You guys are awesome. No, really you are.

I say it every year, so pardon me if I start to sound like a broken record, buy I am blown away by your generosity and support of my efforts on behalf of the National MS Society. It’s been three years of my constant soliciting, bad jokes, and flat-out begging you to part with your hard-earned cash, but once again I have met my goal of $2500 raised. And there’s still 11 days to go before the Bike MS ride this year, so if you’ll indulge me for just a few more days, I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I can hit $3000 this year.

I’ve got one more fundraiser left this year, and it’s the easiest way I know for you to contribute. The very fine folks at Mellow Mushroom on Colonial Drive here in Orlando will donate 15% of your total bill from 5-9:00 PM tomorrow evening, Wednesday, April 2. All you have to do is show up, tell your server or bartender that you are there for the fundraiser, and enjoy some great craft beer or beverages of your choice as well as some of their to top shelf food. It’s the very definition of win-win.

My thanks to Mellow for hosting a fundraiser again this year as part of their spirit nights. And thanks to all again for the love, support and encouragement as I once again prepare to hop on my bike and pedal through the hills and orange groves of Florida. Please spread the word and invite/cajole/kidnap your friends and co-workers to join you. If you’d like to contribute but can’t make the fundraiser, you can still give online by clicking this link. Every dollar raised helps fund research, services, and outreach programs that make a real and lasting difference in the lives of those diagnosed with MS.

Mellow Mushroom logo

Thanks for your support, Mellow!

Cheers.

Shopping and eating and drinking, oh my!

Did that title get your attention? I mean, who doesn’t like shopping and eating and drinking, amiright? And lists that end in “oh my!” for that matter.

Anyway, preparations for this year’s addition of Bike MS: The Citrus Tour are well under way, from both a riding and fundraising standpoint. The riding is pretty much up to just me, but the fundraising is where all of you wonderful and generous (and did I mention intelligent, handsome/attraction, and exceptionally virile?) people come in to play. To make things easy for you, I’ve got three different fundraising events planned in the coming weeks.

First up, tomorrow is the spring community yard sale here in Avalon Park, and once again we are donating the proceeds from our sale to the National MS Society. Need some boys clothes or toys, a gently used Keurig K Cup coffee maker, some DVDs or a Turner Field “First Pitch” print? Then we’ve got you covered. Lots of other families are participating, so check out avalonyardsale.com for details, and come get your bargain on.

Next up, Mrs. Lo is whipping up some exceptionally tasty St. Patrick’s-themed  baked goods for a sale next Thursday, March 13. We’ll have Bailey’s Irish Creme Brownies, as well as both Guinness and Irish whiskey-infused apple almond cupcakes available for a minimum donation of $3 a piece or 2 for $5. All of them are amazing, but the whiskey apple cupcakes are a personal favorite. If you are in the Orlando area, let me know and I’ll deliver to you for a reasonable donation to the cause :)

And last but certainly not least, the very good people at Mellow Mushroom Colonial Dr. will be donating 15% of your total bill from 5-9:00 PM on Wednesday, April 2. Simply show up, tell your server or bartender that you are there for the MS Fundraiser, enjoy some top-shelf food and drink, and relax knowing that a good cause is benefiting from your night out. How many times has eating pizza and drinking beer done so much (or any) good? It’s the very definition of win-win.

Hope to see some or all of you at one or more of these events. Of course if you can’t make it and want to donate, I’ll happily accept your donation through the regular means through my personal fundraising page. Thanks to your generosity I’m close to halfway to my fundraising goal for the year of $2500. Know that every dollar you contribute makes a real and lasting difference in the lives of those living with MS by funding research, services, and outreach programs.

Cheers.

A tale of two zombie shows (well, kinda)

This is a tale of two zombie shows.

One is massively popular, based on inventive and rich source material, and shown on a network that is responsible for giving the world some of the best television drama ever made. It is also god awful and fast becoming completely unwatchable. The second is set in France and shown with English subtitles, getting an American remake that looks too horrible to even contemplate, and shown on a network that hardly anybody gets let alone knows about. It also happens to be incredibly creepy, painfully original and watched by virtually no one.

The first show of course is The Walking Dead, which had its mid-season premiere on Sunday evening. I’ve written before about my frustrations with this show, but I’ve always given it the benefit of the doubt. After Sunday, however, I’m just about done giving it second/third/fourth/fifth chances.

