“Don’t Look Back” by She & Him [F]
Jan 19th, 2011 by Dan

She & Him – Don’t Look Back from Merge Records on Vimeo.

Warning: Watching She & Him videos may cause death from excessive cuteness/preciousness.

I’m not keen on She & Him, but I like their videos.

The Truth About Peach and Zelda [ER/GO]
Jan 15th, 2011 by Dan

I always knew something seemed suspicious about their kidnapping frequency.

Trial and Error Suspense Horror: A Limbo Review [GO]
Jan 14th, 2011 by Dan

Limbo per Xbox 360

Suspense horror is not my wheelhouse. I’m a naturally jumpy guy, so I avoid most horror in general, but suspense…that’s the granddaddy of all horror. Suspense sticks with me long after the experience is over thanks to its best friend unease.

Thankfully, true discomfort, true unease, true terror, they’re not reliably easy things to create. Why else would garden variety horror media lean so heavily on jump scares and similarly cheap tactics? Even if you do manage to reliably create tension, how can you repeat it in the context of a movie or video game? Familiarity is the arch enemy of horror and fear.

This is precisely what PlayDead Studios, designers of Limbo, is grappling with in its game design. They want to keep the player scared and uneasy because the world they are inhabiting is dangerous and foreign, but I think they make a huge mistake in how they address it.

Then again, they do get one thing spectacularly right. In a game with no text, dialog, or story to speak of, they recognize that video games are a mostly visual medium and adhere to the cardinal rule of show, don’t tell. Every obstacle or puzzle communicates its ruleset visually, but, as I said before, incorrectly in my eyes.

Like I mentioned earlier, the world of Limbo is incredibly dangerous. The first dangerous obstacles (if you don’t count one spike pit) a player encounters are a pair of bear traps that kind of blend into the ground they are traversing. If you were too busy gawking at the beautiful ambient art design, it’s likely you won’t even notice them until it’s too late and the boy is snapped in a bear trap so huge that it beheads him. Considering that your entire skill set consists of grab and jump, I’d say your next likely attempt at this obstacle would be to jump, except, oh no, there are two overlapping each other and you can’t jump far enough to cross both. SNAP!

It’s likely that it takes until attempt three for the player to realize he has to grab the first trap, drag it backwards, and then jump over each trap individually. To be fair, death is cheap in Limbo. Checkpoints are so abundant that the player is likely to start again a mere 5 seconds away from the traps to try again, but why design Limbo in this way?

Answer one would be that it emphasizes how dangerous the world of Limbo is and how careful a player should be. I might then ask why an animal or another person couldn’t have run in front of the character and been nabbed by a trap. Answer two might be that it reinforces a sense of isolation if the boy faces these traps on his own, but I would retort that there are later puzzles containing both animals and other people. Playdead even litters the visual landscape with previous failures. Other little boys who have died in gruesome ways, but only following this first bear trap. Even if you didn’t want to use something living, couldn’t a stick have fallen into the trap?

Using trial and error mechanics to create atmosphere feels a lot like jump scares to me. Sure, I was horrified to see my character bloodily beheaded, but I was also annoyed because I felt the game had cheated. I didn’t know the rules yet and it abused that knowledge. I hate to beat a dead horse, but when the player wins, the game doesn’t lose. There’s no reason for a game to be so antagonistic.

Hell, the game even does this right with the mind control worms. The first time you learn of them, one has burrowed into another little boy’s head forcing him to march into a pool of water. You learn three things in this scene, but only one is obvious and one is a lie.

1. Mind control worms will force players to walk directly into fatal obstacles. (Obvious)
2. The player will march aimlessly into danger without trying to avert it in any way (Lie)
3. When infected with a mind worm, the player will always march left first (Obfuscated)

Quick aside, #3 is more brilliant than you might realize. Like all platformers, the object is to get right. The mind worms are a control hijacking obstacle that compels the player to move left, away from their goal.

