Semi-New Song Sunday: Scary Pockets

Oooo, whatcha cover

Not much to say about this week’s semi-new song Sunday: a funk cover of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” by Scary Pockets featuring Swatkins. It’s corny as heck but I think it’s a lot of fun. (They also did a roof-top cover of “Harder Better Faster Stronger”, because if you’re gonna go to the trouble of getting a talkbox, you might as well get use out of it).

I also recommend watching the original version if you haven’t yet. I hadn’t heard of it before a couple of years ago, and I only knew it from the “ooo whatcha say” sample. Which is a shame, because knowing only the sample dumbs down and over-simplifies a genuinely unique contribution to 21st century pop music. If you’re going to dumb it down and over-simplify it, you should at least have fun with it.

“The Fifth Key is Capitalism”

Disney announced a change that affected “The Disney Look,” and the reactions have been everything I expected and lots more that I should’ve expected

This week Disney announced a renewed focus on “inclusion” in its company goals. Along with that came a change to “The Disney Look” that would support a wider range of hair styles, tattoos, traditional head coverings, and jewelry. It also doesn’t impose restrictions based on gender, like make-up, nail polish, and earrings for male cast members.

As you’d expect, there are tons of crotchety responses from people who are horrified on behalf of Walt Disney himself, and whose vacations will be absolutely ruined if the 23-year-old man wearing lederhosen in Anaheim in 99 degree heat wishing you a magical day in Fantasyland also happens to be wearing nail polish.

An awful lot of Disney “fans” simply aren’t happy unless they’re complaining about how much better things used to be. I will never forget being on a message board and reading a thread about a change in smoking areas, and one earnest fan’s post lamenting how upset Walt Disney would be to see people smoking in Disneyland.1When multiple people pointed out to her that Mr Disney was a heavy smoker and in fact died of illnesses related to lung cancer, she replied that that’s all the more reason he’d be anti-smoking in the 21st century.

But most people seem to get it, and recognize that it’s a good thing. The standards were a little hypocritical from the start, introduced by a mustachioed gentlemen in the 1950s trying to keep his carrousel, Monsanto advertisements, and Indian-killing fantasies from being associated with unsavory carnival types. I agree with most of Robert Niles’s take on Theme Park Insider. The “Disney Look” has always been most hospitable to middle-class white people working to make middle-class white people feel safe and comfortable.

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Now You All Know the Words

Na na dooo doo do na na dit do do

I’ve always been bad at recognizing song lyrics, so I appreciate songs like “Huffer” by The Breeders and “Rock Music” by Pixies. If there’s one thing that Kim Deal and Black Francis can both agree on, it’s that it’s a waste to be getting too heady with the lyrics if I’m just going to be in my car screaming nonsense anyway.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Lord Huron

Lord Huron’s ominous and atmospheric music may not need such an elaborate framing device, but I’ll allow it

I can tell I’m getting older, because my reaction to Lord Huron over the past couple of days has been that they don’t have to try so hard. They could just keep releasing pretty, Beck-ish songs like “Mine Forever” and we’d all be perfectly happy with them. It doesn’t all need to be framed in layers of supernatural-60s-TV-country-and-western visual treatments.

Which is a little sad, because I used to go nuts for that shit. You could show me a black-and-white globe and fictional broadcast call letters, and it’d set my heart aflutter.

I don’t know when I became such a spoilsport. Especially when it’s let them take the live-from-home COVID-concert trend and turn it into a web series of broadcasts called “Alive From Whispering Pines,” with vaguely Chris Isaak-meets-surf-guitar songs like “The World Ender”.

And it’s churlish of me to begrudge a band wanting to apply some showmanship to songs that would make for an amazingly creepy and atmospheric road trip, at a time when we’re all stuck at home.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Sleeper Agent

Four episodes into The Falcon and the Winter Solider, and it’s finally won me over

I had pretty low expectations for The Falcon and the Winter Solider โ€” it was being marketed as a buddy action comedy set in the MCU, and it seemed to be a little too familiar to be super compelling. It seemed like it was going to be a genre series, even before WandaVision came along and spent a couple of months chewing up multiple genres and spitting them back out in the form of an extended grief metaphor/blockbuster film prequel.

It’s a little unfair, since the show’s been really good from the start. Good performances, a great action sequence to start with, pretty good pacing, smart and understated dialogue, and a tone that manages to be serious without being humorless, grounded without being mundane. The whole “odd couple buddy comedy” aspect does make up much of one episode, but then it’s mercifully relegated to the background.

I felt like I had a handle on the show by the end of the first episode, and the best example of that was the culmination of Bucky’s story in that episode. It seemed like the show wanted the “reveal” of Yori’s son to be a big deal, but I thought it was weird they were stretching out that scene, since I’d thought they’d made it all but explicit up to that point. But I also wasn’t that bothered by it โ€” it wasn’t a huge, Shyamalan-esque “Oh my God did we just blow your ever-lovin’ mind?!” scene, but instead a weighty character moment that worked okay even if you weren’t that surprised.

So that was my overall impression of the series โ€” it might not be blowing me away with its surprises or innovations, but it’s all entertaining and well-executed. That lasted until midway through the fourth episode, when I realized this series had gotten its hooks into me. And although it initially comes across as formulaic, I think it’s subverting the Marvel superhero formula more subtly and intelligently than some projects explicitly questioning the genre.

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Friday’s All Right for Doing It, Rockapella

This week’s links are a retrospective for a charming educational series, city planning primers, and more about why GM sucks so bad.

