The Shapiro Files

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Greatest Meme Ever

Keith Phipps from the always-entertaining A.V. Club recently posted this blog posting featuring a very cool meme (via BuzzFeed) that involves harnessing the powers of complete Internet randomness to create a very convincing rock band name and album cover. I'll let Peggy Wang from BuzzFeed explain the rules:

Go to "Wikipedia." Hit "random" and the first article you get is the name of your band. Then go to "Random Quotations" and the last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album. Then, go to Flickr and click on "Explore the Last Seven Days" and the third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

I couldn't resist the allure of such randomness, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The result was even better than I expected. Check this out:

Click to see a larger image.

There's something very D&D-meets-The-Cure about the band name and album title. I'm guessing it would be full of songs of dark brooding. But what really takes this exercise in silliness to an entirely new level is the cover art. I love the ironic juxtaposition of the "Too Much Support Hurts" title and the flower-filled photography. Absolutely perfect.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, here are all the sources that resulted in the above creation:

Wikipedia article: Necromancer Games

Quotation: "Ever heard Victoria's REAL secret? Too much support hurts."
R. Stevens, Diesel Sweeties, 03-17-08

Album art: White Wednesday

Anyone else up to the challenge? Post your results on your blog and/or on Facebook and leave me a comment so I know to check it out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Netflix Wrap-Up #19

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18

I can't believe it's been well over a year since my last Netflix wrap-up. With life getting in the way of entertainment more often than not, I must have been assuming all this time that when I'd eventually get around to doing my next wrap-up, the extended delay wouldn't be all that big of a deal since I wouldn't have many movies to comment on anyway. But much to my shock when I looked at our Netflix rental history last night, Marcie and I actually have managed to squeeze in a pretty sizable number of DVDs over past year. So I had to split up the backlog into two parts. I'll post the second part next week. But for now, here's part one...

Wordplay (2006) - A documentary about crossword puzzles. Sounds boring, right? Surprisingly, this is a genuinely entertaining and even sometimes thrilling film about people who take their crosswords very seriously. In fact, the final sequence covering a national crossword tournament is a true nail-biter. The film also makes the smart choice of incorporating interviews with famous people who also happen to be crossword addicts (Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, and many others) to broaden the film's appeal all that much more. Recommended for fellow word nerds and the "lingua-curious" alike. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Superbad (2007) - Exactly what it purports to be: a raunchy comedy with lots of genuinely hilarious moments. This is not smart comedy, but it does have lots of heart. Not every sequence works and you have to have a high tolerance for base humor. But it was certainly funny enough to be worth a spin ("McLovin'" is definitely destined for comedy milestone status). My Netflix rating: 3 stars

The Science of Sleep (2005) - I expected great things from this film by written and directed by Michel Gondry (best known for helming Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). As I expected, the film is visually stunning with an endless parade of playful sequences and the clever blurring of fantasy and reality. The problem is the script. There is absolutely nothing interesting about the man-child protagonist, played ably by the talented Gael Garcia Bernal). In fact, I wanted to hit him over the head with a hammer by the film's end. The rest of the film's characters, story, and circumstances were similarly banal and/or annoying. Clearly, Gondry was more interested in playing with pretty pictures than in telling a story. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Reign Over Me (2007) - Adam Sandler gives a passible performance in his usual child-with-a-bad-temper mode and Don Cheadle, a wonderful actor, can only do so much with mediocre dialogue. And could Liv Tyler's psychologist character been any more of a cardboard cutout "type" that exists solely to fulfill a plot-device need? Not awful, just painfully mediocre. My Netflix rating: 2 stars

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) - I was really looking forward to this documentary that attempts to expose the highly suspect way in which the MPAA Ratings Board operates. While I wasn't entirely disappointed, I merely wished this film went deeper. Some of the examination of the board's role in effectively censoring films was quite illuminating. But then it wastes way too much time following the travails of hired detectives (a shockingly amateurish duo) trying to track down the identities of the Rating Board's members. Still, I'll recommend it to anyone interested in a sometimes thoughtful examination of the tension between art, commercial interests, and implicit censorship. My Netflix rating: 3 stars

No Country for Old Men (2007) - While just over 2 hours, this movie zips right by. It's a thrilling cat and mouse game that hits all the right notes. But what impressed me the most was the abrupt narrative turn it takes in the third act--thus turning the chase formula on its ear. Great performances and terrific filmmaking. One of the few times an Oscar winner actually deserved the award. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Michael Clayton (2007) - A surprisingly entertaining take on an otherwise tired formula. Not the deepest movie in the world, but it doesn't need to be. It's merely a fun popcorn thriller with great performances and at least some intelligence behind it. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Gone Baby Gone (2007) - Another formula movie that manages to succeed through good writing, strong direction, and decent acting. Although the ending is a bit too tidy and Casey Affleck may confuse mumbling for naturalism at times, I still found myself fully absorbed in the story--a pretty dark one at that. I think Ben Affleck has a promising career ahead of him as a filmmaker. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Atonement (2007) - Absolutely gorgeous to look at and highly entertaining in its epic scale. This is real old-school Hollywood stuff, but with a healthy does of virtuosic filmmaking (the single-take tracking shot that's at the center of the film must have been insanely difficult to pull off). But where the film falls flat is the wooden performance by Keira Knightley and Hallmark Card sentiments--especially the closing moments of the film. If it weren't for the extremely impressive technical elements of the film, I wouldn't have much to recommend. But otherwise.... My Netflix rating: 3 stars

