Wednesday, February 21, 2024

It's Time To Give T-Pain the Respect He is Due

T-Pain is a vastly underrated artist. I've blogged about enjoying his work previously and would argue he has often been at best discounted and at worst ignored in his talent for unfair reasons. Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room to start: Yes, T-Pain has at many points in his career utilized autotune as a tool. When he sings without autotune it is clear the man doesn't need it, but with his production chops, it makes a cool addition to his repertoire he likes to make use of. With that out of the way, more people really need to put some respect on T-Pain's name.

T-Pain was kind of quiet for a while in terms of the public eye after putting out, "1UP," in 2019 (and winning, "The Masked Singer," that year too), but lately, he has kept busy. He put out a stellar LP in 2023 titled, "On Top of the Covers," where he sings a wide range of songs and there is a live version of the album as well. His rendition of, "Tennesse Whiskey," is just plain fantastic and I don't even like much country music. "On Top of the Covers," was his first solo album since 2019, but he had been working. He's done a ton of production work and actually did some, "Ghost production," on country albums (speaking of country music) due to facing racism. He took the money and was fine with his name being left off the credits, which makes me happy he's getting his checks but sad he faced hateful attitudes. T-Pain also is an avid video-gamer and has live-streamed himself on games often. He actually had to quit a, "Grand Theft Auto V," roleplaying server (where you pretend you're actually a character in the World and such, it's a popular niche in the game) due to apparently working on the upcoming, "Grand Theft Auto VI." T-Pain is up to a lot, lately.

I've been a fan of T-Pain ever since he rhymed, "Mansion," with, "Wisconsin/Wiscansin," all those years ago both as a bit of a joke and to show how he's as great a wordsmith as he is a producer, singer, entertainer, etc. People need to give the man his flowers, as the saying goes. I look forward to any other projects he puts out and to seeing just what exactly he's been doing with, "GTA VI," when that comes out at some point in 2025 (hopefully).

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Natural and Lab-Grown Diamonds Are BOTH a Good Option

If you want a natural diamond and make sure to get one that isn't harming the environment too badly or from an area of war (conflict diamonds) then that is perfectly fine. If you like lab-grown diamonds that is great too. Both are equally valid diamonds and look wonderful when used as jewelry. Hence, I was annoyed by aspects of this article on Markets Insider about how, "The Lab-Grown Diamond Boom is Over." The facts in the article were perfectly fine--it just discusses how lab-grown diamonds are more common now and some people are trading in bigger lab-grown diamonds for more expensive and smaller natural diamonds. 

The thing about the piece that bothered me was how it talked to certain experts who just dripped with pretentiousness about natural or man-made diamonds. Cormac Kinney, the CEO of the commodities trading firm Diamond Standard, snarkily says in the piece, "Any gem lab can tell the difference, and your friends probably can too — especially if the diamond does not match your economic status," in regards to lab-grown or natural diamonds. It is such an ignorant statement and I guess makes sense as his company has a vested interest in natural diamonds being traded. Actually telling the difference between lab-grown and natural diamonds is impossible with the naked eye and requires fancy professional equipment. Hence, if you want a natural diamond that is fine, and if you want it lab-grown that is cool too. Pick what fits your budget and desires. Don't let other people influence your views just because they stand to profit from bashing one over the other.

Monday, February 19, 2024

EC Comics Returns as an Oni Press Imprint

EC Comics was a publisher decades ago who created a variety of amazing sci-fi and horror comics among other neat stuff. Short for, "Entertaining Comics," the head--Willaim Gaines--had the company put out incredible works. In 1954 the infamous and awful book, "Seduction of the Innocent," by Wertham resulted in congressional hearings into comic books and led to the Comics Code Authority to avoid governmental censorship. Sold by Gaines in the 1960s and absorbed into various companies, the EC line found itself often reprinted and it led to the popular, "Tales From the Crypt," show which drew from one of the old comics. Now, EC Comics is coming back in a fashion as an imprint of Oni Press.

There will be new comics created through a partnership with Oni and the family of William Gaines. An impressive roster of writers and artists shall be working on the new series. Talents involved include Jason Aaron, Brian Azzarello, J.H. Williams III, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Matt Kindt, and plenty more. There appear to be plans for horror, sci-fi, and other goodness EC was known for back in the pre-code days. Thankfully, the Comics Code Authority is gone and creators can make comics about whatever they like these days (without having to be underground comix or such). I look forward to new EC comics with the first titles apparently coming in July and August!

The Tiny Onion Comic Brand is Growing Into a Production Company

James Tynion IV has had his comic brand of Tiny Onion for a number of years now. It was his self-published work and other creative partners. However, as reported by a variety of sites including Comicsbeat, Tiny Onion is now becoming, "...a full-blown production company. Tynion’s goal as both founder and CEO is to take the independent film studio approach to comics. To encourage a mutually beneficial creator economy." 

Tiny Onion will be a production house and will not be a comic publisher, but instead, "...will work with publishers such as Dark Horse and Image comics, with ambitious plans for the company in the future include expansion into publishing, film, and TV in the future." Basically, a creator who needs support to get a project made could turn to Tiny Onion for a variety of resources and industry contacts thanks to how, "Tiny Onion will focus on the business sides of production including comics development, packaging, marketing, and promotion of creator-owned comics work. Working as more of a book packager and production house [as I said], the company will be managing some of Tynion’s creator-owned work."

James Tynion IV

It sounds like this expansion of Tiny Onion will assist Tynion IV with his own projects and allow him to assist a bunch of other creators he (or the company's staff) has enjoyed working with or believes in. I look forward to announcements of what projects are in the works these coming months!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

I Hope Everyone is Having a Fantastic National Condom Week!

