Secret Societies that Run the World

I make fun of conspiracy theorists all the time but I think I’m turning into the very thing that I ridicule. I’ve been noticing some shit and it’s like…every where man! There is no hiding from…them.

I’m serious, man; we have overlords, and they are all members of the following secret societies that I have exhaustively documented.

1. The Brotherhood of Dudes with Hammers Who Knock Coat Hooks Out of Toilet Stalls

2. The Illuminati of Leaving Damp Paper Towels on the Counters and in the Sinks of Public Bathrooms (the odds that this group works with or is possibly even the same as the above group are extremely high)

3. The Secret Distributors of Broken Glass and Bottle Caps in Parking Lots

4. The Brotherhood of Putting Wood and Shredded Tires on Freeways

5. The Secret Coalition of Office Workers Who Print Shitloads of Documents and Then Leave Them on the Printer All Day

6. The Illuminati of People Who Put the Wrong Discs into the Wrong DVD and/or Video Game Cases

7. The Fraternal Order of People Who Will Bag Their Dogs’ Shit But Then Just Leave it on The Sidewalk Anyways

8. The Secret Society of People Who Put Cracks in CD Cases

9. The Illuminati of People Who Clearly Don’t Pet Their Cats Enough

10. The Clandestine Collective of Facebook Programmers Who Keep Sending You Notifications for Shit You’ve Already Seen

An Evening with Alison Sudol

Alison Sudol and her band performing at Cafe du Nord.

There is still no substitute for live music in our streaming dominated world. To put it as cheesily as possible, good live music is like a shot of euphoria straight to the heart. It’s a hyper unique feeling that no one has managed to replicate elsewhere. And given the world we live, we can use a lot more of that feeling.

The show I went to last Saturday was pretty far outside of my heavy metal wheelhouse: it was indie rocker (I think) Alison Sudol, playing to what was maybe a hundred people at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. If you know Sudol at all, it’s because she plays Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I don’t quite remember how her West Coast tour came to my attention – I think I heard through an episode of PotterCast – but I looked it up and tickets were like 20 bucks. Seeing her looked like a cool and rare opportunity and I also liked what I heard from her on Spotify.

Cafe du Nord is a square U-shaped room in the basement of the Swedish American Hall. It used to be a speakeasy and it absolutely looks the part. There was no visible security guards and I don’t think the stage had a barrier. The crowd was an eclectic mix of old (the bearded boomers wearing fedoras were out in force that night) and young. I ended up deep in conversation with a dude wearing a jacket decked out in Harry Potter pins and patches. He was also wearing an Episode IX beanie, which is how I found out he also attended Celebration (Motherfucker actually got into the Episode IX panel! Agghhhh!). He was a fascinating individual; I could have talked to him all night. I even apologized to the lady that was either his girlfriend or just a friend for hogging him.

The opening act was a local: Oakland’s Billie Gale. Per the about section of their Facebook page, they are a “atmospheric dream pop quartet,” though they were missing the fourth member that night. I don’t really have any opinions or knowledge to offer about dream pop. Billie Gale was certainly…dreamy? I wasn’t floored by them but they didn’t bother me either. The stand out of their set for me was when they finished a not particularly high tempo song and their singer said they were gonna “slow things down a bit,” which made me raise an eyebrow and whisper “Damn.”

After Billie Gale and the intermission/soundcheck, it was time for Alison Sudol. Her guitarist, drummer and keyboardist/pianist came out onstage first. Sudol herself stepped out after them, holding some incense matches and wearing some glitter on her face. She had a cup of tea with her, completing the appropriately witchy vibe she gave off. In addition to singing, Sudol also plays bass and percussion; there was a cymbal set up next to her, which she would occasionally beat the shit out of. Her mic stand had two microphones on it, one of which made her voice sound fuzzy and echoey. The only other artist I’ve seen with that set up was Les Claypool, of all people.

