A Final Whine for 2007

So yesterday I attempt to record a simple demo version of the preceding song for your listening pleasure. I wrote the thing as part of my presentation for a ward Book of Mormon mini read-a-thon, and the debut performance was so well received that I thought I ought to get a version of it in the can before I forgot the tune. For those of you who know my repertoire, the song sounds, right now, a little too much like The Ballad of Stallion Cornell for my taste. It’s in ¾ time and it’s in a kind of pseudo-country/folk style. I was looking forward to tweaking it further as I worked my digital magic, but then I discovered something awful.

It seems that my recording equipment, the DigiDesign MBox with Pro Tools LE 6.9, is woefully out of date, so much so that it no longer works with any recent version of the Mac OSX operating system. To upgrade, it’s going to cost me well over $300, plus a lot of time and effort and pains in the tuckus.

May I go on record as whining that built-in software obsolescence annoys the crap out of me. I also don’t like the new Mac OS much. It works fine on my newest laptop, but I have two older Macs that are struggling to keep up. One of them no longer recognizes my home wireless network unless I give it an enema first.

The old OS worked just fine. Heck, Mac OS 9 worked just fine. I upgraded in order to keep track with the programs that don’t work with old OS, but now I find that a program I needed doesn’t work with the new OS. It’s so deeply frustrating that I want to vomit, but I just can’t seem to make that happen. At least I don’t have Windows Vista.

It’s not all bad news. I found a workaround using Soundtrack Pro, a program that’s part of my Final Cut suite. So I may have a version online before you know it. And it won’t cost me a dime. Take that, DigiDesign!

In other news, I really don’t understand New Year’s Eve. Staying up until midnight seems like a waste of up to two hours of valuable sleep. Maybe New Year’s Eve was fun once upon a time, but I’m old and boring now. And New Year’s Day is a pointless, pointless holiday. For most folks, it’s National Hangover Day. For me, it’s just another chance to nap. Which is, now that I think about it, not bad at all.

Happy New Year. Please turn off the lights and lock the door on your way out.

Sing for the Lord a New Song

Ammon was ridin’
By the Waters of Sidon
He was tryin’ to work for the Lamanite King

The sheep were a feedin’
And no one was bleedin’
“Til somebody started a sheep stealin’ thing

All the king’s servants, they ran for their lives
All except Ammon who took out his knives

Because Ammon was fearless, he faced them alone
And soon began hacking through muscle and bone
He sliced through the Brachial Artery part
A big honkin’ artery straight from the heart

CHORUS:
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

Ammon, he gathered
Up the bones that he shattered
The limbs were, in number, a lot, not a few

He went without malice
To the Lamanite palace
To give ol’ King Lamoni a “How-do-you-do”

“Cause the King was intrigued with his brave servant’s charms
But the dude was freaked out when he saw all those arms

Because Ammon was fearless, he faced them with scorn
And made them all wish that they’d never been born
He ripped through their biceps and triceps and stuff
And didn’t despair when the tendons were tough

CHORUS:
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

Lamoni lamented
His sins and repentred
And then fell to the earth.
Was he dead, do you think?

No! He awakened
Though his people were shaken
They all had complained
When he started to stink

Because Ammon was strong, he converted the king
And the queen, and the people all started to sing
A song of redemption they couldn’t ignore
And all because Ammon was knee-deep in gore

CHORUS – SING ALONG!
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

The thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms.

Thank you very much.

Christmas at the Movies

The Christmas season is the time when the Oscar-worthy movies come out to play, and, to my credit, I studiously avoid them.

This year, there really wasn’t much out there that I wanted to see, but I did manage to make it to three films that I quite enjoyed, despite the fact that one of them wasn’t very good and another was, without question, the most gruesome movie I’ve ever seen.

The first flick, which I can recommend without qualification, was Enchanted, which I saw ‘round about Thanksgiving time. The previews made this movie look a little too precious for my taste, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the cartoon-meets-real-life premise was executed flawlessly, when the same screenplay could have been filmed as a smarmy parody in the hands of a lesser cast. This is one film where the star, the blithely charming Amy Adams, made the entire picture. She doesn’t have a single false moment on screen. If this role had been given to someone like Cameron Diaz, the whole thing would have reeked of self-parody. And Susan Sarandon as a bitter, aging dragon lady is exquisite typecasting of the first order.

Just before Christmas, the Utah League of Credit Unions sponsored a screening of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a dumbed-down retread of the already-stupid first movie. I don’t say that by way of criticism – I loved the first movie, largely because it was so earnestly silly. The problem is that the sequel brought the silly and forgot the earnestness. It’s marred by lazy writing that allows our heroes to breeze through impossible situations with the greatest of ease. Witness their “kidnapping” of `the President of the United States, which happens about ten seconds after they come up with the idea. Fortunately for them, the President goes out of his way to allow himself to be kidnapped, wandering away from his own party and waving off his Secret Service agents so he can end up in a dank tunnel with a party crasher he barely knows. This movie is filled with sloppy moments like this. The writers lurch from one gigantic set piece to another for the flimsiest of reasons, following Bizarro logic.