Princess Mononoke (1997) - Is director Hayao Miyazaki capable of making anything other than masterpieces? It's hard to image how he maintains this level of vision in film after film. What's particularly notable about this one is how it manages to be fairly overt in its environmentalist message without being didactic. But most of all, it's just a wonder to look at. Please note: this film might be animated, but I would not recommend it for young children due to it's violent content (decapitations in particular). Oh, and I know I sound like a broken record, but anyone interested in checking out any of Miyazaki's films should never watch it with anything but the original Japanese language soundtrack. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

The Big Lebowski (1998) - For years, people have been telling me I had to see this film. Well, I'm glad to say that everyone was right: this really was a funny, clever, and entertaining ride. With the Coen brothers at the helm, I should have expected as much. The dialogue and wacky performances make the film worth watching on its own. But the bizarre dream sequence turning the accoutrements of a bowling alley into unambiguously overt Freudian symbols takes the movie to an even higher comic level. I also love the final scene's fourth-wall-breaking closing monologue. I suppose you can argue that the film is more of a stylish exercise in cleverness for the sake of cleverness. But what's wrong with that if it's fun to watch? My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Into the Wild (2007) - An admirably quiet true story from actor/director Sean Penn about a spoiled rich kid, Christopher McCandless, who escapes to the wilderness in a personal quest for authenticity. I appreciate how Penn attempts to keep us feeling somewhat undecided on McCandless (Is he a dreamer to be admired? A selfish schmuck? A fool?)--although the nature of film can't help to skew the audience towards sympathy. It's a bit rambling at times and drags around the middle. But overall, it's a very well-acted and refreshingly subtle movie that gets under your skin. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michael Pease Music Online

I'd like to share some good news for fellow music fans. My good friend and singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire (not to mention one-time Shapiro Files guest blogger), Michael Pease, has entered the world of MySpace music sharing. After what I'm guessing was many laborious weeks (months?) of hard work on some very complicated multitrack recordings, Michael created a new MySpace page with three new recordings and one classic from his back catalog that I invite everyone to check out.

You'll definitely hear lots of his influences in the recordings (most notably Queen, Jellyfish, and Styx) and I hope everyone can appreciate how much work it must have taken to lay down all those many vocal and instrument tracks. Every sound you'll hear is all Michael. Every vocal harmony, every keyboard part, every guitar lick--it's all Mister Pease. Those of you who have done their own recording will likely appreciate all the effort it must have taken to put together these recordings. As for everyone else, just know that doing this type of stuff ain't easy!

So I invite you to check out his page and enjoy the recordings. If you do, please leave him some comments on the page to let him know you were there!

By the way, Michael's efforts have inspired me to start thinking about resuming work on my own recordings. But first, I need to decide which direction I should take. I have two different options:

Option #1 is going the more focused/targeted route by expanding on the piano-based instrumental work I've done for Marcie's company last year and release a CD of just these types of songs (sort of my own George Winston/Windham Hill type of thing). This would definitely be a lot easier to market--particularly to people looking for mellow/sentimental piano-based instrumentals for wedding videos and similar uses.

Option #2 would be finally making a dedicated effort at re-recording some of my more interesting songs from the past 20 years using our current digital home studio technology. This would be a considerably more ambitious effort, but with potentially much less "marketability"--not that such a thing is really the point of any of this. But, to be honest, I know my strength is my piano playing and instrumental arranging. Whereas, my octave-lower Barry Mannilow-meets-Neil Diamond vocal stylings aren't going to be for everyone. Plus my musical inclinations tend to go two ways at once (both long-form progressive and unabashedly mainstream mid-tempo). So, to re-purpose a classic line from comedian Andy Kindler: My audience might solely consist of people, my age, who are me.

Either project is going to take a while. So I wouldn't count on any CD release announcements any time in the immediate future!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Neologism of the Week

From the time I started taking piano lessons at age 6 to the present, I've rarely gone a day without playing at least a little piano or keyboard. Now that I'm a parent, this practice has largely evolved into serving as my kids' music monkey, attempting to play their song requests (usually Disney tunes) while one or both of them is hanging on to me or otherwise blocking me from accessing all 88 keys.

So while the circumstances of my playing have changed, my piano playing is still a very common occurrence in our house. Which is why it surprised me the other night when Melody came up to me while I was improvising something at the keyboard and asked, "Daddy, what are you doing?"

I wasn't sure she asked this because I was playing an unfamiliar tune or she was just being funny. But either way, I playfully responded, "What do you I think I'm doing?"

Her reply: "Pianoing."

I thought this was a brilliant response. After all these years behind the keyboard, I never thought of turning "piano" into a verb. My daughter is a genius.

After all, we live in a text- and instant-messaging world in which concise language rules. I say we finally throw out the unwieldy "playing piano" and go with the much more efficient "pianoing"--as in "I pianoed yesterday," "I will piano tomorrow," and "He pianoed that piano at just the right amount of piano."

So how about it? Shall we petition Merriam-Webster to help us start a new age of lexicographic brevity? Maybe we can call it dictionarying. Who's with me?