I was too old to be the target audience of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, but that didn’t stop me from watching pretty often. It was such a charming concept executed so well that I wished it had existed just a few years earlier. (Except then, it wouldn’t have been such a product of the 1990s, which is probably an inseparable part of the charm). This retrospective/history of the show does a pretty good job of reminding you why it was so appealing, even to those of us in college at the time.

I’ve also spent the week re-discovering the City Beautiful channel, where Dave Amos makes well-produced videos about different topics in city planning and city development. I first found the channel on account of its videos about the original plan for EPCOT and a comparison of Disney World’s transit system to “real world” transit systems in similarly-sized cities. I think The Algorithm brought it back to my attention because I’ve gotten into the “City Planner Plays” channel, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a city planner doing play-through videos of Cities: Skylines.

And in case I was getting too optimistic about our potential for intelligently planning to solve the issues facing cities, Climate Town came long with another video describing how General Motors’s outsized influence on city planning helped destroy the entire model for healthy cities in the United States, to guarantee that we’re overwhelmingly dependent on cars.

The one encouraging thing is that it’s another reminder of how many of our problems in city design, pollution, income inequality, and racial inequity, have been orchestrated, instead of being inevitable or just developing organically. If we’re reminded that people are responsible for all this, then we can commit to being people that fix it.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: A Real Tough Cookie, Not a Divorcee

If you like these two tunes, come back in a couple weeks for your boosters.

The Beastie Boys and Pat Benatar all agree: get vaccinated!

It’s a good way to be a responsible citizen looking out for your neighbors, just like Pat Benatar does in this video by telling someone in the front row of the audience that he’s got some barbecue sauce on his cheek.

One Thing I Like About Godzilla vs Kong

Godzilla vs Kong seems perfectly happy to be spectacular, beautiful nonsense

Title Image: Kong vs Godzilla in Hong Kong in Godzilla vs Kong

I liked Kong: Skull Island quite a bit, although apparently that didn’t come through clearly enough in my post about it. A few years ago, I was applying for a job on a licensed video game that I would’ve hated working on, so I’m very fortunate I wasn’t offered the job. At the interview, though, the interviewer mentioned reading that post and seemed skeptical I’d be happy working on a project that was part of a major franchise subject to scrutiny from tons of invested parties.

I was reminded of that while watching Godzilla vs Kong, because it’s very much the culmination of a movie franchise. But it also doesn’t betray a hint of pretense that it’s anything else, or that there’s anything wrong with being the culmination of a movie franchise.

And I really enjoyed the hell out of it. It was big, gleefully dumb fun, on a scale that I don’t think I’ve seen since The Mummy. The aspect of it I love the most is that it knows exactly what it wants to do, and exactly what people want to see when they watch a movie titled Godzilla vs Kong. Which is perfectly illustrated by this scene:

(The rest of this post has spoilers, which I really suggest you avoid reading because there are some fun surprises in the movie, even if you, as I did, go in thinking you’d already been spoiled for all of it).

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Friday Afternoon’s All Right for Simulating

A random assortment of links including fascinating simulations of path-traveling algorithms.

I pretty much always think Sebastian Lague’s “Coding Adventure” videos are fascinating, and this one about ant and slime simulations doesn’t disappoint. His videos aren’t tutorials or how-tos, really, but more a diary of his train of thought and a high-level description of his algorithm while exploring a particular topic. It helps that he’s adept at making videos that make each topic compelling.

As a result, I’m almost always inspired to action after watching one of the videos. I want to learn about compute shaders, and procedurally-created meshes in Unity, and techniques to make interesting visualizations! But then I usually end up just sitting back and watching more theme park videos.

Also discovered this week:

  • This weird video from the Primer channel about running simulations to determine whether there’s a genetic advantage to altruism.
  • I love just about every single thing from this ad for the Magnavox Odyssey game console from 1972. Music, typography, even the dad gleefully firing a rifle at innocent animals the television under shroud of darkness.
  • Here’s a longer promotional film for the Odyssey that does a better job of dispelling any potential nostalgia. (I’m intrigued by the Haunted House game, though). I’m hoping that no millennials watch these videos and go away thinking that we were all impressed with screwing a VHF channel-switch box to the antenna connections on our TVs. Even at the time, we all appreciated that that was janky as hell.
  • Another fascinating video from the “A Critical Hit!” channel: Wild Gunman ’74, the first FMV game, from Nintendo.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Better on Video

Two tangentially-related tunes every Tuesday: today’s videos made me like the songs more

This installment of Tuesday Tune Two-Fer has two of my favorite music videos ever, and in fact they’re so good that they make me like the song more.

First up is “And She Was” by Talking Heads, which has such an amazing aesthetic that I’m still surprised it wasn’t used more often. (The only other occurrence I know of is Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone” video). I still want to make some kind of video or game project that looks like this, which let’s be honest must be a billion times easier to do now. Just use shaders or some shit.

Second is “Hello” by Emergency Broadcast Network, which goes by the better title “You Have Five Seconds to Complete This Section” on their album Telecommunication Breakdown. I didn’t actually discover the video until years after I got obsessed with the album, but it’s almost overtaken “Electronic Behavior Control System” as my favorite thing by EBN.

I say “almost” because I really can’t overstate how much “Electronic Behavior Control System” blew my mind, even as a tiny QuickTime video hidden on the data portion of the album CD. This one wasn’t included on the CD, for whatever reason, so I never really appreciated just how much video DJ-ing went into the track. I also appreciate how their sense of humor comes through more subtly in this one, especially with the sign language interpreter pointing accusingly at us.