Another quick fact, along the way the player walks over and crushes dormant or dying (?) mind worms and witnesses some demonic bird-like creatures who live in the roof eating a mind worm.

4. Demonic bird-like creatures eat mind worms

So your first “infection” by mind worms follows rules 1 & 3 right away. Since this is the first time you are infected and you didn’t see where the other boy was going before he was infected, you now have support that Fact 3 is true, but no proof that the worms don’t just march the player into the closest obstacle until your next infection. Fact 2 is exposed to be a lie when the player realizes they can slow or speed up his mobility and he has the ability to jump. Eventually the player reaches a pillar of light and a new fact.

5. Light is agonizing to mind worms and causes a reversal of direction.

The player now walks right and, assuming they learned that Fact 2 is a lie already, the boy successfully leaps over the pit of spikes the worm is driving him into. There are birds above, but the boy cannot leap high enough to clear his infection, so he continues to the right where there is a crate, a stump, and god knows what else ahead. If the player doesn’t have the foresight to think “Hey, there might be a pillar of light ahead” and he assumes that he might have to deal with more obstacles, he might push the crate against the stump, hop up, walk into the light, turn around, and walk straight into the pit of spikes. That’s what I did the first time.

I’ll give Limbo that one. If I had taken in my environment more, I would have assumed the birds were my one chance to clear the infection and not locked myself out of using the crate as a raised platform. Then again, it’s really a split-second decision. The player has no time to think about the way this puzzle is structured and must react correctly to obstacles with no knowledge of what awaits to the right.

Limbo loses my atmospheric involvement (and presumably that of other, similar players) every time I encounter an element whose purpose I do not know until it has killed me. However, it does grab me with its brutality.

The inherent maliciousness of Limbo appropriately instills fear into the player. Near every object the boy encounters can and will kill him in some way, so our fear of the unknown comes into play immediately after the bear traps. More terrifying are the excessive encounters with other humans. In the world of Limbo, every other human is either evil and trying to kill you or dead/dying on/from some obstacle you will face. It’s those live boys that really freak me out almost every time I play.

If I had to name the most unsettling thing about those other kids, it’s got to be the way that the boy is complicit in their deaths without reaction. The other kids harass and outright attempt to murder the boy, but he lures them across a trap-filled floor where they are both crushed to death by giant metal crusher thingies and then immediately continues on his merry way.

To be fair, the boy reacts to nothing. Killing giant spiders is treated with the same stoicism as luring those antagonists into a trap. In a game that takes place entirely in black and white (with a protagonist whose only facial features are his two bright eyes), I get that you can’t have the boy emote in typical fashion (ie: with his face), but imagine how much more powerful just a few small animations could be. Looking over his shoulders in fear at the spider chasing him, some sort of “Holy cow, that was insane” fatigued and surprised gesture after he has quasi-accidentally murdered three boys. You know, something normal?

That’s why the game makes me feel so uneasy. I think the player is supposed to feel like those boys had it coming, but I’m just horrified by the entirely grim and gruesome way in which they are dispatched (one by spike pit and two by being pulverized). Instead of feeling relieved that the boy survived and justified in victory, I was stunned at what I’d wrought, but, hey, does it matter what the means were so long as in the end I feel scared and uneasy while playing this game? I can still hear in my mind the note that plays when the crushers slam into their victims. The game lets it linger on for quite a while, actually, as it overemphasizes the horror that you’ve committed.

The real beauty of Limbo is that it handles its elements with considerable restraint. Its minimalist approach allows Playdead to tightly tailor the experience to suit the appropriate atmosphere at any given time (usually grim and despairing at all times). The problem, at least to me, is that the focus on artistic expression comes at the expense of a video game. The pretentious 2D puzzle-platformer is the textbook mechanic for every indie darling over the past few years. Jumps and manipulations are often floaty and feel imprecise, enough so that death can feel like it’s not your fault at times. It all boils down to the fact that Limbo is a better experience than it is a game. That’s not necessarily damning, but any potential players should realize that the wizardry and brilliance of Braid’s mechanics are not present in this game. You’re showing up for an experience (whatever that means) not a game.