I have a Master's Degree in Public Health and worked within the field of sexual health previously so I just thought I'd make sure everyone is having a swell national condom week! It runs from February 14th through the 21st. Are you all good? Because if you ever need to know how to properly use a condom there are tons of resources such as Planned Parenthood to name a massive and well-regarded organization. Should you be local to Saint Louis you can also learn a ton about sexual health, get free condoms, and get tested at my former employer (I left on good terms when Clarkson was born prematurely, they're all cool), Williams and Associates.

 Condoms help prevent STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and there are a wide variety if you think you don't like them/are supposedly, "Too big," or any other excuse. Condoms save lives and keep us safe, it is as simple as that. Have a great remainder of this national condom week!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Microsoft to Share Games With Other Consoles

For the past couple of weeks, a lot of people have been theorizing about Microsoft potentially doing everything from quitting making consoles, to teaming up with Sony to offer a Gamepass on the PS5, to all kinds of outlandish ideas. To calm everyone down a, "Business update," podcast came out on February 15th that made it clear there are still plans to make more Xbox consoles, the Game Pass isn't going anywhere, and a handful of first-party games are going to be shared with competitors. Considering how some people who take the idea of, "Console Wars," very seriously were melting down on Twitter or Reddit at rumors it turned out the truth honestly could have been an email.

"Starfield," is still an Xbox/PC exclusive, contrary to fan fears, but some titles such as, 'Hi-Fi Rush," and, "Pentiment," will be on other devices than Xbox (or PC for titles that applies to). The, "Battle," between consoles is constantly evolving and with stuff like crossplay and such between devices and more game-sharing it is starting to become apparent picking a, "Side," isn't a big deal so much as just playing whatever device has games you like, which may sometimes be multiple ones--and that's okay!

Friday, February 16, 2024

Another Kickstarter Has Launched for More, "Widow," by Mike Wolfer!

I am always excited when writer/artist Mike Wolfer and letterer Natalie Jane launch a new Kickstarter. Lately, all the classic, "Widow," stories have been tweaked and updated in new issues that contain a bunch of content from various iterations of the series. With issues #5 and #6 now in readers' hands, Wolfer and Jane have launched a new Kickstarter today for issues #7 and #8. The series will keep being collected up until we reach new stories--which I'm really pumped about! If you're behind on the issues there is no need to worry as the latest Kickstarter contains add-on options for everything that has come out previously. The, "Widow," stories are always a delight of horror, eroticism, and great art, so if that sounds like you're cup of tea, go back the latest Kickstarter campaign here!

Film Friday: "American Fiction," Is a Spectacular Film

When I heard that a movie titled, "American Fiction," was an adaptation and modernization of a great novel, "Erasure," I was interested. Seeing the cast included such amazing talent as Jeffrey Wright, Leslie Uggams, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown, Adrian Brody, Issa Rae, and more, got me even more excited. Having seen, "American Fiction," I will say it is spectacular and even better than the book it draws from--a rare occurrence. I appreciate that the general idea is the same: A professor known as, "Monk," in honor of his first name (Thelonious) is fed up with having his writing on mythologies and other subjects being ignored and put in the, "African-American Studies," section of bookstores for no reason other than his race. He then writes in his rage a story full of stereotypes, cliches, melodrama, and so forth. When the book he wrote as a joke suddenly is a hit it complicates his life. However, the movie adds a younger brother in addition to the book's sister, a tweaked love interest (played by Erika Alexander, also fantastic), and spends a lot more time focusing on family and how regardless of our race, our loved ones can be both a blessing and a curse.

Directed by Cord Jefferson, he masterfully executes the mix of humor from Monk's book getting popular and serious familial issues. While, "Erasure," actually had a fun metatextual element of containing Monk's book he writes under a pen name, the film, "American Fiction," incorporates us, "Reading," the book through an ingenious scene where two characters within the novel interact around Monk, occasionally looking at him asking what to say or do next. It's just one ingenious moment in the movie that provides a clever way for us to peak into the mind of a writer as he creates--even if what he's creating is meant to be more of pandering and sarcastic, "Screw you," to the literary world than anything else.

One thing that bugged me about, "Erasure," back when I read it was how the author, Percival Everett, ends the book quite suddenly. "American Fiction," even riffs on this, seeming to cut-out at the exact same moment as, "Erasure," before admitting that is too jarring for the audience's sensibilities when they desire an ending that's less open-ended and more direct. Even when, "American Fiction," gives the audience what it wants, it makes sure we are aware that it is with a bit of a knowing wink. Thanks to superb direction, stellar writing, and some amazing acting, "American Fiction," is easy to rate...

5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Last Stand of the Chesterfield Mall

Busy past and a quieter present.

I have written about my fondness for the Mall in Chesterfield, Missouri. It has seen great days...but is currently in its last days. Once full of stores, a carousel, and all kinds of fun, it is on its way out. The Chesterfield Mall will officially have its last day on August 31st, 2024. Tenants have to vacate as of that day and the Mall will become closed to the public. It shall then be demolished to become a big mixed-use plaza of stores and homes. The Mall is not dead yet, however, and I'd argue still worth visiting for several cool stores. There is not a full food court, but there is a Tabla Restaurant STL which serves delicious grub in addition to a Cheesecake Factory still operating. The Vintage Stock in the Mall has some delightful employees and is one of the best-organized VStocks in the area (it has plans to relocate upon the Mall's closure). The Chesterfield Community Center still has the mall as its home and is a lovely place to hang out. Leftovers Etc. is a really cool nonprofit that focuses on reusing all kinds of fun resources for learning and crafts. Plus there are two antique stores. 

