Posts Tagged ‘G’

The Gorillaz

April 8, 2019

I first became aware of the Gorillaz when they debuted their first single in late 2000. I first heard it in music video format at the tail end of music videos being a mainstream sort of thing. (With YouTube, they have come back a bit but younguns don’t know about MTV and VH1 back in the day). I was immediately taken by this song even though it took me a while to remember the name. The single was called “Clint Eastwood” and I loved the merger between the brass instrument samples, the dub influences, the electronica, the hip hop flair, and the rock vocals. This was all accompanied by some really awesome animation which made it probably my favorite music video of all time. At the time, I thought this might have been a one-shot thing. I loved the music and I looked forward to more singles but the animation was probably not going to be a thing. Little did I know that the animation was going to be their gimmick. The animation continued and we got actual lore produced by these new rocking cartoon characters.

The Gorillaz are a band founded by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. Albarn was doing great with Blur but he wanted to do some more experimental stuff but did not seem to want to be the face of another band. That brought in Hewlett who, among other things, was the creator of Tank Girl and a master at a particular art style. The idea of the band is that Albarn is a mainstay but any musician or guest can rotate in and perform on any track or album. The first group was Albarn, Mike Smith, Cass Browne, Simon Katz, Miho Hitori, and Dan the Automator but there have been over two dozen musicians that have been part of the band at one point or another and that does not count guests. This has led to an ever-evolving sound as new musicians and new ideas are introduced to the band.

But there is even more than that. Jamie Hewlett’s contribution is to help make these cartoon characters into almost living breathing people. Part of that is his excellent artwork and character design. He made four distinct characters that each look interesting. Then, after a few singles were released, they actual animated skits where we got to know the band members better. That meant that actual voice actors were hired and we got to see these cartoons actually talk to us and each other. We learned their backstories. The lead vocalist is 2-D, a young British man who has blank eyes due to being in two different car crashes. The bassist is Murdoc, a satan worshipping conniver who put the band together. The lead guitarist is Noodle, a Japanese girl who speaks little English but is a guitar prodigy. Finally, there is Russell, the band’s American drummer who has the power to channel spirits. These spirits are usually how they explain the guests on their albums.

Eventually, the band got popular enough that they had to figure out how to do live performances. At first, they would have the live performers behind a screen and images from the music videos playing on the screen. At one point, they just had the live performers appear on stage with only a skit from the protesting cartoon characters as an explanation. Finally, technology caught up and they were able to do some performances with the characters projected as holograms. This has definitely led to some awesome and memorable moments. As with their sound, they continue to evolve their presentation both in live performances and in their music videos. To date, there have been six albums, three side albums, several EPs, and a bunch of tours. Every album they have ever put out is that rare album that I can listen to all the way through without skipping and they all have several songs that I absolutely love.

Funny story, I was actually so obsessed with this band that I researched their first album for an actual research paper. In my second semester in college, I was in an expository writing class with a focus on writing research papers on Pop Culture. My early papers in the class were actually based on MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. The final paper that I wrote was a thirty page paper on Joe Sparks, The Chipmunks, and The Gorillaz. I explored the idea of musicians who would perform through cartoon characters instead of showing their faces. My theory was that they did so in order to allow more artistic freedom. If they performed through a brand instead of their own image, they did not have to adhere to their previous style. I wish I still had a copy of that paper because I would definitely post it here but I loved exploring the different themes. I ended up interviewing Sparks after sending him a draft of the paper but I wish I could have interviewed Albarn and Hewlett for the paper but I was just some punk kid trying his best.

(Written on 4/2/19)

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Gaming Chronicles: PlanetFall

April 7, 2018

(When last we spoke, we talked about the very first campaign I took part in The Frozen Star Among Us. Today I will be continuing the series chronicling the games I have taken part in so that I can remember them.)

When the Frozen Star ended, I had been playing with the group for months and I had started to figure out the dynamics of this tabletop roleplaying game thing. I felt like I was slowly making friends with the group and I was gaining courage with my choices. When we decided to move to the next campaign, I knew that I had to do better. My earlier characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than actual characters. I looked back at what they were and realized that they barely wanted anything beyond “to save the day”. I needed to reach back to the brief training I had in acting. It would help me focus on what my character wanted at the moment and also overall.

