Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Grab Bag Looks Back (At Last Weekend)

Last Sunday my wife and I did indeed keep our date to see The Hobbit at the Alamo Drafthouse. We both agreed that it was a good flick, better than the first installment in terms of overall structure and pacing but also in terms of including the two elements of the book which for which my wife was prepared to geek out the most: the escape in the barrels, and Smaug. Neither of which disappointed. My only minor quibble with the movie was not enough Bilbo (because I will vehemently defend the assertion that Master Baggins is the role Martin freeman was born to play, and he animates the character ex-freaking-quisitely) which is odd considering the movie is super-title The Hobbit, but ah well.

We got to the Alamo before our theater had been cleaned from the previous showing, so we hit the Glass Half Full taproom to await the opening of the doors, and within the bar they were showing the Cowboys Redskins game, and we ended up striking up a conversation with an older gentleman who enjoyed laughing at the misfortunes of Jerry Jones as much as we did. (We found out after the movie was over that the Cowboys actually came back and won, but I think our main points held, i.e. Jones is the worst.)

As we were leaving I mused to my wife that I could happily spend an entire day (or at least a Sunday in the fall/early winter) at the Alamo, hanging out in the bar drinking craft beer and watching football and then catching a late dinner/movie combo. That is the kind of egregiously self-indulgent crap I’m frequently daydreaming about, so I wasn’t sure if my wife would roll her eyes or simply let it pass without comment. But she went a third way, and strongly insisted, “Don’t think that didn’t already occur to me!” Two peas in a pod, we are.


One more wild tangent inspired by the Alamo excursion, which may henceforth be known as The Most Gen-X-ish Thing I’ve Ever Written.

I made sure we got to the Alamo so early because I really wanted to see the pre-show of clips in the half-hour before showtime. I had in fact been trying to predict what would show up in said audiovisual collage, and then ended up being for the most part utterly surprised by what the programmer ended up choosing. I had expected some footage from the old Rankin-Bass animated adaptations of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, maybe some of the dragon-intensive footage from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty or George Lucas’s Willow. But they went in a more outright humorous and ridiculous direction, including ironic so-bad-they’re-good clips of old Hercules movies and an interactive VCR game modeled on Dungeons & Dragons, Sir Ian McKellan’s appearance on Ricky Gervais’s Extras talking about getting into character as Gandalf, and the YouTube video of the remix “They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard” plus the video where Orlando Bloom sings along with the remix on someone’s phone. (These videos may be yesterday's news to you, but as I've copped to recently, old memes are often new to me.)

The off-brand VHS D&D might seem out of left field, but the truth is most of the Dungeons & Dragons game is incredibly indebted to archetypes and tropes that Tolkien codified in Lord of the Rings. For that reason, I was also predicting the pre-show clips might include the scene from Freaks & Geeks where James Franco creates a character for a D&D game, a dwarf named Carlos. (I still think the programmer missed out by overlooking that one.) In the same vein I guessed there might be a clip of the old Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon, and that was the one prediction I actually got right. But it also wound up delivering a shocking revelation. Bear in mind that I haven’t sat down to watch the animated Dungeons & Dragons since it was being broadcast, so I have only fuzzy (albeit affectionate and nostalgic) memories of it.

Hold that thought for one moment as I make a startling cartoon-based confession. I used to watch a lot of the Transformers cartoon, for years, but I was never that big a fan of Optimus Prime. I understood that he was the ultimate selfless leader, and I didn’t exactly dislike the character, but I always gravitated towards the quirkier supporting characters. I was never quite sure why this was the case, although on some level I thought it might have something to do with my general anti-authoritarian tendencies, which of course gets all up into the morass of my childhood relationship with my dad (TOY-LINE BASED CARTOONS x PARENTS’ DIVORCE = GEN-X BINGO!)