December: Reel People In Movies [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 13th, 2011 by Dan

After watching Inception for the sixth time this year I mentioned to my friend Jenn that I was still loving and enjoying finding all the subtleties and nuances within the film. She countered that she didn’t really like the movie and questioned why I did. It got me thinking and, naturally, inspired this piece.

Inception might be this huge, bombastic summer blockbuster filled with guns, explosions, chases, and blaring music, but it’s also the story of a man’s tragedy. Dom and his wife, Mal, are the centerpieces to this story and the entire reason I love it. Sure, you’ve got this crazy dream sequence stuff going on, but the best part of it all is the way those two interact.

Every scene that the two are in is absolute dynamite. Marion Cotillard brings such an unhinged, romantically explosive devotion to her character that plays so well that I can’t help but love every psychotic minute of it. You see, what matters to me most in movies is genuine emotional expression and realistic human interaction.

Which brings me to my next big love of December, Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. I know it didn’t come out in 2010, but that’s when I saw it and that’s when I’m gonna talk about it because Jackie Brown might very well be Tarantino’s best work of cinema precisely because it’s probably one of his least Tarantino-ed out pieces.

Anyone who’s seen a Tarantino movie knows that he’s just a touch overindulgent. Conversations about absolutely nothing are peppered throughout his movies to express Tarantino’s worldview and scenes and sequences are often put into movies for the explicit purpose of seeming cool. That’s just fine by me, it’s just that you end up with characters who are not fleshed out in any real sense. They’re just cool.

Jackie Brown goes about its business in a very different way. Tarantino does still have his way with some of the characters, most notably Samuel L. Jackson’s, but nearly everyone else in the feature seems more grounded in reality. Jackie’s calm resolve to do what it takes to survive is such a far cry from the ostentatiously ridiculous main characters of, say, Inglourious Basterds that it’s hard to believe they were created by the same director.

Also of note is the Max Cherry character and his relationship with Jackie. As a man nearing the end stages of his life, he seems so invigorated by meeting Jackie that the crush he develops becomes so adorably interesting, considering his age. His decision to help Jackie get even and free is understated and interesting while simultaneously being uncharacteristically restrained for Tarantino. Imagine this pairing in a movie like Pulp Fiction and you’d end up with a duo that was like Honey Bunny and Pumpkin or you might even get vengeance on a Kill Bill level of blood-gushing ridiculousness.

I will give Tarantino one thing: he has a gift for the anticlimactic death. Pulp Fiction had the preposterous Zed and The Gimp scene, but that same sequence also featured Bruce Willis almost accidentally gunning down Vincent Vega in what is the most pathetic and ill-fitting deaths for a character of Travolta’s stature (in that movie) in cinema. The way that Jackie Brown disposes of Ordell is similarly muted, calm, and much more practical a route than you’d expect Tarantino to take.

Ok, so my point has gotten a little bit muddled in all of this wandering around Jackie Brown, but it still stands that the relatively realistic portrayal of its characters is far more of a draw for me than other Tarantino’s work. It’s also what enables me to absolutely love my some of my favorite movies that actually came out in 2010, Black Swan and True Grit.

Both movies are completely dependent on character to the exclusion, in True Grit’s case, of other aspects of the genre. It is Natalie Portman’s growing insanity that drives Black Swan as her isolationist nature and star status begins to take its toll on her socially undeveloped and immature mind attempts to deal with the pressure of the lead role in Swan Lake. True Grit is also carried by young Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, and Matt Damon, participants in a manhunt that unravels at a pace befitting of the Old West. After all, when you have so much ground to cover to find a man with so slow a method of transportation as a horse, it becomes a question of the company you keep and the way you get along, doesn’t it?