The new campaign was helmed by a different Game Master. This gamemaster had been a player who had previously pushed me to do better in my disastrous first character. I had thought that he did not like me but I now know that I was projecting my fears. But back then I was nervous to start a new campaign with him in charge. This new campaign was another science-fiction story. It was about people who lived on space stations who did not conform to society and were banished to an alien planet as a prison colony. This was immediately an exciting idea. My character would have a life before and after his fall from grace.

I started to try and figure out who I was going to be. I started with how my character fit into the society on the space station which would also shape his role among the other player characters. The background information we had been given had mentioned that the planet was littered with alien technology. I thought I could be useful as a repairman, a guy who worked in an appliance repair shop and fixed things people brought him. This was later shifted to being an engineering worker as our world changed and we reimagined the space station a little bit. So what was the fatal flaw that got my character banished? I knew that he was a good guy. To support his family, he had started to fight in an underground fighting club and he had been arrested when it was raided.

Later, as we played more and I thought about it more, I came up with more of the backstory. He and his sister had been orphaned when their parents died of a drug overdose. He was the only one captured in the raid because he lost the fight and was knocked unconscious. He was deeply troubled by being banished to the planet because his little sister had been left alone on the station. He felt that he had been betrayed by the government that he had respected but he also felt that he belonged down below. All that was left was a name for my character. I decided to name him Phillip Brooks, stealing CM Punk’s real name. This started the trend of me creating characters with pro-wrestlers’ names but this one was the most egregious.

On arrival at the planet, my character teamed with a ragtag group. There was a thief, a computer programmer, a fashion designer, a mad scientist, a religious zealot, and arms dealer. (Later, the arms dealer was replaced by a soldier). Not long after getting to the camp that would be his new home, my character was propositioned by the mad scientist. It was mindless, meaningless sex but it was a comfort in the new situation. Later, on an expedition to explore their surroundings, the group found foreign berries. Before the scientist could taste test them, my big strong character volunteered with the belief that he would survive. The berries were basically a strong narcotic and my character became an addict. Phillip became angry and sullen and eventually, he nearly died. The scientist saved his life, bringing him back from a coma.

The combination of her saving his life and their brief sexual encounter made Phillip want to protect her. That became my character’s prime directive and he often hung around her, making sure she was safe and practically became her pet. He became dedicated to proving that he was actually a good person and that he was not the monster that he had become. He wanted their community to thrive even if he and the rest of them probably did not deserve to do so. Along the way, they fought the planet’s natives who were strange cat people who may have had good reason to fight the new invaders. The group also discovered a race of sentient trees which were later used as part of a water filtration system for the camp.

In the end, Phillip and the party were sent out on a mission to reestablish contact with a mining operation in the mountains. Phillip was starting to feel better about himself and when they arrived, he was pointed toward a busted radio. The radio was the reason that contact had been lost. Given the opportunity to fix something electronic unlocked something in Phillip and for the first time in a long time, he felt happy again. Unfortunately, an explosion went off in the mines where the rest of his party was and we left the campaign on a cliffhanger on whether everybody else survived or not.

This game was my first experience with the FATE system. For those who do not know, the FATE system is an attempt to simplify the usual D20 system of play. Players role four six-sided die with pluses and minuses on them. A failure on a roll would be mostly negative dice and a success would be mostly positive dice. There were also many skills that characters could have. In addition, characters had abilities and character flaws that responded to “fate chips”. These chips were used to help to reroll or alter rolls to succeed where a player might have failed because of a bad roll. It was an interesting system to learn and, so far, it is the system we have used the most in our group.

Game Soundtrack:

The Pretty RecklessHeaven Knows

I still think this is the perfect song to describe the ragtag group that Phillip became a part of. They were a group of criminals and misfits (for the most part) and they probably all deserved the punishment they got. It was best to just own it. It also described Phillip’s guilt at being banished to the prison planet in the first place.

The Pretty RecklessMy Medicine 

I heard this song and I instantly thought of Phillip’s battle with addiction. He thought he was eating some berries that would at worst make him feel ill but ended up an addict like his parents had been. He felt so hopeless.

