Monday, December 31, 2012

Around the Bend December 31, 2012

It's the End of the Year As We Know It

And I feel fine!

I'm looking forward to 2013. 2012 to me was a year of some strong ups and downs. On the one hand, I was able to enjoy some awesome times with my son, and we did some special things together, including going to see a Giants playoff game - the first ever playoff game for either of us. I got a new girlfriend, Basia, and I love her and feel blessed by her presence in my life! I got a new car, although the downside to that was it came after a car accident in March. Hell, it ended off by my attending perhaps the single biggest concert that ever existed in my lifetime, with the 12/12/12 concert (see the review posted on the 13th, if you're interested)!

Fiscal Cliffs Looms Near!

All the talk out of Washington lately has been about the "fiscal cliff", which we are just about set to reach as a nation, barring some last-minute deal by the two parties. Both parties blame the other for what appears to be an all-around failure, although polls have shown that a majority of Americans would blame Republicans more than Democrats. 

Around the World

Middle East

Israel - As always, it seems that this nation is always in the news of the world. Israel eased it's blockade of Gaza as it allowed a shipment of gravel intended for use in construction. It was the first such gesture by Israel since Hamas first took power in 2007.

Syria - Rebels here have managed to capture an oil pumping station in the northern province of Raqqa following days of fighting.


France - While the United States is struggling to try and raise taxes on the upper classes, France seems to be having the opposite problem.  France's highest court blocked President Francois Hollande's attempt to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens of the nation to 75%, claiming it was unconstitutional. It was a major part of Holland's platform, and is being viewed in the country as a stinging defeat. Hollande has been struggling with sagging popularity since his term started earlier this year. It was largely a symbolic gesture, and would not have raked in much money, but was intended to send a message. Now, it sends a very different message to the French people, as well as to those of the European Union in general.

United Kingdom - This seems to be the time when leaders the world over are being hospitalized. It's Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and George H. W. Bush in the United States. But in Great Britain, it's Margaret Thatcher. Much like Mandela and Bush, Thatcher was cleared and allowed to leave the hospital after getting a growth removed.

Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico - Officials in Mexico City, Mexico's capital and largest city, Mexico City, have decided to approve prison time for cases involving animal cruelty.


India - While the protesting has abated somewhat from the shocking gang rape that sparked unrest throughout the country, and particularly in New Delhi, the controversy had not yet ended. Awareness about violence against women has swept the country, and now authorities have added murder charges to the gang rape that provoked so much unrest throughout the nation, following the death of the 23-year-old woman. Six people have been arrested in connection to the incident, including the bus driver. The rape victim's body returned to New Delhi on Sunday for cremation.

Philippines - The government has signed into law a controversial reproductive health bill, as government funded contraception and sex education courses will begin in mid-January. There is plenty of opposition in this nation, which has tens of millions of Catholics. But the law seems to have put a decisive end to the debate - at least for now.

Pakistan - Islamist militants killed 41 people in a mass execution in two separate incidents on Sunday, following suggestions that Islamist militants had been defeated and broken. Shi'ites were especially singled out and targeted.


South Africa - I thought that this was interesting, and showed how the situation around the world seems to be similar almost no matter where you go. In this article by Patrick McGroarty ("In South Africa, Consumer-Debt Bubble Forms), we see that banks are beginning to seriously consider severe limitations to loans, as the nation seems on the verge of a financial crisis due to an already overly large, and growing, debt bubble in Africa's largest economy.

Kenya - Now, here's a story that I thought would definitely be worth posting! There are three dj's in Kenya that are fasting for peaceful voting in the nation. For many years, Kenya was seen as a model of stability and peace in a continent that was torn apart by war and strife. But in recent years, violence has become much more common in Kenya, and problems that had seemed to remain outside of it's borders for so long suddenly became relatively commonplace inside of Kenyan borders, as episodes of ethnic violence and disputed elections saw the nation making headlines for the wrong reasons. The fast went from December 19th until December 24th.



The last weekend of regular season play is always madness for the National Football League. Today, of course, was no different.

All of the AFC playoff teams were known heading into Sunday. What was not known, in any of their cases, was the exact seeds. Literally three teams could still clinch the top seed in the AFC going in. Houston would clinch outright with a win, while Denver would clinch with a win and a Houston loss. New England even had an outside shot, if both Denver and Houston lost, and they won.

