Friday, December 27, 2013

In praise of minor deities (part 2)

Welcome back and praise Decembrion, the ancient Roman god of Top Ten Lists! My observance of the ritual of year-in-review continues from this post. Without further ado, and still in arbitrary order, following are (the remaining five of) my own personal Top Ten (or Eleven!) Points of Pop Culture for 2013.

7. Best Song both my wife and I discovered independently: "Recovery" by Frank Turner (Runner Up: N/A)

Long-time readers will recognize my familiar lament of the dearth of new music in my life, or specifically new music that is my kind of music. (To quickly sum up: the old alternative rock station that kept me in the loop of the new went the way of the dodo some time ago, and now I listen mostly to the news on NPR or the local rock station which plays mostly 90's stuff or the local dinosaur-rock station, and all of the above only when I'm in the car which is not that often because I take the train to work. My wife often points out that we have satellite radio in the house which has a new music station, but I've found that station covers such a wide swath of popular genres that the signal-to-noise ratio for my personal taste is low. Also, I am a giant pain in the tuchus.)

Still, every once in a while the stars align and I will actually hear something new which pushes my buttons. Such was the pleasantly surprising case when I heard Frank Turner's "Recovery" on the radio a couple of times and liked it more and more every time. But even better was my wife spontaneously starting a conversation with "So I heard this song ..." and realizing we had both been digging it, not least because in its own way the track has attributes which make us think of each other. It's got a distinct young Billy Bragg vibe about it, which is absolutely something that my wife introduced me to. It also has lyrics about the mood-lifting properties of "serotonin boosters, cider and some kind of smelling salts" which must be the part that just screams my name.

And as should be pretty evident, there's really no runner-up in this category. Chancing upon a cool new song out in the FM wasteland is hard enough these days; a synchronized stumbling-upon with my wife is exponentially more unlikely.

8. Biggest Accomplishment: Finishing Smallville (Runner Up: see below)

It wasn't that long ago that I posted my big retrospective post about Smallville, so I assume this one is self-explanatory. However, I did leave one thing out of my ramblings, an oversight I can correct here. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Smallville because the tail end of a re-run was playing on the television in the maternity ward waiting room in the pre-dawn hours when my wife and I arrived for her scheduled induction to deliver our youngest child. Right up to the birth itself, my wife and I were torn between a couple of different potential names for the baby, and what tipped the balance was me taking it as a sign that the Smallville episode that had greeted us that morning, the very scene on the screen in fact, featured a minor character who shared a name with one of our two leading contenders. The Smallville factor had never been a reason that the name in question survived the selection process through the entire pregnancy, and in fact I might not have made the connection if not for the coincidence that morning. But I doubt I will ever forget it.

(In my defense, when we were holding our newborn son in the delivery room and trying to determine which name would win out, I did lead off with "You're going to think I'm crazy, but ..." before letting my wife in on the whole sign-from-a-cheesy-tv-show angle, which was the first she heard it mentioned. She took it in stride. Again I am a lucky, lucky guy.)

As I mentioned in the first half of this Top Ten exercise, I went to the movie theater four whole times this year, and I do consider that an accomplishment, along with the 50-plus movies I caught on smaller screens. I had also resolved to write at least 20 reviews for the 1001 Movies Blog Club, and to break my personal record of 250 blog posts in a year, and I managed to (barely) clear both of those, as well. All in all it was a high-throughput pop culture year for me.

9. Biggest Unfinished Business for 2013: Game of Thrones Season 2 (Runner Up: Every book in my closet.)

Once again, timing is everything, and it may very well turn out that in these last few nights of the year my wife and I will carve out a couple of hours to watch the final couple of episodes of Game of Thrones's second season. But as of this moment we are mid-storyline (though, to be fair, every Game of Thrones fan, people who watch the show in real time on HBO and people who read the books, are all mid-storyline at George R.R. Martin's mercy.) It's an understandable phenomenon, how we got here: over the course of the year our youngest has raced through various developmental milestones which eat up a lot of our free time. And rightly so, priorities, &c. We've had stretches where we know that even though all three kids are in bed, the baby is probably going to wake up again in an hour or maybe less, and we've had stretches where all three kids are down for the count but frankly so are mommy and daddy, at which point we can handle a sitcom or a reality show but not the epic grandiosity of Game of Thrones, where we want to savor every frame. So Season 2 sits on the credenza, right next to the wireless router, and waits. We will get to it when we get to it, if not this year then certainly early next (perhaps ultimately spurred on by the arrival of our copy of Season 3!)