Avenged SevenfoldBat Country

This was one of my jams during the time that we played this campaign and it just seemed to reflect where Phillip was. “Too many doses and I’m starting to get an attraction”, “My hand is on the trigger”, “Nobody can save me”, and other phrases just seemed to reflect who Phillip was becoming from the addiction. But what really sold me is the quote “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

April 8, 2017

I guess I have the same interesting relationship a lot of people have with firearms. I am a strong proponent of gun control because I believe that guns have never really done anything good. They can only accomplish something less bad because, with a gun,  somebody is eventually getting shot. People getting shot is kind of a bad outcome. I would like to live in a world where fewer people get shot or even none if we can swing it. But I understand that in fiction, guns are cool. All of the cool action heroes use guns at some point or another because the bad guys give them no choice. Of course, in the world of fiction, they rarely have ricochets or bullets missing their target and hitting an innocent person. I love westerns, action movies, and anime with guns. On another part of this blog, you can even read my ongoing series Redcross which features a fictional Arizona sheriff who wields her father’s gun.

I grew up in the city and went to a private school so most guns I saw were in fiction or were talked about on the news. My first actual experience with guns was when I went off to Camp Shohola up in Greeley, Pennsylvania. I regularly signed up for riflery class for several years while I was in camp. It was technically a sport but it was definitely for kids who did not actually want to do sports. We would fire rifles at a range from our bellies and shoot paper targets. Having that much force in my hands and breathing in all of that gun smoke was kind of exciting. My next experience with guns was when my uncle brought me to a SWAT team gun range and let me fire a SWAT service rifle which fired three bullets for each squeeze of the trigger. Other than paintball, my only other experience with guns was going to a gun range down in Florida where I fired actual guns. It was actually kind of scary.

The gunfight that actually happened at the OK Corral is one of the most famous that ever happened. So many movies have been made about the incident, so why did I pick this one? Well, it started with a G but more importantly, it was on my list of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die list that I have been consulting for ideas of what to watch. This is a classic and I felt it was important to see how this was done in the period when most of my favorite westerns were made. The actual famous gunfight only took 30 seconds from start to finish and three men lay dead at the end of it. The key figures involved were outlaw Doc Holliday and lawman Wyatt Earp. This happened in the infamous Tombstone, Arizona. Of course, I have visited Tombstone and Old Tuscon (a theme park and movie studio) where much of the film was shot. This film covers the two years before the famous gunfight.

Wyatt Earp is played by Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. At this point in his life, he has been a lawman for twenty-five years. He is a little tired but he is a man who believes in justice and defending the people of the frontier. He always speaks in an even tone and his gaze is hard and serious. Doc Holliday is played by legendary action star Kirk Douglas. He is an old and sick but still debonair criminal who has pissed off seemingly every other criminal in the old west. He oozes charm and is getting tired of being a trouble magnet and having to protect himself from both the law and the other criminals. The two of them strike up an unlikely partnership out of necessity. Along the way, we also meet characters played by DeForest Kelley, Dennis Hopper and a whole host of western character actors. Everybody does a great job in a melodramatic sort of way and really brings the characters to life.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Since it takes period over a year in various towns in the west, it gets time to breathe. We get to know the characters and we get to see the development of the begrudging partnership and unlikely friendship between two men who should hate each other. The score is very middle of the road classical music (nothing like later Morricone stuff) but it suits the movie just fine. There is also some narration through song that actually works. The camera work is mostly nothing fancy but some of the shots are really masterful which makes the little touches all the more important. Some of the romance subplot feels unnecessary but it makes for some calmer story beats to rest the characters.

Gender Moments in Television

April 8, 2016

So since today we’re supposed to examine the letter G, I thought Gender was a fun word to look at. I was thinking about this post since early February when the thoughts were sparked by an episode of Adam Savage’s Still Untitled podcast. Gender is hard to write about as we get a little stuck in our ways but the good news is that things are slowly changing. High profile shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black are doing their part to shatter gender stereotypes and ignorance. However, I decided to think up some more subtle examples woven into more mainstream shows. These are things people might not even notice right away but may open cracks for more knowledge and open-mindedness to worm its way past heavy defenses.


