Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leave Miley Alone (Or Blame Robin)

To be honest, I was planning on leaving this topic alone.


At this point, reams of digital ink have been spilled on “VMA-gate,” and much of it by people who have an actual readership, as opposed to my blog, which most seems to generate hits when people discover that they really hate Lost and want someone to articulate why that is.


But there are things about the whole ugly mess that really stick in my craw, and after two solid days of listening to people slap Miley around on every website and social media outlet in existence, it had really started to get to me.


Finally, I went ahead and said what was on my mind, which is this:


“I guess I’m just missing all the posts about Robin Thicke, 36-year-old married father, and the horrible thing he did at the Video Music Awards.”


I had to shorten it somewhat for Twitter, which didn’t prevent it from being my very first somewhat-viral tweet.  Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t shoot across the ‘net and bring me fame and fortune and a book deal, but it did get outside of my immediate circle of friends.


I suspect that statement was at least somewhat obtuse, as a few people didn’t seem to grasp what I was talking about, and a few friends (and a couple complete strangers) took the opportunity to try to drag the conversation back to Miley.


I wasn’t having it.


Let’s talk about why.


Here’s the thing that might just kill my credibility in some circles: I don’t really have much of a problem with people judging Miley Cyrus and finding her wanting. 


If you don’t watch certain movies, avoid certain TV, don’t involve yourself in some kinds of music because they’re outside your values system, you know what?  I’m fine with that.  That’s your choice.


If you want to point to Miley and tell your kids, “That’s gross and uncool and never, ever, ever do that?”  Go for it mom.  Or dad, I guess.  Mostly I seem to see mom outrage.


I first encountered what had happened when an outraged mom who first blabbed about it via social media.  She linked to an animated GIF of one of the dicey portions of the performance in question, with a message akin to, “Shame on Miley.”


I clicked.  And there was Miley, yes, grinding on… some guy.  I had no idea who.  For that matter, I only knew it was Miley because I’d been told it was Miley.


But never mind, because moments later there were a half-dozen other posts about what a terrible human being Miley Cyrus is. 


Shortly thereafter, the performance was all over the news sites, and the headlines all screamed the name of Miley.


Exactly zero of them mentioned her partner.  Judging from the headlines, he was some anonymous guy.  A dancer maybe?  Some gun for hire, and no one knew his name?


Oh, no.  Wait.  That was Robin Thicke, singing Blurred Lines, his massive hit single.  You know, the one with the video that, if you view it censored, features women Miley’s age dancing around wearing less than Miley did.  And if you view it uncensored, features women Miley’s age missing their tops.


And no, not in an artful, family-friendly PG rated way. They’re just missing.


And the song, of course, is about you, yes you, ladies, wanting to do things to Robin that rhyme with “hug me,” and also, during the rap break, you, yes, YOU get referred to as the hottest female dog.  Or as they put it on Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope’s second-least name for a woman.


And let’s not forget, the song also includes the line, “You know you want it,” which can either mean, “Go ahead, do what you feel,” or, alternately, “You and me both know that NO actually means YES.”


And while I’m talking about this, Robin is a 36-year-old married father.  Grinding away on a 20-year-old woman on national television.


I assume his wife is cool with it, because, you know, I’m sure she was cool with the video.  But I do wonder about his kid(s).  I mean, if it’s a girl, sooner or later she’s going to see this, and the message is, “No, it’s cool to do this kind of thing.  Feel free to let boys old enough to be your dad do this to you in public places.”


Or, if it’s a boy, “Hey, you know, this is fine.  This is what women are for.”


In case I’m being obtuse, and I don’t think I am, what I’m saying is this:


If you are morally outraged by what Miley Cyrus chose to do at the VMAs, you had better muster up the exact same amount of outrage for Robin Thicke.  You need to tell your son he does not act like that.  You need to tell your daughter that if some dude pulls that move on her in a public forum, it really isn’t cool.


But I’m seeing?  Exactly none of that.


Now, okay, let’s go back and talk about the other reason this is bothering me.  Well, the two reasons, I guess.


The first is that people are super-happy to get up in Miley’s grill because she should know better.


And you know what?  I agree.  I do.  It was a poor choice.


Unlike most of the mom army going nuts over this, I actually took the six minutes to watch the performance, and on just about every level, it’s a failure.  If it was meant to showcase the song, it doesn’t do that. 