If you doubt me, try and see if you can follow this:

It seems that Nick Cage’s ancestor is implicated as a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination, so he decides to find a treasure that the ancestor was looking for, because that will somehow mean said ancestor is innocent for reasons that only leprechauns can understand. Meanwhile, Ed Harris goes to great lengths to track Cage’s every move, risking life and limb to badger Cage into doing something he would have done more eagerly if Harris had simply asked him. Soon they discover the treasure is hidden beneath Mt. Rushmore, which was built by the government to hide the treasure, which means that plenty of people knew where the treasure was but couldn’t be bothered to actually do anything about it. All this inexplicably proves the innocence of Cage’s Civil War ancestor, and that news is proudly proclaimed on the front page of the Washington Post, presumably next to the headline “Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. And yet…

My kids were engrossed. They didn’t move a muscle throughout the whole thing. And, while this movie insulted my intelligence, it also managed to stay entertaining throughout while being respectful of American traditions and squeaky clean to boot. There’s something to be said for that, and I’ve just said it. That doesn’t make Book of Secrets a particularly good movie, but it does mean that I’ll probably be there to sit through the inevitable sequel.

I doubt they’ll make a sequel to Sweeney Todd, which is just as well, as I doubt there’s enough blood left in the universe to make another movie like this. Against my better judgment, I saw it last night with my youngest sister, a fellow theatre geek who, like me, felt a solemn duty to see the adaptation of what many black-turtlenecked elitists call the Last Great American Musical. Both of us were wary for a number of reasons. We love the original stage version, and we were afraid that Tim Burton would Tim Burtonize the whole thing rather than let the material stand on its own. Johnny Depp as Sweeney seemed like stunt casting, and the R rating promised blood galore, which isn’t something that either of us really enjoys seeing onscreen.

So what’s the verdict?

It’s better than I could have hoped for. And I never want to see it again.

Let’s start with the good stuff, which was plentiful indeed. Other than the absence of saturated color, Tim Burton’s usual visual tics were nowhere to be seen. This was a remarkably faithful adaptation, and, astonishingly, Depp was a magnificent Sweeney. Reviews seemed to imply that he “speak-sang” much of the role a la Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, but that wasn’t true at all. He sang with a clear, simple baritone that was more than adequate, with the exception of a few moments that could have used more bombast than he could deliver. He would certainly have been lost on stage, but the intimacy of film inherently changes things, making Depp perfect for the role.

I wasn’t as fond of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, even though she seemed a natural for the role of a dippy devil woman, something she plays in every film she’s ever made. Her voice was paper thin and airy throughout, which was regrettable in a show where she was required to do so much of the vocal heavy lifting. Still, while she’s no Angela Lansbury, she didn’t detract from the proceedings much.

The rest of the cast was wonderful, most notably Alan Rickman as an oily Judge Turpin and Sacha Baron Cohen as a delightfully foppy Pirelli. Toby seemed a bit young, but he won me over by the end of the film. And both Joanna and Antony were shining lights of purity in the midst of the unrelenting gloom that drenched this picture like a cinematic oil slick.

Or should I say blood slick. Son of a Dogcatcher’s Butt, there’s a lot of blood in this movie.

I wasn’t surprised. There’s a lot of blood in the play, too. The difference, of course, is that plays are a lot more artificial than movies are. When you’re watching something on stage, you can distance yourself from the whole thing. In contrast, the movie had no escape valve. You’re forced to watch as blood came gushing out of real-looking aortas, and you saw things that were only implied on stage, like each of Sweeney’s victims landing with a sickening crunch, head first, on Mrs. Lovett’s hard, stone floor. I covered my eyes when I could, and, since I knew the play, I was warned ahead of time when there was going to be trouble, but, even so, this was more than I could stomach. I congratulate everyone involved for a job well done, but, if it’s all right with you, I’ll stick to the stage version, thank you very much.

Bring on National Treasure III!

Post-Christmas Funk

The day after Christmas is always depressing. In fact, Christmas itself starts to get depressing as the day starts to wane and you realize that you have to wake up and face real life the next day.

I should be more chipper than I am. Today is my daughter Chloe’s 9th birthday, so she’s excited even if the rest of us are not. She loves having a birthday the day after Christmas, despite the fact that the rest of the world is often too busy to notice. It gives us an excuse to keep the party going, and I’m grateful for it.

I just dread January.

There’s nothing pleasant about January. (Yes, oldest daughter Cleta’s birthday is on the 7th, but that’s about it.) January is cold. It’s dreary. Lots of snow shoveling in freezing temperatures. And there are no Christmas lights to keep it artificially cheerful. It’s just a long, hard slog to Spring, which, for the past few years, hasn’t rolled around until April, if then.

Geesh, what a gloomy post this is turning out to be. That’s a shame, because Christmas was great. We had made all the preparations for Santa’s visit well ahead of time, and then at 11:30, my wife remembered that one of the big gifts was being stored at her brother’s house – which was about twenty miles away in the snow. We got to bed at 1:00 AM. So much for being ready ahead of time.

That’s gloomy, too! Knock it off!

Christmas morning was delightful. The kids ripped into their presents and had a wonderful time. We spent the morning playing Guitar Hero III on the Wii, and we spent the afternoon napping. Or at least trying to nap. I was engrossed in the book my wife gave me – the new Steve Martin biography about his stand-up years, titled, appropriately, Born Standing Up. It’s a fascinating look at what it takes to create a life in show biz, something I was unable, or unwilling, to do.

I have a wife and five kids and a life of relative normalcy, whereas Steve Martin spent his young adulthood slogging through funky clubs playing the banjo and squeezing bananas, trying desperately to make his mark. He succeeded, of course, but not without a price. He’ll never have five little sprites ripping open Santa presents on Christmas morning. But I paid a price, too. I think I got the better end of the deal, but something still aches when I imagine what my life would have been if I had taken his route instead of mine.

Gosh, I hope nobody decides to shoot themselves in the head after reading this.