Archive for June 2008

 
 

Which Level of Dante’s Inferno is Furniture Salesmen?

Used car salesmen get a bad rap.  They’re not the worst salesmen in the world.

For that particular distinction, we must look to the world of furniture.

There is no more actively annoying and intrusive sales person than the furniture salesman.  First of all, they hover en masse at the front door to “greet” you.  Then, after thrusting their business card in your face, they ask you what you’re looking for.  Great, you think, they’ll point me to the right area.  They do point you to the right area, and then do you the “favor” of shadowing you.  They’ll follow about ten feet behind you, stalking you, listening to everything you say, and then swooping in to try to sell you on a furniture set if you find one you’re potentially interested in.

That’s if you’re lucky.

If you’re NOT lucky, you get the salesman we had at Macy’s this weekend, who takes you on a whirlwind tour.  First, he tells you he’s going to let you look around, but then also tells you he’s going to follow you so the other salesmen don’t bother you.  Then, he asks you what you’re looking for after you’ve seen two things, grabs you by the arm (metaphorically, thank heavens), and yanks you all over the sales floor showing you everything that fits into your parameters.  At each one, he promises he has just two things left to show you. He never gives you time to look at something or to discuss it. He just yanks you all over the place, knocking on all the dovetail joints of every drawer to show you how sturdy and serious the piece is.

When you tell your salesman at the end of this process — when you have the first chance to breathe, let alone talk — that you’re just starting to look and won’t be buying anything today, he tells you how disappointed he is.

That’s when you ask where the front door is, because you’re so disoriented from running around that you have no idea if the direction you’re heading will take you to the rugs department, the exit, or Siberia.

When we get to the sales portion of this process, I can’t wait to see what happens.  Every furniture place offers 0% financing for so many months and free delivery on Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, Presidents Day, July 4th, Labor Day, etc.  There are so many holidays they come up with an excuse to have a sale for that I don’t understand why they don’t make that offer every day of the year. Really, if they can afford free shipping and 0% financing for all those weekends, aren’t they just ripping you off the rest of the year when they’re not offering it?

The Mrs. and I learned a valuable lesson this weekend:  Don’t go furniture shopping unless you’re prepared to buy.  And, most likely, don’t go unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for. We’re going to find what we like on-line before we head out to the awful brick and mortar torture chambers that furniture stores are.

We now also see why IKEA is such a pleasurable place to shop.

I’m sick of texting

  • This past weekend, at the end of the women’s Olympic try-outs, they lined up all the gymnasts on stage in front of thousands of people, and cheered them on.  Most stood there with their bouquet of roses and smiled.  One at the end was too busy on her Blackberry texting someone to notice that her country was trying to honor her.
  • The teenager cashier at the supermarket I did my food shopping at this weekend, actually stopped scanning items for a minute to pull her cell phone out of the drawer and answer a text message.  I think I was staring at her with my jaw dropped while she casually made me wait, then went back to scanning things.

I know I’m an old man, but let’s start charging a dollar per text message — whatever it takes to cure the land of this evil scourge.

More on Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky DVDThis is part two of my “Tchaikovsky” review.  The first part showed up last week.

One generic thought before I move on, though:  I wonder if we aren’t reading too much into the music.  Unless it’s backed up by one of his writings, I can’t always assume that the interpretation of the music is exactly reflective of the mood of the artist. To say that a piece written in a minor key means that the composer was feeling moody and depressed seems to be a bit of a leap for me.  Can’t a composer write in a minor key because that’s the song he heard in his head?  Is it that crazy to think that someone can write against their “mood” or their life’s position at a given moment?  The people who read into his Sixth Symphony and say, “Yep, he was clearly suicidal while writing this” just make me laugh.

Music can, no doubt, mirror ones emotions or provoke one’s emotions, but to use a single piece as such a documentary piece of work is disengenuous.

Back to the DVD: As a bonus, there’s a third hour on the DVD that’s an older documentary on the death of Tchaikovsky.  The first clue to its age was the video quality, which looked just slightly better than VHS.  The second was that its host had huge glasses.  The third was that the host appeared in his office, sitting in front of a giant box housing a 15 inch monitor.  A book on the shelf behind him faced outwards to display its title, “CompuServe.”  Ah, the good old days.

