Death Takes a Great Critic

The test of the greatness of a critic is in two things: firstly, do you feel as if you understand the art better for their insight, and, second, have they explained their love or hate of the thing in such a way that you have a good idea whether you’ll enjoy it. Roger Ebert wasn’t a critic that I always agreed with (his review of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang managed to point out all the bits that I loved about the movie while explaining how those things left him cold) but who gave me a greater understanding of the movies and of the artistry of the medium.

His political and social offerings weren’t particularly welcome from my corner, but I always believed that he had a right to voice those opinions and use his podium how he saw fit. He carved out his own space in every medium that he chose from television and newspapers to books and social media; most admirably, he did it honestly, bluntly, and on his own terms.

He critical eye will be missed.

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No matter what anyone hoped for, the ruling against ReDigi this week was unsurprising. Their approach to resale of digital files– in specific, your iTunes catalog– may appeal on an emotional level, but it never looked good on a legal level. That is, most people continue to confuse the “fair” in “fair use” for something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of digital musical sales.

Here’s a bit of the ruling as reported by CNet:

“Courts have consistently held that the unauthorized duplication of digital music files over the Internet infringes a copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce,” Judge Sullivan wrote. “However, courts have not previously addressed whether the unauthorized transfer of a digital music file over the Internet — where only one file exists before and after the transfer — constitutes reproduction within the meaning of the Copyright Act. The court holds that it does.”

I would suggest that there is an easier way to look at this: when you purchase digital music, you haven’t bought actual ownership of the music. All you’ve done is license that music for your own personal use (indeed, at some point, I’m pretty sure that someone will have to test the heritability issue to find out if your spouse or children or pet, depending on how you’ve written your will, can actually assume ownership of those files after you’ve passed away– my guess is that a strict answer will be “no” but the pragmatics of policing the chain of custody will prove too difficult for enforcement). With a CD, a similar license is purchased but is tied to the actual ownership of the physical device carrying the music– and when you sell that physical device, you’re also selling your rights to “ownership” of the music therein.

The question of how courts view things like transfer of digital files and how copyright violations can occur when groups of people access the “same” file were answered largely when lost early court battles to the big music companies. Their scheme was just as careful and thoughtful as ReDigi, but their arguments failed. Rational or not, the precedent already exists for this decision. Indeed, Apple admitted as much when it made its big contribution to the record companies in return for launching iTunes Match, a service with a tremendous similarity to the way worked.

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Beautiful Music

When you live a certain kind of life– the kind of life that leads you to run around telling everyone that “happiness is overrated,” for example– you find that your idea of beauty might not match the rest of the world’s.

Take this song, for example. “War Memorial,” from Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood, is a melancholy song filled with disturbing imagery and death. In less careful care, this might have become something overwrought and dramatic, but these two keep the tone strangely light, even ethereal.

Lanegan’s voice–often a deep rasp– floats quietly through the gentle sweep of the music in a way that doesn’t even hint at his work in rock bands Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. For a man with such an earthy voice, “War Memorial” borders on the miraculous. Of course, for fans familiar with his solo work, this will come as less of a surprise:  studied melancholy is a bit of a specialty. For newcomers, the good news is that there is more than a decade of incredible music to discover.

But let’s start with this little gem.

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean

For the record, this was a much braver step than anything Anderson Cooper could have said or done in announcing his sexual orientation. With Cooper, the reaction was predictable: he’s a white guy working in television and the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. His sexual orientation had been a matter of speculation for years. Not only was no one surprised, but there was very little danger in his admission.

Frank Ocean, on the other hand, is a black man whose industry (black, urban music) has been dominated by misogyny and homophobia. It was a real risk to his career to admit to having had same sex relationships.

Hollywood makes “brave” movies about sexuality and race all the time. They pat themselves on the back for their “bravery,” they give themselves awards to celebrate their bold statements, and never seem to recognize that there was nothing particularly brave about, say, Brokeback Mountain. It was a good movie, amazingly well-acted, and well-directed, but it wasn’t a risky career move for anyone involved. It was a play for awards and critical praise from the audience that mattered: the filmmakers’ peers.