If New England lost, and Baltimore won, they New England would become the fourth seed, because of the tie break that would go to Baltimore, having beaten the Patriots outright earlier this season. Finally, Cincinnati and Indianapolis were both vying for the fifth seed, often seen as easier, with Indy clinching it outright with a win, or Cincy with a win and an Indy loss.

Whew! Complicated, right? And that's just the AFC!

For the NFC, only four teams had clinched playoff spots, while the 49ers and Seahawks still were fighting for the NFC West title, while the Redskins and Cowboys met in a winner take all showdown for the NFC East spot. in the meantime, both the Redskins and the Cowboys, as well as the Bears, the Vikings, and the Giants, had hopes of qualifying for the playoffs, under various scenarios.

The Falcons already had clinched the NFC's top seed, but the Packers entered the weekend with the second seed, but needed either a win, or a San Fran loss, to clinch it. The 49ers had beaten Green Bay outright during the regular season, so with a win and a Packers loss, they would be the second seed. Whoever lost out in that, would be the third seed, while the NFC East champ would be the fourth seed.

Got all that?

So....what happened?

Well, let me start with my Giants. I was mentioning on this blog recently how weird the Giants are. I mean, they are my favorite team, but they are weird.

Case in point, the final weekend of the 2012 Regular Season. After a 6-2 start to the season, the G-Men had lost five of their last seven games, and yet they still had an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs officially this weekend, with a win and losses by the bears, the Vikings, and the Cowboys. Two of those things happened, but I will focus right now only on the one, most important thing: the Giants won. Boy, did they ever! Manning started off red hot, completing almost all of his passes, and managing to throw a personal best five touchdown passes. The defense played well, and New York dominated the Philadelphia Eagles, 42-7. It may have been their best, most solid all around performance the entire season. But they had some games where they played very well, such as in blowout wins against San Francisco and Green Bay, and those were far better teams.

Yet, the intrigue ended quickly, as the Bears hung on for a victory against the Lions, which immediately ended any hopes that the Giants would sneak into the playoffs. So, it was a bittersweet win.

If you look at history, no Super Bowl winning team has ever seemed to fall flat on their face the next season as the Giants consistently do. They have won the Super Bowl four times, and qualified it five times overall. Despite these undeniable successes, if you look at the following seasons, the results have been less than overwhelming. They have only managed to even qualify for the playoffs once in a year following a Super Bowl appearance, that being in 2008. And that year, the Giants looked like they were in true Super Bowl form early on, racing out to an 11-1 start, only to lose four of their last five games after wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, and seemingly derailed the season. They still managed to be the top seed in the NFC, yet that fourth loss in the five game span was to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the outcome was never really in doubt.

Otherwise, the Giants followed up the 14-2 Super Bowl championship season, in which they were a true juggernaut, with a dismal 0-5 start, en route to an embarrassing and long 6-9 season in 1987. It should be noted, however, that this was a strike season, and that three of those losses were from the replacement (scab) players. Still, thought, the Giants who had won the previous season's Super Bowl only managed a .500 record overall.

New York did enjoy Super Bowl success again not too long after that, starting off 10-0 in 1990 en route to a 13-3 record overall, then squeaking by the dynasty 49ers in the NFC Championship Game before holding off the powerful and favored Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. But after a thrilling win against the 49ers to open the 1991 season, teasing Giants fans with hopes of a repeat championship season, the Giants had a mediocre rest of the year, finishing 8-8, and not even close to a playoff appearance.

The 2000 New York Giants kind of came out of nowhere. Expectations were not high, yet the team started off 3-0. They stood at 7-4, but were playing sloppy and seemed to be reeling, when head coach Jim Fassel guaranteed a playoff appearance. The G-Men then got red hot, winning out the rest of their regular season games to clinch the top seed in the NFC with a 12-4 record, then beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, and crushing the high powered Vikings in a shut out, 41-0, in the NFC Championship Game, before being blown out themselves, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV. But the 2001 Giants season never got off the ground. if they had surprised people the season before with their accomplishments, they disappointed the same people with their lack of team accomplishments in 2001, although Michael Strahan did manage to get the all-time sack record.

I already mentioned the 2008 Giants, following the amazing 2007 championship run that saw the Giants become the first NFC team to win three games on the road, beating three consecutive division champs en route to the Super Bowl, where they stunned the previously undefeated New England Patriots, who had been flirting with greatness of a historical level.