The special was produced in the early days of the Soviet breakup.  There’s even a reference to Glasnost early on.  The host visits the same home that the main feature’s host visited to study Tchaikovsky’s papers.  The problem is, they hadn’t opened up the vaults yet, by the sounds of it.  The picture this host paints is of a Russia that’s still secretive, and still happy to protect its icon through concealment of documents.  I have a feeling that those restrictions loosened up a great deal by the time the feature documentary was researched and shot.

The focus is squarely on Tchaikovsky’s death here, and presents some interesting theories.  The accepted story about death by cholera from unboiled drinking water does have holes in it.  On the other hand, people are not always consistent and perfect. An “accidental tragedy” might leave the door open for speculation, but it does happen.  A more sensationalistic theory or two is floated, including one in which Tchaikovsky is convinced to kill himself before his good name is sullied as well as — get this — the good name of the school he attended as a child.  There are multiple suicide theories, and interviews with those old enough to be not far removed from the situation lend weight to a suicide theory.

The thing is, we’ll just never know.  It’s too late for forensic evidence.  It’s too far gone for anyone living at the time to still be with us.  (Tchaikovsky died over 100 years ago.)  It’s fun to theorize and raise conspiracy theories, but ultimately futile. There’s a lot more to learn about the man and his music from what he did write down. And, like I said, there’s more than enough “reading between the lines” that’ll be done with the music, itself.  That should be enough for all of us.

All told, the DVD is an interesting look into the life of a famous composer with a beautiful soundtrack that’s sadly not long enough. It’s worth a rental, if you’re intellectually curious about such things.

Indiana Jones and that Crystal Skull Thingy

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullsThe night before I saw “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” I perused the high def movie trailers section of my Apple TV.  I picked up three interesting new movie trailers there that I was excited to see.

Guess which trailers were shown before “Indy” the next night?  Yup, all the same ones.

It made for an interesting comparison, though.  The high def screen at home was bright and highly detailed.  The projected image in the theater was dark and almost muddy.  I can cut them some slack because I’m sure that reel’s been played an awful lot late, and blowing it up to full movie screen size is bound to cut down on some resolution. However, there’s no excuse for how dark things looked.   It’s a classic case of a theater not lighting up their movie as brightly as they could have, and should have.

The good news is, the theater was more than half empty, even being in the smallest theater upstairs back in the corner.  (After only two weeks, “Indiana Jones” had been pushed aside.  Sad.)  I didn’t have any crowd problems.  People were able to sit far enough apart to not block each other’s views, and the crowd was generally slightly older.  It wasn’t all teenagers on a Friday night.  That was nice.  There were a lot less phones going off that night.  Less texts going out.  Less giggles from the back row.

Then, there’s the movie.  I liked it a lot.  It isn’t without its faults.  Some of them are the sadly typical action movie faults in logic and physics.  But keeping in mind that this is a movie series inspired by those classic pulpy Saturday afternoon serials, you can forgive it the excesses.  Almost.

I think it was Andy Ihnatko who said that the movie looked like the writers threw all their ideas up on a white board and then forgot to edit any out before shooting the movie.  That’s my biggest problem with the movie. Some of the silliest parts come at points where the movie would have been better off just coming to a stop.

Spoilers after the break.


Den ganzen Beitrag lesen…

Tuesday Mini Link Dump

New DVD Releases for 24 June 2008

There’s only one serious contender for Release of the Week:

  • In Bruges

An action flic set in a town in Belgium.  Doesn’t get much better than that.  I may have to go abuse some Amazon credit on this one.

For completists, you can also buy the Charlie Rose episode in which they talked about the movie, between Super Tuesday and Alice Waters.

  • Persepolis

For serious comic fans, on the other hand, this is the only Release of the Week possibility, animated from the best-selling and critically-acclaimed comic.

  • 10,000 BC

I’ve seen more of the movie in the DVD commercials than I ever did the theatrical trailers.  They don’t impress me any more.

  • Futurama: Beast with a Billion Backs

This is the new direct-to-DVD production.  I get the feeling that this will be the best-seller amongst this blog’s audience.

  • The Spiderwick Chronicles

Seemed to be popular with the kiddies.

Women’s Gymnastics

Things I learned from watching the Olympic try-outs on NBC this weekend:

  • It’s most likely wrong to laugh at someone who lands on her butt, her face, or with a dive forward roll after a bad vault.  But I did it, anyway.

  • It’s now OK to say, “That’s a tenth of a point” after anyone says or does something wrong around the house. I think it might be the new “nuke the fridge.”

  • “My name is Ms. Liuken, if you’re Nastia.”  Janet Jackson must be proud.

