June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011

In My Opinion: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Whether you were paying attention to the Conan vs. Leno saga last year, you should fall pretty firmly on Team Coco. I’m pretty sure the only people who think Conan didn’t get screwed were born shortly after World War II. Those ARE the only people keeping him on the air, yes? (Yes, I just threw an entire generation under the bus.)

Anyway, after Conan settled with NBC, he was legally prohibited from appearing on TV for a few months. While the network probably assumed he would spend that time counting his cash and/or swimming through gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck, Conan instead decided to take his show on the road. He visited a whole mess o’ cities, sang/danced/greeted the fans, and basically threw what sidekick Andy Richter termed “the best summer camp ever.”

Not that it was easy or anything. And this film captures just how tortured the creative process can be when you’re as crippled by self-doubt as Coco. Honestly, I was a bit surprised as how raw the footage was. The teasing-bordering-on-verbal-abuse of the staff. Blistering anger at network heads and his own management. One really awkward mockery of Jack McBrayer. We love Conan for his biting wit, but that selfsame wit can turn hurtful on a dime.

I enjoyed a peek inside Conan’s house, and quick glimpses of his wife and kids. During one stop, he has the same sort of video chat problems that plague all of us on travel. He has to sit through house of crappy acts at the Harvard college reunion before going on with his own band. Having never been backstage during an event of the magnitude of his shows, I also liked seeing what all goes on in a green room. Surprisingly, it’s mostly business.

This movie didn’t make me like Conan less. It did, however, paint a fuller picture of the man. He’s more than a string-dancing pompadour.

June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011

Speak Softly

Last week, I was asked to purchase a dictation machine for a co-worker.

The act itself isn’t so strange: I’m the one with the corporate card, so I get asked to buy all sorts of interesting things. What was unusual this time was the item in question. A dictation machine, really?

To be fair, I myself learned how to use a dictation machine as part of a class in legal office procedures. Never did determine whether that was because my teacher was old or because our legal system is run by people who went to law school during the Great War. Either way, arranging the machine, the tape, the headset, and the pedals was always a bit surreal.

Wait, I guess those of you who’ve never used one have no idea what I’m talking about. Okay, check it:

The pedal lets you fast forward, play, or rewind the tape. Similar to how a car or sewing machine works, but bi-directional. In school, we would type documents taken from dictation: memos, briefs, etc. It was all jolly fun listening to things like “We expect to present the findings tomorrow comma June 15 comma nineteen ninety-nine comma but the date of the proceeding is subject to change period new paragraph thank you comma insert signature block.”

Frankly, I expected to be cast in an episode of Law & Order at any moment.

Once you get into the real world, though, you realize that a great many things you learned at school are of absolutely no use. The dates of the Hundred Years’ War. Syllogisms. Sentence diagrams. Oh, and taking dictation from tapes. To the point that they’re discontinuing the machines.

I haven’t had the heart to tell the co-worker that her job could almost entirely be outsourced to a piece of software. It’s fun to pretend that our world hasn’t changed all that much since the days of Mad Men and mimeographs. Until you realize that Don Draper would now be either in his 80s or dead of cirrhosis.

June 21, 2011

June 21, 2011

Summer Viewin’ 2011

As is the case when the northern hemisphere tilts sunward, it’s hot outside. This makes me want to stay indoors as much as possible. Many of my favorite television shows are no longer showing original programming. This makes staying indoors less difficult.

It’s a Catch-22 I’ve been dealing with since I started school. It’s as if our society condones physical activity during the summer, and nature complies by providing additional sunlight. I call conspiracy.

Luckily for me, the internet was invented by people who wanted easier ways to see pictures of naked ladies and congressional body parts. Side benefit: television shows also make an occasional appearance.

What am I catching up on this summer? I’m so glad you asked.

The Borgias. While nowhere near the transcendent titillation of The Tudors (yeah, I said it), the hijinks of one medieval Pope are good enough for summer. Catholicism optional. Pros: costumes, backstabbing. Cons: forced teenage marriage.

Project Runway. Heidi Klum goes either way for people: while I find her teutonic malapropisms endearing, you may feel she makes better scenery than spokesperson. Don’t worry about the host; just look at the PURE JOY on the faces of the contestants as their fabric travesties walk the runway. Pros: Tim Gunn, Tim Gunn, Tim Gunn. Cons: disgraceful uses of pleating, chiffon; guest judges only tangentially related to the fashion world.

