Archive for the Entertainment Category

To the Senior Class of 2011…

Posted in Entertainment, teaching with tags , , , , on May 19, 2011 by Mike

This year I wasn’t a candidate for graduation speaker (thank God), but I still have some words of wisdom I’d like to impart to this year’s A&M Consolidated graduates, and in fact to all high school graduates this year.  So for right now  go ahead and imagine me in a mortarboard cap and a long black gown stepping up to the podium to deliver your commencement address…For those of you who aren’t graduating this year, you’re invited to pretend that you’re a friend or loved one of one of the graduates…keep the babies quiet, please.

***

Mark Twain once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  He also said a lot of other things, most of which he actually didn’t say, but which are now attributed to him because the internet has no editors.

But I digress.

Responsibility is the word tonight.  It’s a word that’s thrown around in the presence of 17 and 18 year olds quite a bit, mainly after you’ve disappointed your parents in some way.  And, really, up until this point, your responsibilities have been rather minimal, unless you’re raising a kid or helping your family pay the bills by working two part-time jobs.  But for you others – the slackers who didn’t have kids while in high school – responsibility is now creeping up behind you with a sock full of nickels about to brain you.  And he won’t be charged with assault, either.

See, now that you’re legal adults, the world expects you to be accountable for your actions and decisions – unless you’re entering politics, when responsibility is at first a nice surprise, and then grounds for suspicion.  In high school, turning work in late would only lead to a point-deduction on your final grade. In the real world, late work results in pink slips and unemployment lines – unless you’re in politics, when deadlines just get extended because everyone’s scared you’d actually do something, anyway. In high school, planting a dead skunk in the school’s ventilation system is a “prank” and results in admiration from underclassmen.  In the real world, you’ve just committed an act of domestic terrorism and go to jail for 30 years. In high school, sending risqué pics to someone else’s smart phone is seen as juvenile and disgusting. In the real world, it’s still considered juvenile and disgusting, but standard behavior for Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterbacks.

But I digress.

As high school graduates, you now enter a world which will place expectations upon you to perform and achieve – unless you enter politics.  In other words, you have responsibility.  A responsibility to yourself to meet your potential, a responsibility to the parents and teachers who brought you to where you are today (figuratively, not literally – I know y’all can drive), a responsibility to society.  It’s that last responsibility I want to discuss here tonight, and by “discuss” I mean lecture at you since you’re supposed to be quiet and listen right now.  Which would be a first, judging by your behavior in my classes, but try anyway.

Sitting before me I see a wide variety of people with a diverse array of talents and interests.  It is these interests and talents that your parents, your teachers and I hope and pray you take out to the world to make it a better place, to show ingenuity and originality and integrity in the realms you choose to take on.  God knows we older generations have run out of ideas. Look at the state the world’s in – you’re seeing the best we can do, and isn’t that frightening? So it’s you we’re shifting our attention to, knowing that at some point we’re going to have to blame someone for all of this, and it’s damn sure not going to be us.  You’re younger and have less money, so you’re an easy target.  That’s how the world works.

But we’re giving you a shot to fix things, because that’s what America is all about – reworking things when they don’t work out the first time.  Look at Thomas Edison – he created the light bulb only after a long series of failures, whereas any reasonable person would have given up after, say, three failed attempts.  Don’t be that reasonable person. Your responsibility, while you’re young and full of energy and optimism, is to keep failing until you succeed, or at least until you have a family to support.

Beyond this admittedly broad responsibility to not give up, you also have more individual responsibilities I’m going to set down, organized by the fields you may eventually enter. These responsibilities have been identified only after much consideration, and fulfilling them will lead to a prosperous, happy life (this is by no means a guarantee, however, as I cannot be held liable for the state of your life.  I’m part of the older generation – it’s not my fault).

We’ll start with those who want to go into the medical field.  You have a responsibility to not screw up.  Forget what I said about failing until you succeed – get it right the first time. No one wants a doctor for whom “Let’s see what happens when I do this…” is a mantra.

For those of you who want to be engineers, you have a responsibility to keep the trains from running into one another (I’m actually surprised at the number of students who tell me they want to be engineers – I would think that jobs would be scarce.  Maybe it’s those caps that are the draw.)