Here’s what you need to know about me when it comes to zombie shows/movies – I should be THE target demographic for this show: massive George Romero fan, loved Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (book not the movie, haven’t brought myself to see the movie yet), have read a decent amount of the WD graphic novels, and watched this show religiously on Sunday from day one and the frankly amazing premiere. That premiere episode held so much promise with the incredibly creepy scenes of Rick waking up and slowly discovering that the world has literally collapsed around him blending into the heart wrenching portrait of Morgan and his son Duane, holed up in their house and struggling desperately to survive. It was everything you could have hoped for with this type of show: tense, moody, shocking, a bit gory (but not overly so, fear and scares were more important than outright carnage and violence), and above all, populated with compelling, interesting characters. It’s no coincidence that by far the best episode since the premiere was last season’s “Clear,” which involved Rick, Michonne, and Carl going on a search for additional weapons and supplies and encountering Duane.

For the most part since the premiere, however, The Walking Dead has bounced between disappointing and just outright boring, with only one weapon left in it’s dramatic arsenal, the surprise death of a major character. I understand this is a zombie show and there needs to be a certain amount of death to make it realistic, but it can’t be ONLY about Michonne wielding a katana, Darryl being awesome, and the occasional Herschel or Lori dying and stay compelling over the long run (or, maybe it can – this is basically all that has happened in four years and the ratings are 50% higher than the Breaking Bad finale and many times higher than the best audience Mad Men has ever pulled.)

Anyway, for me this show has simply been one missed opportunity after another, and I’m pretty much done. Seriously, how was the Welcome to the Tombs episode not an amazing, claustrophobic battle between Rick’s group, the Governor’s people and the walkers instead of the anti-climatic thud of a clunker that aired? You know, pretty much what ended up happening anyway several episodes later, only set INSIDE the prison, with the maze of dark, treacherous passageways providing a hellish atmosphere and natural advantage to Rick’s group, negating the superior numbers at the Governor’s disposal? (Ok, I’ll stop. Promise. But you know I’m right. That would have been AMAZING.) Instead, what we’re left with is Carl eating an industrial sized can of pudding and Rick stumbling around like Rocky Balboa after one too many beatings (if you imagine Rick and Carl’s sniping last night as Rocky and Adrian arguing it was infinitely more entertaining – “You can’t win, Rick!”). I’m probably going to watch one more episode next week, lured in by the promise of Darryl doing something awesome, and if things don’t improve drastically and a compelling way forward for the show established, then I’m out for good.

Now, about that other show. I’ve written briefly before about The Returned and how amazing it is. It is literally the anti-Walking Dead – no gore, no cheap stunts, and actual characters. It’s not even a zombie show, even though the dead are returning from the grave. It owes as much if not more to David Lynch than it does to George Romero, and much of the tension and scares come from the atmosphere created by the cinematography and the soundtrack as it does from the story itself. I won’t repeat myself again about all of it’s virtues, but mention it here for two reasons: as an example of what The Walking Dead could be with a little more care and vision, and to tell you that season one is coming to Netflix streaming at the end of February (February 24 to be exact, the same day that Breaking Bad Season 5 drops).

If you trust my taste in anything, I implore you to binge watch the living daylights out of this and revel in how horror and mystery can be done without massive special effects budgets and the need to constantly raise the shock bar. May I even suggest that you open up some free time on Sunday evenings to watch by eliminating a certain other show from your DVR? (And no, I don’t mean Downton Abbey. Long live the Dowager!)

Cheers.

Underated and sometimes forgotten

Perhaps you didn’t know, but a few weeks ago I resigned my full time position as Casa JLo’s writer-in-residence and dipped a toe back in the world of the employed. So far things are going well. I do enjoy actually getting paid for my labors, even if that means my ability to write here is drastically curtailed and my contentious relationship with East Orlando’s Lululemom community has been effectively ended. It was a good run; no regrets.

One of the things I’ve had to readjust to is office life, namely how do I get the music that I need to get through my day piped into my headphones? Internet access and software downloads are pretty tightly controlled, so that means no Spotify on my laptop, and I don’t feel like burning my entire data allotment running the mobile app each day. This means that my old ipod, Jolene (yes, I name my ipods – shut up), was called out of retirement after a lengthy update and refurbishing a few Sundays ago.  One benefit of this has been renewed mobile access to one of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which isn’t available on the streaming service.