Now, another disappointing year after another impressive run last season, that saw the Giants win the division (with a 9-7 record, the same as this year), and then take out the Falcons, the 15-1 defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, and finally, in a  rematch of the Super Bowl four years earlier, holding off the high octane New England Patriots for another Super Bowl crown. This season, the Giants seemed to flirt with greatness at times, such as against the 49ers, the Packers, the Saints, and this weekend, against the Eagles. But the lapses proved very costly, and the Giants ship ultimately sank, well before the promised land was within sight, and even before reaching the shores of the playoffs.

It will be interesting to see what happens next, and how the Giants will respond next season. But this year, given the high expectations which served, ultimately, as a tease, can only be seen as a disappointment, overall. Last season ended with high fives and celebrations and championship parades in the city and in jersey. This season ended with sober answers to tough questions at the podium, as the team will regroup to focus on next season.

One thing should be noted, however, was that the Giants welcomed students from Sandy Hook for the game, in a very kind gesture.

Sticking with the NFC East (because somebody had to represent this division in the playoffs), the Cowboys, for the second year in a row, found themselves at 8-7 on the final weekend, and heading on the road for a Sunday Night Football game against a division rival in a winner takes all battle. Also, once again, the Cowboys lost that battle, as the Redskins won their seventh game in a row, digging out of a tough 3-6 hole to finish the season as division champs with a 10-6 record. They will host the Seattle Seahawks next weekend, who also managed to win this weekend against the Rams.

So, the Redskins nabbed the one playoff berth that was going to go to the winner of the NFC East, and the Bears victory in Detroit eliminated the G-Men. Yet, it was the Vikings very impressive win over the Packers, who themselves were fighting for the Number 2 seed and a playoff bye, that managed to clinch that final playoff berth. They did it behind the solid running of Adrian Peterson, who fell just nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson's long-standing, single-season rushing record. The win sets up a rematch between the two teams next week, this time at Lambeau Field.

The 49ers won against Arizona, clinching the NFC West and, with Green Bay's loss, the second seed and the playoff bye. Otherwise, the Panthers defeated the Saints, and Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta (and the Falcons suffered some key injuries to starters, making people question the judgment of playing the starters so long in what amounted to a meaningless game for them).

In the AFC, there was also a lot of intrigue, although all six playoff teams were already known. The Houston Texans had seemed to have the top spot in the AFC all locked up throughout the season. But they had played their worst football towards the end of the season, and amazingly, found themselves with the possibility of dropping from the top seed to the third seed on the final weekend. They needed to win at Indianapolis, which itself was trying to secure the fifth seed in the playoffs. The Colts came out on top, and after the Denver Broncos smashed the lowly Kansas City Chiefs to secure home field advantage, and the New England Patriots downed the Dolphins to secure the second seed, the Houston Texans had, shockingly, fallen to number three. They will now host the Bengals, who defeated the Ravens, in a rematch of last year's Wild Card match-up between the two, which the Texans won.

The Ravens, the struggling fourth seed, will host the red hot Colts in the other Wild Card game. In the other AFC Games, the Jets got blasted in Buffalo, the Titan knocked off the Jaguars, the Chargers outlasted the Raiders, and the Steelers ended their season with a win over Cleveland.


The Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that has long been synonymous with failure, have done something truly unbelievable tonight. For a franchise that had been one of the most consistent losers and underachievers in sports history until just recently (until last season, for the most part), the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz earlier tonight.

The significance? That extended their win streak to 17 games, and also allowed them to complete a full month of play with a perfect 16-0 record. They became only the third team in NBA history to do that. Only the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers had managed to achieve that feat before the Clippers did it this month.

France - Ligue 1

Here are the standing in France Ligue 1 play, following this weekend of play, according to There were no games this weekend, and will be none next weekend, either, as the league rests, ready to resume in mid-January.

1Paris Saint-Germain191153383612
10St. Etienne19766272414
16AC Ajaccio19568192129
20AS Nancy-Lorraine191810111533


Novak Djokovic will enter the Australian Open not only as the defending champion, but also as the favorite to win. Rafel Nadal made news by officially withdrawing from the Australian Open.

Finally, I thought that this article was very interesting, in the wake of the Newtown shootings. It is a story on Andy Murray, who many project to emerge as the number one men's player for 2013 (I would not be surprised at all). It is an article by Shane Bacon of Busted Racquet ("Andy Murray, part of 1996 school shooting, offers support for Sandy Hook"), that shows just how much character the star has. Murray was there as a school child in Dublane, Scotland, when there was a horrible shooting that left 16 very young students and a teacher dead. He actually knew the shooter!