If you’re a writer, you have a responsibility never to use vampires in your fiction.  Also, forget about reworking a classic work from the point of view of a minor character in said work.  Find an original idea or go sell insurance.

Future psychology/art history/sociology majors, your responsibility is simple: keep working on that screenplay so you’ll be able to move out of your parents’ house before they die.

If you’re into computer animation, you have  a responsibility to get a job at Pixar and then, once there, crank out a turkey, b/c that damned company is making us all look bad with their success rate.

Keeping with the tech careers, if your plan is to go into IT, you have a responsibility to get Adobe to finally stop updating.

Future journalists: you’re responsible for the dissemination of information regarding the most important issues facing this country today, but Americans don’t want to read that crap. It’s probably the root cause of our political divisions – y’all keep dredging up political corruption and all that other “bad” stuff – no wonder our government can’t get anything done .  Instead, concentrate on celebrities and cute animal stories, throwing in the occasional cannibalism story to underscore just how horrible the world is.  The reunification of America is sure to follow.

If you’re a musician, you have a responsibility to stay the hell away from American Idol.  As AC/DC put it, “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll”, and no one respects people who take short cuts, except damsels in distress who are tied to railroad tracks waiting for a hero to come rescue them (think about it, I swear it’s funny). Pay your dues in the clubs, get some groupies, get signed, and then write ironic songs about how the record company doesn’t care about your music while college students steal it from BitTorrent. Live the dream.

If business school is in your future…well, actually, responsibility (fiscal, societal) is something the attorneys can worry about.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Speaking of  those future lawyers, you have the responsibility to demonstrate integrity in selecting which cases you choose to take on, to consider the possible societal implications of the judgments you are arguing for, to view your clients as people and not as billable hours, to make arguments that are fair and rooted in objective truth, and, finally, to pursue truth zealously and honestly…in other words, you have a responsibility not to go into law.

If you plan on joining the noblest profession, my profession, teaching, you take on the vast responsibility of preparing our youth to become the leaders of tomorrow.  Molding young minds to think for themselves; putting in the extra time to provide genuine and helpful feedback on the assignments they turn in; counseling them in their times of need; preparing coherent and engaging lesson plans each day that reach a wide range of learning styles; modifying assignments and tests for students with various learning disabilities, leading them to be successful on state and national exams; being observant for any indications of alcohol or drug abuse; writing college recommendation letters for students whose names you’ve forgotten since the previous year; attending staff meetings; filling out discipline referrals as necessary to remind them there are consequences for setting fire to the sink in the bathroom down the hall; attending the extra-curricular activities your students participate in to show them that you care about them as people, not just as students…and if you’re still listening there’s still time to change your mind. Maybe business school has some openings.

And, finally, if your goal is to enter politics, to get elected to office and work for change that reflects the will of the people and betters society, you have a responsibility to do just that. We won’t hold our breath.

Congratulations to the class of 2011 – may we hear of your future accomplishments in all the proper publications.

/if you enjoyed this, I spent four or five days writing it when I could take breaks from my grading

//if you didn’t enjoy this, it was slapped together in 20 minutes by someone other than me and proofread by monkeys.

Thinking out loud here about the upcoming Spider-Man reboot…

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , on May 5, 2011 by Mike

…if we ever want to see Spider-Man meet up with the Avengers or anyone else in the Marvel Universe, Sony would have to give the rights to the character back to Marvel Studios. That would only happen if Sony thought the web-slinger wasn’t a viable property anymore. I think this means that the new Spider-Man movie needs to be boycotted.

Unless it’s awesome.

I kind of doubt it, though, based on the pics of Peter Parker with skateboard (what the hell?):

Teaser Poster for Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by Mike

Go ahead and bask in its awesomeness first:

The Movie I've Been Waiting My Entire Life For

Marvel Studios nailed it.  I can’t imagine another image that would get me so anxious for this film, to be honest.  The word “AVENGE” across Evans’ chest is a subtle reminder of not only the title of the film but also Cap’s status as an Avenger and, hell, America’ desire for vengeance upon entry into WWII.  Just perfect.