If it was meant to titillate, it doesn’t really manage that either.  I suppose there’s a certain amount of outrageousness to be found but mostly it’s just confusing.  Miley keeps sticking her tongue out and off to the side, which is the kind of thing that’s supposed to look hot but instead makes it look like she’s been stung in the tongue by a bee and it’s swelling up and escaping from her mouth.


The foam finger she uses to fondle herself mostly just looks uncomfortable and confusing, like she decided to have a little fun during a football game and forgot she had the thing on.  It’s like something Pink Floyd would have stuck in the movie The Wall, if they’d thought of it.


And as for the dancing… look, I don’t know if Miley is actually a good dancer or not, as I’ve never encountered her work outside of this one clip.  But mostly she seems to be bouncing around like an over-caffeinated puppy.


My point is, unless she was trying to create a parody of outrageousness (which would explain Robin Thicke’s suit, I guess), whatever she was going for, she didn’t get there.


Essentially, she did something incredibly stupid and embarrassing.


And you know what?  A story goes here.


When I was in college, there was a big rock in the middle of campus.  And it was considered a “thing” to take off all your clothes and run from wherever you lived on campus to the rock and back.


How old were the people who did that kind of thing?


Oh, you know.  Somewhere between 18 and 22.


And how old is Miley?


Yes, that’s right.  Twenty.


The average woman doesn’t hit the age of twenty and spend it on the national stage.  She goes to college, and she does stupid stuff there that never, ever, ever makes it off campus because she’s surrounded by her friends who have ALSO done stupid stuff.


For that matter, when I went to school, if you wanted to take a picture you had to find your camera and hope it had film and a functioning battery.


Today when someone decides to strip off, all they need to do is run by someone with a phone and their poor life choices can be on Twitter in 15 seconds or so.


And again, in case you’re missing what I’m saying, it’s this:


Yes, Miley did something foolish.  Regardless of whatever message she was trying to send, it looked ridiculous and didn’t convey whatever is was she meant to convey.


But the thing of it is, she made a mistake.  And no one at MTV thought to take her aside and tell her it wasn’t working.  And Robin Thicke, 36-year-old father and husband, didn’t turn to her and go, “Look, this makes us both look bad.  I’m old enough to be your dad, and I’ve got to say I don’t see this being a winner of an idea.  Let’s come up with something else that’s cute and fun and just have a good time.”


But no one did.  And now Miley is getting to shoulder all of the fallout.


Not MTV, who should know better.


Not Robin, who should know better.


So what I’m saying is, if you’re outraged, you’d better be sure that you’re spreading that outrage around, and not just tossing it on top of Miley Cyrus.


To do otherwise is to say that Robin’s actions were perfectly acceptable.  And if you feel that way, I’m pretty sure I don’t want my kids getting to know your kids.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Ben VS Batman

Once upon a time I was a dude in college, and at that college we had a little cable channel that showed five or six movies per month. 


Much like real cable, the movies were shown over and over and over again, which is how I came to see Chasing Amy approximately four million times.  Much to way Top Gun followed me around for years, Chasing Amy was just always on, even if I never quite seemed to catch it from the beginning.


I didn’t give the movie a whole lot of thought, at least critically.  But I soon came to realize that even watched out of order, with pieces I was sure I had missed, the movie worked.  Each scene was funny, and often tender, though there was a certain flatness to the direction.  It felt like it was more of a stage play that was sometimes filmed outside.


This is because Kevin Smith just doesn’t have that much of an eye.


Now, granted, he’s gotten better at it.  And his writing has almost always been interesting, even if it isn’t always good. 


But let’s go back to Chasing Amy, and not get off onto Kevin in general.


I knew who Kevin Smith was at the time.  I’d seen Clerks, and had been impressed that he’d made a movie for almost nothing, but I hadn’t been that enamored with the actual movie in question.  And I’d caught bits of Mallrats thanks to cable, but it, too, hadn’t done much for me.


(Today, I think it was ahead of its time.  Back when it came out, no one knew who Wolverine was.  Now he’s been the subject of two of his own movies.)


But we’re getting off topic.  Again.  Sorry.


At the center of Chasing Amy was the character Holden, who mostly impressed me with his hair.  I literally had no idea what the dude was going for, but it often struck me that it couldn’t have been that, whatever THAT was.