I could go on for hours on both of those movies, but instead I’ll just say that my days of enjoying the mindless popcorn movie are all but over. I appreciate what directors are trying to do by creating mindless entertainment, but the real power of cinema doesn’t come from special effects or idealized, unrealistically hip, super-cool characters; it comes from watching people being people.

November: Hip Hop Animosity No More [Fukubukuro]
Jan 12th, 2011 by Dan

I stopped listening to hip hop back in 2003. If you asked me then, I’d probably say that it stopped being any good around then. Reality probably aligns more closely with a teenage counter-culture attitude that started to manifest not long after I hit my Junior year of high school. I’m not complaining too much; I mean, I shifted into a pure alternative rock mindset and I exposed myself to solid music from the 90s and 00s, but here I had gone and cut myself off from an entire genre of music that I deemed too mainstream.

My stubbornness persisted all through university. When asked, the only genre of music that I didn’t listen to was rap. I claimed it was artistically void, unnecessarily aggressive, and embarrassingly sexist and misogynistic. I don’t think more obnoxious words could be uttered out of a mouth that listened to, and enjoyed, the song “Under My Thumb”.

Hypocrisy aside, it took me until I started listening to NPR, of all things, to get back into hip hop. The All Songs Considered podcast mostly caters to the musical tastes of its hosts, which fall almost exclusively into the indie territory, but, in the interest of being non-exclusionary, they had a hip hop episode wherein they asked other music journalists to come in and fill in the gaps they’d been neglecting.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d been an idiot for a good eight years. Rap and hip hop is still just as aggressive, sexist, homophobic, and vulgar as it’s always been, but so were a lot of the other rock bands I was listening to. More importantly, this stuff was fantastic.

My listening habits tend to not cater much to lyrics. It’s what enables me to love foreign music and what gets me in major trouble when I realize that a song whose sound I absolutely love is about something needlessly graphic or vulgar. I think this also made it easier for me to forsake hip hop. When your entire genre relies more on what you say than what you play it can be easy for me to lose interest. It takes a more listens than usual for a rap track without great backing to make any impact on my brain. Imagine my surprise when two albums made a huge splash in the same month by paying way more attention to the way their music is presented than most.

Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, made a huge splash in the music world by releasing his finest work to date, All Day, for free on his website. For a week after the album’s release his website was so hammered with download requests that it took me several attempts just to bring up the site the day I downloaded it.

Girl Talk isn’t technically hip hop at all, but his mash-up style dance music is dominated by rap layered over music ranging from other rap songs to classic rock, pop, oldies, and modern alt rock. The beauty of the album comes from the way that Gillis stacks these songs over each other. His timings are excellent and he juxtaposes the most unlikely of songs creating a synergy that no one could have conceived of before. In a way, I felt like the attention he paid to the production of his tracks makes for a track that’s just busy enough to be interesting.

It was just what I needed to push me over the edge and back into exploring hip hop with the same vigor that I chase rock music and I resolved to pick up the next big hip hop release, which just happened to be Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

To say that anything Kanye does is surrounded by controversy would be the understatement of the year. Naturally, just about everyone loves or hates MBDTF because it is everything that Kanye has always been: loud, braggy, brilliant, complex, and humble all at the same time. Each and every track is filled to the brim with interesting musical progression, from the guitar riffs on “Gorgeous” and “Power” to the almost mournful piano in “Blame Game” and the blaring brass in “All of the Lights” Kanye brings so much more to his songs than interesting flow and solid rhymes.

Both are just so awesome. Hip hop, I’m glad to be back. I hope I never make myself leave again.

Kanye West

October: Sleepwalk With WTF [Fukubukuro]
Jan 11th, 2011 by Dan

One day Mike Birbiglia woke up and decided that he was going to fundamentally change his comedy and make it more personal.

Who am I kidding? The guy was already shifting in that direction before his one-man show, “Sleepwalk With Me”, debuted off-Broadway. Before things got personal, he was already sharing his “Secret Public Journal” with all his fans and devotees. I can’t pretend to understand the motivations behind his transition away from a straight joke comic to what he is today, but I’m so glad it happened.