Sudol was a smiling, bubbly presence. I’m not familiar with her back catalog; she released three albums from 2007 to 2012 under the name A Fine Frenzy, so she’s been at this for awhile. Her set consisted mostly of material from her two recent EPs, which she released under her own name. I think it had been awhile since she toured, since she commented several times how glad she was to be playing in front of people again. Fantastic Beasts came up when some guy (I suspect it’s the same guy I spoke with) in the crowd shouted “Grindelwald is evil!” Sudol gamely replied “I know,” which led me to believe this wasn’t an isolated incident on the tour. If this brief, minor disruption bothered her, she didn’t show it.

My last show was at the Masonic in June, where I watched Mastodon (in between headliners Coheed and Cambria and openers Every Time I Die) play through Crack the Skye in its entirety. A quiet band in a small room with zero mosh pits was a lovely change of pace. Cafe du Nord’s sound system isn’t spectacular – the bartender shaking cocktails could clearly be heard through the music – but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it added to the intimacy.

I swear I’m not getting soft on you guys with all this dream pop and indie rock. I’ll be back on my metal bullshit in September when I see Kataklysm, Exhorder, Krisiun and Hatchet at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

All of My Wrong ‘Game of Thrones’ Predictions

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A forlorn Jon Snow. Image: HBO

I was one of those people who waited until after watching The Lord of Rings before trying to read it. Roughly a fourth of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, I decided that the most profound difference between the books and the films was that if you took the number of speaking roles in Peter Jackson’s adaptation and multiplied them by 10, you would have a near enough number of how many characters are in J.R.R. Tolkein’s magnum opus. Almost a decade later, I began reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – the “American Tolkein,” per Time magazine – in between seasons one and two of its hit HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones. I loved the show and I really liked Martin’s books, but they had the same issue that the LotR books have: characters from the adaptation times 10 equals the number of book characters.

I have now been reading ASoIaF on and off for at least seven years. As of this writing, I have three chapters left in A Feast for Crows. I should be finished with A Dance with Dragons by no later than 2023. My attention span has gotten considerably worse as I’ve gotten older and finishing books has become a chore, even when they are good. Sometimes I’ll set something down for so long that I’ll forget what’s going on in the story and have to start over; such was the case when I read Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s Green Arrow run (Smith’s comic book dialogue is as dense as his film dialogue). But the sheer bulk of Martin’s tomes makes that strategy impractical. If I started from scratch every time I lapsed on an ASoIaF entry, then I wouldn’t finish any of them. A Wiki of Ice and Fire is an absolute godsend for the uneven reader who can’t remember this or that character or event.

I’m not a big fan theory guy; not in the sense that I don’t like them, rather I’m just not very good at coming up with my own. And a lot of that comes from me being unable to pick up on obvious clues. I was pretty certain that Harry Potter was not a Horcrux, even as many other fans figured out he was immediately after finishing the chapter that introduced the concept. But over the course of my attentive GoT watching and sporadic ASoIaF reading, I managed to come up with some theories of my own. I’m not sure if “theory” is the right word; maybe “prediction” is closer to the mark? Idle speculation? Stuff I wanted to happen? Whatever they are, I invite you to laugh at them with me.

1. I thought Ramsay Bolton would turn himself into the Night’s King I’m leading off with this one because it’s a doozy; my only huge, go-for-broke crackpot theory I conceived for this series. You have to hear me out on this one because A) I built it off of information from the books that ultimately didn’t make it into the show and B) I came up with it in between seasons three and four. There is a Night’s King in ASoIaF but he’s a different character than the Night King (that spelling difference is important) on GoT. The Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who fell in love with a woman whose description matches that of a White Walker (“with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars”) and the hookup turned him evil and crazy. He ruled over the Watch from the Nightfort and committed numerous atrocities during his tenure as Lord Commander before he was defeated by a coalition of northmen and free folk. I had no reason to think this would happen; it just sounded cool to me and Ramsay was certainly crazy enough to take a White Walker as a lover. But alas, this was not to be, as the legend of the Night’s King didn’t make it into GoT, even though Bran, Jojen, Meera, Sam and Gilly were right there in the Nightfort at the end of season three. I doubt this will happen in the books at this point but it would be awesome.

