Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

School's almost done for the year and temperatures are pushing 90 degrees more often than not, so that says "summer" to me. "Steal My Sunshine" by Len strikes me as a summer-type song. Catchy almost to the point of being an earworm. The video's nothing to write home about, unfortunately, but it's worth watching if only to see the most intimidating Vespa scooter gang to ever terrorize the roadways.

Previously on Friday Night Videos...B.B. King.

Now Playing: The Kinks Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How to avoid writing whilst enjoying physical exhaustion

Those of you keeping score at home may recall that last year, due to a variety of reasons (crappy neighbors), we decided to move. This was not undertaken lightly, and once we put the house on the market, I had to come to terms with leaving my maturing backyard orchard and my lovely, lovely office. We found a buyer almost immediately, to our surprise. That kinda went smoothly, except for a few hiccups that were more annoying than deal-threatening. That should've clued us in that things were moving too smoothly, and the universe was set to right the scales. We found what we thought was our dream house on 7 acres of rural land with an adjacent garage (with apartment) that seemed perfect for The Wife's permanent photography studio. To make a long story short, with a limited amount of time, we negotiated a deal on the house that would give us just enough time to move out of the old one and into the new one without being homeless. Then the inspection happened. We were suddenly facing the very real prospect of homelessness. Ouch. After a mad scramble, we returned to a house we'd looked at before that was (at that time) out of our price range. A deal was done, and after some creative contracting, we moved in with no time to spare.

Which brings us to now. Or rather, the six months between then and now. Got that? The biggest "must have" of the whole house hunt was potential studio space for Lisa on Location. The plan was to close down the small studio space in New Braunfels (which Lisa'd outgrown almost as soon as she'd opened) and apply that studio rent to the new mortgage to make all the numbers work. The new home had a five-car garage, or more precisely, a two-car garage plus a three-car garage that'd been added on sometime in the past decade. Why? Dunno. But it offered potentially great studio space. This is what we started with:

Doesn't look so bad, right? Wrong. Those cabinets along the wall there? Utter garbage. The previous owners must've scavenged them form abandoned sharecroppers shacks, not bothering to remove the mud dauber and rat nests. And they were thoughtful enough to make them well nigh impossible to remove. But remove we did:

Then there was the attic area. You might think they couldn't store much in an unfinished attic--a bunch of bare rafters, really. You'd be wrong again. There were ruined golf club bags, old shoes, what may have been a soccer goal at one point, a kind of wooden putting green covered in astroturf, some type of tent/pavilion that had large sections missing... Basically, anything they'd ever spent money on that broke, they shoved up there. Because, hey, they spent money on it, so it's worth something. Although it wasn't worth enough to take with them when they departed. Once we got all of that cleaned out--which took until the end of December, pretty much constant work--I began installing drywall to the ceiling, along with an attic ladder. Lisa installed insulation to the walls. This took us through the end of January into February, and I'd still be at work on that ceiling if my brother, Chris, hadn't lent me the use of his drywall hoist. Then Lisa and I tackled the floor. Apparently, the previous owners used this garage space exclusively for storing massive oil leaks and rust puddles that don't willingly come out of concrete. But at least we tried.

At this point I feel compelled to point out I've gotten no original writing done during this period. None, nada, zip. I'd landed a contract with a publisher for the Chicken Ranch book, and spent a little time here and there cleaning up the copy and making a handful of sensible changes they'd requested in order to have the manuscript ready for the March deadline we'd agreed on. And then I walked away from the deal because of some nasty clauses in the contract the publisher refused to negotiate. To escape the emotional devastation, I threw myself into installing the drywall on the walls. Brickwork is something beyond my skill set, so we hired a crew (not a terribly competent crew, it turns out) to install windows and brick in the front. A two-day job ended up taking two weeks. No joke.

