miscellaneous commentary

Archive for September 2011


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Written by camcarlson

September 22, 2011 at 4:26 PM

Posted in Cinema, Literature, Science

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The music video for “Calamity Song” by the Decembrists is directed by Michael Schur, creator of “Parks and Recreation”, and is set to the Eschaton scene from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, pages 321-342. After I saw this video late last month I sought out the book to re-read the passage, and waited nearly two weeks for the CF Library to locate its “lost” copy.

The video is a fairly faithful adaptation of what I feel is the best chapter of the book. Infinite Jest takes place in Boston MA but the music video was filmed in Portland OR, so naturally they traded snow for rain. Josh Gopnik still punches LaMont Chu in the stomach. though LaMont Chu does not yell out that he’s been punched in the stomach.

My sole complaint is the ending. They neutered the final paragraph of the chapter, which spans pages 338-342. It ends —

Hal is suddenly aware that Troeltsch and Pemulis are wincing but is not himself wincing and isn’t sure why they are wincing and is looking out into the fray trying to determine whether he should be wincing when REDCHI’s General Secretary, calling loudly for his mother and in full flight as he looks over his shoulder at Ann Kittenplan’s contorted face, barrels directly into Lord’s speeding food cart. There’s a noise like the historical sum of all cafeteria accidents everywhere. 3.6-MB diskettes take flight like mad bats across what uncovered would be the baseline of Court 12. Different-colored beanies spill from the rolling solander box, whose lock’s hasp is broken and protrudes like a tongue as it rolls. The TP’s monitor and modem and Yushityu chassis, with most of Eschaton’s nervous system on its hard drive, assume a parabolic southwest vector. The heavy equipment’s altitude is impressive. An odd silent still moment hangs, the TP aloft. Pemulis bellows, his hands to his cheeks. Otis P. Lord hurdles the bent forms of food cart and General Secretary and sprints low over the court’s map’s snow, trying to save hardware that’s now at the top of its rainbow arc. It’s clear Lord won’t make it. It’s a slow-motion moment. The snowfall’s more than heave enough now, Hal thinks, to excuse Lord’s not seeing LaMont Chu directly before him, on his hands and knees, throwing up. Lord impacts Chu’s arched form at about knee-level and is spectacularly airborne. … Ann Kittenplan is ramming REDCHI’s leader’s face repeatedly into the mesh of the south fence. Lord’s flight’s parabola is less spectacular on the y-axis than the TP’s has been. The Yushityu’s hard-drive chassis makes an indescribable sound as it hits the earth and its brightly circuited guts come out. The color monitor lands on its back with its screen blinking ERROR at the white sky. Hal and everyone else can project Lord’s flight’s own terminus an instant before impact. For a brief moment that Hal will later regard as completely and uncomfortably bizarre, Hal feels at his own face to see whether he is wincing. The distant whistle patweets. Lord does indeed go headfirst down through the monitor’s screen, and stays there, his sneakers in the air and his warm-up pants sagging upward to reveal black socks. There’d been a bad sound of glass. … The second shift’s 1600h. siren down at Sunstrand Power & Light is creepily muffled by the no-sound of falling snow.

A visual guide to Eschaton is offered below (click to enlarge/read):

NYT synapsis:

Adolescents from [Enfield] tennis academy are seen ritualistically serving balls on a court onto which a map of the world has been superimposed. The balls, which represent five-megaton nuclear warheads, are aimed at objects labeled as military targets — power plants, missile installations — while a lone child oversees the game from a nearby computer terminal.

All in all, it ain’t exactly Battleship. Wallace himself wrote that the athletic skills required by Eschaton separated it “from rotisserie-league holocaust games played with protractors and PCs around kitchen tables.”