It dawned on me while I was listening to it that it had been far too long since I had listened this really exceptional album, and that it seems like that more people know of or associate In Rainbows with the surprise announcement and unique “pay what you want” distribution scheme that accompanied its release than with the actual music. (It’s easily one of the three best Radiohead albums ever, and, I’d argue that with the inclusion of one or two tracks from the bonus disc that was eventually released, you could make the case for it being their best.) That got me thinking about other albums that are under-appreciated for one reason or another, and a top ten list quickly began to take shape. Some of these are records by classic artists that simply were overshadowed or unfairly maligned, while others are albums from, hmm…let’s call them lesser regarded acts, that were really well received at the time but their reputation has faded a bit over the years.

Here’s what came to mind, in no particular order, other than that which I thought of them.

Radiohead - In Rainbows: Well, obviously. See above. Essential track: All I Need, but really, any of them.

Pete Yorn - Musicforthemorningafter: This was a really big record when it came out both commercially and critically, and it is stacked with really solid power pop songs that all hold up well today. A lot was expected from Yorn after that, and though he’s had a fairly interesting career since then, nothing he’s released has matched this debut, which has caused it to fade from the collective consciousness. Essential track: For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)

R.E.M. - Up: Yes, it is too long and could stand to lose a track or two, but in retrospect this is turning out the be the standout record of the R.E.M.’s post Bill Berry output. If you know me at all, have read this space long or recognize the origins of this title of this blog you know my passion for this band, so for me to call this the 8th best of their albums is high praise. Essential track: Falls to Climb

Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Ok, I’m one of the 6 people in the world that prefers Syd Barrrett-era Floyd to just about everything that came after it. What can i say? I dig the psychedelic weirdness more than the Prog rock pomposity, though I’ve made my peace somewhat with Floyd in recent years and no longer reflexively throw their music out of the car window when people try to put it on (and, for the 1000th time, sorry to Mrs. Lo for what happened to your tape copy of Dark Side and thank you for viewing my younger terminal intensity when it came to music as an endearing quirk rather than the obnoxious jackassery that it truly was). Essential track: Interstellar Overdrive

Counting Crows – August & Everything After: Steve Hyden did a much better job explaining this in a Grantland piece that I ever could, so I’ll just simply remind you how huge this record once was and how many decent to really good singles it has and you know you tap your feet and sing along when Mr. Jones come on and nobody is looking and holy crap this record is 20 years old! Essential track: Mr. Jones

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline: It seems like every Bob has gotten his due except Country Bob, but dangit, he’s one of my favorites, even with the creepy, where-the-heck-did-that-come-from-lounge-singer-voice on Lay Lady Lay. It’s not as if this one has been ignored at all, it’s critically well received and one Dylan’s best selling records, but it seems too often overlooked these days when discussing Dylan’s essential work. It’s got a duet with Johnny Freaking Cash, people! That alone makes it worth more than your average record. Essential track: Girl From the North Country

Men at Work – Business As Usual: When frequent reader and commenter Parker offhandedly dissed Men at Work in a comment on my Hoodoo Gurus post a few weeks ago, I was prepared to react in my usual fashion and fire off several thousand words of righteous indignation defending them, but alas, this will have to suffice. This records holds a solid place on my vinyl shelf and I will not stand to hear a word against it! (how’s that for a reason?) Essential Track: Overkill (yes, I know it’s not on this album, but I just really like that song)

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall: I’ve said this many times before – I know that everybody’s favorite pop album is Thriller, but Off the Wall takes it behind the woodshed and gives it an old fashioned whoopin’. Plus, it’s the last MJ record before he started to descend into one sequin glove weirdness. Essential track: The opening Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Rock With You/Workin’ Day an Night salvo on side 1 is as good as any pop music ever produced.