After that, I built a partition wall for the dressing room and a storage area, taped the drywall, sanded, painted, installed lighting and trim (Lisa did the wallpaper) and a bunch of other stuff that took up far, far more time than expected. Far, far more money than expected as well. There's still things that need completing, but it gets so hot in the studio now that we're approaching summer that I'm holding off until next week when the air conditioning (hopefully) is installed. This is what a 95 percent complete boudoir/pin-up studio looks like:

Yes, that's a pole, for pole dancers. It's surprising how many women want to pose with one, so Lisa bought the portable model, which I get to set up and take down as needed.

Currently, I'm installing privacy fencing outside so that clients may come and go without trooping through our house and garage. Then I get to finish insulating the attic, which, all things considered, is another month of fairly constant work. Most weekday evenings I come home, eat dinner and then head into the studio around 6:30-7, finishing up around 11 p.m. That leads to a lot of muscle fatigue and sore joints, not to mention the fact that I don't smell too pleasant, either. Since that's my prime writing time, well, it's pretty clear to see why I've not been productive--especially considering the fact that Lisa's photography brings in far, far more income than my writing does). But the end is near. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. The finish line's in sight.

Which means that soon I'll be able to start work on my office, which shouldn't take more than another 6 months to complete.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tomorrowland by any other name is Yesterdayworld

Tomorrowland is screenwriter Damon Lindelof's strongest work.

Tomorrowland is director Brad Bird's weakest work.

Tomorrowland's ambitions are a mile wide.

Tomorrowland's substance is an inch deep.

If you want to avoid any potential spoilers, then stop reading here. This is a film suffering a profound identity crisis. It desperately wants to be a reaction against the flood of dystopia narratives filling bookstores and cinema screens, but ultimately is just as much a dystopia as Hunger Games or Insurgent or Maze Runner. In fact, it's worse. Despite its obvious good intentions (and the film punctuates its Good! Intentions! so often that they're impossible to overlook) it is ultimately cynical in its approach to those very ideas as well as toward the audience sitting down to enjoy the show. Case in point, this is what Tomorrowland promises:

That's selling point. That promise is the only marketing of the film. That promise is inherent in the title. Yet, George Clooney's Frank in the film has the most profound, unintentionally self-aware line in the entire movie when he rants (slightly paraphrasing here due to spotty memory), "You were sold a lie! It's a commercial!" The Tomorrowland promised literally doesn't exist anymore. For a movie that relentlessly insists that imagination is one of the most important traits a human can possess, the script has precious little of it when it comes to narrative. The plot is teh same old formulaic plug-and-play Hollywood trots out ad nauseum. But beyond the basic failure of imagination when it comes to the plot, the story also shows a distinct lack of imagination (or interest) in its own self beyond gorgeous window dressing. Why doesn't Tomorrowland exist as promised? Dunno. That's never explained. Why did Tomorrowland exist in the first place? Um... smart people. Plus, Edison and Tesla hated each other, but were drinking buddies with Jules Verne and Alexandre Eiffel. Or something. What happened to all the people Frank saw in Tomorrowland when he first arrived? Why was Frank even kicked out? Why is Hugh Laurie's Nix trying so hard to keep Tomorrowland secret? Why are there packs of Terminator-style assassin androids roaming modern America, disintegrating police officers willy-nilly without raising any suspicions? And really, why is it that all futuristic robot/android societies feel the need to exterminate humans? (Did anyone else notice the similarities betwixt this movie and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Anyone?) And while I'm at it, the Tomorrowland pin macguffin has got to be the biggest virtual reality liability lawsuit waiting to happen. If Casey breaks her neck falling down the stairs, or drowns in the lake, Athena's going to look pretty stupid. Then again, we never found out what happened to the recipients of Athena's other pins--Tomorrowland recruitment may well have an astronomical mortality rate.