There is Piddle Crick Hill Mercantile and Cheetah-Lu. I have talked with the owners of both at various times and would recommend both places. Vince of Piddle Crick is a nice guy and Bill at Cheetah-Lu has a ton of stuff too. Bill was kind enough to pose in front of his store for me when I told him how I was writing this article about stores in the Mall:

I've talked about the great people at Grape's Games previously and there is a really cool record store called the Vinyl Goat. I also saw a store with cool skincare products that offered group classes to learn more about skin and make your own skin products called Butter By Jay Renee. There are even more businesses so it is clear that even if the Mall is on its way out, it ain't dead yet. While it may be a bit more barren than in the past and a chunk of the hallways are being used now for Pickleball, it remains a cool place to visit...while you still can.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Valentine's Day 2024--Time For the Best Valentine's Day Song!

Today is Valentine's Day of 2024. Depending on who you ask this is a day for love/lovers, a day for all kinds of love (friendship love, self-love, etc.), or simply a day to remember Saint Valentine if you want to get historical. Whatever the case, this is the best day of any possible days to play the best Valentine-themed song around. That's right, Andre 3000 portraying Cupid on, "Happy Valentine's Day," from the amazing OutKast double album, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." Let's get to it:

Man, more than 20 years later and that song still hits just right. I admire Andre 3000 playing flutes and such like a pro, but if he ever wants to rap again I'm here for it. Have a good day, everyone.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Crossovers Between Marvel and DC Might Be (Update: They Are) Coming Back Into Print

Update: 

Not a few minutes after posting this article I saw that it had just been confirmed how Marvel and DC are putting a bunch of their crossovers and Amalgam comics back into print via two chunky omnibuses. This is fantastic news and makes me wonder if new stories could be coming--we shall see!

Original Article:

Rumors have been circulating that somehow & some way Marvel and DC have decided to play nice and put their classic crossovers between the companies back in print. Ever since the last big inter-company crossover in 2001, "JLA/Avengers," relations cooled between Marvel and DC, with things only getting more complicated as the publishers were acquired by big conglomerates (DC is now owned by Warner Brothers Discovery and Marvel was bought by Disney). It looked like we would not see any of the comics the companies did together reprinted anytime soon, from the, "Versus," event to other fun times characters interacted--for example, I really liked the Amalgam comics that mashed up characters from both universes into new ones.

There was a hint of cooperation being possible when George Perez was sadly nearing the end of his life and new special limited editions were printed of, "JLA/Avengers," which he had illustrated. The money from those went to the nonprofit known as the Hero Initiative, however, so that helped avoid any debates over which company deserved a bigger cut or such. However, Barry Kitson let slip on a Facebook fan page that it was requested he supply extra thumbnails and fun things from a crossover comic he did for a new collection that needed bonus material. Shortly after this post blew up online, Kitson carefully removed any mention of reprinted crossovers from his Facebook page. The fact he did so makes me wonder if Marvel and/or DC reached out and told him to please hush until an official announcement was made.

I'd personally welcome seeing any of the times DC and Marvel teamed up put back into print. It can be a pain to find certain individual issues and the trade paperbacks collecting the tales can be pricey these days. Plus, this would be a great way for younger fans to see some classic tales that are over two decades (or more) old now. I guess before too long there will be something official released and I wonder if there would possibly even be new stories? I could always go for more Darkclaw (Wolverine and Batman merged into one wild character), after all!

Monday, February 12, 2024

My "Deadpool 3/Deadpool and Wolverine," Trailer Impressions

There was a teaser trailer for the latest Deadpool flick during the Super Bowl yesterday and folks could go online to see the full preview. I did so and was quite pleased with what I saw. In fact, the trailer for, "Deadpool 3/Deadpool and Wolverine," made me want to do something no Marvel movie has for quite a while--go see it in theaters. 

The last Marvel film I took a trip to the cinema for was, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," because when Sam Rami directs a Marvel-related movie it is bound to be entertaining (I will always swear there is a good movie buried in "Spider-Man 3," somewhere). Nothing else from the MCU or Spidey-verse films has screamed, "Go see me in theaters," until now. I mean, just look at this trailer:

We've got jokes about how Deadpool is with Disney now, a, "Marvel Jesus," line, and more wild hilarity mixed with cool action! We even get a glimpse of Wolverine and at this point, I'm all here for Deadpool to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to the TVA from, "Loki," or whatever means are needed. This looks like a great time and I want to see Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman get up to all kinds of shenanigans this July.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Super Bowl 58 Happens Today!

In less than 30 minutes the 58th Super Bowl will commence. The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will be going head-to-head in Las Vegas. I suppose I'm rooting for the Chiefs not simply because I live in Missouri but also due to how Travis Kelece and Taylor Swift have been enraging conservatives lately simply by existing and doing their own thing as well as being a cute couple. Seriously though, I'm mainly here for the funny commercials (at least the ones that weren't already aired) and Usher at the Halftime show. I hope everyone who chooses to watch the Super Bowl has fun and is responsible if they choose to drink alcohol along with the game or enjoy any other substance--it can be a dangerous day when people make poor decisions. With that said, let's have fun watching the Super Bowl--or Puppy Bowl if you prefer that!

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Here Are My Initial Impressions of Four Video-Games I Tried

I had the chance to sample four different video-games this week. When the time presented itself I dipped my toes into the titles and played them anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. I clearly can't offer a true review but can say whether I intend to play the games further or not as a semi-review. Many of these titles are on multiple consoles but I sampled the ones below with my PlayStation 5. Now then...

Foamstars

This is basically a, "Spaltoon," rip-off where you shoot players instead of the environment with foam in lieu of paint. I didn't hate, "Foamstars," despite seeing some horrendous reviews. I just was relatively indifferent to it. "Foamstars," is a live service game that you can get for, "Free," this month with PlayStation Plus but you pay for cosmetic upgrades and the like. Matches consist of hitting other players with foam and using a little surfboard to bonk them out of the arena. Surfing on foam is kind of fun but the guns to shoot foam are slow, awkward to aim, and lack any kind of pizazz. 

