Monday, February 22, 2010

We Are The Fallen

I never really cared for or about American Idol except to watch the people who can't sing early in each season. However, a couple of years ago, I couldn't help but pay attention to Carly Smithson, the tattooed songstress with an Irish accent. It's probably best that she finished 6th instead of winning, otherwise the show probably would have tried to mold her into a pop singer, which didn't result in commercial success for her the first time they tried it (at right). I've been watching since the season ended to see what she might end up doing. Apparently she was working on an album when she hooked up with John LeCompt and Ben Moody, both formerly of Evanescence (it's reported that her solo album hasn't been abandoned).

To give some background, I first heard of Evanescence in 1998 when I bought a sampler CD at Cornerstone Music Festival. They had the best song on the CD, an epic goth number called Understanding. At this time, the band was still only Amy Lee and Ben Moody. I wrote to the company that put out the compilation, Brad Caviness' BigWig Enterprises, to find if they had any albums out. It turns out that they didn't yet, but that fall they released what is now the infamous Evanescence EP.

If you do an internet search on this title, you will find that there were only 100 official copies, and a claim that they were all sold in one night at a show in Little Rock. I know they couldn't have sold more than 99 copies that night because I was able to mail order one from Brad Caviness. In 2003, when Bring Me To Life was released as a single from the Daredevil Soundtrack, people were desperate to hear move Evanescence and I sold my copy of this CD for more than $350 on eBay (after ripping the WAV files of course). The value of this disc resulted in a lot of fake copies finding their way onto eBay as well.

David Hodges joined Ben and Amy in 1999 and they released Origin in 2000. This album ends up basically as a demo for Fallen, but by the time that album was released, David Hodges had moved on and John LeCompt had joined the group on guitar and Rocky Gray (Living Sacrifice) on drums. As it stands now, Evanescence has no original members with the exception of Amy Lee on lead vocals.

Comparisons are inevitable, then, now that Ben Moody, John LeCompt, Rocky Gray, and Marty O'Brien on bass (Disturbed), have started We Are the Fallen with Carly Smithson. Evanescence fans are already on the attack, complaining that WATF is an Evanescence wannabe. Similarities in sound are unavoidable. WATF (it strikes me this isn't the best abbreviation for the group's name) has more Evanescence members than Evanescence does (unless you go back to the ORIGINAL original lineup, in which case it's 50/50). For my part, I'm just happy to see Carly Smithson with a musical outlet far from American Idol, although without that show, we might not have the good fortune of hearing her. The more rock bands with strong female lead vocals, the better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In defense of Shutter Island

I'm not a huge "scary movie" / horror fan, and I usually prefer films that stay away from the supernatural realm. So, going into Shutter Island I was only cautiously optimistic since it was a Martin Scorsese movie, and he had been heartily endorsed by LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof.


Shutter Island is a movie of deception, misdirection, and outright subterfuge. The deception starts with the movie trailer. This is not a horror film. It's not a scary film. Occasionally a little gruesome and disturbing, yes, but not scary. There is also nothing supernatural going on in the film. Scenes that appear supernatural happen only in Teddy's dreams. The opening shots of the film are overlayed by music that sounds like it's taken directly from The Shining. The audience is led to believe they're watching something scary as a ferry cuts its way through dense fog. Throughout the film, whenever this "scary" music occurs (including some prepared piano), it builds only to come to an abrupt conclusion and reveal something mundane. The lone "cause the audience to jump" moment comes from an unexpected gunshot blast out of frame at loud volume. The soundtrack will often pay homage to Psycho's strings-only sound, although the director mentions only Vertigo and Spellbound as influences.

It's not until late in the film that the viewer realizes Scorsese is presenting a situation where the realities of both the audience and DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels are subverted. Before I go any further, I need to reveal the twist, so this will be where the spoilers really start. Teddy thinks he's attempting to uncover a conspiracy on the island and that anyone who gets too close to declared insane and kept there. Reality as it's presented in not an effort to convince Teddy he's crazy and keep him there. He really does live in his own created reality where he's still a Federal Marshall attempting to solve the escape of a patient from a locked room. The doctors have decided to let him play out his fantasy to its conclusion in hopes that when he finds nothing treacherous happening on the island he will snap out of his fantasy. Teddy starts seeing things while awake that don't make sense as he withdraws from his medication. I know, it sounds like a cliché. In fact it is, but the reason it works in this film is, since it is a cliché, everyone stays away from that story in favor of conspiracies in order to attempt not being predictable (Flight Plan?). So it seems to me that this type of story has come full circle. It was done so much in the past, abandoned and is now no longer expected. The few people who said they guessed the ending in the first ten minutes are not being honest. Yes, that thought it going to cross the mind of any experienced filmgoer, but surely Scorsese isn't going to go that route, right?! THAT's why it works in this case. I was so convinced it wouldn't end that way, then even in the seconds before the credits rolled, I was still waiting for the second twist showing that it really was a conspiracy designed to keep this Marshall from discovering the truth about the island. As it turns out, Teddy's only enemy is himself and we're made to experience Teddy's devastation in accepting his own life, while we're still in denial that he's a patient in the hospital.