Anyway, I saw the Transformers animated movie when it came out and years later I would talk to some of my peers about the scene (spoiler!) where Optimus Prime dies, which a lot of my contemporaries found deeply affecting but I, as laid out above, really did not. And then many years after all that Michael Bay took on the Transformers live-action movies, and I have never had any interest in seeing any of those. Still, I couldn’t help but observe the interweb nerd-rage that erupted when it was suggested that anyone other than Peter Cullen might provide the voice of Optimus Prime in the new movies. If the original voice actor from the cartoons was still alive then why wouldn’t he get the gig? And of course ultimately he did. Again, I didn’t think it was that big a deal, I didn’t really realize that the voice was so integral a part of the character, but apparently I was in a distinct minority.

OK, right, back to the Alamo, the Hobbit pre-show, and a clip of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon where the heroic kids are in a castle being beseiged by the Demo-Dragon, who of course has been sicced on the castle by the ultimate evil villain for the series, Venger. And suddenly everything fell into place: Peter Cullen did the voice of Venger. No wonder I never really warmed up to Optimus Prime!

I was absurdly into the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon as a kid, and I was that perfect age where my boundaries between reality and fantasy were tenuous at best. I’m pretty sure I had nightmares about Venger at least once or twice. I was also too young to really think about things like voice acting and the production behind cartoons and whatnot, so it didn’t quite occur to me that an actor had performed the dialogue for Venger and the same actor later performed the dialogue for Optimus Prime. I never made the conscious connection at all. But clearly it subconsciously made me extremely skeptical of the leader of the Autobots.

Thank you, this has been The Most Gen-X-ish Thing I’ve Ever Written.


One more quick Hobbit-related note: once they got to Laketown, I kept experiencing this nagging feeling that I should know who the actor playing Bard the Bowman was. I looked it up later, and there's really no reason for it, because Luke Evans hasn't been in anything else I've seen, at that. HOWEVER, I'm going to say right now that, based on his career info on Wikipedia (including some projects he's set to be involved with in the future), he is going to be a strong contender for a Christopher Lee award one of these days. Major character portrayal in Jackson's Middle Earth saga? In the can. Dracula? Set to star in the coming soon Dracula Untold. Major bonus points for comic book properties near and dear to my heart? He just might play Eric in the coming reboot of The Crow. Are you kidding me? For extra credit, he's been Apollo in Clash of the Titans and Aramis in a steam-punk Three Musketeers. So basically he's one major sci-fi Wars or Trek franchise away from running the table.


Oh and before I get too far from the topic of football, I did want to acknowledge that as of today the Steelers are still in it! As my wife and I were sitting in the taproom she noted one of the scores on the ticker, I think it was the Patriots' trouncing of Baltimore, which fed into some back-of-the-envelope calculations she had done about what improbably sequence of wins and losses needed to transpire across the AFC in the final two weeks of the regular season for the Steelers to take the wild card. And last Sunday, all of those improbable outcomes actually came to pass. Tomorrow should be an interesting day around our house.


So the other highlight around our house last weekend was a Saturday Night Dance Party. One minute the little guy and the little girl were messing around with a pair of sunglasses belonging to their mother, and then they were taking turns putting them on, declaring themselves "rock stars", and busting out some primo dance moves in the middle of the living room. At first this spontaneous booty-shaking was performed without soundtrack, but I quickly got my phone out and brought up a year-end mega-mix for accompaniment, and the kids were very much into it.

The little guy's take on "dancing", as befits the boundless energy of a five-year-old, mostly involves spinning around a lot, occasionally stopping to strike an heroic pose, and then spinning some more. Sometimes all that whirling causes him to lose his balance and fall down, but he's pretty quick to turn that into an opportunity to pose in a more floor-oriented way, and then he's right back up and spinning to the music again. His sister, on the other hand, is more dedicated to standing in one place, bouncing at the knees, and pointing index fingers skyward, left right in alternation with the beat. So clearly she got to wear the sunglasses for most of the dancing, since they would have just gone flying off the little guy's face.

After the mega-mix I switched things up with Andrew WK's "Party Hard", which the little guy loved but the little girl was a little less enchanted by. So from there I went to "The Fox" and they were both back in the groove.

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