None of these--and many other--questions are ever answered. Wait, I take that back--some are answered in passing, but by that point the audience is distracted and has lost interest. Others are non-explanations, that acknowledge said question and offer a few details that seem, at the time, to resolve things, but are ultimately just hand-waving. Are we seeing a pattern here? Yes! I have just described every script Lindelof has ever written! I've complained about Lindelof's writing before, here and again here. There is one particularly egregious moment in the first half of the film where Athena (an android girl who is literally the only character with a complete understanding of the situation and the catalyst of the plot itself) fakes a fail-safe shutdown for the sole purpose of not providing necessary information to Casey, the protagonist. This sets up an amusing character gag a little later in the film, but that doesn't excuse the fact that most of the intervening mayhem, death and destruction could've been avoided had Athena not inexplicably decided to be a dick for the sake of being a dick.

Lindelof is a writer who has never shied away from questions. The problem is, he has no clue as to what the answer is, and has zero interest in figuring it out. Instead, he dances around and fills his scripts with hand-waving, hoping audiences don't notice the gaping plot holes or break down of all logic. He could not write a script that progressed from point A to point B without having characters withhold vital information from each other--information they had every incentive to share! He has not improved one iota as a screenwriter over the course of umpteen projects. His is superficial masquerading as profound, and reminds me of another filmmaker unable to break out of a stagnant creative loop--M. Night Shyamalan.

So what, if anything, is it worth seeing this movie for? Well, the female characters for one. There's a glorious bit of squabbling that goes on halfway through the film that could've come straight out of The Incredibles and reminds the viewer that Brad Bird is still in charge. Casey, played by Britt Robertson, is infectious with her enthusiasm. Although there are moments when she's trying too hard (the film stops just short of "Insert Soapbox Here"), when she's simply allowed to inhabit the character there are flashes of Jennifer Lawrence-level investment. Raffey Cassidy's Athena steals the show, however. A fiery spark plug of a character, Cassidy reminds me of Maisie Williams with her seemingly limitless capacity to be simultaneously annoying and endearing. She also gets all the best lines. As for the rest of the cast, eh. Clooney plays the same Clooney character he portrays almost exclusively these days. Hugh Laurie is wasted as the one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain Nix. The rest of the cast is merely there, serving their roles but neither adding nor subtracting from the film.

The movie's a great deal of fun when it's not trying so hard to Convey An Important Message. Bird knows pacing and keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The few glimpses we get of a fully-realized Tomorrowland are magnificent. Jet packs. Rockets to the stars. The suspended, multi-level swimming pools are particularly inspired, and had my swim team daughter bouncing in her seat with excitement. That's the movie we wanted. That's the movie we were promised. Instead, we a bleak, "Paradise Lost" dystopia with a facile "Feed the right wolf" moral to the story. Yes, there's hope at the end, the idea that Casey and Frank and all their robot helpers will get it right this time (even though we're never really clear on what actually went wrong). They face the future with optimism, that tomorrow will be better than today because of sacrifice and determination. Once you get down to it, though, isn't that the same as The Hunger Games?

Tomorrowland is the very thing it condemns.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

B.B. King has left the building. I remember standing before the enormous statue of him right outside of Memphis and later going into his club on Beale Street (although he wasn't playing). The man had presence, even when he wasn't around. Suffice to say, The Thrill is Gone.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Charlie Sexton.

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The nostalgia of Dewberry pie

On the route I drive to take the kids to school there is a pasture where the barbed wire fence is overgrown with dewberry vines. I first noticed this a little more than a month ago, as first bunches of white flowers appeared alongside the fence and road, followed some weeks later by bright red (unripe) berries. Anyone growing up in semi-rural Texas in the '70s or '80s will remember that dewberries were a found treasure, purple-black bursts of tart sweetness that grew everywhere and were free for the taking. As a child, I remember going out into bramble-filled pastures with my grandmother (and presumably the rest of the family as well) filling up buckets with dewberries while getting scratched up by those nasty little thorns. We always wore boots and carried long sticks because of the potential for snakes. Both of my grandmothers would bake dewberry pies that were magnificent. I cannot remember them ever baking any other kind of pie--well, maybe lemon meringue, but as I didn't like lemon meringue, that doesn't count. The tart/sweet balance was fantastic, and I would eat as much of those pies as I could get away with. One grandmother always baked them with a crust lattice on top, the other baked them open-faced. I didn't care--I ate both types without prejudice. The one thing I didn't like was the crunchiness of the seeds that filled said pies. What can I say? I could be dumb as a kid.