Next Food Network Star. People who can cook well enjoy watching other people who can cook well. I enjoy watching people who can sort of cook. Add to that the skill set required to be on the Food Network (odd name, physical attractiveness, speaking ability), and even a talented cook is going to be sweating into the plaintains. Pros: cutlery + nerves = chance of hospitalization every episode, Bobby Flay. Cons: that male judge seems to come on to each contestant regardless of gender.

June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011

Things I’ve Read: Malled

When I was in college, a number of my fellow students worked at a local outlet mall. The Johnson Creek Premium Outlets, I think they were called. Ah, the premium outlet mall, that incongruous mesh of discounts and prestige. Anyway, though I never heard much about what they did (folding shirts, I think), I knew that an employee discount wasn’t tempting for your humble blogger to leave her cushy clerical job on campus.

However, sometimes you don’t have a choice. As happened to Caitlin Kelly, a journalist/writer who lost her New York Daily News job at age 50, and tried her hand at retail. Specifically, the North Face, that purveyor of hearty youngsters climbing mountains while swathed in fleece.

Because, really, how hard could selling jackets be?

The answer: OHDEARLORD IT’S HARD. Reading just how hard gives me a new appreciation for every (apparently) brainless clerk I encounter, and makes me 2% less likely to wish death upon their houses.

Kelly had a pretty awful time at the North Face. Not so much because of her personal characteristics; one might almost say she was too experienced, too intelligent, too good a communicator for this job. Rather, it was the external factors that did her in: the poorly lit and overcrowded stockroom. The shoppers who treated store employees like slaves. The stale mall air that made her hands chap and bleed. Idiotic corporate policy that kept everyone down.

All this for $9 an hour! Well, minus the $8 it cost to park each day. But still!

Kelly got to know many of her co-workers, despite being twice as old as most of them. While they were an expectedly motley crew, most of them were just trying to eke it out. Go to night school, raise small children, whatever. They hadn’t had life handed to them on a silver platter (or even a plastic one), so they were doing the best they could. You know how I dislike people, yet even I found them sympathetic.

If you’ve worked in retail, perhaps this book will bring back painful memories. I can’t speak to that. For the rest of us (minority we may be), Malled was a peek behind that storeroom curtain. Never again will I ask a Payless employee if they have any size 8s in the back.

June 14, 2011

June 14, 2011

How to Throw a Birthday Party

1. Decorate. Crepe paper, banners, and balloons are all good choices.

2. Set the tablescape, as Sandra Lee would say. Pictured here: combat.

3. Plan some activities. A scavenger hunt can be fun, if you have good places to hide the clues.

4. Serve plenty of food, with a theme if possible. Pictured here: potato bar.

5. Eat. Eat some more.

6. Remember dessert. And presents. But mostly dessert.

June 13, 2011

June 13, 2011

In My Opinion: Pirates 4

At this point, I think going to PotC movies is like going to [insert chain restaurant here]. You had a really novel, amazing experience the first time. You keep going, hoping to get that magic back. While each return visit is very similar to the first, enough has changed that the spark can’t be rekindled.

None of which is to say you can’t have a fabulous time stuffing your face with cheddar biscuits.

We have a lot of moving pieces in Pirates 4. Jack Sparrow is trying to get a ship. Blackbeard is trying to find the fountain of youth. Barbossa is trying to kill Blackbeard. King George wants to show the Spaniards that he’s crazy…like a fox. Oh, and a missionary falls in love with a mermaid.

Something for everyone in this movie. Literally. Everyone.

The pacing, I thought, was pretty good. Quiet scenes of exposition/walking/character development balanced with action scenes of swashbuckling/running/mermaid fighting. It was so well-balanced, in fact, that your humble blogger had a really hard time finding an opportunity to run to the bathroom (damn free “small” soda coupon). Every time a run-of-the-mill swordfighting scene started and I made my way to the aisle, a twist would get thrown in (ladies! zombies! mermaids!) and I’d have to sit back down.

Jack Sparrow is the rare character that I’d watch doing just about anything, anywhere. Were Johnny Depp to heed my advice, he’d ride this pony as long as it’ll have him. The Keith Richards scene, btw, I also enjoyed. (The cameo by Dame Judi Dench even more so.)