Will I play it more: No, I uninstalled it.

Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League

After a messy pre-launch, this game is finally functioning correctly when it connects to the servers (which is necessary if you're playing solo as this is yet another attempt at a live service game). I rented a copy of, "Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League," from one of my local Vintage Stock stores and found I had a mix of feelings about it. I enjoyed moving about the levels as Deadshot and King Shark so I mainly played as them through landscapes that had a lot of going somewhere, shooting purple alien creatures, and then repeating those steps and getting bored until a fun cinema scene kicked in. 

I liked the story and wasn't put off by the fact I was playing as cynical villains (some folks online have said the game is too mean-spirited). I was annoyed by the unending cycle of boring go-here-and-shoot-this gameplay and disliked when I had to control Harley Quinn or Captain Boomerang as the way they move around a level is just awkward to control (she swings around a bit like Batman but haphazardly and Boomerang has super-speed but it operates in a jarring way that feels more like he teleports than anything else). Considering how delayed this thing was I wish the actual gameplay was as fun as the cinema scenes and the general vibe created by all the plentiful (but generally fun) character chatter. Oh well.

Will I play it more: No, I returned my rental as I didn't want to pay for another five days. I'll just the rest of watch all the cinema scenes I enjoyed on Youtube.

Evil West

A straightforward and simple game where you kill vampires with your fists and various weapons. I kind of got, "Gears of War," vibes from this and that is by no means a bad thing. A straightforward game where you smack vampires into spikes when you're not lumbering around (actually pretty good-looking) environments makes this almost feel like a throwback to before every game needed complicated development trees or wanted to be a live service title as with the two above. "Evil West," is clear what it wants to be and doesn't tack on anything unnecessary in addition. That's admirable in a way. I got this for free in January thanks to PlayStation Plus so I can always try it out more if/when the mood strikes.

Will I play it more: Maybe a little when I want something simple and uncomplicated to decompress with.

Rollerdrome

Currently on Xbox Game Pass and on PlayStation Plus, this game came out in 2022 and it is a hoot. Set in the near future but with an old-school aesthetic that reminds me of the movie, "Rollerball," (the good old one, not the terrible remake) I found myself having a ton of fun with, "Rollerdrome." You rollerskate in arenas shooting at enemies while doing tricks (tricks refill your ammo). It takes a lot of skill to combine, movement, tricks, shooting, and more. I am not ashamed to admit I at best scored a, "C," in the levels I played in terms of my grade. Between the vibe and having fun, however, I really liked what I've seen of, "Rollerdrome," so far even if it is quite tricky at points. I'd agree it is a must-play as some have said.

Will I play it more: Yes, it is a really fun (if difficult) game.

Friday, February 9, 2024

I'm Excited For the Autism-Inclusive Show, "Carl the Collector," Coming This Fall!

PBS Kids has been working on a show called, "Carl the Collector," which features animate anthropomorphic animal children. I know many shows have that, but this one is unique in that the focus is on a young raccoon named Carl who has autism. The show, "follows the everyday adventures of Carl, a warm-hearted autistic raccoon who loves collecting things. His talents – a laser-focus pursuit of his goals, attention to detail, and a distinctive way of looking at and experiencing the world around him – have helped him amass a collection for just about every occasion (e.g., the perfect fake mustache or a soft plushie for a friend in need), and come in handy for solving problems around the neighborhood with his friends. Carl has a lot of energy and is logical and precise, yet he often struggles with anxiety in new situations and has difficulty when things don’t go according to plan. Like all of his friends, he is learning that there is no right or wrong way to be himself." That sounds really neat!

"Carl the Collector," takes place in Fuzzytown and features neurotypical and neurodiverse characters with the people working on the show bringing the same variety of backgrounds to ensure accurate/realistic portrayals and inclusivity. As the parent of a child with autism, I welcome a show that discusses ASD and strives for authenticity. While other programs have featured characters with ASD they at times are more exaggerated or a bit stereotypical. Therefore, a show geared towards kids that can help them learn about ASD while being entertained sounds wonderful. I look forward to the premiere of, "Carl the Collector," this Fall on PBS!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Moana 2," Was Suddenly Announced Today in an Awkward Manner

In a strange moment today, Disney revealed they were making a, "Moana," television show for Disney+ but have scrapped that and will use chunks of it to make a sequel to the original movie. Whether this means the budget ballooned to a larger size than expected and some box office income is needed or there just wasn't enough material for a bunch of episodes of a show, we're getting a sequel. I'd say, "Yah!" but the weird way it was announced makes it seem like Disney has little enthusiasm/belief in the project. Disney basically said, "Oh, we gave up on one thing to make this and it'll be in theaters this November, so enjoy it, or whatever." Other projects were announced with release windows as well in a more energetic manner such as, "Zootopia 2," and, "Frozen 3," with this latest Moana movie almost seeming like a strange afterthought.

