Separating the art from artist: Watching “The Cosby Show” now.

I’ve gone on before about separating the art from the artist before, and I’ve resolved that issue in my head a long time ago. If I wasn’t able to do it I would be able to listen to some of my favorite bands, after all. So I have no qualms at this point about watching The Cosby Show at home on my own time. But it did feel weird, however, to buy a few seasons of the show on DVD without knowing that the next day Bill Cosby would be found guilty of sexual assault.

I’m not going to spend my time writing this blog post trying to justify his behavior, nor any of such abhorrent behavior at large. In fact, beyond this point I’m not even going to address it. It’s out there, I don’t need to rehash it. What I am going to write about is how weird it feels to watch the show at this point.

I may have been ignorant of when the day as to when the verdict would be delivered but I wasn’t ignorant of the allegations when I bought the DVDs. I knew that it would be awkward buying them at this point but the store had them for cheap. And besides, they were used—it wasn’t like any money from my purchase would go to him even indirectly. Still, I noticed that the cashier gave a weird look when she was what I was buying. Granted, she had a general look of disinterest of being at work in general and wasn’t really interacting with customers very well in the first place. What matters is that it felt like he gave me a dirty look, probably stemming from my feelings about making the purchase in the first place.

Yet I still made the purchase, didn’t I? For all of the misconduct perpetrated by the show’s star it’s still a show that I watched obsessively throughout my childhood. For the better part of the nineties its reruns were on my local NBC affiliate when I came home from school. On top of that, it’s a quality show. I remember hearing that a good portion of each episode was improvised by the cast, using the scripts as guidelines. This meant the dialogue usually felt very natural as we followed this realistic family throughout it’s eight season-long slice of life.

Yet I wasn’t always in love with Cosby himself. Even before the allegations came to light (at least in my personal, sometimes sheltered world) I disagreed with a lot of his political and religious views, some of which even made their way into the show. I came to find him a grumpy old man, even when I went to see him live a few years ago in Portland. And I can take or leave his stand-up—he was a great storyteller, but not a great comic.

Still, he was part of some good work over the years, with this one show in particular serving as part of my upbringing. I’m not going to try justifying my love of the show as I don’t really think I need to (and why would you want me to?). I understand why some networks and online services would pull the show from their line-up/selection. It certainly makes a reasonable public relations move on their part. I can even agree with it to a point, especially so soon after the conviction. But for my own viewing (or by this point as I’ve seen each episode two dozen times or more, background noise) pleasure, The Cosby Show is not Bill Cosby. I can’t let one employee’s misconduct affect my enjoyment of the work as a whole.

I did have one uncomfortable moment, however, when binge-watching the show so soon after the conviction. The DVD releases I got contained the original, uncut episodes before they went into syndication. This meant that there was a lot of material that I have never seen before. This included an anti-drug PSA that aired before the title sequence of the ninth episode of Season 3. Considering that several of the allegations involved drugs, it’s hard to not cringe at the first seven seconds:

 

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Album review: Ámr by Ihsahn

Ihsahn’s latest album, Ámr, is characteristically Ihsahn—progressive without getting too fancy, catchy without getting too clever (usually), all the while treating the restrictions of what makes metal metal not as something which confines but to be toyed with. That is not to say that this is one of his more experimental albums, such as 2013’s Das Seelenbrechen* or Peccatum’s early work.

This can lend to a sense of repetition at times, such as when a good riff can outstay its welcome in a song, such as in “Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia” and “Arcana Imperii.” This feels a minor complaint, however, when one considers that none of the songs are very long, with the longest just going over the five minute mark. Ihashn also varies the sound of the music throughout the album through different vocal styles as well as a heavy use of synthesizers interchanging with guitar parts (as opposed to filling out the sound with ambient effects or “orchestral” voices). A perfect example of these variances are in the song “Twin Black Angels,” which starts off with a mild synth part and clean vocals, progressing to a soaring bridge accentuated by Ihsahn’s distinctive blackened death metal vocals.