Jessica Jones does not use feminine wiles

Some of you may already see where I am going, some of you might wonder and some of you might already have had your minds blown like mine was. Jessica Jones is a great show that is subtly feminist in its equal representation of females. We could go back and forth on polarizing interpretations of the main villain portrayed by David Tennant. We could talk about how Jessica Jones and Patsy Walker are way tougher than women are usually portrayed. We could also talk about how Frank Simpson is threatened by Patsy and Jess’ strength. All of these are great depictions of gender as it really is in the world. However, let’s look at what’s not there. At no point in season one does Jessica Jones use her feminine wiles to get her way. She uses brawn, she uses brains and she uses connections but she never uses her sexuality. I don’t mean to say that it would be bad if she did but it’s an interesting thing to think about.


Charlie coached in seducing a guy by Dean Winchester

I love Supernatural but at its heart it is literally a show about bros constantly trying to save the world from magical threats. It follows Sam Winchester who is a fairly enlightened guy who is pretty respectful when it comes to differences and connected to the world. His brother Dean is a little less connected and tends to yearn for the 1970’s as he looks for earthly pleasure in the forms of booze, women and pie. While the combination sounds like The Odd Couple meets The X-Files it’s not exactly cut and dry. Under Dean’s surface, there is a deeper human being and Sam isn’t really as saintly as he often appears. My favorite episode of the whole series is The Girl with the Dungeons & Dragons Tattoo which guest stars Felicia Day. In the episode, Dean assumes that Charlie (Felicia Day) can get by a guard by flirting with him but Charlie reveals that she is gay. So, Dean talks her through flirting with a male using what he knows he likes. It’s just an awkward moment where both characters realize things about their identities.


Perry Saturn, Loser Wears a Dress

In the sports entertainment world (otherwise known as pro-wrestling) is a real but also fictional world where people fight physical and technical bouts for money in front of crowds. In this world image is everything because the outcomes and storylines are fictional but the pain can be real. You have to make the crowds interested in each match or they will be pointless to put on without earning money to pay all the costs involved. So, some intelligent promoter thought up using match stipulations to drive up more interest in matches that might need a little help. World Championship Wrestling came up with a lot of weird ones. People who lost matches had to leave the company, be people’s manservants, change group affiliations and so on. When Perry Saturn went up against Chris Jericho at Souled Out in the loser had to wear a dress. This was meant as a humiliation punishment but it turned out that Perry Saturn liked wearing a dress and didn’t see it as a punishment. Wearing women’s clothes isn’t a sign of weakness.


Castle is constantly rescued by Kate Beckett and is alright with it

There are too many of these moments to count. Castle is a show about Richard Castle, a murder mystery writer who suffers from writer’s block and eventually becomes a consultant to Detective Kate Beckett. The show has a lot of fun moments in it that are pretty human and there is a lot of drama to follow along with enough comedy to light the way. Kate’s evolution has little to do with her sexuality and more to do with her emotions as a human being, a police detective and an orphan. Castle, on the other hand, starts the first episode as a flirtatious, stubly alpha male who has questionable tendencies toward eligible females. Through the series, he comes to respect Kate better and respect himself better through her eyes and the eyes of his daughter. One thing that does occur from episode one is that Castle has no problems being rescued over and over by a woman as well he should not. Honorable mention goes out to Life and Psych as two more examples of tough, feminine characters who are fully accepted by their peers.


Officers Blubs and Durlon declare their love

Gravity Falls is a cartoon about twin twelve-year-olds who are sent to live with their Great Uncle for the summer in a small Oregon town. The town of Gravity Falls is filled to the brim with weirdness. There are supernatural creatures and magical spells and eldritch multi-dimensional beings that do all sorts of horrible (yet sometimes funny things). The show also has a whole cast of characters who are exaggerated but share a lot of moments that resonated with my life and, by looking at the fandom, I was not the only one so impacted. Two prominent side characters are the town’s only police officers, Officer Blubs and Officer Durlon. They are ignorant, lazy and crazy but, in the end, they do their job and help defend the town the best they can. Starting early it was hinted that they had a very close relationship but I always assumed they were friends. Then they started saying things that could be interpreted as making them more than friends. In the second to last episode they finally clearly declare their love as they embrace. I have to accept it as canon now.

