Would The Land Before Clocks be more apt of a title?

I feel like there are some films I keep coming back to. Not all movies age gracefully (tried watching The Breakfast Club after age 25? It’s pretty rough), but some are so well constructed that they stand the test of time. Maybe it’s well-rounded characters, realistic stakes and proportional drama. A cohesive plot that doesn’t cheapen itself with meaningless throwaway lines in an attempt to get easy laughs. Whatever it is, The Land Before Time still works. Watching it at age 30, it almost makes sense that they produced 10+ sequels. Not 14 though. Hey, not all films can have the kind of deserved legacy that Air Bud does.

Land Before Time goes for the heart strings and yanks hard. It’s brutal. Littlefoot’s mum gets murdered maybe ten minutes in, there are catastrophic earthquakes and all these kids are left alone with little but their misery and misplaced pride. From then on out they slam the pedal to the floor on starvation and racism parallels. These kids need to learn about accepting help from others, belief in oneself, understanding that hard paths must sometimes be taken, faith and love, etc and whatnot. It’s great. It’s still funny, adorable and so goddamn mournful. The score by the London Symphony Orchestra is still so fucking stirring to this day. Heavy as it gets, it doesn’t bask in it for too long. There’s levity galore, and great character moments abound. Petrie may be comic relief, but he still has important lessons to learn. Of course as a child I thought Sarah was an asshole, but as an adult I can see that Sarah’s a great character. As an adult it’s easier to look at the influence of her parentage and understand why she’s too proud to work with others, divisive and headstrong. You can see her journey and its necessity. Of course racism isn’t natural, it’s taught. Kids watching aren’t gonna understand why Three Horns can’t play with Long Necks. It’s so stupid, they’re all dinosaurs. That’s a pretty great legacy for a film to have that’s still alarmingly relevant today.

I still can’t believe it took me until age 30 to realise that I’m not a Littlefoot, I’m a Ducky. Don’t worry folks, that’s great. Sure, Littlefoot is the protagonist and reluctant leader, but Ducky is where it’s at. She’s the heart and soul of the team. Duck’s the glue keeping everyone together. She raises morale, encourages everyone to push through and try their best. She’s caring and considerate, refusing to give up on those she loves. Without Ducky you wouldn’t have a troop, you’d have lonely disparate children going their own way only to perish. Yup yup yup, Ducky’s the MVP.

Why did they call him “Littlefoot”? Why “foot”? Compared to his parents, everything about him is smaller, not just his feet. Are they saying his feet are disproportionately tiny? Way to give the kid a complex. Why not go with Ducky’s superior suggestion of “Flathead”? Ducky all day long. What’s with Sarah’s dad sounding like an accountant? Is it because he spends all day counting horns in order to further his own racist agenda? Do kids movies these days show animals being eaten by other animals? Or is that considered too violent for children’s entertainment? Isn’t calling it “The Land Before Time” a bit narcissistic? Time existed before humans came along. We named it, we didn’t invent it. Therefore this film isn’t set before time began at all.

Failing anything, it lifts my heart to know that when I eventually have kids, this is a movie we’ll be able to watch together. It’ll be nice to share with them something I love so much. Frankly, I think that’s half the reason I want kids. I want a captive, easily influenced posse that’ll listen to all my pop culture based suggestions. Maybe I shouldn’t spawn after all.

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Is it time to give in and join a Bingo club?

Am I 30 going on 40 yet? Here I am on a Saturday morning garbed in my dressing gown and slippers. I got up bright and early just after 7am, had a bowl of oatmeal and tooled around on the internet watching Magic the Gathering draft recaps and Grand Prix Turin event footage. It’s basically the equivalent of a bloke in his 40s waking up with the sun to watch cricket reruns.