Not only that, but it’s obvious (to me and probably to most Cap fans) that the designers of the teaser poster have been looking at images of Cap from the comics, and chose to model their poster on a cover from issue #4 of the current volume:

Cover art for Captain America #4

July 22nd can’t get here soon enough – I’ll be the one in the front of the line at Cinemark on July 20th.

Now I need to find a site that’s selling the poster…

He who hesitates…

Posted in Comics, Entertainment, Figures with tags , , on January 31, 2011 by Mike

…doesn’t get the figures, apparently.

I went to Toys R Us a week or so ago after going to Blinn to pick up a copy of the textbook I’m teaching out of this semester. It had been a while since I had been in to check for new Marvel Universe figures, and even though Toys R Us tends to disappoint me, I went in anyway. Walking in a guy caught my eye – he had multi-colored hair which was plastered on his head, unkempt, and yes, I made some judgments internally about how silly he looked.

So I walked back to the aisles where they keep the Marvel figures, only it’s the aisle that holds the two-packs and only occasionally single figures.  Still, I look around a couple minutes at the DC figures (I’d probably buy a Green Arrow figure if I saw one) and then look to see if the Arkham Asylum figures are there.  No dice, so I move to the next aisle.

Turning the corner, there’s that same goofy-looking kid standing at the “main” display of Marvel Universe figures with a few in his hand: Thanos, Constrictor, and Yellow Jacket.  Yeah, the ones I wanted – all with close ties to the Avengers.  He walks off down the aisle and I could only futilely look through the peg racks, knowing (of course) there would be no others.

There weren’t.

Then there was the time I almost met Anthrax…

Posted in Entertainment with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by Mike

Yeah, I know, “almost” meeting a band seems kind of pathetic.  But here’s the story…

These are the guys I almost had a beer with

Anthrax has been my favorite band, oh, since I was 15.  I’m not going to try to explain why, as I think someone trying to explain why a band connects with him or her is ultimately a tedious exercise, but suffice to say I think I saw/heard a lot of my personality through their music.  They had a fuckin’ sense of humor about themselves, and I appreciated that.  They read comics and Stephen King, as I did, and their guitarist at the time, Danny Spitz, used a guitar emblazoned with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the original Eastman and Laird depictions, not the bastardized children’s cartoon versions.  Fuckin’ cool, IMO…

I had this poster up in my room...no, I didn't date in high school, why?

Anyway, I lived through the ups and downs of the band over the next twenty plus years, even going so far as joining the Anthrax Fan Club sometime after turning 30 (don’t judge – I’m loyal to a fault).  The website, as fan club sites are wont to do, posted updates about the goings-on of the members, and it was here that I learned that their drummer, Charlie Benante, collected action figures, just like me.  Yeah, sure, he was the drummer of one of the legendary “Big Four” metal bands, but I used this as evidence against my wife’s claims that she had “married a geek.”

Early in my collecting career I was only buying the Lord of the Rings figures that came out with the Peter Jackson films (today…eh, it’s best I don’t get into that right now).  I still have most of them in their original boxes, unopened – largely because I have no place to display them – but I do have the “Fellowship” figures displayed in my classroom.  So that meant I had another set of the Fellowship still in their boxes.

The Fellowship of the Ring figures. I sent my duplicates of Aragorn and Frodo to Charlie.

OK, back to Anthrax.  One day a message comes up on the website that Charlie was looking for a couple figures for his LotR collection, namely a Frodo and an Aragorn.  He joked around a bit about how he knew it was geeky (damn you, Charlie!), but it was better than wasting his money on drugs (the band has always had a reputation for NOT doing drugs).  He then asked if anyone out there had those figures and offered Anthrax “swag” in exchange for them.

Damn right I was on that.