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience: Yeah I know this won Grammys and sold a bunch and we’re all getting kind of sick and tired of seeing JT literally every time we turn on a TV, but I still feel like this record isn’t getting the love it deserves. Some of it is a total hot mess – thanks for playing Spaceship Coupe – but any record that has songs as good as Pusher Love Girl, Suit and Tie, and Mirrors (I used an Oxford comma there because it was needed for clarity, but most of the time it IS NOT NEEDED. The key is to know when. Whew, sorry about that, but I needed to get that out. End of strange parenthetical rant but Oxford commas are the devil) deserves all the love we can give it. I have the feeling if JT had backed off on all of the extended outros (it’s cool one and a while, but for EVERY SONG? Sometimes brevity is a good thing) and hadn’t rushed out the egocentric 20/20 Part II so quickly that what he accomplished with the first record wouldn’t be overlooked the way it has. Essential track: Pusher Love Girl is the Sexual Healing for the new millennium.

Lou Reed – New York: With all of the praise rightly making the rounds after Lou’s recent passing, I feel like this stellar record has been overlooked a bit. Lyrically it’s just immense and probably the equal of anything Dylan has ever done. I played this record relentlessly when it came out in the late 80s (was it 1989?) and continue to do so frequently today and I never tire of it. Essential track: Dirty Blvd.

A few more records sprang to mind while I was writing this, but I’m satisfied with this list. What did I get completely wrong? What would you add or subtract?

Cheers.

My date with The Doctor (and some dragons)

If you know anything about me, you know that I am something of an anglophile (and that is probably a nominee for understatement of the year). I was a history major in college and concentrated on 20th Century Europe. I’ve got literally hundreds of books in my house on English (and British) history, most of them by or about Winston Churchill, my favourite historical figure. I know the meaning and correct usage of English vs. British, no small feat for a Yank. Much of my favourite music is British (I’m listening to The Stone Roses and Joe Strummer while writing this). My favourite sports team is Manchester City football club. I just used football instead of soccer without a shred of irony or self consciousness. My favourite comedians ever are Monty Python. Three of my favourite TV shows ever are Spaced, The League of Gentlemen and Fawlty Towers. I think Sherlock wipes the floor with Elementary, and it’s really not even close. We’ve already discussed my feelings about Misters Cumberbatch and Hiddleston. My favourite director is Edgar Wright. I spell words like favourite and colour and honour with a “u” for the love of pete.

So anyway, I think that establishes my anglophile cred. There’s little wonder, therefore, why just about everyone who has met me has always assumed that I love Doctor Who. But here’s the thing – I’ve never really cared for it. I watched a few episodes of the original incarnation of the series back in the day when you could catch it on PBS and it just struck me as overly campy and pretty silly, so I never gave it another chance when it was resurrected back in the mid-2000s. I didn’t dislike it per say, just never had the urge to revisit it. Part of that probably has to do with my tepid relationship with science fiction in general: I’m not against it, I saw things like Star Wars and stuff when they came out, I just never obsessed over them and preferred to go outside and interact with the 3-D people occasionally and try (and usually fail, but at least I tried occasionally) to get dates with girls instead off sitting around rolling polyhedral dice. Again, didn’t have anything against it or the people who were into that stuff, most of whom I was friends with, but it just didn’t become any kind of obsession. Or maybe I just thought a grown man running around fighting tin cans with a whisk and a screw driver was overly silly.

My good friend, emissary to the world of geek, and GFOTB (Great Friend of the Blog) Shawn, just happens to be one of the biggest Doctor Who fanatics alive, and he offered to personally curate a selection of episodes for me to watch, as long as I agreed to give it a fair shot. I agreed, figuring if nothing else Steven Moffat’s involvement demanded at least some of my attention. I texted him (Shawn, not Steven Moffat) one time about “Dr. Who” (I forget the context) and he replied with that special terminal intensity that only the most ardent of fandom can muster when you have committed an unforgivable sin against the canon that it was DOCTOR Who and ONLY DOCTOR. Never Dr. Bless his little hobbit soul.

The episodes that he chose, carefully calculated to my interests, were thus:

3rd series, 10th Doctor – David Tennant: “Blink,” which a) had Carey Mulligan and b) was the first appearance of something called the Whispering Angels. One of these I found extremely enticing and the other may have well as been written in Sanskrit for all of the sense it made. I will let you guess which.

5th series, 11th Doctor – David Smith: “Eleventh Hour,” this was the “Amy Pound one” in my novice shorthand.