Right now, I think, he is still best remembered for breaking into tears and addressing the home crowd at Wimbledon with a shaky voice after losing to Roger Federer in this year's final. But with the gold medal from the Olympic Games (against that same, dastardly Roger Federer), and then following that up with the US Open title, it's not hard to imagine that Murray will very soon be remembered more for his accomplishments, as the legacy of past failures recedes ever further.

Here's the link to the article:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Twenty (Pearl Jam)

Pearl Jam Twenty Poster

This is it. For any true Pearl Jam fan, this is the documentary movie that you have been waiting for.

It delves a bit into the early days of the band and the whole Seattle scene, prior to the "grunge" explosion of the early nineties. We're talking about the Mother Love Bone days. We're talking Andy Wood, and how he eventually overdosed, and died far before his time. He also died just before Mother Love Bone was about to hit it big, it seems. Andy himself was sure that he was destined to be a rock star.

Then, Mike McCready gets together with Stone Gossard, and convinces him to bring along Jeff Ament (although Stone was, surprisingly, reluctant at first). Eventually, they get drummer Matt Cameron to work with them on some stuff. But the band still needs a singer. Eventually, someone has an idea to try a guy who lives all the way in Los Angeles, a singer in a relatively unknown band, and works a security job to pay the bills.

They send this singer a tape, and he sends a tape back, which will acquire the now legendary name, the Mamasan tape. The man's name is Eddie Vedder, now legendary front man for the group that came to be known as Pearl Jam. But that was before the name "Pearl Jam" was yet known, even to the band that would take that name. This was 1990, and once Eddie Vedder received confirmation of the band's interest, he went off to Seattle. The group that formed in October of that year first went under the banner "The Mookie Blaylock Band". They had only rehearsed together as a band for five days when they played their first ever show at The Off Ramp, in Seattle. They show a clip of that in this movie, although, having been obsessed with Pearl Jam for many years like I was, I managed to get my hands on a couple of copies of the show, and had seen it a few times. I will admit that, over the years, I have acquired a fairly extensive collection of bootlegs of shows and video clips and such from the band's past, distant and otherwise. Again, I was obsessed with them, on some level, for quite some time.

They worked quickly, and within a few weeks, had enough material for an album, what was to become "Ten", a record smashing release that contributed greatly to the explosive success of the "Seattle sound", when everyone suddenly wanted to be grunge. For anyone wondering about the reason why the album was named "Ten" specifically (there are eleven songs on the album, so that's not the reason, if you were wondering), you should see this movie to find out.

It did not take long before the band was huge. They worked hard, toured often, and did a lot of shows and public appearances to promote themselves, and all of this really did pay off, as they made quite a name for themselves. However, they would be criticized by many later on over the years, when they would seem to show signs of being uncomfortable with their own success, given how hard they had worked to obtain it in the first place. Also, some felt that their actions (some cynics might use the word tactics) amounted to publicity stunts, such as their sudden lack of concert appearances and touring, and then, only using secondary ticketing agencies, as they battled Ticketmaster, which they claimed to be a monopoly. Quite a few people seemed to express skepticism about the band, and felt that they were merely playing the part of rejecting their own big name and big status, while secretly doing everything that they can, underneath the radar, to make sure that they remained as huge as ever.

The band toured all over the place in those earliest days, which helped the band to make it big, to make a name for themselves. They played all over the North American continent, including iin New York City, at some places that I have since been to, like the Limelight and the Wetlands. They also went to Europe and did quite a few shows, and increasingly, the anticipation by the ever larger crowds grew and grew. But it was really the Lollapalooza tour of 1992 really helped to put them on the map in a big way, as did Edddie Vedder's legendary acrobatics and antics during these shows, when he would climb all over the place, up in the lighting and stage setting, up to thirty to fifty feet high, and often allowed himself to drop, placing his faith that the crowd assembled below would catch him, would break his fall. This was just one part of the enormous energy that the band in general, and Eddie Vedder in particular, brought to fans, and which proved so attractive (a big part of the mass appeal that the band enjoyed in the early nineties). There was a feeling that anything could happen, and there was an intensity to everything that they did, from these acrobatics of Vedder's, to the music (which always has been very tight, and the reason that the band is best known for being a great live band in particular), to the lyrics that were often angry and pregnant with meaning.