I emailed the guy who was running the website (“Brent”, I think)  that I had the figures, and almost immediately (maybe a day later), Charlie is emailing me about what I’d want for the figures.  Now, I was thinking a set of signed drumsticks (though I don’t have a drum set nor any real musical inclination), but then I emailed my twin about an idea I had – I wondered if I could get the chance to meet Charlie/have a beer with him next time they went on tour and came to Dallas?  I didn’t want to push it – I had visions of Charlie suddenly thinking he had some sort of weirdo emailing him – but my brother encouraged me to go ahead and ask – all Charlie could really do is laugh and say “nice try – how about a pair of signed drumsticks?”  So I emailed my idea, telling him how I’d like to buy him a beer.  He had posted a message a few weeks before, a “Blast-Beat”, talking about how important it was to stay in touch with your musical roots, and I’m pretty sure I mentioned that Anthrax was part of my “roots.”

Here’s where it got very fucking cool – Charlie agreed.  He even said he’d get me and a couple guys into the show in exchange for mailing the figures to him.  I don’t recall that I asked for “backstage access” or anything like that, but Charlie agreed to get us in the door. I emailed my brother with the news and was the fuckin’ man for the next few months: “Your dedication to being a geek has finally paid off!”

Later that year Anthrax came through Dallas on a small club tour.  I had emailed Charlie a few times between when I sent the figures his way and the concert date – I’m not going to exaggerate things, it was largely me asking some questions about the band and his experiences with him giving some quick replies, though I did get a longer, more passionate email from him after I asked him about the Great White concert that ended up killing 100 fans because of the pyrotechnics the band used in the small club.  He was pissed at the carelessness shown.  But the emails were few because I didn’t want to be “that guy”, though I have to admit it was pretty cool to have Charlie’s email address.

I’ll also admit I was nervous about the arrangements – who knew if the band would communicate with the club to get us in?  I was going on faith, I suppose.  And if I wasn’t “on the list” then what did I do but hand over a couple figures worth about $20 total for nothing.  We got to the club and waited in line for a bit, shooting the shit with a couple other guys there.

Then the doors opened, and I went up to the woman taking the money and told her I should be on the list.  She looked at me like I was full of shit, and then walked away for a bit to where I couldn’t see her and came back with a piece of paper in her hands.  “What’s your name?” she asked.  I told her and she scanned down the paper and said, “Yep, go on in”, with what seemed to me a bit of resentment in her voice.  The guys behind us called us back and said they had to hear how I accomplished that, so I quickly told the story of the Lord of the Rings figures – they were impressed.

The show started off with some local band who tried to get the crowd going but couldn’t overcome the apathy.  They closed with Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy”, though, so they left the stage on a high-note.  I seem to recall a second band being scheduled to come on before Anthrax, but there was apparently  some cluster in the scheduling and were no -shows.  Anthrax came on with their fairly standard “Blues Brothers” music moving into “Among the Living” and the show was on.  By the way, “Among the Living” kicks ass – you need to listen to it again:

Anthrax puts on a damn good show, no matter the size of the venue.  Frank Bello, the bassist, has a presence on stage that’ll make you think he’s playing for you individually the whole damn show.  John Bush, the singer at the time, knew how to work the crowd, too.  So after  about an hour and half/two hours of moshing and head-thrashing later, the place cleared out and the lights came on, and the techs started disassembling the stage.

The band members moved immediately to their bus and we’re left there hanging out, drinking the last of our beers, and I’m wondering if I’m supposed to go back and hang outside the bus and wait.  I should also mention this: Dimebag Darrell made an appearance after the show and I saw him getting on board the bus with Anthrax.  We decide to go outside with some other fans and see what happens, but after about five minutes of that, my brother turns to me and says, “You know what, we got in for free to a fuckin’ Anthrax show – that’s good enough for me.  We’re 32 and don’t need to be waiting outside a tour bus.”  I agreed and we walked back to the car, got in, and left.

Yeah, a bit anticlimactic, to be sure.  But there’s a bit more.

On my drive back home from Dallas I texted Charlie’s email address thanking him for the tix and such.  Charlie texted back saying sorry he missed us, telling me that he did have somebody look for us after the show, but apparently the meet-up just didn’t happen.  Again, though, how much can I complain?

My brother and I and a couple other guys have pit tickets to the upcoming “American Carnage” tour featuring Slayer, Megadeth, and, yep, Anthrax.   I’m tempted to pull out Charlie’s email address (one I’m not sure he still uses) and see if he might be willing to have that beer.

Anthrax is part of my “roots”, you know.