Written by camcarlson

September 21, 2011 at 7:37 PM

It’s not what I think, it’s what I see

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The title is a thoughtful line from “Bill Cunningham New York”, a wonderful documentary I watched earlier tonight. Cunningham has been a fashion photographer for the New York Times for something like 40 years or more. He stores his photos and negatives in dozens of metal filing cabinets in his tiny, cramped apartment in Carnegie Hall (he and other artists are being evicted to make room for a telemarketing business). He is over 80 and has never had a romantic relationship. He’s never had time for one. He spends his days and nights photographing people’s clothes. He doesn’t care if it’s a homeless person or a celebrity, all he cares about is what they’re wearing. He’s never owned a television and he doesn’t listen to music, aside from the music played at church, which he attends every Sunday. He wears a signature blue smock, the one worn by street cleaners, because it’s cheap and provides numerous pockets for his rolls of film. Like me, he doesn’t care much for dining at fancy restaurants: “I’m just not interested”. He rides a bicycle, donning an reflective orange vest, and comments that his latest bicycle is his 29th; the previous 28 have all been stolen. Bill Cunningham is a man who has dedicated his entire life, almost every waking moment of adulthood, to fashion.

Yesterday I went to College Square to see “Drive”. This is my kind of movie! It’s more of an art-house film than it is an action film, which is what it seems to be billed as. There are only a few car chase sequences, but they are all very well shot and edited, and a few other scenes of bloody violence. I loved the vibe of this film: the colors and the lighting, the pacing, the electronic soundtrack, the characters, especially the Driver (Ryan Gosling), a stoic lone-wolf type much like the lead from Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”. The film is quiet and thoughtful, existential, much like last year’s “The American”. It also reminded me of “The Professional” with a smaller body count and only one scene with guns. Albert Brooks plays a very unfunny gangster with a nasty side — not the kind of guy I’d ever want to cross, or even do business with. “Drive” is not a movie for everyone because of its slower pace, but I really enjoyed it. The opening scene, where the Driver assists in a nighttime getaway, was perfect. One of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

So yesterday evening I took the plunge and rented two movies through the iTunes Movie Store: the aforementioned “Bill Cunningham New York” and “Cold Weather”, an independent film released earlier this year. It’s set in Portland OR, about a brother and sister living together. The brother’s ex-girlfriend goes missing and he, having recently dropped out of a forensic science program in college, puts his skills to the test with the aid of his far-too patient sister and his co-worker, a blue-collar type with an interest in Star Wars and Sherlock Holmes. The lead character was at times clueless and mildly insufferable, but I liked the supporting cast. The film only shows Portland in gray, cloudy and always on the verge of raining, which is not the Portland I experienced back in the summer of 2004. But I liked the movie nonetheless, and it was the perfect movie to watch in bed this morning while it was gray, cloudy and raining outside, as it has been almost this entire weekend.

I also saw “X-Men: First Class” this weekend. Meh. I don’t know what I was expecting when I rented it, I just wanted to be entertained. It kinda but not sorta did that for me. The acting was fine enough, but it didn’t feel as pleasurable as reading an X-Men comic book. Not as fun. Just a scattering of CGI effects. Oh well, that’s usually what we get from summer blockbusters.

Written by camcarlson

September 18, 2011 at 9:43 PM

The Shadow Out of Time

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H.G. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time”, a story published in 1936 and just read by myself earlier this week, was based on a 1933 film titled “Berkeley Square”, a film thought to have been lost until a print was discovered in the 1970s. Turns out a restored 35mm print of this film is being screened for the first time in who knows how long this Friday at the Warner Grand Theater in L.A. Too cool. Makes me wish I was within driving distance so I could attend.

The story is a pretty interesting read — a professor seems to suffer amnesia for a period of five years, and after he recovers he begins doing research and discovers he didn’t actually have amnesia. An alien life form from the distant past projected its mind into his body, possessing him in a sense, and in return transferring his mind into the alien’s body. His memories of being inside the alien body come back to him slowly over a period of years, through a series of disturbing, increasingly detailed nightmares. A journey to western Australia reveals the supposed kingdom of this ancient alien society, including the subterranean chambers containing an even older, dangerous type of half-polypous creatures that may or may not still be alive, biding its time until it can return to the Earth’s surface…

No word on whether this movie has even been available on VHS or DVD (aside from no doubt poor-quality bootlegs) or broadcast on television, but I hope the screening will inspire someone to either release it commercially or, if it’s fallen out of copyright, slap it online for the world to enjoy.