Grease (1978)

April 8, 2015


I can’t really come up with a good reason why I haven’t seen Grease up until now. I’m a fan of musicals in general even though I sometimes condemn the whole genre. I didn’t mind Travolta as much back then. I guess I must have missed it because it wasn’t part of my high school’s line up and I never felt the need. Still, it’s a cultural touchstone and I want to actually see it instead of associating it with a bunch of songs I’ve already heard. So let’s dive into Grease. Hopefully it’s more pleasant than that last sentence.

“Horrible seventies animation. Great. Also, the first song doesn’t make sense. It’s also pretty low energy for an opening number.”

The opening credits have really awful animation and a really awful song that doesn’t make sense for an opening number. It’s just a harbinger for things to come.

“Ok I wasn’t expecting the British accent. Why is this a thing?”

Seriously. Why is she Australian? That plot point never really goes anywhere. She could have been from Oregon or something instead. Really, really weird.

“Is Rizzo Kinickie’s mom?”

I guess it was seventies casting but they could have at least cast college kids to be in high school instead of people in there late twenties and early thirties. Of course, this is a common complaint for plenty of movies and tv shows. Kinickie and Rizzo are particulary old looking as Rizzo looks believable as a middle-aged mom at times.

“Ok Summer Nights is a good song. The first good one so far.”

Unfortunately it turned out to be one of basically three good songs.

“Pretty good character actors.”

The only thing that kept me from turning this movie off halfway through were the various character actors that appeared throughout. The Principal was pretty fun and so was the coach. The backup T-Birds and Pink Ladies were way funnier than anything else in the movie. I especially love the Three Stooges-type routines.

“They have a lot of blonde wigs. What the hell? Also, they are the worst friends. Also this is another mediocre song.”

The song in question here is called Sandra Dee or something or other. It’s awful and makes Sandy’s friends look like the biggest jerks. They kind of are.

“At least Travolta sings better than Pierce Brosnan. This number is strangely sexual though.”

A cheap shot at Mamma Mia which is somehow a worse musical. The choreography for Greased Lightning is pretty sexual and actually disturbed me by how much it looked like it belonged in The Full Monty instead.

“The Gamblers are playing the worst written songs in the history of music. They’re also pretty lackluster singers.”

There are a lot of boring and poorly written songs in this movie which is weird for a musical. The biggest offenders were at the dance-off which was even weirder. I don’t know what they were thinking. How did this musical get famous?

“It’s nice for the movie to have a point suddenly but there’s only twenty minutes left so it’s a little too late.”

There didn’t really seem to be a coherent plot up until the build up for the race at Thunder Road plotline but it comes too little, too late. It does set up the only action sequence which was actually pretty cool to watch.

“The first ten minutes and the last twenty are actually fairly good but there’s unfortunately another hour and a half.”

Yep. Pretty much. This movie drags so much and then it finally picks up just in time for it to end.

“This ending is bad and it should feel bad. They should have ended with You’re the One That I Want. At least this song isn’t that annoying. It’s just kind of annoying.”

The romance plot between Sandy and Danny was absolutely disgusting. There are no good excuses for it. Sandy is so weak-willed and Danny is so half-assed about the relationship. By comparison, Rizzo and Kinickie are a lot more likeable but even Kinickie is kind of a jerk but at least he gets a more proper redemption.

Ok let’s be clear. I really hated this movie and by extension I never want to see the stage version. The thing was so slow that I wanted to fast forward but for the sake of some sort of twisted journalistic integrity I didn’t. I liked some of the characters but Danny and Sandy grated on my nerves hardcore. Danny was an asshole and Sandy was kind of a clueless ditz about it. They did the storyline where the guy upsets the girl by putting on an act but he decided to change who he was to get her back. She already loved the real you, dummy. Just be the Danny at the beach who was apparently the real you.  Of course, he never does that and she changes for him and makes me want to barf.

There were a bunch of storylines that never went anywhere. Frenchy and her beauty school dreams, Sonny and Marty, Cha Cha and Danny’s past and a bunch of others. At least Rizzo and Kinickie’s storyline was at least a bit believable and they ended up being more enjoyable. They aren’t worth watching the movie for though.

The movie was dull as dirt and I’m really disappointed. The music was mostly awful and washed out except for Summer Nights. Unfortunately, the quality rarely gets back up the level of that one musical number. I’m left with nearly two hours of mind-numbing boredom until You’re The One That I Want. Just skip this movie and watch Summer Nights and You’re the One That I Want on Youtube.


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