Thursday 2013-01-03, 12:03am
One of my favorite musical developments of 2012 involved the return of alt-rock radio to New York City—after an abortive year as an all-news station, 101.9 FM flipped back to music, with the call letters WEMP and a playlist that, while not perfect (all those campfire-ready singalongs from Mumford & Sons wannabes!), provided the occasional surprise both new and old. While I’m awash in music “discovery” all day, from the promos I recieve in my physical and electronic mail to the songs tweeted at me by hopefuls to recommendations from friends, there’s something about hearing a fresh-to-my-ears track sandwiched in between some old reliables that still makes me more excited to drink in the new. Of course, the romance didn’t last long.
Thursday 2013-01-03, 12:02am
It’s easy to be giddy about Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s answer to Toy Story for those whose toys are virtual. It involves being a kid, or at least an ’80s kid, with eyes wide like quarters, muscle memory zippy from years of gaming, and hearts young enough to embrace animation, arcade games, and snarky neon pipsqueaks with names like Vanellope von Schweetz. (There are lots of them; the movie rode the nostalgia wave to high box-office grosses and an early HD release next month.) It’s equally easy to be cynical. It helps to be a critic. It helps to have any of the following: ready arguments about Disney vs. Pixar; an instinctual distrust of nostalgia and memes; cascading visions of Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade games in theme parks once the Angry Birds midway games go stale, Felix ports for Xbox and PS3 and PC and iOS and garage-door clickers, puffy Ralph plushies and Vanellope-shaped fondant trinkets multiplying everywhere. Either stance is fine, though this film rewards the easy route. Wreck-It Ralph, fittingly, is structured like a game. The hero (of sorts) is Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly, in wry mode), an intermittently villainous bad guy who resembles an inflatable Kiddy Kong. His days consist of smashing up buildings and being chucked into the mud for it; his nights are spent alone in the village landfill. The villagers hate him, partly because of his vague rage and partly because he spends his days smashing up their buildings. The game’s hero, Fix-It Felix, is cordial enough to Ralph when he’s not getting medals for thwarting him, but this cordiality doesn’t extend to party invites. Ralph guilts his way in to one, and after some faux pas and fracas he gets an ultimatum from one of the crabbier guests: sure, you can hang out in the penthouse—in the impossible event that you’re a good enough guy to get your own medal.
Thursday 2013-01-03, 12:01am
It’s the first week of 2013. Superstorm Sandy blew through two months ago. “The power’s out.” My son calls me at work to tell me this, and it all comes back—the cold, the dark, the days without power. I have flashbacks. My heart starts to do its palpitation thing and I reach into my bag for a Xanax even as I’m dialing the number for the Long Island Power Authority. “Your power will be back on by 11 a.m.,” a recorded voice assures me. I am not optimistic.
Thursday 2013-01-03, 12:00am
The workplace comedy 9 To 5 was an HBO staple when I was a kid, and I remember its more screwball scenes vividly—Lily Tomlin’s Violet Newstead, decked out like Snow White and surrounded by animated fauna, cheerfully sweetening her boss’s coffee with poison; Dolly Parton’s Doralee Rhodes, decked out like a cowgirl, whipping her lasso; Franklin Hart Jr., played by Dabney Coleman, swinging from the ceiling after an attempt to escape from the prison in which he’d been placed by three of his employees. The 45 of Parton’s peppy theme song, with the percussive typewriters and lyrics about (male) bosses serving as underminers who had the added bonus of being unpleasant, was one of the first singles I owned, and a bit of a rallying cry when things at my most recent gig got particularly unbearable thanks to politicking from self-interested, just-competent-enough colleagues. But when I watched it on a recent Saturday night, I was taken aback by how downright radical it seemed even now.
Thursday 2013-01-03, 12:00am
As a kid I was not the biggest fan of my name. When you’re 8 and prematurely in your awkward phase you want nothing more than to fit in, and one of the keys to “fitting in” back in 1980s Long Island was, perversely enough, items that came pre-personalized—stickers, T-shirts, magnets, key chains. I would scour every novelty shop I came across looking for something that had MAURA emblazoned on it, and every time I would come away empty-handed. It became a point of frustration and, eventually, embarrassment; my mom even tried to make me “designer jeans” by stitching my name on the rear end, but that didn’t help.