Three years ago I entered a writing contest…

Posted in Entertainment, Novels with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2010 by Mike

… put on by Wizards of the Coast, the company responsible for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and legions of fantasy novels that occupy the shelves of your local bookstores. This particular contest was a chance for an unpublished writer to tackle a novel revolving around a particular god/goddess in the pantheon of the Forgotten Realms (and I figure most of the people reading this are now rolling their eyes – yes, we’re talking hard-core geekdom here – but in case this doesn’t turn you away I’m providing some links for the uninitiated); in this case it was a goddess named Loviatar, maiden of pain.

Now, I hadn’t played D&D since junior high, but I had been reading a few of the Forgotten Realms novels (particularly the Drizzt Do’Urden novels written by R.A. Salvatore), and had been playing various video games set in the realm (plus I stayed at a Holiday Inn…), so I decided to give it a shot.  I spent that summer cooped up in my high school classroom – I would teach summer school each day and then spend a couple hours working on my 10 page sample and plot outline.

I was in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong: because I knew very little about the Forgotten Realms/Faerun, I spent quite a bit of time (and money) reading the various D&D books educating myself  about the world and the key figures there.  The research was oftentimes a pain in the ass because WotC (reasonably) expected its authors to know their history and be familiar with the major events of the fiction set there.  I was hopelessly behind the curve. But writing that sample, creating that storyline was intoxicating – I loved the process, and by the time I finished my sample I thought I had a puncher’s chance to at least get noticed by the editorial board over at Wizards of the Coast.

The rejection letter came about three months later.

I console myself a bit by telling myself that, judging by some of the message boards I lurked at where other posters who had submitted their entries had received rejection letters early on, my own rejection came later suggesting that perhaps my entry made an early cut.  Of course, the rejection letter itself doesn’t say that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Another point I pride myself on is that I actually submitted the sample – I could have started it and left it for dead once I realized just how much I didn’t know, but, in what to me is actually a startling exception to my normal pattern of “get good idea, get distracted and move on to something else”, I followed through.  And I’ll also say this: I still have the sample, and I still like reading what I’ve written; again, normally not the case.  Sure, there are some changes I would make, but I still think it’s an engaging, intense read.

My brother and a couple others who I asked to proof the sample have on occasion asked me if I’m ever going to finish it. Right now I’m toying with the idea of doing so on this blog, though I fear the whole “start it, not finish it” if I do commence to serializing it.  Another problem is that last year I got rid of all those damn manuals and books detailing the realm, so I’d have to either start looking at Wikipedia to refresh my memory or just wing it, and not worry so much about getting it right as far as Faerun is concerned.  The latter option appeals to me.  We’ll see what happens…

Looking more and more like Krasinski’s going to be Cap…

Posted in Comics, Entertainment with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by Mike

Now, this article doesn’t mean it’s definitely going to happen, but signs are beginning to point to John Krasinski being tapped to play Captain America.

Yes, “Jim” from The Office:

is going to be playing the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America:

Despite my previous post, I’m not going to go throw myself off a building or follow through on my threat to drive out to California and burn Hollywood down.  I’m going to play the bigger man, and try to give Krasinski the benefit of the doubt here; hey, at least he can act, unlike many of the other candidates for the role.

And while Ji-, er, John Krasinski isn’t the ideal actor physically, and does not seem to have the necessary charisma to play Bucky, much less Captain America, I’ve only seen him in The Office where he’s supposed to act like a sarcastic yet admirable everyman slacker, and Leatherheads with Clooney where he played a gifted football player (problem is, I never could get “Jim” out of my head).  It also doesn’t help that those are both comedies, either, and I expect Captain America the movie to be heavy on action and drama.

But what I do know about Krasinski as a person I like.  He’s an English major and was  an English teacher before he became an actor, for God’s sake.  Hell, maybe I’m just jealous that he gets to play my all-time favorite superhero.  There but for seven years and a lack of acting experience goes me, right?

God, I hope that’s it, and I’m letting the green-eyed monster blind me to the possibility he might just pull this off.

/please please please don’t screw this up

UPDATE:

And then there’s this, which declares Krasinski’s out of the running.  I’m so confused!