In an unintended consequence of my theme months experiment this year, I found myself acquiring various books (sometimes as gifts, sometimes because I have no self-control) and setting them on a shelf in my closet, to be pulled down and opened when I had time to read them, i.e. time not already ostensibly dedicated to some overarching theme to which said books did not happen to belong. So there is a large backlog of reading material literally hanging over my head every time I go to pick out an outfit for work. I'd like to be able to say that I will chip away at it next year, but I may once again constrain my own consumption by arbitrary rules. (Stay tuned to find out how!)

10. Biggest Logistical Disappointment: Spooktoberfest (Runner Up: Damaged goods)

Speaking of Theme Months, as part of my lead-up to Halloween this year I was planning on watching a couple of specific horror movies, which happen to be on the master Must-See list: Psycho and The Horror of Dracula. However, as October approached those particular entries on my Netflix queue acquired the dreaded Very Long Wait labels. So I was never able to get my hands in them before the end of my Spooktoberfest marathon. I can understand how those movies would be in high demand that time of year, but it was still frustrating.

And that was not my only frustration with Netflix this year! More than once I climbed onto the VRE in the morning, pulled out my portable DVD player and a red envelope that had gone straight from my mailbox to my workbag, unsheathed the disc and found that it had a massive crack in it, rendering the movie unplayable. Of course Netflix takes those movies back no questions asked and sends a replacement immediately, but that process takes days. Another buzzkill.

I can still remember, not too long ago, when I used to chide myself for not taking full advantage of my Netflix subscription, sometimes going a month or more without ever watching a single rented flick. Now I tear through four or five a month, and I'm complaining about availability and structural integrity. I could admit that I'm always complaining about something, but I could also hold this up as fairly clear evidence that Netflix really is trying to steer all of its customers either fully into digital streaming, or straight out the exit door. Ostensibly they're continuing the physical disc rental business, but when you can't rent Psycho any time in October and a movie that just came out six months ago is already trashed ... you do the math.

11. Biggest Anticipation for 2014: Pompeii (Runner Up: Too many to count?)

In order to not end on a bummer note, and in order to crank this list up to 11, I conclude with a more forward-looking item. (At the same time, this hearkens back a bit to one of my older pop resolutions posts from the past.) Therefore I predict that one of the pop culture highlights of the coming year will be the movie Pompeii, which belongs to that rarest breed of beasts: a film which demands to be seen on the big screen and yet is not a comic book adaptation or major franchise sequel. Furthermore, it should make for an exemplary date movie, since it has two elements which appeal very strongly to my wife: classical antiquity, and Kit Harrington.

My wife and I have more or less come to complete agreement that whenever we go to the trouble of securing the services of a babysitter and paying full price for the cinematic experience, we might as well go all-in and do it at the Alamo Drafthouse. (Come back tomorrow for the report on our most recent excursion.) The Alamo is truly fantastic, but it occurs to me that my presumptive highlight of 2014 will be "going to see Pompeii at the Alamo." Disaster upon disaster! All we need is to add in a few Hindenbergs and a dash of Mrs. O'Leary's cow.

Aside from that volcanic outing, I'm not sure what I'll look back on having enjoyed the most from the perspective of this time next year. I'm certainly not giving up on comic book adaptation movies, much as I enjoy the occasional change of pace, and I have a lot of faith that both X-Men: Days of Future past and Guardians of the Galaxy are going to be at least somewhat awesome. There's also a rumored possibility that the third and final book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Doors of Stone, will actually be published sometime next year. Not only am I dying to know how that story ends, but it should be an epic communal experience since I've managed to get my wife, my dad and at least a couple of my buddies hooked on those novels as well. And best of all, there's always the near-certain possibility that something amazing will come along over the next twelve months which I never anticipated.

In any case, thanks for following along with my dissections and digressions this past year. I hope it was as entertaining for you as it was for me. (The year, I mean, not my endless ramblings; there's no way those amuse anyone else remotely as much as they do me.)

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