I think it was last night that truly did it. We went out to have dinner with old friends of my dad. One of his childhood mates was in town and he invited my girlfriend and I along to a family barbecue with some of his buds. It was like stepping into someone else’s life, and I mean that in the best way. I’d known my father’s good friend, but nobody else. He’d spent treasured years in Toronto back in his early 20s, before spending time with my dad in Montreal. I met my father’s friend’s partner (oh geez, just describing who these people are in relation to me is gonna take 500 words) for the first time, which blew me away. I couldn’t believe that in all these years she’d somehow never come into the picture. I mean, she knew me as a small child and my dad’s mate had come back to NZ a bunch of times. Odd that we’d never crossed paths once I was an adult. She was lovely and obviously knew my family pretty well. The rest of the table was (so much pipe to lay here) two more friends of my dad, one of whom owned the house. The house owning guy’s ex-wife (they’d divorced 30+ years ago but were still amicable. They had kids together), their daughter and her partner, plus their unfairly adorable three year old daughter (who instantly became BFFs with my girlfriend). We were ushered in the door for introductions, hugs and drinks. We perfectly timed our arrival (*cough*, accidental lateness) with the barbecue food being dished up, so we got to tuck right in.

A table full of cheer and delicious food. Lemon chicken, halibut skewers, teriyaki chicken, salmon skewers and prawn skewers. A big salad and corn cobbs (complete with those little corn forks). The food was great and the company was friendly all around. It was so interesting essentially being shoved into an unfamiliar but amicable situation and piecing together who everyone was from drips and drabs of information. That may have unintentionally rhymed. There were people who hadn’t seen one another in decades, there was the young family adding the generational component and, well, whatever my girlfriend and I were. By some stroke of magic, the conversation never really dipped into uncomfortable territory (as is almost always the case with disparate groupings) and instead just felt warm. We heard about how life was for these guys in 70s Toronto. Of old musical talents, with the home owner guy having written and performed a song for his wedding to his (present) ex wife. Of his daughter (who was big into choirs and musical theatre) then performing a song with her father at her own wedding.

After dinner was finished, the daughter and grand-daughter went off to hunt for her grandfather’s guitar (with her new BFF in tow – my girlfriend said the girl must’ve been enchanted by her long pink and green hair. Also she’s all kinds of nifty) for some post meal music. He performed a song, did another one with his daughter and the table all came together for The Beatles’ “Yesterday”. There was this open dynamic that welcomed participation. It also shone a light on what must’ve been a frequent ritual for this family in years past. It was so charming seeing all these threads from throughout the years come together across one table. The guitar was put away as the three year old was shuffled off home. Another guest took his leave and after a few rounds of hugs we followed soon afterwards (with leftovers thrust into our arms). Even TTCing back, we were home by 9pm on a Friday. It was early enough to go out for the night. Instead, as born again old folks, my girlfriend and I watched some TV in our spare room, falling asleep by 11pm or so.

It’s a long weekend. What’s on the docket? Well we might go grocery shopping tonight. Y’know, a little bit of excitement for a Saturday.

I did knot expect to tie that all together.

I’ve been procrastinating about starting this. The Internet has been far too alluring. So to make up for it, I’m gonna let you in on what I’ve been reading. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Sorry, messed up the word order there. Meant to say That doesn’t sound exciting!

Let’s begin.

I watched the trailer for Ready Player One. I enjoyed the book. It was a silly wish fulfilment narrative. The lead characters weren’t terribly well carved out. The whole thing was pandering stacked upon pandering. It was also a lot of fun, and even if it felt like the evocation of something my friends and I used to play called The Anythink Game. The premise was simple, you could be anyone and do anything you could think of. We used to play it on a trampoline. We’d be Transformers one minute and Ninja Turtles the next. I don’t know if we ever played as everyone’s favourite female Street Shark, but that was obviously a missed opportunity. Ready Player One felt in the same spirit and as such, it was a neat world to slip into. If I’d read it at age 13, I can guarantee you it would’ve been my favourite book of all time. I have no idea how Spielberg’s team is legally gonna get a hold of all that copyrighted material, but they’re the real heroes of the film. The scale of the idea makes sense on the big screen and in watching the trailer you can already see how specifically tailored to 3D they’ve made it. A big dumb film perfectly fit for a cheap Tuesday.

I had forgotten how cringeworthy a bunch of it was though.