One of my favorite throwaway bits was this dialogue between a girl and her father:

Girl: “Hurry, we’ll miss the hanging!”
Father: “This is a trial. The hanging’s this afternoon.”

I’d like to think this was a clever nod to the blatant inequities of Britain’s legal system during the 18th century. Maybe the giant stereotypical wigs are meant to be ironic and not an Obvious Sign That This Is a Period Movie.

Then, a few minutes later, the freaking King of England gives someone the thumbs up. Facepalm.

I was surprised that the film ended on such an open note; I guess the order for Pirates 5 has already been signed? Maybe it will star the children of the missionary and the mermaid. I’d like to see pirates with gills.

June 10, 2011

June 9, 2011

June 9, 2011

Metro Limericks

I found myself taking a different commute (bus + train) this week, and HOO-BOY is it a crazy world out there.

Luckily, my like of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and my dislike of humanity combined to turn said commute into a litany of limericks. You know how it goes.

Here are some from this morning. Feel free to add your own. I know you've seen crazier shi-t than this.

Why do so many people do the crossword?
Express crosswords people adore
You answer to bump up your score
On a bus with bad brakes,
You erase your mistakes
Yet the clues you’ve solved number just four.

Do tourists really think it’s a good idea to buy those ridiculous tees?
This summer vacation it clicked:
Let’s go and sightsee the District!
We locals now spy
Shirts that scream “FBI!!!”
Are you ready to get pockets picked?

The rumors about K Street: totally true.
The sons of some very rich mothers
Spend their days lobbying for needs of others
Girls won’t fall for their lines
Though they’re wearing page nine
Of a catalog from the Brooks Brothers.

June 7, 2011

June 6, 2011

June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011

Hey NASA, Your Mission is Showing

A few weeks ago, NASA’s Goddard facility held an open house. Considering that access to the place is usually restricted to employees, and that TheBoy is a big space fan, we decided to go.

Unfortunately, we had to wait quite some time for a shuttle to get on the property. NASA may have movement in zero gravity down to a science (literally), but ground transportation is obviously more difficult.

Once we arrived, we found that the Goddard campus looks a lot like your college did, if your college was built in the ‘60s and had pretty kickass classes.

A few buildings were open to visitors, with displays in the lobby and employees explaining things like “This is what freeze dried food looks like, kids. Also, don’t do drugs.”

One of the cooler things about the day was the chance to see mission control rooms. Which were just as full of computers and screens and red phones as I would have liked.

After viewing some heavy machinery, it was time to go.

My only suggestion to NASA: maybe we relax the food restrictions a little. A girl’s gotta eat.

June 2, 2011

June 2, 2011

In My Opinion: Thor

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Marvel girl through-and-through. My dad purchased thousands of comics as a young Milwaukee lad, most of which he kept until my mom made him sell them. (Ah, young love.) Spider-Man, Submariner, Fantastic Four, and so on. Merely the tales of a generation’s youth until Stan Lee started turning them into films a few years ago. The latest: Thor.

You’re probably more familiar with the actual Norse mythology than with the Marvel one. Suffice to say that movie Thor gets kicked out of Asgard for being cocky. He’s banished to earth, where he meets some scientists. Even though one of them is very pretty, Thor is mostly concerned with getting his hammer back (not a euphemism) and returning to Asgard. However, the gang is soon confronted by the government, because we feds like nothing more than screwing around with superheroes.

(You may have been as confused as I was to see Natalie Portman in the trailers for Thor. I mean, after Black Swan, this had to be a bit of a letdown, right? It’s like Halle Berry’s Monster’s Ball to Catwoman transition.)

There is additional familial drama with Thor’s father and brother and whatnot, but who hasn’t a little familial drama?

I’ve never been much for blondes (or the Norse) (or overtly buff guys), so I had trouble really cheering Thor on. Had he pulled out some Ikea, we might have had a different story. I felt like this movie was best positioned as a prequel to the Avengers, an upcoming film that will gather several of the lesser Marvel heroes into a sort of superhero Seal Team 6. (Careful watchers noticed the introduction of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in this movie.)

I’m a fan of mindless summer blockbusters, of course, and this certainly qualifies. The amusement inherent in a fish-out-of-water tale (deity though he may be) is enough to get you through. But it’s no Spider-Man.

June 1, 2011