If Ámr is your first Ihsahn album, then it’s a good place to start as it’s the culmination of the best elements of his work so far. However, if you’ve been listening to his work from the beginning, even just as a solo artist, then you may find it a bit lacking as it sounds like yet another Ihsahn album but not his best work overall. Still, it’s certainly worth a listen or two in its own right. In fact, Ámr comes across as one of Ihsahn’s more accessible albums since his sophomore release Angl. Ihsahn has matured as a songwriter and producer, applying what he learns throughout his carreer towards each successive release and Ámr is not exception to that rule.

 


*Which I still argue is his most successful solo album artistically, if not commercially.

Book Review: “Eleventh Grave in Moonlight” by Darynda Jones

Disclaimer: I picked this week’s book in a rush and didn’t realize until I started reading it that it is the eleventh in an ongoing series. This won’t effect my overall impression of the book. However, it may mean that I have missed some nuances that could inform my reading of it, and therefore this review.

There’s several elements of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones that don’t work very well on their own. The writing style, while a few steps above cheap paperback sci-fi/fantasy writing, is still only just adequate. (It is full of the dreaded one-word paragraphs typical of escapist fiction that annoy me so much.) The humor is downright corny, garnering the occasional chuckle but nothing more. There are multiple plots that in some cases don’t even connect to each other and sometimes meander too much on their own.

Yet somehow, this book works when all of these elements are combined together. Jones’ lighthearted style makes for a breezy, quick read. The reader begins to really care for the main character Charley Jones as she’s trying to sort out her family troubles and work on multiple cases as a private investigator. And it doesn’t hurt the story as Charley is only partially human but mostly a god (actually, thirteen gods that have combined together—or were eaten by the most dominant war god, it’s left up in the air) who also works as the current grim reaper.

The book begins with a quick chapter detailing Charley’s life so far as she talks to a skeptical psychiatrist (in other words, we get a recap of the book series so far). The psychiatrist finally believes Charley when she realizes that she’s actually been dead for a year and Charley is there to help her cross over to the afterlife. We then get to see Charley at work, taking a case from a man, Shawn Foster, who was adopted—or rather, abducted—by the same “foster parents” that did the same to Charley’s husband, Reyes (who is also a supernatural being, a demon who is the brother of Jehovah).

Throughout the book we learn more about the Fosters and their religious fanaticism, a stalker harassing her secretary’s daughter, a malevolent god running amok on Earth that Charley has to ultimately chase, and what exactly has been keeping her secretary’s husband, a police officer, away so often from home. Again, these plots don’t exactly connect cleanly throughout the book but they’re entertaining on their own. I actually found myself holding my breath as the stalker plot reached it’s conclusion, and I started getting angry at the Fosters’ as the details of their fanaticism started to reveal themselves. Jones’ writing allows the characters to feel real, garnering empathy from the reader.

Eleventh Grave in Moonlight left more questions than answers, leading to the next book. The enjoyment of this one piqued my curiosity for what happens in the next one but I can’t say I’m entirely hooked on the series. I enjoyed it as I read it but I didn’t fall in love with it. But if you’re looking for escapism with supernatural beings and humorous crime stories, this series is worth a shot.

Thoughts on Amazon Prime.

What’s this? Two blog posts in one day? After I published my last one I decided to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a few months now, and sign up for a thirty day trial of Amazon Prime. Even in just the few hours  I’ve had it I’ve made a few observations about the differences between that and Netflix. I wanted to try Amazon Prime for two reasons: I’ve gotten really bored with Netflix’s lackluster selection and I wanted to also see what the Prime Reading option had in store for me as well when it comes time for me to resume writing book reviews in March.* There are other services as well which I’ll also go over but those were just extra icing on the cake for me.

I’ll start with a comparison of the Netflix streaming service versus Amazon Prime’s streaming. For the most part I watch both on my television through my Nintendo Wii. Because it matters I should point out that I’m watching both on a standard definition television. I would love to get a more modern (and bigger) set but as I have some big financial plans this year I don’t see myself upgrading anytime soon. I also have the slowest speed available through Comcast around here, although I haven’t noticed any effect on either service.