The greatest achievement of the film is that it keeps your mind circling for hours after it ends. Of the things we saw on the screen, how much was real, and how much was created by Teddy (real name Andrew Laeddis)? His mind is unable to deal with the fact that he killed his wife after she killed their three children. Some entire characters are in his head, the "escaped patient" is a nurse, and his new partner is actually his doctor while he projects details of his own life onto others (whether they exist or not).

The Vertigo influence is obvious as Teddy climbs the spiral staircase of a lighthouse towards the climax of the film, once and for all to find no nefarious goings-on, only his own case history. In Vertigo, two people stage a false reality to convince Scotty of something that isn't true. In Shutter Island, a hundred people allow Teddy to stage his own false reality to try to convince him of what is true.

It remains to be seen what the rewatchability of this film will be. It's unfortunate that it's already suffering a backlash and being called Scorsese's worst film (by a few bloggers, not everyone...I think the B average is fair). In a lot of ways, (all due credit to Dennis Lahane, whose book I haven't yet read) it's as if Scorsese has remade a 1950's B-movie. While it may not win any awards, I can't see much of an argument that Shutter Island isn't an entertaining, engaging, technical achievement of a period piece. It deserves to be appreciated for what it is (thoroughly Scorsese, including his quick curved track shot around a character), and not for what people wanted it to be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Real BubbaCoop

I've been BubbaCoop online since about 1994 on AOL (it was BubbCoop then because AOL was still restricting screen names to 8 characters.) It grew out of my Forrest Gump impersonation...Bubba Gump became BubbaCoop. The list of domains where I've owned the BubbaCoop handle is probably too extensive for me to even recall, but it includes
Internet Archive
and countless message boards and forums
I even own a Dickie's jacket with "BubbaCoop" embroidered on it.

Just Google it. There are supposedly 16,100 hits, and as far in as I looked, they're all me.

So it came as a surprise to me when I began to see someone else using my screen name on and twitter. I had to resort to using Bubba_Coop instead. So don't be fooled by imitators. I'm the Real Thing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wing Sunflower Seeds, by Big's

Bigs Sunflower Seeds promotes themselves as having larger seeds than other brands. While it's not a huge difference, I've found their claim to be accurate on average. What really drew my attention to their brand, though, were the brand name flavors they create. While I haven't had a chance to try them all (they're really hard to find in this part of the country for some reason), they include Vlasic Dill Pickle, Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wing, and Bacon Salt flavors. They also have a basic Salted and Roasted, as well as a Zesty Ranch, which I've tried.

A couple of weeks ago the Big's facebook page asked people to list which flavor they'd like to try for a random drawing giveaway for a bag of seeds. My name was selected and I got a chance to try the RedHot Buffalo Wing flavor for free.

I think I set too high of an expectations about how accurately they'd be able to recreate the taste of a sauce as a sunflower seed flavoring. There's something very different about the flavor of a sauce compared to a dry powder form. According to the ingredients, they've combined a dry form of the buffalo wing flavor, dry standard cayenne flavor, actual buffalo sauce, and added in some garlic and ground habanero peppers.

The flavor is certainly hot and spicy, so hot sauce fans should enjoy it. The flavor of the pepper comes through, and the vinegar is evident, but perhaps not as strong as in the sauce from a bottle. One cannot discount the fact that the nutty flavor of the seed with the cayenne flavor is going result in something different than chicken smothered in Frank's and butter.

It may not be perfect, but for no one who likes sunflower seeds and Frank's is going to want to pass these up.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Losing LOST

On September 22, 2004 I sat down in front of the television to watch a show I didn't think I was going to like, but which had a lot of "buzz" surrounding it. The pilot episode had been shown at Comic-Con, and the enthusiasm of that crowd had found it's way onto the internet. To me, the commercials looked like Cast Away + Jurassic Park with a hobbit from The Lord of the Rings.

The most expensive pilot episode to date was not what I expected. The characters were interesting. The storytelling style was unorthodox. And the story...well, I don't think anyone really had a clue what was going on before season 4. By the fourth hour of the show when we realized Locke had been in a wheelchair, though, I was hooked.