Frank Ocean’s peers haven’t, in the past, shown such an open mind to homosexuality in their ranks. From

I have to give Frank Ocean his props for coming out of the closet and announcing to the world that he’s a gay man. While he’s not a Hip-Hop artist as has been asserted in the mainstream, he’s an affiliate. With that said, he’s a representative of the ever-changing times in urban music and general music.

And, reading the comments in that posting, you’ll see the risk that Ocean has taken.

Me, I continue to not care at all about other peoples’ sex lives. As long as they aren’t abusing animals, abusing children, or abusing the unwilling, it doesn’t much matter to me who they sleep with. Generally, I think that these sort of pronouncements should be treated with apathy; if we all cared a little bit less about who other people slept with, the world would be a better place.

This time, though, I’ve got to give some credit to the gentleman for showing some real courage.

Read the rest.

A quick postscript: The same folks on my Twitter feed who were making a big deal out of Anderson Cooper’s announcement last week are strangely silent about this. I would confess to disappointment, but I would first have to have been surprised.

Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash: The World Revenge Tour (Updated)

Beer Bottles and a Bug

We few, we happy few will be gathering to celebrate friendship and bloggery. We haven’t done one of these things in a while, and it seems like a good time to re-acquaint ourselves with each other (and drink a few shots).

Please share the date and encourage friends and family to join us. Because they might just buy a round of shots.

7pm – Close, 21 July 2012
The Old Mill Brewery & Grill, Littleton, CO

Please RSVP. I will be updating regularly over the next few weeks with links to the folks who will be attending.

Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 2012
Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 2012
Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 2012
Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 2012

The Muppets: 10 Point Review (With Preamble)


I was a huge Muppets fan when I was a kid. I mean, except for Miss Piggy; she was just a Muppety bitch. I would happily laugh my way through Pigs in Space, anything the Swedish Chef wanted to cook up, Beaker’s essential beakerness, and Animal’s drumming. Awesome stuff.

Point being: you’d have a hard time finding someone who wanted this year’s The Muppets to be a success.

It wasn’t.

To the ten-point

  1. There are a few funny moments, but, boy, are they well-spaced through the movie.
  2. The voices are wildly uneven. Fozzy and Miss Piggy, especially, seem to be wrong. It’s a somewhat forgivable sin, all things considered, but it is distracting at times.
  3. Worse than the voices, by far, is the bad timing. Making people laugh is an amazingly hard job; delivery and timing are often more important than the jokes. The pacing is rough throughout.
  4. That shouldn’t be used to let the writers off the hook, though. It simply doesn’t have that special spark of something that made the show so popular for so long. It just doesn’t connect.
  5. I did enjoy the chicken’s take on CeeLo’s “Forget (ahem) You”…
  6. …And the wide range of cameos.
  7. I’m going to ignore the “evil oilman” plot not just because it was obvious, but because it was stupid. The re-introduction of the Muppets deserved something better than a lame clichè.
  8. The whole thing lacked energy. Even Jack Black, typically a walking, talking advertisement against the dangers of speed, looked uninterested.
  9. Not enough Statler and Waldorf.
  10. Fans of the show deserved better. So disappointing.

Don’t bother.

Rental Review: The Grey

The Grey

I rented The Grey with low expectations. In fact, the only reasons I watched it were that Liam Neeson is almost always worth watching and I thought it might be a nice background diversion while I did other things. And low expectations are nice precisely because they leave room for you to appreciate a thing on its own merits instead of in comparison to unrealistic expectations. It was undoubtedly a better movie than I expected.

Before continuing, I have to acknowledge the negatives: the animatronics are distractingly bad at times, the acting is uneven, and, yes, the portrayal of wolves is nothing like the reality of our fine, furry brethren. Wolves don’t actually go around hunting folks and aren’t particularly vindictive.

But that doesn’t matter a bit. The wolves are merely a framing device that brings together the various aspects of its movie. At its core, The Grey is a Jack London-esque survival story that also encompasses elements of horror (the wolves being, essentially, ghosts) with a thread of philosophical questioning that runs throughout. It is simply told, but it is most certainly not a simple movie.