It isn't like this is reminiscent of those direct-to-VHS Disney sequels in the late 90's and early 2000's that were cheaply made without the original talent (that Robin Williams sound-alike in, "Aladdin 2," tried so hard but failed). We've got it seeming like the Rock will be back as Maui for this and he'll be in the live-action remake of the original too which is on the way--I know, it is a bit confusing. Auli’i Cravalho is thought to be Moana again as well. Lin-Manuel Miranda is not expected to return so we will be without some of the catchy tunes he is known for, however (a little worrisome). This doesn't sound completely like a throwaway project, but this was such a surreal manner of an announcement today it worries me. Our eldest, Clarkson, loves the first, "Moana," so I would hope this one is good and we can all enjoy it. We don't have to wait long, at least, with it due in November.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Television Tuesday: "The Traitors," Season 2 is Over-The-Top, Absurd, and Quite Entertaining

"The Traitors," as a franchise has occurred in multiple countries. It is basically like those tabletop games of, "Mafia," or, "Werewolf," where a number of participants are innocent and working together but a small number are malicious and trying to kill everyone else. In, "The Traitors," there are faithful and the titular traitors. Every night the traitors, "Kill," a faithful who leaves the game, and then the next day all the faithful (with the traitors posing as being legit) debate someone who needs to be banished due to how they seem suspicious. The first season of the American-geared version of the show was a hoot with Alan Cumming hosting and a mix of public figures (reality stars, athletes, actors) with regular folks. Season 2 has made it just folks who are familiar with a degree of fame (unlike the UK version of the show which just had a season entirely made up of people living private lives) and Cumming is back, dripping with camp in his crazy outfits, and wild pronouncements of whose has been ,"Murrrrrdered." It's silly good fun.

It is incredibly hard to win, "The Traitors," if you're a faithful because a single traitor remaining at the end means they get and split the money with other traitors. Faithful can win, but traitors generally need to turn on each other--and intriguingly often do in an effort to avoid their own exposure (after all, throwing a, "Friendly," traitor to everyone without outright giving them away as the rules forbid can keep you safe). As the show apparently films over a relatively brief 2 or so weeks some big names in reality television showed up for the second season, which has been fantastic and apparently getting really good viewership. "Big Brother," legends such as Dan Gheesling and Janelle Pierzina are here along with MJ from, "Shahs of Sunset," and some, "Survivor," alums in addition to sports figures, Real Housevies such as Phaedra Parks, and more including a random former politician from Great Britan, John Bercow (everyone else has commented how idiosyncratic his inclusion is).

The show has everyone accomplish tasks as a group to win money and there is plenty of in-between downtime where people can scheme/be suspicious of each other. If you are familiar with a chunk of the reality stars that adds a fun extra element to the show, but even people I did not know well (I never really watched, "Survivor," for example) know their way around television and keep us on our toes. "The Traitors," has been having a fantastic second season and is a much-needed hit for Peacock, a streaming service I previously argued is underrated. Should you have Peacock or want to even try a trial subscription I'd highly recommend watching the first season of, "The Traitors," to get your metaphorical footing and then go ahead and dive into this latest season--it's a deadly fun time!

5 out of 5 Stars.


Monday, February 5, 2024

Killa Mike Won Three Grammys and Then Was Arrested. What?

I don't generally care about the Grammys due to having a general disinterest in award shows and knowing the Grammys have a bit of a stink of corruption on them. That said, I still applaud folks when they win an award. Michael Render is better known as Killa Mike. He is a great rapper, political activist, and all-around very interesting man. Even if you don't agree with everything he says (there are plenty of occasions I do and don't) the man is worth listening to. Killa Mike won the three categories he was nominated in at the Grammys--Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Album--and shortly afterward was arrested and taken out of the Crytpo.com arena in handcuffs. What?

Early reports seem to indicate Mike or someone with him got into it with an overzealous security guard who then wanted to report they felt attacked or something and this resulted in a misdemeanor battery charge. Apparently, the LAPD felt a misdemeanor charge was worthy of Mike being dragged out of the place in handcuffs and booked. This had led to all kinds of liberal and even conservative conspiracy theories, something touched upon by The Breakfast Club this morning with Charlamagne tha God's Donkey of the Day--listen here. After being booked Mike was released quickly, which is positive but then raises further questions about why he needed to be arrested in the first place in such an embarrassing and public manner? 

We don't even know exactly what happened but if Mike or his staff got into it with a security guard at the event why did said guard want to press charges once things were sorted out? This whole thing is strange and before I jump to any conclusions about this mystery security guard, the LAPD, or Killa Mike and his staff it would be nice to have answers. In this era where everyone has a smartphone and security cameras, why is there so little information or footage besides the clips of Mike being arrested? This whole thing is weird and--I believe--unprecedented in terms of someone being arrested at an awards show. The closest comparison I can make is when Olivia Wilde was served papers regarding her divorce from Jason Sudekis while at a movie convention presentation. She wasn't arrested, however. I guess we just have to wait for more as this develops.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Marvel Has Annoyed Me With Their Special Editions of the, "Blood Hunt," Comic

I have zero issues with variant covers. If you want to shell out more money for a special cover, do it. I don't mind when comics are re-released with interesting bonus, "Behind the scenes," stuff like scripts or uncolored pages. However, Marvel is doing something new with their event comic, "Blood Hunt," that annoys me. The comic features the Avengers, X-Men, and Blade (among others) fighting vampires. That could be fun. Jed MacKay is writing it. That is a good sign too. Pepe Laraz is on the art--also good! However, Marvel will be doing a, "Red Band," edition themed for how R-rated movies get a Red Band trailer (and blood is red, so it is a little joke there) where comics that say, "Red Band," edition will be polybagged and have extra story pages featuring further vampire-fighting...and cost $2 more.