Netflix looks just fine on my television. I never had any complaints there. The interface, while a bit basic and having less options than the web version, serves its purpose without any regular lag. Amazon’s channel took quite a while to load the first time today, but I’m guessing that had to do with the change in my account. Since then it boots up at the same speed. However, I’m noticing that with many of the selections so far the picture quality is slightly lesser than what I would find on Netflix. I especially compared Star Trek: The Next Generation which is available on both services. If I didn’t already have Netflix I wouldn’t even think about the quality of Amazon Prime’s picture. I have read that depending on the user’s setup the quality can be comparable, so it could be my equipment that’s making the difference. Could it be that this would inspire me to upgrade that as well?

As far as the selection is concerned, I like what I’m seeing so far on Amazon Prime. Of course by switching I’m potentially losing some titles on Netflix that I would have enjoyed, but Amazon’s selection overall looks to be much better. Not only that, but through the same channel on my Wii I can access all of the instant videos that aren’t offered through the Prime service. Many of them can be rented quite affordably. I’m a bit of a cheapskate so I would really want to see the movie, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.

I also wanted to compare Prime Reading to visiting the public library to read new or at least somewhat new book releases so I could review them on my blog. Right off the bat I noticed that Prime has a small selection the newest book was released nearly four months ago. Neither problem is potentially that much of a concern when it comes to selecting a book for a review, but when I could chose from many more and much more recent book through the Maine public library system I wonder if the convenience is worth it. But it is more convenient than physically going to the library. That’s not to mention if I have a specific title that I want to order, which I have to wait to be delivered to my local branch. Cost is also significant. Borrowing a book from the library is free. Then again, technically it’s not—I pay taxes. I could apply the same logic to Prime Reading if I keep the service for video.

But, alas, I could also get Amazon Kindle Unlimited for unlimited reading of millions of books for approximately the same cost as what Prime would amount to once a month. Then I really would be paying for the convenience of not going to the library. Is it really worth that cost?

Like I said, there are other services that come with Amazon Prime, such as streaming of digital music. There are many albums that I can listen to either online or on my phone (provided I get a good enough signal) at no additional cost. It is a bit annoying that there are many albums that I want to listen to that aren’t offered through Prime, or if they are, not in their entirety. But, like I said, this was just a bonus for me. I have other legal means to stream music, even if it does mean listening to the occasional ad. Besides, sometimes I really would rather buy an album in order to support the artist.

But wait, I could also sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited, which would give me access to the albums I want plus many more, all for the same price as Prime.

There are many other services that I could go into and this post is getting pretty long, so I’ll only point out one other one that caught my attention when I signed up for this. Amazon owns Audible, and offers many audio books to Prime subscribers for free. They also have a thing called Audible Channels, but it’s essentially the same thing as podcasts (and in fact, even includes podcasts that are already free anyway).

But wait, I could upgrade to Audible for the same cost per month as Prime—noticing a trend here? It looks like in many cases being a subscriber to Amazon Prime offers a limited version of other services through Amazon, and if you want to get more you have to pay more. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the idea of a tiered program Unfortunately the cost is a bit ridiculous. Okay, so you don’t have to be a Prime member to also sign up for one of these other services. But I would think that if you chose to upgrade, being a Prime member should give you a discount on the other subscription. For example, you pay nine dollars a month for Kindle Unlimited, or you pay nine dollars a month for Prime and then five for Kindle Unlimited on top of that. I’m not particularly interested in any of these other services myself but I can’t imagine somebody signing up for Prime, making the yearly payment and then signing up for a monthly bill for an upgraded portion of what they’re already getting, ultimately doubling the cost.

So, when it comes down to it, am I going to follow through with the trial period and sign up for Amazon Prime and cancel my Netflix account? Honestly, I’m on the fence. The better selection and access to other services, albeit limited, make up for the slightly lesser picture quality of Amazon’s video. When it comes down to it, the yearly payment for Amazon Prime comes out to less per month than my monthly Netflix bill. That may end up being the deciding factor between the two.

For that matter, I could just save my money and cancel both services. After all, I can always borrow movies through the library (even though that raises other concerns, such as my history of borrowing damaged discs frustratingly often) or rent them individually through Amazon or Redbox. (That also has a trade-off: assuming that I’m only going to watch a movie once anyway, Redbox’s cheaper price and DVD quality offsets Amazon’s convenience and still lesser picture quality.) I’m probably still going to borrow books from the library anyway. Should I just be a cheapskate and cancel all of these services?