There are plenty of "bigger" LOST fans than me. I didn't have a podcast or a blog about the show like some did. I didn't spend hours scouring the internet for clues about the alternate reality games played out on the internet. I never joined the official fan club (although I did manage to get the DVD that was included, from eBay). However, I subscribed to the magazine early on, bought many of the books, played through the video game on Playstation, own all the seasons on Blu-ray, have a number of the inaction figures, and spent time listening to those podcasts or contributing to message boards.

I'd be the first to admit that it's a little (or perhaps more than a little) absurd to get excited about a TV show, especially with all the real problems facing the real world. It's JUST television. Ultimately, it won't matter to history except perhaps as a footnote in pop culture. We know that on an intellectual level, but try to get one of the millions of die-hard fans that have stuck it out for 5 seasons, and waited 9 months since the last cliffhanger, to feel differently on an emotional level about the show. We've ridden along for 103 TV hours as Locke continually searched and failed to something to make him special, as a respectable doctor fell to the depths of substance abuse because he run away from his destiny, as a father acted in unthinkable ways for a chance at the return of his son, as relationships struggled for survival across space and time, and we could feel every ounce of Sawyer's agony as Juliet slipped from his grip.

The show runners have made it all too clear that not every question will be answered, and not every bit of mythology will be resolved. It's the mythology of the island that made me a fan, and though I wouldn't characterize myself as a "shipper", it's surely the relationships between the characters that have made me a fanatic. It's a show that has brought people together on TV, on the internet, and face to face. Finding out someone is a LOST fan is to find a common thread among between people. And no show I'm aware of has ever been so accessible and connected to the fans as LOST. You instantly have something to share, opinions to offer, questions in common.

The executive producers are as well know to fans as the actors. They've regularly recorded official podcasts for, answered fan questions, attended conventions, and given as many interviews as anyone could expect. More than any other show, this one belongs to the fans, who not only analyze it virtually frame by frame, but in more than one instance, have influenced its direction. People hated the reruns in season 2, so season 3 saw a new airing schedule. Fans didn't like Paulo and Nikki, so they were given a most horrific send-off.

Only history will be able to judge the importance of LOST in the grand scheme of entertainment after the final image (which has been planned for years) airs and the screen once again goes black, followed by "Bad Robot". What is clear is that this is the most complex and brilliantly-told tale that ever made it onto TV, a science fiction show masquerading as a survivor drama. Quite frankly, I don't really remember television before LOST, except for a few half-hour comedies that still air in syndication. What may never be understood to future viewer, though, is the impact it had from 2004-2010. I believe that at the end of the season, the only disappointment will be the inability to experience it again as for the first time. As the sixth and final season begins in a few short hours, I can't help but remember that this is the date the White House avoided when scheduling the State of the Union speech. Spokesperson Gibbs said, "I don't foresee a scenario in which millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in LOST are preempted by the president."

In response to what must have seemed a surreal situation, Executive producer Damon Lindelof had the last word on Twitter: "OBAMA BACKED DOWN!!!! Groundhog Day is OURS!!!!!!! (God Bless America)"


Adventures in Housesitting

This week I'm staying at the house of a guy who owns one of the airplanes at work. It's been a different experience living alone in a big house with 3 cats, a dog, and a fish. The house has basement so the first floor makes the normal noises you would expect when you walk on it, but the dog is heavy enough that she can briefly sound like a person walking across the floor. That can freak you out for a split second when you think you're alone. And the cats aren't exactly sound sleepers, prowling around the house at 4 in the morning.

This morning, I got up for work and, like yesterday, to feed the animals and take the dog outside on a leash since there is no fenced yard (reminder to self...feed the fish when you get back this afternoon). I closed the front door, but didn't push it far enough to latch since I'm paranoid about locking myself out of a house where no one is home at 6 AM. When the dog and I came back around to the front of the house, the door was open about eight inches and the two gray cats ran back in the house when they saw me. I took the dog inside, but couldn't find the white and orange cat. (I really should have know better. I'd already seen this cat open a door that opens outward with her paw.)

So then I found myself walking up and down the sidewalk with a flashlight trying to listen for the cat who would occasionally meow and hoping it wasn't coming from the garage of the neighbor who had pulled out while I was in the house. I walked back toward the house and saw the cat on the porch. At least I knew it wasn't running around the neighborhood, so my fear of suffering death upon the homeowner's return was lessened. I walked up to open the front door and let her in, but instead she ran away. Ah ha, food! I thought I'd open her canned food and put down a plate so I could pick her up when she came to eat, but she walked away from me...from food she's normally begging for.

I thought I'd open the garage door and put the food in there, then shut the garage door, but then the cat was back on the porch. I think she was just bored with exploring and perhaps smelled the food on my hands, because she let me grab her collar and pick her up this time. Lost family pet crisis averted.