If you’re not familiar, Mike Birbiglia’s comedy nowadays resembles therapy more than the typical stand-up routine. Conditioned by writing “Sleepwalk With Me”, his sets now have narrative arcs to them. Events at the start inform and influence stories he tells later and, all the while, we’re learning exactly what makes Mike tick.

I don’t know when I became such a voyeur into the personal and creative lives of the artists I dig, but my love for Birbigs’ shift in direction ties in rather intimately with the discovery of Marc Maron’s twice-weekly podcast, WTF. These interview sessions aren’t like your typical talk-show/radio appearances, filled with publicist-guided talks and guided agendas. No, these are personal conversations between Maron and his guest.

It’s hard to claim any cohesiveness between episodes other than the fact that Marc Maron probably has had beef with each of his guests at some point in his career. Other than that, their discussions meander from healthcare legislation to drug addiction, personal histories, and, yes, the very nature of standup itself.

The standup conversations are the ones I find most interesting as they address the intricacies and etiquette of the business. Maron has covered creative processes, writing, having writers, joke theft, life on the road, broad vs. alternative comedy, and even breaking into the business. This is where my voyeurism steps in again. I love hearing about the way that these great minds conceive and come to the jokes I love.

Beyond that I find myself loving the highly personal shows where Maron doesn’t hold back. The two-part interview with Carlos Mencia was brilliant in its examination of just why Mencie is among the most hated figures in comedy. Learning that his first inclination toward comedy was more or less plagiarized was so illuminating into the man. Seeing him slightly unravel under the pressure of the podcast and start incoherently threatening his enemies was fascinating.

Is it weird that I love glimpses into the highly personal subjects that make these comedians tick? Learning about Mike Birbiglia’s adolescence or his adult relationships, even through his own lens, sheds a lot of light on where his jokes come from. It shows me why he is who he is and why he acts the way he does. Maybe I should have been a psychologist?

Mike Birbiglia Yeah!

September: April Smith and the Great Date [Fukubukuro]
Jan 10th, 2011 by Dan


I’d seen The Girl twice before. Once at an Orioles game, where we chatted more than we watched baseball. She was a friend of a friend and I didn’t expect to see her again. The next time I saw her was at my own house, during my housewarming party. The friend I knew brought her along with him. While her stay at the party lasted until the next afternoon, I would have still been reluctant to say that I really knew her, yet I had invited her out to see a band.

Without a doubt, I was being oversensitive, but I take my music and my recommendations (too) seriously. I was taking my date to see a girl-led, 1920s-style band playing music I guarantee she’s never heard before and whose musical tastes were described to me as rap/hip hop or country. New relationships are fragile creatures. Who knows what kinds of conclusions she might draw about me based on what April Smith’s live show was like. I’d never seen her live before, myself. She could very well practice human sacrifice each night. My point is that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

You may also remember that it was only months before during a concert I had experienced turbulence with another girl, but I had confidence in this show. I’d been listening to her CD for about two weeks and I was absolutely floored by her voice. It reminds you that in this world of auto-tune and pop princesses there are still legitimately powerful and unique female voices in music. April Smith isn’t about vocal trickery, she’s about vocal force.

We went to dinner at a pizza place in DC. I’d been there before on other dates with other girls and I knew they made solid sangria and a decent pizza. The Girl turned out to be an extremely picky and selective eater, which made pizza ordering difficult. Let me tell you, picky and selective does not inspire much confidence in me that she’ll be receptive to the brand new musical experience I was about to take her to.

I’ve realized this year that adventurous, receptive personalities are attractive to me. There’s a part of me that gets tired and bored of the familiar. Not so much so that I can’t appreciate it, but enough that I crave something new. It’s why I’ve been seeking different and disparate musical influences throughout the whole year and also why I stopped boycotting hip hop. It’s not really a deal breaker for me, certainly not on the first date, but I don’t know that I would be able to handle someone who stubbornly resisted change.