  • Bela Karoly is completely indecipherable.  They should really put up subtitles when he speaks.  Poor Bob Costas didn’t know what to do with him.

  • Did Al Trautwig ever appear on camera?

  • It’s OK to admit you’re not good enough.  2012 is a looong time away.  To those who finished worst than 10th place, I say, “Go to college.  Learn a skill.  Live life.  There’s more outside the gym than just a parking lot and your parents. You needn’t miss your prom.”

Let’s Do the Link Dump Again

  • Switch pitcher meets switch hitter.  As far as I can recall, I thought the rule was that the batter has to pick a side and stick to it.  I don’t think there’s ever been a rule about the pitcher, since who’da thunk we’d ever see one who could switch pitch?  Insanity!  I love it.
  • You’ve seen that pic of the Microsoft staff of 1978 before.  Now, they’ve made a 30 Year Reunion pic.  In the update, the one person who wasn’t available for that pic back then shows up now. And, sadly, one member of the original pic has since passed on.

Tiny Toons to DVD

Mark July 29th on your calendar.  That’s the day the first set of “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Freakazoid” DVDs come to your home theather. Whoo-hoo! (Official press release for the sets is at the link. TTA contains first 35 episodes.)

Weekend Link Dump, Web Edition

  • Print your own magazine.  Pretty nifty self-publishing site, though not exactly producing cheap magazines.  It uses credit cards and PayPal.  Just upload a PDF file and away you go.  I’m just old-fashioned enough to enjoy a good magazine, though I only subscribe to a couple anymore.  (“Popular Photography” and “Wired”)
  • Amazon might be coming up with another PayPal killer. Unless I can seamlessly transfer money from PayPal to Amazon’s thing, it won’t matter much to me.

Thoughts on the Urinal

I remember seeing an interview with Janet Leigh where she said she never took a shower again after “Psycho.”  A shower is, indeed, a very isolating place.  You can’t see what’s going on outside of it.  The sound of water is slightly deafening.  You’re naked and alone and, well, that creepy guy a couple doors down could very easily break in, fling open the curtain, and stab you to death until your blood runs cold into the drain.

That’s how I feel about urinals.  Think about it, men.  We’re completely attackable in there.  You’re facing away from the rest of the world.  You’re concentrating somewhere else. There’s a social contract that says we don’t touch one another when there, but that’s only as good as the paper it’s written on.  Generally speaking, your hands are not available to defend yourself.  Someone would easily come up from behind, push you against the heavy metal bulkhead of the urinal and crack your skull wide open.

Have I seen too many action movies?  Am I wrong to trust our favorite urinal cake holders?  How much do you really trust the people in the men’s room with you in a mall or a movie theater or some random restaurant or diner?

What, did you think I’d just be talking about classical music now?

Guitar Hero World Tour Preview

Forget about the drums and mic. Check out the new guitar.

IGN: Guitar Hero World Tour Preview

The biggest addition to the new guitar is the touch pad located on the neck. While playing a song, this touch sensitive strip allows you to alter notes during sustains by sliding up and down the strip (giving more freedom and options than what you had before with just a whammy bar). It can also be used for tapping to play notes, particularly awesome if you want to mimic a slap bass. The real power of the touch pad comes in the music creator. We’ll get to that soon.

DVD Review: Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky DVDFor someone who becomes as obsessive about things as me, I hate to admit how little I know about classical music.  I own a lot of it.  Franz Liszt is my favorite. But I’ve never made an effort to learn more about it, beyond knowing what I like, which tends towards the more bombastic and the more piano-based pieces.  I would think that at some point I would have gone on a tear reading about it, listening to podcasts about it, watching documentaries — something.  But I don’t know much about that world.  Mine is a completely superficial knowledge.  Everyone knows that Beethoven was hard of hearing, or that Mozart had a rival in Saliere.  (Hmmm, I have AMADEUS on DVD.  I should really watch that someday. . . )  Past then, I’m your typical clueless modern guy.

Heck, most of the classical music we’re familiar with comes from soundtracks to animated shorts, fireworks displays, or commercials.  (The work is in the public domain.  It’s cheap.  Why not use it?)

When BBC America offered me a chance to look at a two hour documentary on Tchaikovsky that’s new on DVD, I jumped at the chance.  (Really, on what other blog would you ever read a sentence like that?)  The unique thing about TCHAIKOVSKY: THE TRAGIC LIFE OF A MUSICAL GENIUS is that it isn’t quite a documentary, and not quite a dramatic presentation.  It is a strange hybrid that occasionally suffers for it.  So long as you keep in mind that it is billed as a “personal remembrance” of British conductor, Charles Hazelwood, the shortcomings of the piece will make more sense.