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*As a side note for those who may care, because of potential plans for the first weekend of March I may end up not getting to the first book review until the second Monday.

Sunday List: Top Five Movie Sequels I’d Like to See.

I’ve read and heard a lot of complaints about how there’s no originality in Hollywood anymore, considering all of the sequels, reboots and adaptations that are released to theaters in recent years. While none of these things are new, it feels like we’re getting inundated with a whole series of rehashed stories and characters that just won’t die. I say fine, while we’re at it, then let’s make some decent sequels to great movies that aren’t getting this treatment.

I put together my own fantasy list of films I’d like to see sequels for. I’m sure that none of these will get made. In some cases the people responsible for making them have already said that they aren’t willing to work on sequels. In some cases these are older movies and the sequels would have only worked if they were made years ago. But I can still have my fantasy movies, can’t I? So here are my top five wanted (though unlikely) movie sequels.

  1. True Stories. David Byrne said he won’t make a sequel to this movie. And I’m perfectly happy with it on its own. But there’s a lot of potential for somebody to go back to this fictional town thirty plus years later and see what the residents and their grown-up children are up to. The original movie had a lot of characters based on stories Byrne read in tabloid newspapers at the time. I would think that now with the Internet there would be plenty of source material for even more wild characters. Oh, and it would provide a reason for more David Byrne songs.
  2. Big Trouble in Little China. I agree with the statement Kurt Russell made about the remake: wish it well, but there’s no point. I’ll watch it if it looks interesting but part of the charm of the original film was the atmosphere that only films made in the eighties can have. I would have liked to have seen a direct sequel made by John Carpenter. Sure, Lo Pan died at the end, but some of his followers survived. Couldn’t they try resurrecting him? That, and I felt cheated that snow wasn’t covered by one of the Storms.
  3. UHF. I’m cheating a little bit here. I just want another Weird Al movie in the same vein as UHF. It can be a spiritual successor, if you will. The plot of the first movie was barely there and largely forgettable, and there aren’t UHF stations anymore. Then again, perhaps George becomes a YouTuber?
  4. Napoleon Dynamite. It surprises me that this hasn’t already happened. Not only was the movies a big success, there’s plenty of room to make more in that world. Yes, I know there was the animated series. It’s just not the same.
  5. The Transformers: The Movie. “What are you talking about? They’re already working on the fifth one!” I hear you (probably not) say. But I’m not referring to the live-action toy commercials that are being made today. I’m talking about the animated toy commercial from the eighties. For many of us who grew up at the time, the movie was the pinnacle of the animated form of The Transformers. Yet it wasn’t a box office success, which didn’t prompt another film. Sure, we got the third season of the show which acted as a sequel in a way, but aside from a few high points it didn’t really live up to the standards set by the film. But I would take this sequel even further: instead of picking up the story where the Rebirth miniseries left off, have the sequel completely ignore the American cartoon. This would allow writers to forget the Quintesson-origin story and incorporate Primus into the animated universe. Okay, now I’m really nerding out and I reached my word count. I’m going to end with that.

Tuesday Random Thoughts: Batman, Red Dwarf, iPod Speakers.