I thought Asha/Yara Greyjoy and Jon Snow would hook up This was my only ship of the series and like the above, I had no reason to think this would happen. It struck me as a cute and incest free pairing and such pairings became distressingly rare as the show went on. I thought Yara and Theon would help Jon defeat Night’s King/Ramsay and in the process she and Jon would develop feelings for watch other. I’m shocked I didn’t write fanfic of this.

3. I thought Jon would become King-Beyond-the-Wall Jon does go back to the Wall at the end of GoT, but he merely rejoins the Night’s Watch. I predicted he’d be a king, just not of the Seven Kingdoms. I didn’t think Daenerys would die (and certainly not by Jon’s hand) but rather they’d jointly rule Westeros with Jon taking all of the territory north of the Wall. I even thought Yara would join him (the Iron Islands would be decimated by the White Walkers in this scenario). Tormund would of course be his Hand.

4. I thought the Night King put a backup copy of himself in Bran As you can no doubt tell, this is the only recent one I came up with. I thoroughly enjoyed the often hard to see spectacle of “The Long Night,” but I was still disappointed in how the Night King got demoted to a Disc One Final Boss. That was way too easy, I thought. Surely that can’t be it for the massive existential threat this series has been building up to since literally the first scene of the first goddamned episode? Then I remembered when the Night King touched Bran while he was warging in season six. He turned Bran into a Horcrux! I theorized. The Night King has a back up plan! As it turned out he did not and Bran became king of Westeros. I really over thought this one.

I don’t think I’ve ever put so much mental effort into being so wrong. I totally called it on the Iron Throne getting destroyed though.

Star Wars Celebration After Action Report

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I got to take a selfie with BB-8.

Star Wars Celebration was a sensory overload in a mostly positive way. Unfortunately, it has left me completely unable to organize my thoughts on it, so this after action report will come in list form. Writing is hard and I am lazy.

1. I’m pretty sure the term “bucket list” is a cliché now, so I’m trying to use it less, but should you ask: yes, attending a Celebration was absolutely at the top of mine.

2. Last year in June, Facebook helpfully shoved an ad in my face announcing tickets had gone on sale. This could be the only useful thing Facebook has ever done. It cost me roughly $250 for a five day pass.

3. I didn’t go alone. I successfully lobbied a dear friend of mine I almost never get to see to come along and we split a hotel room. I am eternally grateful to him and we had a blast.

4. I absolutely adore the Rebel special forces guys that accompany Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio to Endor and I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to dress up as. Assembling this costume involved multiple trips to a Vallejo military surplus store, becoming a lifetime REI member, spray painting a Nerf gun and buying a plastic pot from Home Depot which I cut into a helmet ring. Altogether, this costume was…adequate. There were other people doing a much better job at that same cosplay which made me feel a little envious, but I’m still glad I dressed up. Even shitty cosplay is fun.

5. I’m not even going to try to describe every single amazing cosplay I saw because there was just so much of it. There are some really talented people in this world; I’ll leave it at that.

6. You could easily spend the entirety of Celebration stumbling around the expo floor in awe of all the stuff packed onto it.

7. If you absolutely must buy a celebrity photo op, get one with one of the voice actors, as they go for considerably cheaper than the live action ones.

8. We ended up staying for four of the five days on account of the fact that we didn’t book our hotel past the last night of Celebration and that the bus ride was long. Plans change sometimes and I’m adaptable. At any rate we were pretty much spent four days in and we had absorbed a whole lot.

9. Fun times always come with a cost, and not just in a monetary sense. Among the many sacrifices you’ll be subjected to at Celebration: not getting into a panel you really want to see in person, waiting in lots of lines, having to sit on floors, having to skip meals to hold a position in line and having to eat convention center food. And no matter how much you do and see, you will still dwell a little bit on all the things you missed. For instance, I’m kind of miffed over not getting the exclusive Clone Wars poster, despite the fact I got to see the panel itself, which is a far more substantial experience than acquiring a sheet of paper to hang on my wall. I’m outright embarrassed by that small, nagging disappointment; what the hell is wrong with me?