So, as these red, unripe dewberries turned a tempting black, the notion that I should pick some took root in my mind. Every day I drove past, with more and more berries ripening... and every day I forgot by the time evening rolled around. Until last Saturday, when I saw half a dozen cars parked alongside of the road with twice as many people out there, filling up buckets with dewberries. "I've been thinking about doing that very thing!" I shouted out my car window. They laughed, holding up their buckets, and said there was plenty for everyone.

The next day I, along with Monkey Girl--Fairy Girl and Bug declining to participate--headed out to the dewberry patch with boots and poles in hand. Monkey Girl was somewhat wary at first, but after trying one, she ended up eating as many dewberries as she bagged. Seriously, she downed a bunch of them. Alas, the crowd from the day before got all the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. There were many ripe dewberries left, true, but a large percentage were small and undersized. The largest, most appealing berries lay on the other side of the fence, but after discovering first-hand that the fence had an electrified livestock line (that was indeed hot) we both decided those berries were just fine where they were. All told, we gathered almost three quarts of dewberries for half an hour's work. Not as many as I'd hoped, but a pretty good return rate, given the circumstances.

Someday, I'd like to make some homemade dewberry wine as my family had done years ago, but my homebrew equipment isn't set up yet, and we didn't have enough berries to even start. So pies it was. Except, I didn't have the recipe either of my grandmothers had used. So I Googled. There were recipes there that looked interesting, but were far more complex than what I knew my grandmothers made. I finally settled on one that was a simple mix of berries, butter, sugar, water and thickener (flour). This recipe had issues, however. After baking the allotted time, the dewberry pie was more soup than anything else--not what I wanted. So after an emergency application of hastily-bought tapioca flour and additional cook time, I ended up with two open-face, passable dewberry pies.

They weren't exactly right, but that familiar dewberry tartness was there, that familiar crunchy texture from seeds that I so hated as a kid. It was almost like the food critic scene from Ratatouille. Almost. Not quite. For one, it was too sweet. Too much sugar. I'll cut back on that next time. Also, the overall texture was more stratified than consistent throughout--which I attribute to the early mishap with thickener. But I was close. It was familiar. I'd forgotten how much I missed dewberry pie. The kids? Well, they were like me at that age, devouring as much as they could.

I've got a couple of blackberry plants growing in the back yard, and they are growing well--even setting a few small berries this year. Next year might yield a decent crop. But my experience with blackberries (which admittedly isn't extensive) is more sweet than flavorful. We'll see. But if these blackberry plants cannot match the in-your-face flavor punch of the humble dewberry, I know where I can harvest some vines for transplant.

Now Playing: The Kinks Kriminally Rare
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 08, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Remember back when Charlie Sexton was a national solo star instead of a go-to backing band and session guitarist? Success takes many forms, but if you blinked, you may have missed "Beat's So Lonely."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Pinkard and Bowden.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Road
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 01, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Pinkard and Bowden are great. If you're not familiar with them, they're professional songwriters with an impressive number of hit songs between them. But once they started collaborating, everything they did was shamelessly silly. I had their fantastic compilation, "Gettin Stupid," until I foolishly let someone borrow it and never saw it again. Now, all of their albums are out of print and quite costly to get used. The video for their song "I Lobster But Never Flounder" shows once again that country music just did not get the whole video concept, but it is amusing nonetheless. And this is simply the punniest fish song this side of Kip Adotta's "Wet Dream."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Now Playing: The Kinks Schoolboys in Disgrace
Chicken Ranch Central