I bought a new keyboard. I’m so tired of having to write on my phone while in transit. The Swype keyboard sure speeds things up, but it also gets overworked pretty easily. My poor Moto G can’t keep up with my fingers. I’d been considering buying a tablet or laptop, but if a keyboard can fix all my issues, why not go with the simplest solution? I realised the other day how I still haven’t adjusted to Bluetooth as a technology that exists. I’m a curmudgeon who’s already been made technologically obsolete. I was at the park the other day, marvelling at my friend’s rugged and robust bluetooth speaker. In my head, if it’s not hard-wired, it won’t work. I guess I’ve acclimated to the understanding that I often buy technology that’s behind the curve. Since my gear’s never top of the line, I just assume that all technology is as shitty as mine. The last time I bought something cutting edge was my beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. Even when it was dated, it still worked great. Stupid different Canadian networks not working with my pride and joy.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to constantly carrying a heavy work-around everywhere I go.

Lastly, T.J. Miller. I always thought of him as a provocative performance artist in the vein of Father John Misty. If that’s what he’s going for, judging by this interview he overshot the moon and ended up in another galaxy. Ugh, he comes off as a totally snarky, condescending prick. Just an unrepentant asshole. It’s a pity, his live performance at JFL42 2015 stands as one of my all time favourite comedy experiences. Densely interwoven meta commentary that was both flashy and subtle. He’s always walked that line for me, but if he’s trying so hard to present an unlikable persona, I’m fine accepting him as thus. Bummer. I hope he gets hoisted on his own petard and comes back to earth.

By the time he does, I might even have my own Bluetooth keyboard on which to write about it.

Maybe it’ll be after seeing him in Ready Player One.

Why is it so hard for adult toys to harness the same creativity?

It’s been my long-standing belief that toy design is the coolest. There’s so much that goes into it. First and foremost it’s sociological. How do kids behave? What kind of activities would excite and stimulate them? Can you provoke learning opportunities? Is it possible to make small challenges and tricks inherent to their design so that kids can overcome them and feel mastery? Then there are visual and tactile components, what kinds of colour design can you throw in to make your toy a must have? Do children naturally understand the colour wheel? Or is it possible to invert these supposed rules for a younger audience? How extensively is a new product play-tested with real children? Is it hard finding the balance between something kids would want and parents could see as suitable?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. Is toy design reactive or proactive? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Is there a delineation between those dreamers who imagine novel products into being and those who create within the boundaries of supplied creative briefs? Do designers shelve some designs in the hopes that an apt IP will come along? Are their tiers or hierarchies within the industry? How does one even get into the industry? What education streams lead towards a life in toy design?

I had innumerable awesome toys as a kid. This is no treatise on the state of toys today. I have no idea how toys are these days. I assume they’re just as great as ever, or even more advanced. I’m sure design technology has come a long way. I always thought Transformers were unbelievable. Not only did each toy have multiple forms with which to play, but there was a fun puzzle involved in working between them. I couldn’t believe that a robot could also be a T-Rex or a McDonalds meal. Just trying to conceive how someone’s brain could visualise the conduit between both modes was insane to me. All those twists and turns, clicks and snaps. It was contortion on a robotic level that still had to obey the laws of physics. I loved not only alternating between modes, but playing with different combinations between full transformation. A T-Rex body with a robot’s head, for instance.

I latched onto anything modular (Construx, Capsela, Iron Man, Centurions, Dino Riders, etc), but Lego was on another level. It’s pretty gratifying to see that these days it’s the world’s largest toy manufacturer (no doubt licensing with colossal brands did a wonder for them). Having a toy that encouraged uninhibited creativity (and nailed the advertising to boot) meant there was no wrong way to play. Assembling a cluster of weirdly coloured bricks or a sleek, chic, colour coordinated robot were both viable options. Inevitably (or perhaps because most of my hand-me-down stuff was 80s space Lego) I became Benny every time. Even when I bought new 90s Lego, it was mostly to re-up on cool space stuff (and to obtain those sweet, sweet translucent orange chainsaws for maximum carnage).