Written by camcarlson

September 14, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Where did Tuesday go?

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Woke up at 5:45am. Skipped breakfast. Had to fast for nine hours for a biometric screening at work. They pricked three of my fingers but couldn’t get an accurate cholesterol reading, so they ordered a home testing kit for me and sent me away. Scarfed down a sandwich back at my desk. Nine hours of work and an hourlong lunch. A thirty-minute 5K on the trails in the beautiful weather of the late afternoon. Removed the a/c unit, took off the outer cover and front grill, sliced the skin on one of my fingers in the process, gave everything a cleaning, reassembled and put it away until 2012. Showered, shaved, washed dishes, made dinner, vacuumed. Watched “Zodiac” while I scanned a hundred or so documents that had been piling up over the summer. Perused a few blogs, sent several emails, settled a few financial accounts. And now it’s 11:30pm. Time flies when you’re not paying attention to it.

Written by camcarlson

September 13, 2011 at 11:35 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley, Running

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Aerosolized droplets & Fomites

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I saw “Contagion” tonight — a near-apocalyptic thriller by Steven Soderbergh about a viral pandemic. It kinda freaked me out. Jude Law’s character (the paranoid blogger) was annoying, but I liked the rest of the cast. The film highlighted what happens when Society breaks down: looting, loss of basic supplies (food, medicine, gasoline), quarantines, military police states, rampant crime, to name a few. Left me with plenty to think about.

A few pieces of good advice:

1. If you are sick, *please* do not go to work/school.

2. Stop touching your face all the time.


Written by camcarlson

September 9, 2011 at 10:15 PM

Andrea’s wedding & the Price Chopper

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We left 9 AM Saturday morning from the Lodge. Cory barely got the Custom Cruiser 100 feet from the driveway before informing us that he had no functioning brakes. We parked at Union Road and the diagnosis was a leak in the front line. An ominous beginning to the weekend.

We coasted to Cory’s parents’ house and transferred our luggage into their Saturn SUV. It had stormed heavily the night before and the morning sky was a mixture of dark blues and grays, though we did catch a few brief bursts of sunlight between the sprinkles. We listened to the SUV’s satellite radio on the way down. We were “treated” to “Looking for Clue” by Robert Palmer, one of the most inane, pointless songs I have ever heard. We endured continued rainfall, some of it heavy, until we passed Marshalltown.

Stopped for lunch in Lamoni, last town on I-35 before reaching the MO border. We ate at the Linden Street Coffee House (think Cup of Joe with sandwiches on the menu) and picked up snacks at an old-school Hy-Vee food store before getting back on the highway, just as the rain caught up with us.

Arrived in Excelsior Springs around 3 PM. It’s a small town, no bigger than Waverly. It was hot and humid outside with temperatures in the 90s. We met Alex’s sister Jill in the lobby of the Elms Hotel and she showed Ben and I to the room we would be sharing with her and Alex. We settled in and then she gave us a quick tour of the hotel. Think “The Shining” with better carpeting. The hotel is built atop a natural spring. Harry Truman stayed at this hotel the night he defeated Dewey in the 1948 election. There is a long lap pool in the basement that is said to be haunted.

The rehearsal dinner was held at the nearby Fence Stile Vineyard and Winery, a couple miles east of Excelsior Springs on a very scenic piece of land overlooking a valley to the west. The setting sun was being obscured by the same stormclouds that chased us through Iowa. We dined on delicious pasta and tiramisu and drank a variety of local wines and caught up with Rachel and Jill (the other one). I also finally met Rachel’s husband Aaron.

By nightfall the storm finally reached us and we ran through the parking lot just as the downpour began. Drove back into town and stopped at the Price Chopper, the local grocery. Picked up some drinks and a trippy box of Cocoa Crunchies and returned to the Elms. Alex, Jill, Ben and I had to pass through the reception of a wedding taking place that night in order to get to our room in the east wing, and as a result we managed to snag a few slices of wedding cake and random condiments.