Hazelwood, an admitted Tchaikovsky fan, travels to Tchaikovsky’s Russian home and schools to meet with today’s classical students and to visit the archives of the man.  As it turns out, Tchaikovsky was a prolific letter writer, and thousands of those letters are saved at his country home, which has been preserved to be as it was when he died.

Tchaikovsky’s story is very Hollywood friendly for the modern age.  He had a bad childhood, being left at a boarding school by his mother who died when he was a teenager.  He was a musical genius who quickly rose up the ranks, only to be stymied by those who didn’t understand his gift.  He was a gay man who was afraid his “secret” would get out, despite being notoriously promiscuous and friendly in public with a number of other gay men.  (If he were truly hiding it, he could have done a better job.)  He attempted a marriage to a woman, which worked out just slightly less well than Elton John’s did to Renate Blauel.  That led him to run away from home, travel the world, and write more.  Eventually, he returned home, debuted his masterpiece Sixth Symphony, and died a few days later.

He wrote more than you might realize.  His “Swan Lake” revolutionized the ballet world.  His style became synonymous with Russian music and Russia, itself.  He did opera.  He piano pieces and violin pieces. He did full symphonies.  He did it all.  He even did “The 1812 Overture” on commission from the tsar. It was a classic work-for-hire hack piece.  Many consider it a lesser work, though we all hear it every year on July 4th in this country, and in countless cartoons.  The one thing you can’t control as a creator is the public’s response to your work.  “The 1812 Overture” should have been a small (albeit bombastic) piece, quickly forgotten.  Instead, it’s one of the best-remembered.

I called this documentary a “hybrid” before for a reason.  While most of the two hours is done in a traditional talking heads documentary style, there are also dramatic recreations of events interspersed throughout.  While they’re well-acted and look authentic enough, they’re often repetitive of what was just narrated and occasionally veer off into moments of salaciousness.  Sometimes, it’s enough to know a piece wasn’t well received by a composer’s instructor. We don’t need to spend the next two minutes watching the instructor badmouth the piece to his student, though it is fun to see him bang away on the piano.

The highlight of the documentary, though, is the music.  Hazelwood is seen conducting an orchestra filled with music students inside a gigantic marble room.  The sound quality is outstanding.  As we’re just hearing selected highlights from certain pieces, there’s not a dull moment in the bunch.  I’d love to have a DVD filled with those pieces recorded in that room in glorious surround sound. It would have been nice to include some of those performances as a bonus, at the least, or a second DVD.

Video quality is good.  This documentary originally aired in 2007. I don’t know if it was originally presented in high definition or not, but the picture quality is of a very good DVD quality.  I have no complaints there.  The menus are simple and easy to navigate, though the two hours of the documentary were broken into two episodes and there’s no “Play All” button.  You play one episode, go back to the main menu, and play the other.  It’s a minor nit, but I know it would bother some people.

There’s a bonus documentary on the disc, too, about the conspiracy theories surrounding Tchaikovsky’s death. It’s worth talking about, but I’ll save it for another time.

TCHAIKOVSKY: THE TRAGIC LIFE OF A MUSICAL GENIUS is an excellent primer in both the man and the music.  While the format of the piece is a little wonky, the end result is strong.  Now, where do I put my request in for a documentary on Liszt?

(If that’s not enogh Tchaikovsky for you, video clips of Hazelwood discussing the man’s music can be found on this page.)

New DVD Releases for 19 June 2008

It’s about time we got to this. . .

  • The Bucket List

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star in a movie about two old guys doing stuff.

  • Californication: Season One

Stars David Duchovny.  Past that, I know nothing.  It’s one of those pay-cable shows. I don’t subscribe to those channels.

  • Fool’s Gold

Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson plays a divorced couple trying to get along long enough to find treasure in the deep sea.  There are mobsters, too, I think.

  • Be Kind Rewind

This one is probably the geek release of the week.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.  Sadly, it stars Jack Black, so I have zero interest. But others might be interested in this bizarre-sounding movie.

Anything interest you?

Delays

It’s been a wee bit busier than expected up here this week. The DVD update will appear tonight.

Podcast fans: Sorry to say, that got delayed to tonight, as well.

Management thanks you for your patience and continued support.