Imagine how cool it would be to see kids adoring something you designed. The joy you brought to others on full display. That’s some prime time personal fulfilment. I may have gotten older, but my admiration for toy designers has only grown.

I wonder if Shirley Manson ever did turn the tables.

Did anyone else realise that Frances Bean Cobain was not only not a child, but an actual adult? And an artist? That by the age of 24 she was (past tense intens-ional) married? I only know this because of some headline about her getting a court order to have her father’s acoustic guitar (from the MTV Unplugged performance) returned from her ex-husband. Fancy that, Kurt’s little girl is a person now. For all I know she’s been a person for years, but like Macaulay Culkin and Hayley Joel Osment the world will always think of her as a child. Wait, in the case of those last two, maybe it’s that the world would prefer them to still be children. I kid. The Pizza Underground are a slice of good ol’ American national treasure.

There’s probably some internet neologism akin to sonder about children we once knew/knew of who grew up. It shouldn’t be weird or unexpected, I mean, that’s what time does after all. Still, it gets me whenever I’m faced with an adult I used to know as a child. Hell, I’m sure I’d feel the same about old friends of mine I only knew as children. As if I needed yet another surefire sign I was ageing into irrelevance. My vacation back home was a lesson in the aforementioned as yet unnamed internet neologism (see how much cleaner it could’ve made that sentence?). Not only my two and a half year old niece (who I last saw at four months), but younger cousins (I’d guessed they were about seven and nine by now, not 11 and 13) too.

We’re all too aware of how we grow as we age, but with someone who’s been out of sight it seems crazy. I can wank on endlessly about my mental and emotional progression from 16-30. Concurrently there’s this dumb lizard part of my brain that doesn’t extend the same courtesy to those who I’m rarely near. It’s like my internal logic imagines some Schrödinger-esque quark-y existence whereby they could be any type of person in the time between our last contact. It’s only my proximity that solidifies their personality, before that they’re a jumble of potential, positive or sub-optimal. I’m clearly an idiot and a narcissistic one at that. It’s fine.

Kids’ll often grow up to surprise you. Who knew my niece would be so goddamn intelligent and perceptive for a two and a half year old? Seriously, you’ve gotta watch your mouth around that gal. She’ll pick up any conversational scraps left behind. Who knew my cousins would have their own interests and passions that they’d ardently stuck with? Who knew cute lil’ Hayley Joel Osment could be utterly reprehensible in the equally reprehensible Entourage movie (I mean, Entourage being a odious shitpile surprised nobody)?

I guess it’s just weird to think of somebody else for a change. When I grow up maybe I’ll get better at it.

At least you’ll understand why the soundtrack is under such demand.

There is too much good television to watch. I know the line “golden age of television” may be overtread by this point, but it’s undeniably true. There are too many good shows being produced these days and we have no hope of ever catching up. It’s equal parts comforting and maddening, knowing that we never have to sit through another shitty episode of Two Broke Girls unless we deliberately seek out that kind of masochism. Of all the great content providers, Netflix seems to be dominating the race. They’ve stumbled upon some magic formula of throwing money at skilled content creators and signing off on creative control. If it wasn’t crazy enough a notion, paying people to make their visions come to life. It’s unbelievable, but it’s working. I guess they’re raking in enough subscriber fees that they can afford to pump money into endeavours that might not themselves be blockbuster programming in the making. They can afford to cater to niche audiences, because the mass audiences funding it just want to binge watch old TV shows. It’s brilliant and I couldn’t be happier that it’s a resounding success.

Which is a short way of saying, within the past 24 hours I finally watched Stranger Things. I promise this is a spoiler free post.

The show is exactly what people have been saying it is. There are elements of the supernatural/sci-fi set in small town USA. The whole thing evokes a massive sense of 80s throwback culture in everything from production design to directorial mode. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Spielberg piece, steeped as it is in his style. There’s a lovable cast of characters, with a truly endearing bunch of little kids. Maybe it’s an element of seeing myself in them, the nerdy misfits/outcasts, but I was instantly gripped and felt a part of the world of the show. If you’re between the ages of 25-40, the mise en scene will pull at something deep inside you. Props, fashion, and general decor, its the 80s come to life. More than that, there’s a sensibility to the characters, dialogue less dripping with the cynicism so endemic to a post 9/11 society.