But over time, what really got me was how solid his performance was. 


The fact is, Kevin Smith will cram your mouth with dialogue if you let him, and it takes a certain amount of magic to make the words sound like they’re fresh and interesting instead of scribbled down and recited.


And Holden could do that.


And Holden was, of course, Ben Affleck.


I was impressed by Ben, which inadvertently caused me to have a hipster moment of sorts.  Because now I knew who he was, and I thought he was talented, and then Good Will Hunting came out and he won an Oscar and suddenly everyone was all “BEN!” and I was, like, yeah.  He’s talented.  He was really good in Chasing Amy.  I knew him back THEN.  (Which was, like a few months earlier…)


At any rate, Ben got really hot after that.  He made a bunch of movies I mostly didn’t care about.  He got himself into a superhero movie.  He got into a few relationships and one of them became more important than the movie he was acting in at the time.


And… people started to hate him.


And where was I?  I was the neutral party who doesn’t care one way or the other. 


People talk about how he walked away from the movie business because of all the mockery, but a quick bounce across his IMDB listing says otherwise. 


If I had to guess, I’d say he had two really rough years – they were 2003 and 2004, wherein he put out five movies:


Surviving Christmas

Jersey Girl





I’m quite sure he was coming off some big movies by then, and he was pulling in money left, right, and center.


More to the point, while most of those weren’t critical favorites, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Jersey Girl.  At the time, Ben and Jennifer Lopez had chemistry, and it wasn’t their performances that killed the movie.  It was their relationship, both the good parts and the bad parts.


And it was the fact that it’s an imperfect film.  Too clean for most Kevin Smith fans, not clean enough for people looking for a regular old rom-com/drama.  It was a movie designed to appeal to just about no one.


But I digress.


Ben didn’t put out a movie in 2005.  But you know what?  He had put out FIVE movies, four of which starred him.  The dude probably just needed a nap.


Then, in less than ten years, he put out three highly respected movies in which he directed, wrote, and acted. 


And this is on top of all the other roles he played, large and small, most of which went unnoticed by the general public.


The fact is, for better or for worse (almost all for better) he was never gone.  He just didn’t spend every day sitting in the limelight, something that was sometimes his choice and sometimes not.


And now?  Now he wants to be Batman, and the world is up in arms.


Look folks, let’s just be clear about something:


If we start in the 1980s, back when we started taking Batman semi-seriously (I suspect there’s no Nolan Batman without Burton’s Batman, even if Burton’s Batman has more camp in it than I figure most people were who kids back then remember today) four different people have portrayed Batman.


And you know what? Even if you want to argue best to worst, none of them were actively bad.


Now, granted, the MOVIES had some serious problems.  I’ll watch just about any movie from beginning to end in hope it gets better, but I’ve surrendered to a handful over the years, and Batman and Robin was one of them.


But even that movie wasn’t taken down by the actors.  It was the awful script, the terrible story, and in general it was just a bad movie that got made and released, which happens every day.


To be honest, Ben may not be a great Batman.  But at worst, he will be a just-okay Batman, and even that won’t take down the movie.


No, what’s going to take down the movie is the fact that they have no story yet.  No script.  All they have right now are actors, but they don’t know what they’re going to do or say.  And they need to know what they’re doing and saying NOW, because they have to shoot it, edit, animate large parts of it in computers, and then go in and fix all the broken parts.


Because there are always broken parts.


Especially on a movie made this quickly.


Because what they do have is a release date, and that release date is two years away.


But here’s an actual fact – by getting a guy who is, quite frankly, a good actor into the mix, they’re also picking up a guy with TWO Academy Awards.


Now, I’m not saying he can’t make a bad movie this time around.  The fact is, bad movies get made all the time, even with care and love and talented people behind them. 


But ultimately, Ben will not be the one to take the movie down.


Movie studio greed, on the other hand…


At any rate, here’s to Ben, who on many an afternoon was my study (well, study-avoidance) companion in college.  He was good then, he’s good now, and in conclusion:


Seriously, folks, what’s with all the nerd rage? 

What I'm Watching: Summer is Ending!

I need to commit to doing more writing.  As I type this I’m nearly to the end of August and most of what I’ve done this year is start writing projects I haven’t finished, with the only thing getting done are these blogs… which happen almost never.