I have been a Pearl Jam fan since 1993. For many years, my two favorite bands had been the Dead Kennedys and Metallica. One was an ultra political punk band that also possessed meaningful, protesting lyrics and a tremendous amount of energy, but they had ceased to exist in 1987, and there was little to no hope of them ever getting back together. The other was a metal scene icon who, at least I felt, had sold out (and in the process, become a whole lot less metal) with their black album. It seemed that Metallica's focus went from being heavier than thou, and with potent and meaningful lyrics, to a group that focused almost exclusively on just how big they could be, and how many millions of dollars more they could make. In other words, they had become businessmen, dressed in all black rock clothing, and posing as some sort of rebellious and heavy music act. There were other bands that I liked as well, but those two had so long been my favorites, that no one had even challenged them as my favorites. But it was time to move on, and Pearl Jam came along and became a new and exciting young band that I felt I could follow. There have been other bands, for that matter, that have come since, and many have had some appeal. But few had the full package that Pearl Jam possessed, or at least seemed to possess. So, I stuck with Pearl Jam especially, more than any other band. Eventually, I have come to feel that I grew up with them.

I'll admit, that early on, when I was a fan of Nirvana, I actively avoided Pearl Jam. That probably seems silly in retrospect, but there you have it. The name just sounded stupid, and besides, Nirvana was the shit. But eventually, someone spoke to me about a song, she was not sure what it was called, but it had the lyrics "Jeremy spoke in class today". It did not take too long before I heard it on the radio, and then, it took even less time to learn who had done the song. Little by little, I began to listen to them more, and they seemed to offer all that I was looking for in a band. They had meaningful lyrics, they were young and exciting and intense. They seemed to have before them a long and promising career to follow. I became a Pearl Jam fan.

Maybe this sounds naive, but I felt I could identify with them. I wanted desperately to feel like I could make some sort of difference towards improving the world, and it seemed like that was what they were striving for, as well. Most fans (if they could be called fans) that I knew just enjoyed their music, the intensity, the energy of it. Perhaps, on many levels, many simply liked the image. On many levels, Pearl Jam became the "in" thing in the early to mid-nineties. They achieved levels of popularity that I had never seen before, and still think have not been reached since. Yet, far too many of these fans of theirs were fair weather fans. They liked Pearl Jam, but for superficial reasons.

But ask them to scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, and almost all of the fans I knew did not bother. Pearl Jam was the cool band of the moment, the big thing. Eddie Vedder, to my understanding, was a sex symbol for women. The band rocked, was an outlet for youthful energy, undeniably. I could identify with this, having a lot more youthful energy back then, as well. What amazed me most was that people, including young, but quite conservative people at heart, would not be offended by Pearl Jam, and their protesting message, their critique of the nation that they were citizens of, and of the American Way, in general.

How could people not see? There it was, for all to see, in the very popular video, Jeremy. Right while everyone in the classroom has placed their hands on their heart while doing the pledge of allegiance, they suddenly, very briefly, are holding their arms up in a straight arm, fascist salute. It was in their lyrics, as well. Almost all of it had a very different message than what was out there, and what had been out there before Pearl Jam, and so-called "grunge" as a whole, broke out.

Of course, fashion by it's very nature is superficial. So it should not have been surprising that most people liked Pearl Jam for superficial reasons. For whatever reason, I had been amazed that people would so easily and readily accept a group like Pearl Jam, when that very group was so critical of the lifestyles of so many of their very own fans. It was worked into their lyrics, often quite cleverly. It showed in their overall approach, as well.

I wanted to believe that I could make a difference, and saw what I wanted to see with the fans of Pearl Jam. It seemed like the dawning of something new, some new age of skepticism towards big power. Of perhaps even some new enlightenment.

Obviously, that was not the case. But I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe in Pearl Jam, the group, itself, as well.  To believe that they were having an impact, and making a difference. Yes, it was naive, but there you have it. I sided with them in their battle with Ticketmaster, and hoped that they might be making a difference. I studied the lyrics, watched the videos, and kept listening to their music as the years wore on. They eventually lost a lot of popularity (particularly beginning with the release of the No Code album). I heard some other "fans" dismiss them as having lost their edge, some outright saying that they were now "pussies". Obviously, such "fans" really never had been fans, and had simply liked the group because it was the cool thing to do, or to get their anger out. Ask them to actually take an intelligent approach, to think about any messages or lyrics or what have you, and that is too much, even far too much, for most people. America can be a cocoon of laziness when it comes to thinking, and such was largely the case with young people of my generation, I am ashamed to say.