The standard first issue of, "Blood Hunt," will be an already pricey $6. I don't want to be charged two bucks extra to get the full story of a comic with all the pages. If you just wanted to change me two dollars more for a polybagged variant that would be fine as I can make a choice to simply skip such a thing. Telling me the whole story costs more is stupid and sets a dangerous precedent with comics though. I don't want to be told a comic is only $4, but for an extra buck I can get some prequel pages and for even more money I get an epilogue or something absurd in that manner. I don't like this and will be skipping this event due to my annoyance.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

When a Business, "Honoring," Black History Month Goes Wrong

If one were to study the history of certain stereotypes regarding Black Americans they would find what they learn fascinating. Watermelons were a cheap and easy to raise crop for freed slaves so it made sense to grow it--it was a symbol of self-sufficiency and inspired pride. Chickens also have a fascinating historical link through history. Then the horrendously racist movie, "The Birth of a Nation," in 1915 portrayed Black people as lazy and eating watermelon and fried chicken which gave it a stigma. If a restaurant explains and explores these concepts it is doing something thoughtful. When a business just says they're doing a, "Black History Month," meal and throws a bunch of now-stereotyped food on a plate with little thought it's offensive. That's when a place is better off not doing anything for the month than doing something wrong. There is always a restaurant or two that does this during February--they try (barely) and fail. In another example of mistakes being made, Target tried but failed with a magnetic learning kit book.

As has now been reported all over, the,  "Civil Rights Magnetic Learning Kit," for sale at Target mislabels a number of historical figures. Booker T. Washington is labeled as W.E.B. Du Bois, to give one example. I can't find the link, but I recall a recent-ish segment on Saturday Night Live that joked about notable Black figures being incorrectly identified as other Black people. It's tacky, yet another stereotype (the idea that everyone of a certain race looks alike to other races), and you would think someone would get on quality control. Again, this isn't the first time a business attempting to honor Black History Month has gone wrong. Whether it is Bath and Body Works with a questionable line of products or a bank putting out a Harriet Tubman debit card where she's seemingly doing the, "Wakanda Forever," pose (although it was clarified that wasn't the case) so many businesses celebrate Black History Month is messy ways or as Ernest Owens put it in an article in 2022, "Your Company Is Celebrating Black History Month All Wrong. Here’s How to Do It Right." As for how to do it right, Owens discusses the importance of addressing racism in the workplace, shifting power, and doing more than empty graphics and tone-deaf marketing.

Completely ignoring Black History Month in your business is a terrible idea. Doing an awful job acknowledging it can be just as harmful, however. The key is to realize the importance of what you are honoring and to avoid making obvious mistakes. Sometimes that is easier said than done, I suppose.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Flashback/Film Friday: "Taken," and the Emergence of the Old Man Action Movie Protagonist

These days movies about older men who find themselves in the middle of action flicks are basically their own cottage industry. From Michael Caine in, "Harry Brown," to Bob Odenkirk in, "The Nobody," giving us a more comedic take to the recent all-ages-ish, "The Family Plan," with Mark Wahlberg, and of course the fantastic, "John Wick," series, there's a lot to watch (with more than I even named, obviously). That said, it all arguably started with, "Taken," and Liam Neeson.

In, "Taken," Liam Neeson is a retired CIA officer struggling to connect with his daughter. She goes to Europe and is quickly kidnapped by sex traffickers. Nesson goes to save her and kills a whole lot of people along the way. With a mix of fun action scenes and a scene featuring a now-famous monologue about Neeson's special, "Skills," the flick became a huge hit.

"Taken," is an okay film made doubly better by Neeson's pure commitment to the role. In the same way the aforementioned Michael Caine's deadpan and intense acting in, "A Muppet Christmas Carol," almost seems like it belongs in a different film, Nesson's mix of sadness, seriousness, and violent rage elevates a seemingly generic, "My kid has been kidnapped!" movie to a whole new level. "Taken," came out 15 years ago and as this article by Mark Hill of Inverse discusses, its success somewhat caught people off guard. The whole thing seemed like a big-name actor taking a silly action movie gig to pay some bills. When you look at the actual plot in the abstract it seems riddled with xenophobic and offensive stereotypes as well as basically slut-shaming the kidnapped daughter.  Still, Neeson makes it worthwhile and people really liked, "Taken," with it making a lot of money and getting two sequels.

When viewed from the right angle the movie seems almost a little tongue-in-cheek and hints at Neeson possibly being a bit of a villain himself whose only saving grace is he's (generally) harming worse people--with the exception of a startingly uncomfortable scene where he shoots the innocent wife of a dirty cop in the shoulder.  When I witnessed that when viewing, "Taken," years ago I literally mumbled, "Oh, he's kind of a bad guy too," to myself. That said, to my understanding later, "Taken," franchise films simply make Neeson's character out to look heroic, but the first film at least has some morally murky elements.

"Taken," is not the best movie, but it is solidly entertaining. Without it, I don't know if we would have gotten other, "Old Man Action Movie," films so we owe it as well as Liam Neeson thanks for that. Out of all his character's skills, I guess creating a whole sub-genre was the one he was most proficient in.

A Rodent Looks For His Shadow Today

Today is Groundhog Day. It is one of the stranger holidays where people trust a critter to tell them if we get Spring sooner or are stuck with Winter longer. The general success rate of the various Groundhogs (there are many in various cities) is usually atrocious, ranging from 30%-40%. That means you could flip a coin to determine our climate for the year and those 50-50 odds would be better than asking a fat little varmint about the Springtime. All of that said, it is a quaint little holiday and did give us a modern classic of a movie with Bill Murray, fittingly (and simply) titled, "Groundhog Day." I hope everyone has fun today and remembers that if they're going to take a groundhog seriously but ignore climate scientists warning us about global warming then that is a bit concerning. That said, let's see what the furry animal thinks for a giggle and then look at the actual data afterward.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Does Anyone Else Have a Song They Like the, "Clean," Version of More Than the Unedited?

I generally loathe the, "Clean," version of songs. I want the true, original, unedited version. Let me hear the swear words or frank discussions of sex, drugs, and/or rock & roll. I absolutely hate, "Kidz Bop," and how it tweaks lyrics to make them, "Family friendly," and laugh at some weird ways they alter songs. All of this said, sometimes the clean version of a song weirdly is better than the uncut/dirty.