Recently, I tried to work on a short story and discovered that my brain can just barely put words together.  I know what I want to accomplish but the actual act of typing has gotten hard.  This has to do with atrophy of the creative muscle, I fear.


I’d go into why, but, eh.  Let’s not.  Instead, let us talk about the fact that summer is almost over.  School is starting.  Fall is arriving.  And somewhere in September, all the shows that went off the air last spring are finally going to come back and, you know, entertain us.


Unless it’s Revolution, in which case, it’s mostly about frustration and shame.  (Oh, but I kid.  Unless it actually turns out that way.  In which case, bleah.)


At the start of summer I sat down and started scribbling the names of all the shows that my wife and I needed to roll through this summer, including the shows we hadn’t gotten to, shows we wanted to see but hadn’t gotten our hands on yet, and much to my surprise, we’re getting pretty close to the end of that list.


The only thing we haven’t gotten to yet is Lost, and we almost started it yesterday, except we didn’t because, you know, it’s Lost, and avoiding actually getting back to the show is what we do.


We will get there, and I suspect we’ll get through the end of season five or so before TV starts in earnest.  And we may even make it to the end, because some of our shows (Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries) won’t actually return until October, and Glee that that huge gap in the middle…


Anyway, we didn’t watch Lost last night.  Instead, we watched…




We haven’t gotten all that far into the show, but to be honest there’s not much show to get into.  It’s run for two years so far, and up to this point there’s been a grand total of six episodes.


Now, granted, they’re about 90 minutes each, so they’ve basically made six TV movies.


I need to add here that I’ve been pushing to watch the show for a while, and the only reason we’re just getting to it now is because my wife has resisted the show.  I suspect she feared it would be gory, though she never came out and said it.  She’s also not really a huge mystery fan, but…


Well, okay, the show has mysteries in it, and that’s good, but what’s selling this show to people in a big way are the two leads, both presented with excellent character material who not only rise to the occasion, but surpass it.


I’m not going to say too much else about it until I’ve gone through the back five episodes, and realistically that shouldn’t take us more than a week or so.  Suffice to say that even though I haven’t finished series 1 and 2, I’m very happy that series three is on the way.


Being Human


Sticking with the UK theme, after a long pause I finally wrapped up the final series of the UK version of Being Human. 


And I hate to say it, but realistically the show might have ended at just the right time. 


It’s not that the show was bad, but it was clear that the BBC didn’t have much of an interest in the show anymore.  I base this on the fact that the apocalypse featured almost no people, and the cast spent much of the series sitting in the same sets week upon week.  The Beeb has always been thrifty, but this is the first time I felt it so keenly on Being Human.


And there were other issues as well.  After being granted a mere six episode run, the main characters weren’t even aware they were in a fight with another enemy until the last episode, which felt… underwhelming.


Here comes the “and yet…”


In the center of the last episode each character is “granted” a wish.  Now, all of these actors are pretty new to the show, all of them having arrived during the previous series for a few episodes, and now having taken over for the original cast.


And they were all, to a one, brilliant in these sequences.  They were funny, and heartbreaking, and despite the fact that they’ve been wholly together as a cast for less than six hours, I really FELT those moments.  These guys were given good material, yes, but they all dove deep and they brought it to another level.


Up to that point, I had thought I would be fine with the show coming to an end.  But I realized then that, no, I wasn’t really.


Because I didn’t care about the plot.  Yeah, I’d enjoyed the machinations of the earlier episodes, the way they twisted around and put the characters into real danger, but really now, I just wanted to watch a show where these three people hung out.


That would have been fine.


So my hat goes off to everyone on the show, for cruising through five series and a mere 37 episodes, and making us care about a handful of characters in ways that shows like Heroes and Revolution simply don’t.


And a final bit of applause for the ending, which lets you choose whether everyone had a happy end, or a sad one.


(Hint: It’s a sad one, but you can live in ignorance if you like.  Really.  It’s fine.)


Whose Line Is It Anyway?


You know what amazes me?  Between the various incarnations and itinerations of Whose Line, there are more than 400 episodes of show, when you slap in all the spin-offs, add-ins, and various other side projects that decided to do what this show does.


Heck, even if you take all the episodes under the official title, you’re looking at more than 350 episodes of STUFF that has poured out of the performers.


And now it’s back, and it’s on the CW and… well, it’s just as good as it ever was.  Which is to say, out of 22 minutes, you probably get ten great minutes, and twelve that won’t make you change the channel.


But when you put that up against any other standard sitcom on the air, it probably puts it in the top 5% of shows through history.


The big complaint this season has been that they keep bringing in special guest stars but… eh.  I guess people have forgotten that they used to bring audience members who were just about as funny as the so-called stars.  And at least the semi-famous people seem to be having fun, and haven’t actively harmed the show.


All in all, I’m happy to see the show back, and I wish it a continued long life.  600 episodes or bust…


Under the Dome


And then there’s this show, which…




Okay, so they had three things going for them.  Four, really.  Stephen King wrote the novel, and I’ve been a fan of his for probably 25 years.  Which is freaky.


On top of that, the novel was really quite good, which is more than you can say for some of King’s efforts.


Then they got Brian K. Vaughn to adapt it for TV.  Dude is talented.  Way talented.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work, and even dug his episodes on Lost, regardless of the general quality of that show.


Finally, Steven Spielberg also has a hand in the show.


And?  And?


And man, I just so much want to like this show more than I do.


I’ve emailed back and forth with some friends in an effort to figure out why I just can’t love this show, and the theories have wandered from the mostly-uninspired acting to the ho-hum direction.


One of the bigger issues?  Much like every other sci-fi show that takes too long to find its feet, the show is all too often a monster of the week extravaganza.  There’s no water!  There’s no food!  We need insulin!




The thing of it is, the show is doing really, really well ratings-wise, and is getting another season.  Which, you know, good for them.


But if they’re going to make this show work, I really think it needs to go one of two ways.


Probably the easiest way is to make the characters more interesting.  For the most part, it feels like they have occupations, but no real lives.  They don’t feel human, or rather they don’t feel human enough.  They spout dialogue, but it rarely illuminates character and mostly tells us stuff we already know, so we don’t forget about it.


Granted, a lot of shows have stock characters, but these don’t even feel stock.  They feel like a bunch of generic people telling each other what’s happening week by week.


The other option is, if you’re forgive the expression, to just plain up the crazy. 


Last week we finally got a few decent plot twists, as we found out just a little more about the dome and the mini-dome.


But we don’t need one plot twist.  Or two.  We need ten.  We need these people screaming through plot, chewing it up faster than the human mind can handle.  With only thirteen episodes, they should be able to create 22 episodes of story and cram it into a 13 story sack.


Or, you know, hire some of the staff of the Vampire Diaries…


I suppose the good news is that now they’ve got some time to really plan out the second season and make everything better.  But I question whether the critics have been hard enough on the show to warrant them making any improvements.


Here’s hoping.





Friday, August 16, 2013

Stuff I Love In 2013

Over the last few months, I’ve almost started a lot of entries, and then ended up just plain not getting around to them.


In some cases, the moment came and went, and in others, like with all things creative, the need to babble was met elsewhere.


What I’ve noticed, however, is that my last few entries were mostly about problems (with TV, and other things) and solutions thereto.


But I have had a few things I’ve really enjoyed lately.  And I wanted to write them all up in nice, long entries that talk about how wonderful they are, but, it didn’t happen, and now I’m not sure that long entries are needed.


So here, then, are a few things I’ve really enjoyed over the last couple of months.  Do yourself a favor and check them out.


Light: A Gone Novel


I’ve been a big fan of the Gone novels since I got my hands on the first one.  At the start of the story, a giant dome appears, everyone over the age of fourteen in the dome vanishes, and some of the kids start to develop superpowers.


Then, over the course of six books, people develop alliances.  More people develop powers.  A lot of kids die.  Strange creatures appear. 


And everyone fights an evil monster that can worm its way into your mind.


Michael Grant stated at one point that he did no planning for the series – he just gets every morning, types, and see what comes out.


And man, I have to say, what came out was a lot of fun.  It was entertaining, and heartfelt, and most impressively, it was brutal in ways that I wouldn’t have thought a YA series could be.  By the time this book came out to conclude the series, almost all the food is gone, much of the place has been burned to the ground, and just about everyone is dressed in rags.


To top it off, they’re all under a literal microscope.