That isn’t to say that this is some Zen koan; there is tension, blood, and violence happily occupying that bit of the viewer’s mind, but there is a depth and sadness to it that probably wouldn’t have worked so well without Neeson’s expressive face and talent. The beginning of the film, an introduction to Neeson’s roughneck character working in wildest Alaska, we see a character steeped in an unexplained, brutal sadness.

When Neeson’s character, Ottway, is left stranded with a group of other roughnecks. Ottway, who had been ready to let go of life, is transformed into a man struggling to live. And the movie plays this so well: with rising tension shot through with moments of silence and visions of the absolute, desolate beauty of Alaska. And through it all, we are invited to consider man’s urge to survive, the presence (or absence) of God in our lives, and what it means to face death– both our own and that of those that we love. Indeed, it’s in those quieter moments that the movie finds its real power.

It is undermined a bit with its basic horror movie structures wherein characters are lost in a serial, and predictable, way. This is unfortunate because the movie does provide some edge-of-the-seat moments and tense action. Even worse, some of those deaths are surprisingly affecting. While a couple of the characters are killed off in standard, gruesome ways, some of them are given more dignity and meaning in their passing. Watching these characters– characters that the director strives to treat like real individuals instead of the kinds of cardboard cutouts that inhabit secondary roles in similar movies– struggle so hard for life only to succumb to a brutal world is breathtaking. Heartbreaking, in fact, but also instructional.

This is a movie doesn’t treat its characters with kindness. It is pitiless and struggle doesn’t guaranty any kind of happy result. In fact, it would be easy to read it as a repudiation of the idea of God; in a world with this kind of unfeeling and cruel, where could God possibly fit? At one point in the movie, when Ottway is screaming for a sign or a glimpse of God, his cries aren’t met with rainbows or signs from heaven.

I concede my biases as a Christian and it isn’t an explicitly religious movie, but I would consider that an overly easy reading of the film. There are hints and glimpses of God throughout, but the God presented isn’t one that rescues the roughnecks from all their mortal woes. He does, though, bring grace and peace.

The Grey is a gorgeously shot moviewith a surprisingly thoughtful side. It isn’t what I expected and, in most ways, it is better. Its ending might not suit all comers and folks expecting straight up action or horror will be disappointed. While it is let down here and there by an imperfect script and bad acting in some of the supporting roles, while it falls into a trap of predictability in some of its plotting, and while some of the wolf effects are inexcusably bad, there is a worthwhile core and a grasp at something meaningful that disarmed me.

Bottom Line: It’s a movie that wants very much to be more than just a genre exercise, and it fulfills that goal. There is something worthwhile here, but I’m left believing that the market for a horror-survival movie with regular philosophical meanderings is relatively small. Anyone who fits that demographic should find value. Folks looking for unrelenting gore and action are bound to be disappointed.


Adrift – Denver’s Only Tiki Bar (Click to make it bigger)

I spent a few hours drinking with friends at Denver’s only tiki bar, Adrift. It’s on Broadway in a fairly nondescript little building; you might miss it if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Two of my very favorite people in the whole world– both of whom I’m trying to recruit for this new site and both of whom would bring different voices and ideas to the place– fueled by shots, great stories, and, simply, the pleasure of each other’s company.  It was a good night.

I don’t drink as much as I used to. The expense is too great both in the wallet and in the next day’s recuperation, so I’m feeling a little pain today. There are no regrets, though. I think there is something important about the ritual of spending quality time with friends who can hear your thoughts without judging them, who can argue with good cheer about everything from politics to music to bad movies.

I owe them a great thanks for their time and their friendship.

It didn’t hurt that for the first time in my many years of drinking, I met a cocktail waitress who was almost as obsessed with Mark Lanegan and Screaming Trees as I am; nor did it hurt that I convinced the bartender to play the great Trees’ song, “Silver Tongue,” late in the evening. Even better, the small crowd in the place actually seemed to enjoy the experience and no one complained when the Trees kept playing.

Is there a bigger point? Probably not. Maybe just that life shouldn’t be so mired in its political debates and disappointments that we forget to live and cherish even joys like these.

I’ll be there again tonight with my wife and a handful of other friends. All women. It won’t be quite the same (and I won’t drink quite so much), but you can be sure that I’ll be a happy man.

Any of my friends in the Denver area are welcome to join us. Just follow the sound of my laughter.