10. As far as I can tell, the toxicity of online fandom was all but absent from McCormick Place. Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) both received standing ovations and I spotted a bunch of Admiral Holdo cosplayers in the exhibit hall. The notion that “everybody” hates those characters is a load of bantha shit. Star Wars is for everybody; deal with it.

11. We got into the Galaxy’s Edge panel but I couldn’t attend because it conflicted with one of my photo ops. As far the larger panels went, we got to see half of Alan Tudyk’s interview with Warwick Davis, the Clone Wars panel (check out this sweet trailer) and we got into one of the streaming rooms for The Mandalorian

12. The Mandalorian‘s trailer was exclusive to its panel attendees (which thankfully included those of us in the overflow rooms where it got streamed). That show looks pretty sweet and it has practically guaranteed that I’ll fire up a Disney+ account come November. The trailer still hasn’t been officially released but there are some bootlegs of it on YouTube.

13. It would have been remiss of us to not get Chicago pizza, so we got some at Giordano’s. I’m no authority on Windy City pizza, but this place was excellent. It was also flooded with Star Wars fans, because you couldn’t go anywhere in Downtown Chicago without seeing at least a dozen.

14. Star Wars Celebration was a profoundly wonderful and life affirming experience. I don’t know if I’m up for going again so soon but there will be another one in Anaheim next year – probably to coincide with the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. If you love Star Wars and have the money and the time off, you should consider going.

I Don’t Know What to Think About ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’

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Image: Warner Bros.

I didn’t particularly like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I found it to be a C- movie at best with two immensely likable characters (Jacob and Queenie) who felt like worthy editions to the universe but otherwise it had nothing else terribly compelling to offer. If it was just a one-and-done standalone feature, I wouldn’t really give Beasts much thought outside of “Hey, remember Queenie and Jacob? Those two were great; too bad they had to be saddled with that annoying dork with the giant bird and Queenie’s sulky sourpuss of a sister.” But therein lies the problem.

Harry Potter is now a franchise in perpetuity and so Fantastic Beasts is of course becoming a series. That’s the reality of show business at the moment and it isn’t a deal breaker for me. I love Star Wars, James Bond and Marvel and DC, and those institutions have refused to conclude since before anyone even heard the phrase “franchise in perpetuity” (if Disney hadn’t bought Star Wars, the now defunct Expanded Universe would have gone on until the end of time). A cultural touchstone like Harry Potter was of course going to follow suit.

I’m going to get the unpleasant business out of the way first: the pre-release period of Crimes of Grindelwald has just been a parade of unpleasantness. Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the series. The initial erasure of Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality (hopefully that isn’t the case anymore). The Nagini-is-actually-a-person business, which is both stupid and probably racist. All of the above makes me leery of giving this franchise any more support.

Those are all significant problems and they are stacked on top of the fact that I didn’t even like the first movie and that I find the direction Beasts is taking to be baffling. If this series was just about Newt having whimsical adventures with silly magical creatures then it would be a harmless distraction. But because it also has to function as a five goddamned part prequel series about the global wizarding war, it’s a bloated mess instead. If you wanted to make a Dumbledore versus Gellert Grindelwald story why not just make that? Why does it have to be shown from the perspective of wizard Steve Irwin? And if you absolutely must capitalize on one of the peripheral Harry Potter books, then why not just choose Quidditch Through the Ages and make a magic sports movie franchise? That’s something no one’s seen before.

There’s already a great deal of talk about J.K. Rowling turning into prequel period George Lucas. I don’t really have anything to add to that, though the Nagini reveal is pretty much on the same level of Darth-Vader-building-Threepio in terms of “Who the hell asked for this?” Creators losing touch as time progresses is an extremely normal career arc. I can live with the fact that I won’t like the Beasts series, but Rowling’s and Warner Bros.’ continued support of the credibly accused domestic abuser headlining their shared blockbuster franchise is much harder to swallow.