  • This weekend I watched a couple of new DVD releases that I recently picked up. On Saturday morning I watched Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s an animated “sequel” to the sixties television series starring Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their roles from the show. I don’t think I have had that much fun watching a movie in a long time. I found myself smiling all the way through if not outright laughing. Longtime readers of this blog should know that I’m a huge fan of the old show, and as an homage I thought this movie nailed it. They obviously had to make a few changes to avoid trademark issues (the characters are owned by Warner Bros. but the show is owned by Fox, not to mention all of the other rights issues such as actor likenesses and so on). But it stood on its own—even if I hadn’t seen the show, the reasons I would love the show would be the reasons I liked this movie. But knowing the old show certainly helps have an appreciation of what the makers of this movie did. And there’s also a Get Smart homage near the beginning of the movie as well. There was obviously a lot of fun going into making this movie which comes across in the experience of watching it.
  • On Saturday night I sat down and had a marathon of the Red Dwarf XI. Again, longtime readers should also know that I’m a huge Red Dwarf fan. (Perhaps I should have done a Nerdy Saturday post after all.) There was one joke in the first episode that caused me to laugh so hard that I had to pause the show. That’s only happened to me once before in my life (during an episode of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who… “It goes ding when there’s stuff”). Unfortunately, I laughed less as the show went on, but the same happened to me when Red Dwarf X. I think that’s largely due to marathon-viewing of the entire series at once rather than the quality of the show itself. I recognized things were funny, I just couldn’t laugh at them. I should have spaced it out. I just couldn’t help myself.
  • I bought this iPod docking system speaker-thing a week and a half ago at a thrift store. I wanted to replace the big, old and partially broken stereo system that I kept in my kitchen with something smaller and just for my iPod. I haven’t had good luck with like electronics at thrift shops but I decided to give it a shot. So far it’s worked great. It didn’t come with a power cord so I thought I would get one of those universal power adapters for it. It turns out that they’re hard to find in stores these days. But it’s been running on batteries this whole time and it’s still going strong. I rather like the portability of it as well. Maybe I’ll just stick with the batteries, then.
  • You’ll notice that I haven’t been political all week. I’m keeping this blog apolitical for a while. I for one am sick of politics. I’m not avoiding them, but unless I have a real reason or can’t help myself I’m keeping out of the whole discussion for now. Maybe later.

Nerdy Saturday: Batman’s secret identity?

For a while now I intended on writing a blog post in the “Nerdy Saturday” series* regarding superheroes and why do they need to conceal their true identities. But that’s too big a project for a casual comic reader like myself. I know that Marvel did a whole thing about it with the first Civil War story but I didn’t read the whole thing. It all comes down to each individual character and his/her/its own reasons for needing to keep their real identity a secret. But sometimes it seems confusing as to why particular characters do this in-story. It’s a well-worn comic convention that sometimes seems to be used only because it’s a well-worn comic convention.

For today, I really just want to focus on Batman, specifically the sixties television version (big surprise**). In some story lines in the larger Batman mythos it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would want to keep his crime-fighting activities a secret as Batman is regarded as a dangerous criminal by the public at large. Sometimes he’s used by the police but only as a last resort, as he’s technically a vigilante and thereby breaking the law by fighting law-breakers. But in the television show, Batman worked directly with the police, often repeating the fact that he and Robin are fully deputized agents of the law.

So why all of the secrecy? We’ve seen in the show that both Batman and Bruce Wayne are highly respected. Bruce Wayne’s mansion has been a target for crooks time and again, so it’s not like they’ll target his place just for revenge. The only reason that I can think of is it keeps the location of the Batcave secret. But that’s not really a strong point to make. Batman could still make it known who he is while keeping the location of the Batcave secret from everybody. They just may have to move it away from Wayne Manor.

It makes sense that Barbara Gordon would want to keep her secret identity as Batgirl a secret from her father. It even makes sense that knowing that Dick Grayson is Robin the Boy Wonder might give his Aunt Harriet a heart attack. But what does Bruce Wayne have to lose? With the location of the Batcave and Robin’s aunt he does have some reasons, but ultimately I can’t see how it would make any difference to his career as a crime-fighter. Even if the world at large can’t know, why not the chief of police?

The show was based on the comic books, and if the convention in the comics was established that he kept his identity secret, then the show followed suit. And of course, it’s all in good fun. But I have to wonder that if the show had continued past the third season if he would open up to more people.


 

*Yeah, I know, I’m late again. But at least this time I’m getting it done and out of the way first thing on Sunday morning. I do plan on writing  a “Sunday List” later today.

**I realize that I’ve narrowed my “Nerdy Saturday” posts to just a few aspects of pop culture. It wasn’t until after I started this that I realized that I don’t have that many nerdy interests. At least, I don’t have extensive knowledge for that many. I became worried that I wasn’t going to vary the subject matter enough to have posts on this series. I decided that I’m going to willingly focus on the few things I know about for now, and hopefully pick up more information about all of these other comics, video games, etc. as time goes on.