And so, I stayed on as a fan. Saw plenty of shows, and rushed out to get every album on the day that it was released. One time, I even went to New York for a midnight opening of a store, in order to get one of the free lithographs that were being offered, but only for those who actually showed up for the midnight store opening. I read articles and followed the band, long after they had lost much of their former popularity. And I was proud of their anti-war stance when the Iraq war came. I was in attendance in the infamous Long Island show in the spring of 2003, at Nassau Coliseum, when they were effectively booed off the stage for playing "Bushleaguer". I cheered, while most of the arena jeered them the rest of the way.

I was a fan club member, and had a decent number that allowed me to obtain some incredible seats to their shows. I've also traveled quite a bit to get to their shows. Two different countries (the United States and Canada), having seen them in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Almost two dozen shows in all over the years, and sometimes, the seats were incredible.

My own enthusiasm did die down...eventually. Not entirely, mind you. I still like them, and still would love to see them again. When a new album comes out, surely I'll buy it and give it more than one listen. If I encounter an article, surely I'll read it, if the opportunity arises. When they come on the radio, I almost always turn up the volume.

Yet, I am not obsessed with them like I was in the past. Part of it was a bit of a feeling of betrayal, admittedly. There came a point when it felt to me like they had become more muted in their desire to make a difference, and more interested in the business aspect of being Pearl Jam. I heard Jeff Ament once mention that he was glad that Metallica had take the action that they did over piracy of their music, and that was precisely the kind of thing that had turned me off to them (Metallica used to be one of my favorite groups, prior to Pearl Jam). Also, at least this was true for the New York area shows, the ticket prices were the same for front row as they were for the nose bleeds. That might sound decent on some level, but the thing is, the experience is nowhere near the same if you're in the upper decks, as opposed to the floor. I know, because I have been in both. So, if it's not the same, why charge the same? My suspicions of greed began to kick in, especially when, after allowing my membership to remain inactive for a year or so, I lost my good number, and was given a very bad number. I went from being in the 1's of a six digit number, to 1's in the seven digit number. So, when I ordered tickets, they were systematically nosebleeds, and paying as much as those who got front row tickets. That did not sit well with me, admittedly. This might not bother me as much if it was the uniform policy. But since the New York area seemed to be the only one where this was practiced, it began to seem a little strange, and not in a good way.

There were also times when I questioned their intentions. Yes, they protested things, and tried to go their own way, touring out of the way places in the mid-nineties, presumably in an attempt to keep ticket prices a bit lower. Was it just a stunt, as so many believed? I read a few books on them, and one in particular, "Five Against One" by Kim Neely, was very good. It was fascinating, but she also addressed some of these suspicions that many people seemed to hold of Pearl Jam, that they seemed to be a paradox on so many levels. How was it that they worked so hard to become popular, then acted like they hated that very popularity, and shirked the responsibilities over being hugely popular, only to work towards gaining some of that back and expressing worries of becoming obsolete?

Still, there really are not tons of other bands that have as much to offer, and I guess that is what keeps me going back to Pearl Jam.

This movie is certainly worth watching for any fan of Pearl Jam, grunge, or Seattle music overall. Hell, it is a must see if you are a fan of good music, in general, or if you've ever wondered what it might be like to be in a band, particularly one that suddenly explodes with success.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Television Series Review: Mad Men Season 1

A few years ago, I had a girlfriend who was really into Mad Men, and she recommended it. There had been other things that she had recommended as well, and usually, these proved worthwhile. She was sure I would really enjoy Flight of the Concord, for example. When I finally did get a chance to view these, I very much enjoyed them. There always were some good shows, movies, or books that she strongly recommended for me, and I don't remember ever having been disappointed.

She had a friend who owned Season 1 of Mad Men on DVD, and I borrowed it. The first disk was missing, so I did not get the chance to see the first few episodes. Yet, the episodes that I did watch were enough to capture my attention, and I wanted to see more.

The thing is, this show is done very well. I was born in 1974, and so obviously, I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether or not the sixties were actually like that or not. Yet, it feels like this is a fairly accurate portrayal of what the late fifties/early sixties would have been like, at least in New York City. This was when America was enjoying it's Golden Age, and although the nation may have had some problems, there was an innocence about things (how's that for cliche?). The problems, such as they were, seem almost trivial by way of comparison to what we see now every day on the evening news.