I’ve read a few series over the last five or ten years that really failed to deliver when it came time to conclude.  The Hunger Games had a brutal but unsatisfying ending that never really pulled together for me.  Harry Potter spent too much time on an interminable camping trip.  And Twilight didn’t even bother to end with a whimper.  Instead it made a whole lot of nothing happen, and then a whole lot more nothing.


But the end of the Gone series is tough and fair.  These kids, by the time they get to the end of their tale, aren’t really kids anymore, and that’s addressed.  The big final battle puts all the major players into the mix and lets some of them go and has some of them die.


And perhaps most importantly, it’s not a book full of wasted words.  Look the end of most series and you’ll see the final volume is massive, bigger than all the books before it and often filled with bloat.


Light, by contrast, is shorter than the previous books, and the taughtness just sings. 


I would never argue that it’s a perfect series, grant you.  The writing is sometimes overly simplistic, and even occasionally awkward.  This is not a book that makes you marvel at its prose.


But it’s fun, wonderful, brutal, and full of questions and answers and philosophical musings, and most of all it plays fair. 


If you like Stephen King and want to see what he’d do with some young X-Men, this is your series.




One of the things that tough about recommending something is that after a while you start to forget why you love it.


My wife and I were and are huge fans of the Gilmore Girls.  But we’re not really the type to watch and rewatch a series over and over again like comfort food.  So over time, we’ve gone from remembering all the little details that made it awesome to mostly just remembering we like it a lot.


That said, we’ve recommended Gilmore to probably a dozen people, and we haven’t found anyone who didn’t like it yet.


And now, along comes Bunheads, which my own father referred to as Gilmore Girls 2.0. 


Is it that?  Sort of.  A middle-aged woman surrounded by a small town of quirky characters?  Sure, it’s that.


But while the Gilmore protagonists were smart and strong and mostly had their lives together, Michelle, the main woman of Bunheads, is pretty much a wreck in a dead-end job at the start of the show.


Then she gets married and moves, and she changes the people around her, and they start to change her.


Ultimately, it’s a show about friends and family and how they affect each other, and how our perception of other people and ourselves change.


Which makes it sound really boring.


But trust me, it isn’t.  


First of all, it takes up an hour, which should make it a drama.  But in reality, it’s a single camera comedy that has time to stretch out and tell a long, meandering story that often meanders more than it tells, but never lets a minute go without being hilarious.


Second, it’s a dancing/singing show that gets everything right that Glee gets wrong.  It chooses fun and sometimes offbeat music, the dances are choreographed instead of cut together (many of them are shot in a single take and last for two minutes or more) and perhaps most importantly, while everything is perhaps emotionally heightened, the people on the show still act like actual people, and not automatons in service of the story.


And the acting.. look, ABC Family blew it when they didn’t even bother to submit these people for Emmys.  Sutton Foster is here in her first lead role on television, and while it takes her a few episodes to really nail the voice of her character, once it’s there, it’s THERE.


The same can be said of the four teenage ballet students, all of them appearing on TV for the first time, or just about.  All of them are great, all of them dive in and swim and never look back, and the writing supports them at almost every turn.


The only real issue I have with the show is that it was cancelled.


I theorize that there’s never going to be a DVD set of the show.  That you’ll be able to get it on iTunes and Amazon, but ABC Family will never put these episodes into a box you can buy, and here’s why: Box sets lead to people loaning things out, which leads to growing fanbases, which leads to people sending irate letters about how you can cancel such a great show and never look back.


How good is the show?  Despite that fact that we had three other TV series that we were trying to catch up with, my wife and I put in the first episode and never even thought about going back and working our way through something else.


It was eighteen wonderful, heartfelt episodes, and now it’s gone.


Kickstarter, anyone?


Imagine Dragons: Night Visions


One of the problems with avoiding the radio is that I’m painfully behind on music trends.


Heck, Glee is probably the only reason I’m up on any popular music at all, and even then, I’m probably roughly three months behind.  By the time I find out what’s in, it’s usually on the way out.


Such is life.


I mention all this because Night Visions had probably been out almost a year by the time I realized that a Glee song I’d rather enjoyed way written and performed by Imagine Dragons.  And then came Radioactive, which is one of those songs that ended up everywhere.


Pentatonix was covering it.  American Idol was cramming it into their “here’s who’s still on the show” montages.  And it’s been used in a handful of movie trailers.


And so I did as I sometimes do, and I just went out and bought the CD.


The one thing that’s nice about being behind the times is that sometimes it can be a win for you.  The album has been put out a half a dozen ways as it turns out, with different bonus songs on each version.  I own one that has 18 songs on it, and the people who bought it 12 months ago could only get an 11 song version.


And you know what aggravates me?  It the UK, there’s a 21 song version, and I honestly want that one.


Night Visions is an odd little grower of a record, wherein no two songs sound alike.  If you enjoy Radioactive and want more songs like that, well, you’ll have to look to another band, because there’s nothing else like it on Night Visions.


Likewise, if you enjoy the soaring melody and echoing guitar of America, a bonus track found only on the Target edition of the record, you’re better off checking out old U2 albums.


As for the seemingly Ethiopian-flavored inflections of Underdog?  Yeah, don’t go poking around the record looking for more songs like that.


I’m a big fan of the eclectic in general, but this is the first album in a while where it’s really felt like I can just keep listening to an album and discovering hidden gems in it.  Even after two months of driving around with it in my car, I would grow tired of one song, only to find another one that hits me a new way on the tenth listen.


My only disappointment, really, has been just how hard it is to track down all their songs.  They have two EPs from their indie days that are hard to locate, and they’ve released several EPs and singles with one or two bonus songs. 


And then there are the soundtracks.


The Dragons are on the road now, and it will probably be another year before they get a new record out.  I’ve gotta say, I’d just about kill for them to put all the hard-to-find stuff on one disc so that I don’t have to find it track-by-track.


Honestly, even if it’s a little random, I can’t help but think it will be just as interesting as their first full-length record is.


(How much did I love it?  After two months of listening to it, I stopped for about two months just to give it a break.  And now it’s back in my car, on repeat.  It never even made it onto a shelf in my home.)


A Really Awesome Mess


I long ago outed myself as a Brendan Halpin Superfan.  I really love a handful of his books, and like the rest of them to varying degrees.


A few years ago Brendan starting writing a series of collaborative novels, wherein he takes the boy narration and she (in this case, Trish Cook) takes the girl narration, and together they tell a story of love, loss, and zany adventures.


(That sentence started as a joke, but it’s pretty accurate.)


And in this case, it’s about two kids, a boy and a girl, who have been sent to a mental health facility/school to sort out their mental health and other issues. 


We’re a little over halfway through the year now, and I’ll go ahead and say it – I’m not sure there’s going to be a book I like better this year.


It’s probably that this has a lot to do with where I’m at this year.  The book deals extremely explicitly with mental health struggles and adoption issues, both of which are very close to my heart right now.  More to the point, it contains one of the best descriptions of depression I’ve ever read in a novel.


The story could be dark and hard to swallow, but it isn’t.  It’s kept about as light as something like this can be, and yeah, by the end it stretches credulity just a little bit, allowing the characters a bit of a magical ending.


But you know what?  Sometimes, I think, readers need to know that things CAN turn out okay, even if it takes a little more luck than seems possible.


I want to share more of the plot, but to do so would wreck a twist or two, and at least one moment that, as they say, got me right in the feels.  (It has to do with an elephant.)


I will say this, however. (Settle in for a story, kids.)  Due to the various stresses of life, reading an entire book has, just in this last year, gone from something I did every week to something I manage maybe once or twice a month.  In years past, we’ve both gotten into the adult reading program at our local library and stuffed the box of read books with slips.


This year, I managed to put in five in the course of three months.  One was a gift book that took twenty minutes to read.  Two of the books I started before the summer even began, and it took me ages to finish them.


I sailed through A Really Awesome Mess in two days.  What’s more, my wife did the same in three, which is the fastest she’s read a book in just about forever.


I guess this is where I enter my plea, as Brendan has struggled to keep books coming out these last few years, as his publishers have stopped supporting him and he’s had more and more difficulty selling his work.


Last year, he put out one novel direct to the Kindle.  This year, he decided to Kickstarter his latest book, which I gladly put money into.  (The ebook arrived yesterday.  I’m waiting for the physical one.  Maybe.  Waiting is HARD, yo.)


Please, please, please, people.  I’m not asking for a bestseller here.  I’m just asking that this sells enough copies that Brendan can keep writing and remain financially solvent.  I’m begging you.  Give it a try.


And I’m out.