a small fry though and is quickly taken care of. But in Part II, we see something truly terrifying. Biff with power.

Because Old Biff stole the time machine and a sports almanac, he is able to go back in time and ensure that himself as a young man knows the outcome of every sporting event for the next hundred years. Because of this, when Marty and The Doc go back to the present, it is actually an alternate reality; one in which Biff is wealthy and powerful.

Power corrupts. And Biff was a massive prick to begin with, so, you do the math. Dystopian wasteland? Check. All of the terrible things Biff is capable of come to fruition in Bizarro Hill Valley. We even learn that in this reality, he has murdered George McFly to steal his wife Loraine. By this point you are probably catching on; Biff is a really bad person.

Biff and the Back to the Future series raises some frightening philosophical questions on the nature of evil. Is evil the product of circumstance or is it a transcendent, perhaps genetic force? Was Biff born evil? Does he carry the “evil” gene? Well, at the end of the first film we see Biff has become docile, leading us to think that because of circumstance, he has changed his ways. In truth, Biff never changed. He just changed his attitude towards George because George had decked him. To Biff, George is the only person in the world more dominating than him. In the future, we see that Old Biff is just as big an asshat as ever.

The oafish-machismo quality is strong in the Tannen family. They are like a force of nature. But how deep does the rabbit-hole go? We certainly get a glimpse of that in Part III, when we meet Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. He is a Tannen three generations removed and is the worst of them all!

Mad Dog Tannen is a murdering, train-robbing, and probably smelly, outlaw. He carries the “villain gene,” and he miraculously manages to propagate his legacy for well over a hundred years.

Because we are able to see the different generation of Tannen men throughout the ages and because of the nature of a time-travel narrative, I think the character of Biff has something important to say about life that is worth remembering: There will always be Biffs in this world. There will always be bullies or self-centered people who will live out their entire lives doing nothing but creating conflict and hardship to those around them.

But take heart, because I believe good people are in the majority. I bet the actor, Tom Wilson, is probably a pretty nice guy in real life. In my experience, real jerks don’t know their jerks. I think you would have to know and understand how a jerk thinks and acts before you could play one like Biff in a movie.

It took a good actor who is nice and has a great sense of humor to create the character of Biff. I think this video will prove my point:

In the immortal words of Marty McFly, “Hey, lighten up, jerk!” Remember, the future isn’t written, and you are in control of your own destiny. Don’t let people like Biff push you around.

Yours in time,

-Daniel