Of course, that would not have appeared to be the case for those who lived during these times, and these characters are believable enough. You actually do get the feel of going back in time, and visiting the world of the very late fifties and early sixties, just before America, and indeed the world, was about to undergo some major changes.

In this television series, the news events and history that we know so well now, decades later, were still in the process of forming. They remain relegated in the background of the lives of these characters, sometimes taking the forefront, but only in terms of how it impacts and affects their lives. An example of this is when the characters focus in on helping the Nixon campaign, which we know is doomed to lose the 1960 election. The characters work for Sterling Cooper, an advertisement firm that, among other things, is assisting the Nixon team's effort to win the election. So, we are able to catch glimpses of the progress of the campaign, but only through the prism of strategy, as the group try to come up with some answers on how to most effectively neutralize the Kennedy campaign. it is an ingenious and fascinating take on the history of the times, and I applaud the writers for this, and many other aspects of the show.

What makes this series very enticing, even addictive, is actually a combination of things. First of all, the characters are believable and strong. They all have flaws, they show uncertainty and conflicts between who they portray themselves as, and how their own actions often contradict this.

They also all seem petty and wrapped up in themselves in their own way. Yet, somehow, the television series is gripping. We see them struggling, each in their own way, in trying to find their individual identity during a time of conformity. They each want to reach a comfort zone, and each struggle to face the considerable obstacles blocking them along the way.

The main character, Don Draper, played brilliantly by actor Jon Hamm, is a mysterious but intriguing character. He is in sales, and we can see why, as he is just loaded with charisma. He has a cool way about him, and always seems very well put together and brimming with confidence. Yet, he has a side to mysterious him that we begin to catch more and more glimpses of, a dark and secretive past. We find out that he has assumed the identity of another man, and that he himself used to be someone named Dick Whitman. Dick Whitman is just an ordinary Joe, with no great prospects. But Don Draper, on the other hand, is a decorated officer in the Korean War, a man going places. When the real Draper is killed, Whitman exchanges identities with him, and officially kills off Dick Whitman, in order to pursue a more promising life as Don Draper. He makes it, too, enjoying the good life with a beautiful wife (Betty Draper, played very well by beautiful actress January Jones) and family in a comfortable suburban home, with a well-paying job. He is living the American Dream. And yet, we sense that there is something lacking, some emotional need that drives him to throw himself at the feet of certain women, as he is not satisfied with his own wife, seemingly. Only in the end of the last episode do we finally seem him beginning to truly appreciate all that he is blessed with, and we are left hanging, wondering if perhaps he is too late in recognizing this obvious fact.

Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy Olsen, a seemingly prim and proper, newly hired secretary to Don Draper. Yet, she is not quite as prim and proper as she at first appears. She learns the ins and outs of big city life, and winds up having an affair with Pete Campbell, played brilliantly by Vincent Kartheiser. Pete is the office weasel, wanting to climb the corporate ladder through fair, or unfair, means. He has an inflated sense of himself, and has a particular skepticism and even loathing (as well as fear) of Don Draper. The two have an ongoing rivalry of sorts that is renewed time and again, exchanging barbs and even opportunities to try and hurt the other professionally. He is young and with a new wife, and trying to establish himself while paying for the rather expensive tastes of his wife, who seems to want to fast forward to living a life that the young couple really can't quite afford (at least not just yet). Pete turns to Peggy for comfort and sensuality, but even this turns strange, and Peggy seems more of a rival to him than anything else towards the end).

Peggy is continually exposed to jabs by the sexy Joan Harris (played by actress Christina Hendricks), who at first seems to want to take Peggy under her wings, but shows a petty jealous side as Peggy begins to show some strong talents on her own. Joan seems to have a thing for older gentleman, and she obviously likes to be the center of attention and affection, as she conducts herself as the sexy girl of the office, so to speak.

There are a lot of other characters, too numerous to really go into much detail for this review. This includes Salvatore Romano (played by Bryan Batt), the art director for Sterling Cooper, who seems to be struggling with his secretive homosexuality, tempted by an offer and revealing telling glimpses here and there, yet still obviously uncomfortable with his sexuality in a time when homosexuality was such an unthinkable sin that it was almost unthinkable, in the conformist fifties and early sixties. Speaking of homosexuality, we see Joan approached by another woman, although she quickly dismisses it, trying to defuse a suddenly very uncomfortable situation.