Sure, it’s human to be anxious and a little reluctant. I get that, but I’m just not afraid of it. That or maybe I just like an audience. The whole time I was eating bizarre foods I’d never heard of in Japan, I relished in the reactions of my fellow tour goers. If I could manage to freak them out with my food then I felt I had succeeded. Likewise, when we took the train to a part of town that neither of us had ever been, I was feeding off of The Girl’s inherent unease at being in a part of DC she’d never seen.

The venue was about as perfect as it gets. DC9 is a tiny, two-storey affair in NW DC (according to the street names) with plenty on tap and a stage upstairs. The Girl and I knocked a few back waiting for the opening act to finish her thing. I normally like to hear what the opener is like, but tonight I wanted to get to know The Girl a little better.

I think what I love most about April Smith is that she’s got a real personality that shines through her music. Whether she’s rebuking a jilted lover in “Stop Wondering”, stepping up to a rival in “Dixie Boy”, or singing about her long-distance love in “Colors”, she seems to avoid most of the tropes and lyrical cliches. I guess you’d have to be pretty quirky to settle on a 1920s sound for your band.

To my benefit, DC9 was packed enough that there wasn’t enough space for too much dancing. I can move, if forced, but dancing is neither my forte nor a favored activity of mine. Nevertheless, I held The Girl close and we swayed to the music. Her apprehension faded away the more she listened. My hunch was correct.

It was a Thursday and we both had to work the next day. When you combine that with the train schedule deadline, we didn’t have much time to linger after the show. The Girl was headed in the opposite direction that I was, but I waited with her until her train showed up. It would be so much more poetic if we truly did part ways that night, but I saw her twice more before we broke things off. On the train ride home I thought of the good night I had, excited for things that would never happen. Oh well, I still got to see a killer show.

April Smith & the Great Picture Show at Millennium Stage

August: Violence [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 9th, 2011 by Dan

It all started with Metal Gear Solid.

Hideo Kojima is a pacifist. How do I know this having never spoken to him? It’s the only logical explanation behind Metal Gear Solid. Big whoop, I mean, the games themselves are about as overtly in support of pacifism and nuclear non-proliferation, but I’m not talking about the overt, obvious messages. Anyone can put hours and hours of cutscenes in a video game (although few can get away with it like he can), but Kojima is special because he emphasizes the holiest of modes of expression for a game designer: mechanics.

I came to the Metal Gear Solid series way late in the game, around the spring of 2008. Metal Gear itself was 20 years old at that point and I was looking forward to playing these games that my buddy Lee so adored. Thanks to my cripplingly completionist attitude toward games, I found myself looking up MGS on Gamefaqs to ensure that I didn’t miss any limited items via careless play. It was there that I learned that the game scored you higher based on how few enemies you killed. It was a sneaking mission, after all.

Deciding to challenge myself and impose arbitrary limitations on myself like “kill only the enemies that are required” changed my life forever. Real life is decidedly unlike video games, which is just fine by me. God help us if psychopath mass murderers were as common in life as they are in games, and that’s not even counting the villains. How weird is it that Metal Gear Solid, a game featuring a trained special-ops soldier armed to the teeth with pistols, automatic rifles, and explosives, turned me into a pacifist by forcing me to value digital life.

All it took was a slight shift in philosophy. Long before (and long after) Metal Gear Solid, gamers have been penalized for shooting innocent victims or bystanders. All MGS did was flip this on its head a bit. The game rewards you for not killing hostiles. This changes everything.

It sounds stupid when you think about it, but the mechanics are slight and subversive enough that the shiftcomes on gradually. Little things, like giving Snake a tranquilizer gun from the get-go, just reinforce the idea that there’s another way to do things. Most of the time it makes the game significantly harder. Snake (or Raiden in MGS2) has a pathetically small non-lethal arsenal when compared to the rest of his repertoire. The tranq darts are significantly weaker AND enemies eventually wake from being knocked out, which heightens the alert level on a given stage.