I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter, in addition to re-playing the LEGO Harry Potter games. This series is a huge deal for me and will always be a big part of my life, almost as much as Star Wars is. As you could no doubt tell by this article’s headline, I haven’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. I probably will see The Crimes of Grindelwald at some point; it’ll make a billion dollars with or without my ticket purchase. But whereas going to see the Harry Potter movies always felt like the best kind of adventure, seeing new installments of Fantastic Beasts just feels like a chore at this point.

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ Take 2

I never thought we’d see it happen, but I’ve been hoping for awhile now that someone would take another stab at a live action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Evidently, series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and the folks in charge of Netflix feel the same way because that’s what we’re getting. Not a sequel series, such as the almost as great Legend of Korra, or a prequel or a spinoff. A full on remake.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is every bit as terrible as you remember – though also kind of hilarious – but personally I feel like it still doesn’t catch enough shit for whitewashing its leads. In their statement, DiMartino and Konietzko give us the assurance of a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast,” so at least that base is covered. As for everything else wrong with that movie, being better than TLA is an extremely low bar to clear.

I totally missed out on Avatar the first time around; hell, I saw TLA first. I didn’t check out the series itself until 2013, when it became my go to for Netflix-and-chill on hungover weekend mornings. I am living proof that being late to a party is better than not showing up, because I was all in before even finishing the first season. I don’t love Avatar quite as much as Star Wars, Harry Potter or The Incredibles, but at this point it’s planted firmly in my personal canon of “Shit that is Awesome.” Hell, it even inspired one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever written.

The world of Avatar has magic (“bending”), hybrid animals, spirits, otherworldly dimensions, steampunk vehicles and huge cities and continents. I’ve no idea how Netflix is going to visualize all of that, though they did pretty awesome work on the new Lost in Space; maybe they’re ready to step up to the next level. I’m just trying very hard to not think about that other Netflix series that featured mystical kung fu and the occasional dragon. It went…poorly.

The world doesn’t need another live action Avatar adaptation, but I’m choosing to be optimistic about it for the following reasons:

  1. It could not possibly be worse than The Last Airbender. DiMartino and Konietzko would have to actively try to make their live action version shittier and the effort involved to do so would kill them.
  2. No one named Jackson Rathbone will appear in this series.
  3. It could grow the fan base and maybe get newcomers to check out the original show and Korra; like, for instance, certain family members who have weird hang-ups about watching cartoons.
  4. A whole new generation will get to here the words “then everything changed when the fire nation attacked.”
  5. I will probably like it more than the four sequels James Cameron is still making for his Avatar.

See? We have so much to look forward to.

The Hillary Step Had Some Amazing Troll Reviews

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The Hillary Step had four and a half stars on Google. It was open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays but not on Wednesdays or weekends. This screenshot and all the subsequent ones were captured from my phone.

Living with a baby means that sleep is occasionally hard to come by. She’s not my kid so I don’t actually have to partake in the raising process (thank Christ) but it can still be pretty rough. One of my favorite activities is Googling stuff and I’m especially prone to this when I’m feeling half awake. So one morning after a particularly restless night, I decided to Google Mount Everest’s famed Hillary Step, the 39 foot tall rock face which was the final obstacle climbers had to traverse before reaching the summit. Due to an earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, the step is no longer with us but thankfully we have some amazing troll reviews on Google that will help us remember it for all eternity.

Here’s some good old fashioned cheeky bullshit:

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As expected, there’s a reference to a certain Everest book you may have heard of. Kidding aside, it’s a terrific read that holds up well 21 years later. Check it out if you haven’t already.

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Faux restaurant ratings are pretty common with these troll reviews. The highlight here is Jack Rollet Chhetri, since everything he’s saying is technically accurate; especially regarding his fifth point.

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Liam Keating had me at “pro mountain critic:”

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This one appears to have been written by Dr. Steve Brule. I must have missed the Everest edition of Check It Out!

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This Google search was an extremely productive case of doing nothing at all. I hope there’s many more in my lifetime.