We see this conformity everywhere, and yet we also see the beginnings of the cracks that will eventually grow bigger and bigger, to let the light of more acceptance and modernity shine forth. But the changes are coming painfully slow, and we see them revealing themselves in very human terms on this show. Fascinating!

All in all, a very gripping and addictive television series. not even sure what it is that I like so much about it, but I really do like it! Can't wait for Season 2!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Funny Pranks

There was one time, when I was much younger (just a kid) really, when a television show came on which showed clips of some crazy pranks pulled on some Japanese (at least, I think it was Japanese) television show.

Let me tell you right now, that although this was being broadcast on American television, it most certainly was not American. Something like that could never happen here, in the land of a million lawsuits.

These pranks were not little league material. Most of them had something to do with scaring people - and they did a good job!

One of my favorites was when someone would be startled out of sleep. Whoever was conducting the prank would do their best to scare the living daylights out of the sleeper. So, one guy might go right up to the ears of the sleeper, and yell at full volume.

There was one, and I am not entirely sure how they managed to pull this off, where there was a rock band that set up all of the material - guitars, drums, amps, and surrounded the bed. Then, after a count, the bad exploded into a song, and naturally, the sleeper woke up in fear, not knowing what was going on.

There was another one that I have tried, from time to time, to find on Youtube, but have not yet succeeded in finding. It was weird, and will take some explaining. There was some road somewhere within a city, and there was a big hole in the middle of this road. The pranksters (hope that word does not sound too stupid) got this weird kind of suit, almost square, and it was made to match the road as perfectly as possible. The idea was to blend in.

I am guessing you can get the drift of what the prank was about. People would walk by, and the guy would jump up out of the middle of the road, and give chase. There was one clip after another of people getting startled, and running away, with shocked, and even horrified, looks on their faces.

One poor bicyclist was so scared, that he fell off of is bike. When the pavement guy started giving chase, the poor bicyclist was still no the ground, and he tried his best to make his escape. He looked like he was seeing a monster. Eventually, he was able to find his feet, and he ran full speed, leaving his bicycle right in the middle of the road.

It probably sounds cruel, and there's good reason for that. It was cruel.

Yet, it was undeniably funny.

Cruel, but funny.

More recently, there have been other videos like these, intended to scare people. One from Brazil was really well thought out and executed. It featured an elevator (I don't really think that it was an actual elevator), where people would go in, and things appeared normal at first.

But a minute or two into it, and the electric seemed to flicker, and then short out altogether. It was presumably entirely dark, and this little girl would suddenly appear out of nowhere. Every clip that they showed, of course, was of scared people.

The girl would look a bit distracted at first, but then would turn to the elevator passenger, and let out a shrill scream.

Then, the lights would go out once again, and the girl would disappear. Actually, she was a real life girl, and she would just hide in the secret compartment.

But the prank worked, and worked well. Well enough that one guy sprinted out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened, and raced out of the building, with the haunted girl running, screaming after him.

Of course, I had to do further research on those Brazilian pranks, and they had some other pretty decent ones, as well. One featured a cemetery with a dead bride looking for a groom. judging by the reaction of some of the guys, you would swear that the whole thing was staged, and everyone was in on it, and just acting out their parts. But I'm not so sure.

Another one, which was not quite as funny, had a gigantic rat going in between people's feet on a park bench. There was a guy with a fake rat attached to a stick who would have to play this prank, and he (deservedly?) got a beatdown from some of the angry targets of the prank.

I did manage to find some videos of extremely rude ways of waking people up. Some of these are brutal. Unfortunately, the picture quality is not the best, so you really cannot gauge the reaction as clearly as would be desirable. But you definitely get the picture, nonetheless.

Some of these are crazy! But it's pretty funny! Especially the waterslide at the end!

Usually, I like to write some thoughtful pieces, if possible. Or perhaps I will comment on what is happening in the news lately. Or perhaps do some kind of a review on books or movies, or even the occasional article.

This is just another side, however. I like to laugh, and these videos definitely helped me to do that. If you're in need of some kind of a lift or picker-upper, I would definitely recommend taking a look at some of these videos!

In the meantime, here are some pretty funny, and perhaps even scary, pranks that can be found on Youtube. Enjoy!