Reinforced by mechanics, the message is crystal clear. Doing the right thing (because playing this way usually yields nice rewards) is not easy. There’s only one instance throughout the Metal Gear Series, to date, where pacifism makes things easier. During one of Kojima’s more overt narrative moments, Snake faces a spiritual adversary, The Sorrow. Wading through a long river, Snake must avoid every enemy he’s killed prior to that point. Players like me have relatively little problem, since there are no enemies, but the trigger happy player has quite the obstacle course ahead of them. While I’m partial to a more subtle narrative, This was also unlike anything I’d ever played before.

I think Kojima’s crowning moment, throughout his entire catalog of work, is the final battle against The Boss in MGS3 where he attempts to get the player to the closest approximation he’ll probably have of killing another person. I’m being a little overdramatic since it depends on how much you care about the narrative, but it goes something like this.

If you’re me, you’ve gone through this whole game without killing a soul and suffered for it. Our in-game avatar, Snake, has suffered the betrayal by the figure he most respects and he’s spent all mission grappling with his orders to kill The Boss, who was an absolute loyalist to the United States, but who had been turned on when she got in trouble.

The battle begins and ends. Snake stands above his mentor, holding her gun to her head. She tells Snake to end it.

Nothing happens.

It dawns on me that the game is waiting for my input. I had spent the entire game not killing a single soul. Saved and reloaded after every accident. Taken hours to get through things that could have been cleared much faster. I pushed the button and the gun fired. The only way not to bloody your digital hands is to not play. The Boss’ message transcends the fictional.

Two years later it was 2010 and I went to see Kick-Ass. I think Roger Ebert put it best when he said, referring to the high degree of violence that an 11-year-old in the movie inflicts and is subjected to,

Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.

When I left the theater that day I felt sick. It took me a while to realize why, but when I did, it blew my mind. Video games had sensitized me to violence.

July: Treading Water [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 8th, 2011 by Dan

I have lived in twelve different “homes”. They range from dorm rooms to full-on apartments, row houses, and houses, but each represented a change in my lifestyle and a milestone reached in my personal development. The way I see it, moving around so much can cause two equally strong reactions in a person. If you’re like my older brother, it makes you want to stay put for as long as humanly possible. Meanwhile my younger brother finds himself seeking to never put down roots and wander the world as long as he can.

Sure, some of that comes from where they are in life. Older brother happens to be married and is looking to start a family. Stability is the key phrase here while transition seems to be the focus of younger, who is about to graduate from university and embark on his professional career path.

Is it expected of middle children to see themselves as somewhere in between the siblings that sandwich them? I look to the left and I see too much order, but the rampant chaos on the right scares me just as much. I’m adrift between these conflicting desires to find myself a sweet girl and settle down and trying to ensure that I don’t lose the freedom to live my life in my own, selfish way.

Amidst these internal struggles, I find myself surrounded by friends getting married and even some getting divorced. It’s like life is telling me that I’m falling behind, but telling me not to rush so fast that I lose sight of the road. Faced with stagnation, I tried to fix it the only way I knew how. I decided that my current living situation needed a change and I moved in with a new roommate to a new city and a new environment.

There’s a lot of beauty inherent in weddings, but the most personally symbolic part of the proceedings has got to be the departure of the bride and groom from the wedding ceremony. Weddings come in tons of flavors, but the most constant expectation is that the bride and groom will leave the chapel, people will cheer them on, and they will get into a decorated “Just Married” car to drive away. Most everyone heads to the reception after this, but the image is clear. Bride and groom are now embarking on a journey together. They are moving along, making progress, and heading toward their eventual final destination.

It leaves me feeling like I’m treading water, so I want to move. I want to take myself, find a new location, and dream up all the possibilities available to me there. I want to be someone new when I get there. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes things change. Mostly they stay the same.