"In Da Club," is a hit song from 50 Cent and I bet if you asked 100 people to sing the chorus they all would sing the version from the clean/radio edit. That song is one where besides bleeping some lyrics there are some significant changes in actual spoken words including the chorus. You see, in the unedited version of the song 50 Cent actually says, "You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub'. Look, mami, I got the X if you into takin' drugs. I'm into havin' sex, I ain't into makin' love, so come give me a hug if you into gettin' rubbed," but everyone I know recites the version they've heard on the radio and which just seems to flow better because we're used to it. Those lyrics are, "You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub', Mama, got what you need, if you need to feel the buzz. I'm into havin' sex, I ain't into makin' love, so come give me a hug if you into gettin' rubbed." Notice the key sentence difference that says a drug name versus discussing a buzz?

I'm not offended by the discussion of ecstasy AKA X in the song, but I just am so used to hearing the edited lyrics it sounds, "Off," to my ear when the actual dirty version of the song is on. Plus, other lyrics are altered too which makes me stumble if I'm trying to hum along. This all results in the rare case where I'd honestly rather listen to the cleaned-up version of, "In Da Club," than the uncut. After all, when 50 Cent was at the Super Bowl he did the clean version of the song. When I was in Jr. High busting a move to this at school dances it was the clean version I heard. The clean lyrics are the ones I've known and enjoyed for years, along with everyone else. It is strange to say, but I like the clean version the most. Does anybody else have a song where that is the case? CeeLo Green's, "Forget You," instead of, "Fuck You," for example? Perhaps that new, "ABCDE Forget/Fuck You," song? There are varying examples, I imagine!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A Time For Reckoning/Dave Chappelle Always Told Us Who He Was

At the end of the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, Dave Chappelle suddenly appeared during the good night segment. He joined the cast on the stage to seemingly everyone's surprise. He had not appeared in the episode at all but must have randomly been in the audience and got permission from someone--assumably Lorne Michaels--to jump on stage as the credits rolled. One of the cast members, Bowen Yang, was as far as one could possibly be from Chapelle while still remaining on the stage and looked visibly displeased. Yang is openly gay. At one point viewers could see Sarah Sherman go to talk to Yang as if to ask if he was okay. He gestured at Chappelle and it looked like she mouthed the word, “Oh.” This got me thinking about how Chappelle has become such a polarizing personality.

Dave Chappelle always told us who he was, there were just certain elements that were easier to ignore or overlook. I would say Chapelle has had some of the most insightful and concise commentaries on race I have ever seen delivered in a comedic manner. I would also say he is unquestionably transphobic and by no means an ally to lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals. The thing is, as early as, "Chapelle's show," first season there was one segment that I always think of when people talk about Chapelle and his regressive views on LGBTQ matters. That show launched him to superstardom and very early on he had a bit about how people don’t listen to him as a Black man but if he had a pretty White woman sing what he was thinking people would listen. Hence classically trained singer proceeds to come out on the stage. Here is a link. Chappelle hands her pieces of paper to read various statements. The audience is amused by it and then you can hear people get visibly uncomfortable when she reads a statement that he finds gay sex gross, and he’s sorry but he just finds it gross.

Chappelle's old segment.

The tension is quickly cut by having her read a piece of paper about how he does like lesbians followed by another piece of paper where he has her emphasize the word lesbians for a laugh. Still, as far back as those early episodes Chapelle made it clear that he was not necessarily aligned with LGBTQ individuals. Perhaps that was easier to overlook in the early 2000s when the idea of treating gay people with equal rights was somehow controversial and trans folks weren't even in the conversation. Now, of course, trans people have been around forever but it just was not getting much of any public coverage compared to lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. It was an awkward moment on his show that goes mostly forgotten compared to the amazing skits, but it still happened.

Chapelle captured lightning in a bottle with, "Chapelle's Show," on Comedy Central. He had astounding segments that cut to the core of our society and how it handles race and status among other elements. Then he basically quit the show due to a fear that instead of mocking stereotypes it was in fact perpetuating them. Many people were on Chappelle's side and when he did return to public life to do more standup specials everyone welcomed it! However, something hateful started to creep into every special more and more. It became clear that Chapelle was vehemently opposed to trans people.

Yang is as far from Chappelle as one can get.

I personally do not mind If comedy is offensive as long as it is funny. You can say almost anything and if you can make it funny or have it make us think then you’ve done some impressive. Some comedy is definitely a product of its time as well. Eddie Murphy himself has admitted some of his older stuff has not aged well because he made it when he was young and “...kind of an asshole. “That said, even viewing old comedy you can see a lot of people exercising their genius along with the stuff that fails to be funny nowadays. Chapelle‘s new material is not a product of its time. It just comes across as hackwork when I have viewed his jokes about transgender individuals. Sometimes he will still show that amazing flair for storytelling and insightful humor in his comedy but so much of it seems to be overshadowed by a focus on being anti-trans. Chappelle has morphed into an anti-trans activist who sometimes tells jokes. Plus, it is a shame how hacky it is. This man gave us some amazing segments on on his show and delivered what I would consider one of the best Saturday Night Live monologues back when Trump was elected president and Chapelle broke down all kinds of subjects relating to racism, classing, and more in our society. Those days are past.

People talk about Chapelle as if he has morphed into someone who is vehemently anti-trans. I would say he always was that way and many other people probably were too in the past but grew as individuals. He has not grown, unfortunately. He’s still that man who handed someone else a piece of paper so that they would say something anti-LGBTQ for him--but he's just outright saying it himself now. It’s a shame because there is so much genius in some of what Chapelle had done before and the new stuff would rather make an anti-trans statement than offer us good jokes.