We changed into our swimwear and ventured to the basement for some lap swimming. Ben split open his toe while running through the parking lot of the winery so he stayed out of the water, but he was a good sport in bringing some drinks down for us. Around 11 PM a tour guide came through with a dozen or so guests and we all listened to him talk about the various ghosts that supposedly haunt the pool area. Around midnight we returned to our rooms and hit the hay.

I woke up the next morning around 7-8 AM. Trying to share a double-wide with someone else isn’t easy nor comfortable. I showered, shaved, grabbed my book and my box of cereal and went out to the deck chairs by the outdoor pool in the back courtyard. The storm had passed through, leaving behind a clear sky, no humidity, and a cold brisk morning air. I went back up to my room for my jacket and then returned, took a chair and spent a couple hours reading The Call of Cthulhu. I watched the morning sunlight illuminate the steam from the outdoor hot tub and wished I hadn’t been so hasty showering that morning — a dunk in the tub would have been fantastic.

I found Cory in his room and he and I went off to further explore the hotel. We gained entrance to the second floor board room for a quick look-around. I met Blake & Hannah by the front lobby upon their arrival before noon. Once we corralled everyone else together, we walked a block away to the Wabash BBQ, located inside an old brick train depot. We were given our own dining room and we feasted on tasty burgers of generous portions, beers, fried pickles & onions. As far as wedding restaurant recommendations go for this year, I’m 3 for 3.

We had a few hours to kill before the ceremony. Blake & Hannah, Cory, Cara and I spent most of it poolside, lounging in the deck chairs or by the outdoor bar. Cory and I tried our hand at the cement shuffleboard, though our results were nothing to write home about. I returned to the room, changed into my formal wear and went back down to the pool. Dave, Micah & Alice had arrived and I chatted with Dave before it was time to be seated.

The ceremony began at 4 PM. We took seats near the back, though there were probably only a hundred or so people there, so we weren’t too far from the front. Andrea and her bridesmaids approached by dancing to some pop song that goes “It’s a beautiful day…”. It was pretty fun watching each of them groove their way to the front. Alex, having taken an online course to become an ordained minister, officiated the service. He did a fine job of it. The service lasted less than half an hour.

Afterwards we moved to the patio by the dining hall and had champagne and mingled with other guests. I caught up with Micah & Alice and Leah and greeted the newlyweds. We corralled every CFHS person we could find for a big group photo.

When dinner was ready, we walked around the dining hall, entered the lobby through the side door and picked up our numbered name cards. As expected, Andrea dedicated one table as an ALPHA table: Alex and Jill, myself, Ben, Cory and Cara, Dave, Blake & Hannah. Not enough room for Micah & Alice, who were paired with the husbands of the bridesmaids. Salad and wine, then the main feast, followed by numerous speeches by the wedding party and complimentary pours of Bud Light.

When the dancing began, Andrea’s mother Brenda made it her mission to get one dance with each of the guys at our table. I was lassoed to join her during “Footloose”. I usually don’t dance as I have no rhythm nor style, but when the mother of the bride tells you to dance with her, you can’t say no.

The dining hall began to thin out after a couple hours. Alex and Jill left to soak in the hot tub. Blake & Hannah left for a 2-3 hour drive to Joplin MO, where they had stayed the night before. When the Karaoke began, I left, changed into my swim trunks, took a quick, shocking dip in the frigid outdoor pool and then hustled over to the hot tub to join Alex and Jill. Cara came by a while later to chat with us. Ben, Cory and Micah remained in the dining hall to belt out a few tunes — we could hear Ben from outside.

The festivities winded down around midnight. Alex and Jill checked out at 8 AM on Monday morning. Ben and I slowly got our things together, and were watching an episode of “Matlock” when housekeeping came by to clean up the room. We sent her away. Met Cory and Cara in the lobby and we were back on the road by 10 AM. The return drive was under clear skies. We stopped at Terrible’s Casino near Osceola and stuffed ourselves silly at the buffet. Reached Cedar Falls around 4 PM. A fitting end to our journey — “Looking for Clue” was playing as we drove along Beaver Valley Rd on our way back to the Lodge.

Written by camcarlson

September 6, 2011 at 9:38 PM

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized