Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This weekend, my friends Lynn and Becky came over to my room for a movie, with their friends Darin and Jody--old high school buddies, apparently. Anyways, no one had any major objections to me putting on "Serenity," which seemed like the best choice out of all the available DVD's. I have to say, I liked it better the second time around, although I was ready to view it with a more critical eye.

Good Points
-Retention of the original, quirky, dialogue. A lot of people find the colloquial speech stilted and not wholly believable. My take: in a future universe where China and the U.S. have opted to merge into one culture instead of killing each other, I say just about anything is believable.

-The characters are still excellently rendered, and for the most part they do not appear to be caricatures or carbon copies, to their extreme credit.

-The Reavers were terrifying. The Unseen Enemy (that you eventually get to see, naturally) is hard to accomplish in these days of digital wizardry, where directors and their ilk are tempted to put everything out and leave nothing to the imagination. The fact you don't see a Reaver (except for a brief scene in the beginning where they blow one away) for most of the movie leaves their terrifying nature to the viewer's imagination. It also subtly enhances the fact that just about everyone who sees a Reaver doesn't come back to talk about it.

-None of the female characters were weak. Face it: in just about every action movie you've got at least one warrior lady (if you have any warrior ladies at all) who seems tough and hard-bitten and who ultimately ends up having to get saved by The Guy(s). In Serenity, during the final battle sequence, all the female characters are armed, even the courtesan (albeit with a crossbow). None of them shows the slightest inclination of backing down or letting the men do the fighting for them (it helps that during this scenethere are exactly two men, of which only one seems capable of really stickin' it to the Reavers). In any other movie, the women (especially the courtesan) would have been reduced to wailing hysterics by the slavering, shrieking Reavers. In Serenity, the (arguably) toughest person in the scene is a woman who just watched her husband get impaled. Wow.

-The scene near the start of the movie where Mal and part of his crew takes the runabout to rob the bank. Beautiful. The chase with the Reaver ship was brilliantly executed.

Bad Points
-Noises in space. They got it right in the series: in space, nothing goes "KABOOM." There are no bangs, no whimpers, nothing. In this one, you can clearly hear the lasers screaming past the ship a la Star Wars. Bah.

-They killed Wash. What more can I say. Killing the preacher, OK. Maybe kill off Jayne, if you really must kill off a main character. But not Wash. Wash is a leaf on the wind, remember? Leaves on the wind don't get stabbed.

-The gradual shift into high-mindedness. I think it was a big mistake to make Mal suddenly start caring about The Truth. Anytime a movie character starts yapping about how everyone in the country/the world/the galaxy/the universe has to know The Truth, I start yawning. Reminds me of the way my brother rants about how people have to know The Truth about those dastardly Jews. Spare me.

-The fight scenes. That visual enema of a movie, The Matrix (and its sequels), spawned a new generation of fight sequences in which characters engage in martial arts that would, in all probability, break bones and rupture the tissue of major organs. However, the characters inevitably walk away from these fights with seemingly no real harm to their persons--maybe a limp or a bit of a grimace, if the punch-kick-jab-slashing went on for more than twenty minutes. One of the things I liked about the original Firefly series, incidentally, was that if a character was shot, stabbed, or otherwise hurt--they were out of it. Stabbed in the leg? No more walking around for the rest of the episode. Shot in the side? Lots of crawling around, gasping, weakness due to blood loss, etc. Now, unfortunately, thanks to these tools, heroes can get shot, stabbed, cut, and punched and still be able to trade witticisms with the other characters before the credits roll.

Conclusion: I would say the good outweighs the bad in this movie. I'm willing to suspend my belief in the physiological nature of human conflict for two hours while watching Mal, Zoe, and Jayne blow stuff up. It's a damn good film, and just because it reverts to typecast in some instances doesn't change that. Watch it. Buy it. Support Joss Whedon.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What you give is what you get
These days I'm worried about your debts
Who carries evil out, evil will come
Who will defend you when I'm gone?
He says, who will defend you when I'm gone?

Here he comes
Here he comes
Be still the wooden heart
That wouldn't ever part
Waiting on a spark
That hasn't happened yet...
(-The Wallflowers)

I neglected to mention in my other post that one of the more social events of this semester happened on Thursday night/Friday morning at about 12:30 PM. I had just turned in--I try to get to bed at a decent hour before my 8 AM class, M/W/F--and was drifting off to sleep when the fire alarms went off. Now, some of you may have heard about Preston Hall burning down last spring. For those of you that didn't, there was an electrical fire in the attic of a dorm in the Randolph Complex here on campus. Naturally it made the powers that be very nervous about something similar happening elsewhere--Preston is one of the newer dorms on campus, so if they had a fire it could happen anywhere. So--this is all speculation on my part--they installed fire alarms (at least here in Bryan Hall, where I live) that go off when someone on the first floor thinks about a cigarette.
So the claxons went off, strident as usual. I had time to put on my bathrobe and shoes--after all, there's never a fire in any of these cases. One time, someone burned a pizza. Usually it's a smoke detector that went haywire over a smoldering bag of popcorn. At any rate, the day there really is a fire will be an interesting one because I doubt anyone in this whole gorram complex takes the drills seriously by now. (We have had about three times the amount of fire drills in the past two semesters than I have had in the past three years on campus.) So, we stood around while the cops, fire trucks, ambulances, tanks, etc. rolled up and proceeded to sit there with lights flashing and doing what appeared to be diddly-squat. One poor soul had decided he had time to put on either his coat or his shoes. He had opted for his coat, and was now doing a sort of frenzied jig in bare feet on the ice-cold asphalt while cursing the firemen, the cops, the smoke detectors, and anything else he happened to think of along the way.
Eventually, somebody made an announcement that there had been a fire extinguisher set off in Dawson Hall (does that really set off a fire alarm? And if so, how?) and that the cops were dusting for fingerprints. Meanwhile, nobody could go back into any of the five dorms while the police were doing whatever--probably taking glossy photos with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against the Unknown Fire Extinguisher Vandal. After a few more minutes of this song-and-dance, they let us back in. I expressed my supreme hope to a neighbor of mine that someday I'll be able to use one of these midnight fire drills to get a date. I'm still working on a pickup line.

Really, though, what does it say about me--about us, the residents of Bryan--that our most exciting hall activity involve standing outside in below-freezing weather for half an hour dressed in our nightclothes?

Friday, January 27, 2006

I don't have much time to post (class at 11), but something happened last night that really bugged me. I was having an online discussion with a girl who lives in a freshman triple, and she was complaining about her roommates and basically looking for sympathy--which I can understand, given my freshman experience. I'll abridge the conversation somewhat for clarity's sake:

Girl: they personify about 95% of the things that I dislike, esp. about this country
Girl: some Americans don't bother me
Girl: but the ones who do...
Girl: I'm sorry if that offends you at all
Me: it doesn't offend me
Me: I just like this country
Me: one Indian guy put it this way
Me: "America is a place where the poor people are fat"
Girl: please, please don't sell me propaganda right now, please
Girl: I know, home of the free and the brave
Me: so you're allowed to bitch about Americans, but I'm not allowed to say good things about them? is that it?

This is something that just PISSES THE HELL out of me. I don't get angry very often, but for God's sake, whenever I express any slightly patriortic opinion to assclowns like this, the knee-jerk reaction is that I'm a liar and a blasphemer, and that I've been fed standard party line by RNC-installed neural implants that get updates from NeoCon HQ every hour. I don't think it ever occured to her that my opinions are well thought-out, or that I arrived at them for the most part by myself, or that there are things about America worth liking--and that there are things that are worth liking about this country that outweigh and precede the things that are worthy of dislike.
The epilogue of this story: I opined that propaganda was deliberate disinformation, usually on a campaign scale, which I found insulting, especially in light of the fact that I was not deliberately trying to mislead her. To which she responded, "You could have fooled me." At that point, I realized there was nothing further to discuss and stopped talking to her.
I still wonder, though--why is she still studying here? Why not study at a school in a country where the people don't spout propaganda and piss her off?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The first half week of classes is over. All of my professors seem, for all intents and purposes, okay. Here is my evaluation, thus far, of their personalities:

Professor Coleman (BioChemistry). The kind of man who seems like the kindly uncle who is always giving you candy. Probably gives nice Christmas presents. Would expect him to be married to a woman that can bake the most delicious pies.

Professor DeFotis (Physical Chemistry). The complement to the kindly uncle: the embittered bachelor uncle. Wise but cynical; acerbic and easily riled. Has great stores of knowledge but imparts them with the price of making you feel stupid and somewhat useless. Smokes a pipe and, most likely, mutters to himself about the follies of youth.

Professor David (U.S. History). Ph.D. candidate. Young and apparently not totally jaded by the Byzantine nature of Academia. Has an ingenuous and charming nostalgia for the rigours of undergraduate work. Eager and bright. Probably always remembers to call his parents on their birthdays and always calls the older professors in his departmant "Sir" or "Ma'am." Wears a jacket and tie.

Professor Voigt (Archaeology of the Near East). An older lady, the kind of woman who might be a spinster aunt or a distant cousin. Might be taken at first glance for a New-Agey type; someone who didn't know she was a professor of Anthropology might supsect she wore crystals and read Alan Ginsberg while burning incense and listening to ambient easy-listening piano ballads. Seems to be fairly laid-back but demanding. Might have an undue fascination with maps.

Professor Orwoll (Introduction to Chemistry Research). A mellow grandfatherly type. Bears some resemblance to Col. Sanders. I expect him to offer me a silver dollar and some type of financial wisdom in the near future. Might be too easygoing to really be qualified for a teaching position.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I've been thinking, recently, that several genres of music have become adjectival in nature. Specifically, "metal," "punk," and "emo." From what I've been able to gather, metal and punk are distant cousins in that they were the natural offspring of the rock period that peaked in the late 1960's/early 1970's. Led Zeppelin is an example of what I consider proto-metal--paving the way for the metal bands of today. Now, I can claim to be an expert on neither punk nor metal, but I lived with a roommate who introduced me to a lot of Emo music last year. Unlike him, I don't listen to metalcore (always preferred softer, melodic sounds myself) and if you don't mind some sappy, overdramatic stuff thrown in there, Emo can be a pretty interesting and diverse genre--just as diverse as metal, I would argue. However, just like the majority of people my age, I'd be more than happy to whale on Emo kids as soon as they start using the word "heart" as a verb.

But backing up a moment--I think most of the problem here lies within the culture that springs up around a style of music. I would say "genre," but we're a ways past genre--for me, music boils down into various stylistic elements, of which there can be various mixtures: alternative, progressive, metal, emo-ish, etc. (Genres have all but disappeared; I say this after reading an Amazon.com review of a band described as being "gothic horror doom metal." When you have to get that precise, genres aren't doing us much good anymore.) Punk started out--correct me if I'm wrong--as a style of music around a specific culture, based on individuality and, apparently, Stickin' It To The Man. The Emo culture, though, is as annoying as the cell phone culture--a bunch of snot-nosed brats who keep endless journals and play badly tuned guitars while trying to find a rhyme for "these days are dying ashes." However, it helps to divorce the music from the culture--just as it helps to divorce that handy little gadget in your pocket from its culture, a culture of teenage girls who use up their anytime minutes faster than Bill Clinton can get his fly unzipped.