The music is goddamned incredible. From some almost on the nose pop/rock choices, to the dense synthwave atmos, it’s immaculate. The title music feels perfect and tells you exactly when/where you are. I’m sure there was the temptation to weave this into a dark, drab tale, but colour is everywhere and it’s all for the best. The show vacillates so readily between hope and despair that the moments of levity carry it all. We’re manipulated into falling in love with these characters so quickly that being drawn down into negativity would be the death of a show like this. The kids themselves are stars and we’re so obviously pulled along with that youthful naivité (coupled with the fact that these are really smart kids), that it lifts the show with it. Given that it’s a tightly packed season (eight episodes all an hour or so), there’s very little in the way of wasted space. Almost everything (with only one scene I can think of) propels the narrative or character development.

In short, the show is fun as hell, the production values are outstanding and the casting is perfect. As an overall experience, take a day (or two nights) and have this experience. It’s so worth it.

Or, y’know, be part of the audience that keeps Two Broke Girls on the air.

Is that what they call forced perspective?

I was walking in the park this afternoon playing Pokémon and stumbled upon a kids’ birthday party. There were helium Star Wars balloons, a table of snacks and a gazebo tent thing. Adults were standing around, chatting. An adult male was dressed in Luke Skywalker garb with a wig, wielding dual foam lightsabers. A few metres away was a line of children all wearing long brown cloaks, wielding foam lightsabers of their own. ‘Skywalker’ was calling them each up, one at a time, to charge and take a couple of swings. For each child, he’d offer some congratulatory comment. “Great swinging”, “awesome running” and the like. The kids were getting charged up and excited to take their turn.  They couldn’t have been older than four or five years, but the simple act of running up to play sword fights was filling them with elation. “Great work padawans” Skywalker would yell and they’d get amped up for another run. I watched out of the corner of my eye for ten minutes or so, genuinely stoked to see these kids having such innocent fun. It took me back all the way to my third or fourth birthday.

It was a McDonalds party, which must’ve been the easiest hand off for parents organising a birthday. It was Ninja Turtles themed and we’d decked out our booth with decorations. Someone came around to paint faces, which led to a bunch of kids with greenface and blue/red bands painted around the eyes. Maybe a couple of Michaelangelo and no more than one Donatello. This was in the 90s when nerds were still maligned. We stuffed our faces full of chips and cheeseburgers, then ran outside to wreak havoc on the playground. There tiny human turtles dangling from the cell bars of Officer Big Mac and swaying in the spring-loaded grimace. Surprisingly, I don’t think anyone threw up. We were all loaded back to the table where I blew out candles and we all gorged on cake. At that age, this was my picture of paradise.

For a long time I thought there was this dampening down of excitement happening. Without any intended ageism, I assumed it was generational and based on excessive stimulation. Life these days is stimulation overload to the point where it almost dulls the senses. Everything is big, bright, loud and flashy and there’s this ever-present arms race to get our attention. I know it’s harder for me to get excited about almost anything these days because I’ve done or seen so much before. If we live in a world where we can have whatever we want delivered at the press of a button or with the scan of a card, the stakes seem lower than ever before. If things are too easy, where’s the excitement in that?

I’m rambling, so I’ll try and find a point. Is there a way to seek out new and original simple pleasures? I feel like no more than a month and a half ago I was flipping my lid over how fun tie dying was. An activity like that isn’t a big buy-in. Get a kit and some friends who want to give it a try, put in some time and bang! A whole new experience. The easiest thing is be cynical and stop seeking out novel activities. What’s the point? I often think. That’s dumb, simplistic. Really though, as an adult how often do we get to feel that burst of excitement that comes with feeling something unfamiliar but pleasant? How often do we get to be in a different element or light, enjoying ourselves because of what something represents rather than how tailored it is to our burnt out receptors?

At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to be a jedi or ninja turtle for once?