Dave Chappelle always told us who he was--it just took a while for us to listen to everything he was saying. I and others have realized we need to reckon with the entirety of his joke catalog.  Whether we want to continue engaging with his work if he’s going to deliver mediocre material full of hateful opinions is what now must be pondered. We fully know who Dave Chappelle is. The question becomes what we’re going to do about that.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Television Tuesday: I Do Wish We'd Get a Real Housewives of Saint Louis Someday

Andy Cohen is a very powerful figure at Bravo and the mastermind behind a lot of the programming there. He is also a Saint Louis native and enjoys coming here to relax. That seems to be a major reason he has zero interest in ever expanding the, "Real Housewives," brand to STL. He's previously said this isn't a, "Slam," as his hometown is his favorite place and also stated you, "Don't poop where you eat," when asked about doing a show here. I get it, the man wants Saint Louis to be a place he can go to relax as opposed to another location he has to consider a work destination. That said, he has kind of bent this rule before.

Meghan King was a Real Housewife of Orange County back in 2015-2017. She was also a Saint Louis native, at the time of the show's filming married to a Saint Louis Cardinal (Jim Edmonds), and spent half her time in Saint Louis and half in California. She and Edmonds divorced in 2019 amid a cheating scandal (she literally found out about his texts to other women via tabloid articles). She now works in Real Estate here in Missouri and is dating a Saint Louis lawyer. I share all this to illustrate Ms. King is heavily enmeshed in Saint Louis culture but still managed to get on a Real Housewives show via technically living in Orange County 50%-ish of the time. If Andy Cohen could make an exception for her and kinda sort of have a Saint Louisan on a Real Housewives show why not just do one here at some point?

The man loves his hometown!

I don't watch all the, "Real Housewives," shows currently being made but have viewed various ones at different points in time. Lately, I've been a huge fan of the Salt Lake City iteration. It gets me thinking how fun it would be to see Saint Louis restaurants, landmarks, parks, and so forth as various women get into huge arguments that involve hurling insults (and sometimes drinks). Maybe when Cohen feels like he's nearing retirement he'll say, "Fine, here you go!" to all of us in the Lou and at least give us a season or two of, "The Real Housewives of Saint Louis," and it'll be more than a pipe dream. For now, however. It ain't happening anytime soon because I suppose Cohen respects his hometown too much to subject it to a Housewives franchise? Yeah, let's run with something heartwarming like that.

Amazon Made Everyone Mad By Implementing New Ads

I guess Amazon is having some financial trouble because they suddenly expect people to pay an extra $3 a month if they have Prime and want to enjoy movies or television shows without advertisements. Oh, what's that? Amazon's CEO is insanely rich and the company is among the most profitable and powerful around? Imagine that.

Seriously though, Amazon Prime did something other streamers do, but in a way none have attempted. They have advertisements, but not as a new subscription level you can pick to pay less (like with Netflix et. al); instead, Amazon just kind of put advertisements on Prime and let folks know they could pay more money if they didn't like them. There was some warning this was coming but everyone is still hot pissed. I get why. You can't give people something and then suddenly take it away and demand more money for it to come back. You need to offer more features for more money or let people know they can pay a bit less to lose some benefits. Don't let me into a buffet where everything is covered after I pay the initial charge and then some years later tell me drinks suddenly cost $3 extra. You can't expect me to just drink water when I've been downing unlimited Dr. Pepper! 

As Heather Kelly of the Washington Post puts it right in her headline, "The Dream of cheap, ad-free streaming TV is dead." Now we have a bunch of streamers with ads and even if you, "Cut the cord," with cable you end up paying the price of a cable subscription just to access a bunch of various apps/services that now have the very advertisements people quit cable to avoid. Streaming is a mess, and the era of prestige television seems to be fading away with, "Peak TV," now basically Unpeaked as some have put it. We were spoiled back when it was Cable and/or Netflix and that was about it outside of some premium Cable channels or Pay-per-view sporting events. Those days are long in the past, I suppose.

Monday, January 29, 2024

The, "Deluxe," Edition of, "Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League," Had a Horrible Pre-Launch

I am a huge fan of the, "Arkham," Batman games that were created by Rocksteady. When it was announced they were making a game set in that Universe featuring the Suicide Squad taking on a Justice League being controlled by Brainiac and turned evil, I was intrigued! Then more details leaked about it being one of those, "Live Service," games you supposedly play forever to get little updates, and my enthusiasm waned. Oh, and then it was heavily delayed to officially launch in February 2024. Rocksteady did ample damage control and emphasized even as a Live Service-ish game this won't take up too much of your time, and it will be fun, and any kind of game passes will be for cosmetic stuff so it'll all be fine, for real. Then people who paid for a deluxe version and were supposed to get access 72 hours early found the game taken down within an hour of its pre-launch due to a massive glitch. This game has more red flags than when someone introduces themselves to you at a coffee shop with a compliment and seems friendly but then follows up with what sounds like a pitch for a cult, MLM, or both (run away as fast as you can if you hear the word, "Downstream," said).

The glitch in question made it so that players logging onto the game for the first time were greeted with game text indicating they had already beaten the game in the sense of having at least played through everything once and unlocked all kinds of levels, cinematics, and the like. I understand if you let people play a game in early access they can expect bugs, but this wasn't (supposed to be) a glitchy game early in development, this is a title that is done and people paid extra (I believe this version was $100) to attempt and enjoy it early. If you're going to pull that kind of move your game should work, as Zack Zwiezen of Kotaku observed. I hate this trend of people paying more money to get access to a game for a week or some days and a fiasco such as this only furthers how I'd never pay extra cash for little more than the privilege of trying a game a little earlier. This is just another moment of chaos in what has been an utter wreck of this game's development. Hopefully, when it does work it'll be fun. Many reviewers were denied early access, unlike folks who ponied up a bundle of money, however, so who knows!