Anyways--I kind of got lost along the way--my original point was, there aren't many bands that I listen to that just fit under the all-inclusive "rock" category. Used to be you could put Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who, etc. down and say you listened to rock and roll, but it doesn't seem that clear cut anymore. Here's a list of the bands I've been able to think of whom I feel fit the standards for "rock"--or rather, fail to meet the stringent demands of being pigeonholed into some sub-sub-sub-genre like "neo-classical thrash metal." Feel free to leave comments with your own suggestions, findings, arguments, and addendums. I'm interested in exploring current music more fully.

(By the way, you'll notice I refrained from even TOUCHING the whole Indie scene. Why? I don't know a gorram thing about it.)

Modern "Rock-And-Rock-Only" Bands
-Jimmy Eat World
-Nine Days
-Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
-Fountains Of Wayne
-Stroke 9

P.S. This is a tentative list. If you feel that there's a band on there that shouldn't be on there, or vice versa, leave a comment and your thoughts will be duly noted.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The final reports have come in. After many prayerful finger-crossings, I went to BannerWeb. Turns out I got an A- in Poetry, bringing my total GPA for the semester to a 3.10. Things are looking up. So now I have somewhat of a lighter heart going back on Sunday. If I can get a 3.25 or better this coming term I have a shot at doing an honors thesis.

Ten years ago, on Christmas Eve 1995, a couple of dogs wandered across our property. That's more common around here than you might think--we've returned quite a few hunting dogs to their owners after the befuddled canines wandered through our yard looking for--well, looking for whatever hunting dogs look for. Hoofprints of deer, I guess. Anyways, one of these dogs was different. It was a puppy--a stray--and it wandered back to our house with my friend Eli and me. We kept it and named it Sandy. Sandy is now a veteran of many wars and entanglements, including the ill-fated Battle of Sandy Vs. The Car and the comical Battle of Sandy's Head Vs. The Leg of the Kitchen Table. She's long in the tooth, gray in the muzzle, but her eyes are clear and she still knows who I am. Which is kind of a miracle--she went to "live" with our neighbor Lucy many years back, as Lucy has several dogs and Sandy is a social animal. She tends towards whoever has the most dogs or people around, and Lucy beat us, pooch for pooch, on that one.

However, my dad I noticed her walking stiffly--more stiffly than just arthritis would cause--the other day, as we were coming back from church. Further inspection revealed an odd-looking growth on her leg. So, earlier this week, I got an afternoon appointment for today and took a wary Sandy into the vet's office up in Scottsville. After some tissue samples and such, the vet told me that it wasn't cancer, but that he needed to operate as soon as he could, in order to do a proper repair job on her leg. I made an appointment for this Thursday and, on a whim, took Sandy down to the Scottsville levee. Apparently she forgets that she's 10...she made it up the levee faster than I did, and she acted like a much younger dog. I really miss the days when she was my dog, but the fact is that Sandy is no one's dog. She's a wanderer, a loveable hound who loves moving from place to place too much to really settle down. But age and stiff joints forced her to stop her travels, making her de facto ours and Lucy's dog. And today, walking along the levee, looking out at the levee while she strained at the leash, I felt closer to Sandy than I had to her, or any other dog, than I ever had.

Maybe it's something that came with age. Maybe it was because I sat with her in the examination room, petting her and telling her things would be okay, no matter what end. But there's a time when you realize that an animal trusts you--it's primally distinct among the myriad of human intuitions, the sense of being close to and bound to another being. And, while I was sad that Sandy and I had never been able to have that bond before, I realized that I don't have much time to waste mourning over that when there's time could be spent taking her to the park again and letting her enjoy what's always been ours to enjoy. The way she's going, barring any catastrophes, she should live to a ripe old age, and I plan to spend whatever time I can with her.

And at the same time, watching her and letting her walk me instead of actually walking her myself, I kind of realized how much time I have to do what I want, and it made me impatient to get back to the 'Burg. I guess it's an improvement over the time when a pet's illness would have kept me in a blue funk for days. On the other hand, I've been looking for reasons to cheer up for a while now. Guess in these times, I'll take whatever straws of hope float my way.