The Happy Couple

June: The Friendly Confines [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 7th, 2011 by Dan

Wrigley Field is baseball. No other ballpark I’ve ever been to has exuded quite so much of that je ne sais quoi that makes baseball so great. You know, I think I do know what makes Wrigley so great for baseball. It’s the fact that no matter what year it is, no matter how many garish Toyota signs are up in the outfield, or how the game of baseball has changed since its inception, the Cubs show up in a Wrigley laid out almost identically to its opening day in 1914, complete with a manual scoreboard and ivy walls, and play ball in a park that has become one with Chicago. Wrigley Field is a constant. No matter what you do to it, watching a ball game feels like you’re back in the 1950s. Wrigley is comforting in that way. It immediately makes you feel like you’ve been watching baseball there forever, even during your first visit.

My good friend Duffy lives out in Chicago. She’s getting her PhD. in psychology at Northwestern, which is absolutely amazing, but I miss hanging out with her terribly. A few of my friends and I decided to remedy that whole “we miss Duffy” problem by heading out to the Windy City to take in some good, old-fashioned baseball at the oldest National League ballpark in America. Our tickets were for a day game, my favorite time to watch baseball, and came in at a respectable $40 for pretty darn good seats in the upper decks. Everything but the opponent was looking good, but at least I’d potentially get to see Hideki Matsui take an at bat in the Friendly Confines (NOTE: Matsui did not play).

Our trip on the ‘El’ was uneventful, but it was filled with the same enthusiasm for baseball that I’d seen on rare occasion in Washington, but often on the trains that crisscross New York City when attending Yankees or Mets games. The closer we got, the more packed each car became with that beautiful Cubs blue that the team wears (Quick aside, there is no sports team color that I find hotter than Cubs blue (Gator blue comes in a close second). Maybe I’ve dated too many blue-eyed girls (Cubs blue does things to their eyes that ought to be illegal), but it’s got this perfect aspect to it that makes a girl damn near irresistible to me on a hot summer day. What this says about my psychological health and why I’m not inherently attracted to Marlins teal or Cornell red, I’m not quite sure.). Excitement built as we approached the Anderson stop and I could see the stadium looming over the surrounding buildings.

Did Yankee Stadium ever actually sit within New York City the way that Wrigley Field is nestled within Chicago? Why don’t more ballparks do this? Townhouses line three of Wrigley Field’s four sides, some with bleachers on their roofs for fans to watch the game. The separation between the ballpark and those houses: one regular-sized city street. Citi Field is right in the middle of Flushing, but the giant parking lot is on one side and I don’t think the other has much in the way of actual New York City. These are missed opportunities to make your ballpark, no, your team a part of the community. Instead Yankee Stadium has done all it could to alienate New York City. Ticket prices are astronomical, parks have been destroyed to construct parking garages, and everything about the team screams “We are too good for you.

The Phillies are a blue team. It annoys the people who think baseball should be an elite institution, but Philadelphians know no other way to do things. Their team is managed by a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, the fans are allowed to bring food into the ballpark, and members of the team that don’t seem like they belong in Philly quickly find themselves on the shit list of fans. The Cubs aren’t this way; they’re a little more like the Red Sox, with their pink hats and facetime-seeking fans, but Wrigley…Wrigley handles everything the way a ballpark should. Wrigley belongs to the people. You can sit behind the plate for $100 or less (assuming you could find a ticket the almost always sold out games).

Despite not winning for over 100 years, the Cubs are a premium product without being as stuck up as the Yankees. That’s the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t escape while I was in Wrigley. This team, one of the biggest, most storied franchises in the world, both loves and is loved by the fans. I’ve yet to attend a game at Fenway, the other remaining “classic” stadium, but I find it hard to believe that any ballpark could be more perfect or more baseball than Wrigley Field.

The Famous Sign - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Chicago Cubs 19 June 2010

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