1st series, 9th Doctor – Christopher Eccleston: “The Long Game,” aka “the Simon Pegg one”

2nd series, 10th Doctor – DT: “The Girl in the Fireplace”

With those four episodes under my belt, the plan was for me to watch the 50th anniversary special that aired in November last year and then start with Series 1 from the beginning if I found it interesting enough to continue. Being a game sport I set to my task methodically, and watched the prescribed episodes in the order I was given them, and tried to go in with an open mind and without any preconceptions. I was only sure of one thing: given my love of all things, well most things, Simon Pegg, I would most likely enjoy “The Long Game” the most.

The verdict: Of the four that I watched, I really enjoyed “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink” a lot, and thought “Eleventh Hour” pretty good. I ended up liking “The Long Game” the least of the bunch. As I’ve come to find out, your enjoyment of Doctor Who ebbs and flows in direct proportion to who you prefer in the title role (and to some extent whether or not Stephen Moffat is writing – seriously “The Girl in the Fireplace” was really excellent) and I definitely favored David Tennant from what I saw in those episodes.

With these four down, I stuck a tentative toe into the wider world and watched the Day of the Doctor special, which I liked though again I found myself more drawn to David Tennant than Matt Smith (though both of them wilted just a bit when confronted with the awesomeness that is John Hurt, but then again not many actors can compare to him). With those five in hand, I decided to take the plunge and watch the series in its entirety from the reboot. I’m not binge watching, I don’t think I could take that, but rather am watching an episode or two at a time as the opportunity presents. So far I’m halfway through series 3, and here are my impressions:

  • I’m glad I watched the anniversary special, because the background on the Time War shed a lot of light on why Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor reminded me of a singer who lost his emo band most of them time. Not enough to make me like him that much more in the role (and I love him as an actor), but it was good to know.
  • The downside to having watched the anniversary special and seeing how good John Hurt was? I kept comparing Eccleston to him, which again was unfair.
  • I thought series 1 was pretty uneven from a writing standpoint. I liked the really creepy gas mask kids episodes and the one where Rose creates the paraddox by trying to save her father, but did not care for the Slitheen eps at all.
  • From what I’ve watched of the Tennant episodes, my early preference for him as been confirmed and solidified. Just like him a lot. Plus, he has way more fashion sense then the other two.

So anyway, I’m not a massive Doctor Who fan now, but I will keep on watching, and am intrigued enough by Peter Capaldi to want to watch the new episodes when they start airing. And from what I have been told, the writing picks him considerably when Moffat takes a larger role in the Matt Smith episodes. The writing has been noticeably inconsistent, and “The Girl in the Fireplace” shows me at least that he is definitely the guy who needs to be at the helm here. (So long as it doesn’t detract from Sherlock. Hey, anybody smell a crossover opportunity? I’m going to get hate mail from the Who fandom for suggesting that, aren’t I?) If nothing else, it gives me some clue into the broader culture (it’s pretty amazing how many references to it I recognize now when out and about) and when Shawn launches into one of his spasms of Who-vian ecstasy.

*****

The other cultural touchstone that I vowed to catch up on recently was Game of Thrones (no spoilers here). And when I say recently I mean last summer, because after running a quick poll of my GoT obsessed friends and acquaintances, I decided to read the books first (And discovered the secret to massive page hits on the internet in the process.) For those of you who aren’t familiar with the books, that meant a LOT of reading (on paper of course, e-readers are the devil’s spawn.)

Five volumes, 3970 pages, and 6 months of my life.

Five volumes, 3970 pages, and 6 months of my life.

Since the books take you well beyond where the HBO series is, I’m not going to say much about them other than this: Books 1-3 were pretty great, if occasionally long-winded (the ending to book 3! And I’m not talking about the famous “Red Wedding,” because that takes place halfway through.). The second half of book 5 was very good. Book 4 – first 400 pages of Book 5, however, were painfully slow. In fact, it took me much, much longer to read Book 4 than it did the other 5 volumes combined. Despite being urged to skim, I pressed on, and ended up reading every word of it, and on the whole I’m glad I did it.

Now I’ll dive into the TV show when I can and I have seen a couple of episodes already. HBO NAILED the casting so far as I can tell, with my only quibble being that Peter Dinklage is far too normal looking to truly pull off the Tyrion Lannister from the book, but I like him in that role so far nonetheless.

Now if you will excuse me, this has gone on far too long. And winter is coming.

Cheers.

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