On movies, popcorn, and convenience…

I went to the movies this weekend. While at first blush there doesn’t feel like anything much unusual about that statement, it’s the first time I saw a movie in a theater since fall of 2019… so about two and a half years ago – in the Before Times. 

The good news is that the movie going experiences hasn’t changed much. The bad news, of course, is also that the movie going experience hasn’t changed much. The big pleather lay-z-boy style seating is a nice touch. The cost of popcorn and a Coke is still wildly overinflated. In a lot of ways it’s a bit of a time capsule to the way things used to be – something that hasn’t changed when so much else has done.

Watching Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen felt like a worthwhile reason to go back. It was exactly the flavor of 1980s nostalgia that I love. Plus, it’s every bit as good as (if not better, in some ways, than) the original. I guess you can do that when you’re not in a rush to turn out three or four sequels in as many years. In this case, 30+ years was not too long to wait.

Maybe the great and surprising disappointment was the popcorn. It was decidedly “flat.” That’s probably more my fault than Regal’s. I spent the two years of the Great Plague dialing in theater-style popcorn to exactly suit my taste. I’ve got it just about perfected now and as it turns out, my own concoction trumps the original inspiration rather than matching it exactly. I won’t claim to be too brokenhearted about that.

The other thing I learned from a two-year absence from the theater, is I really like being able to pause the film. I like being able to take a bathroom break, grab a refill, or top off the popcorn with a fresh batch without missing any of the story. The screen at home isn’t nearly as big, but the ease and convenience are hard to beat. I suspect that from here on out, seeing a movie in a building specifically designed for that activity is going to be reserved for those films that unabashedly take advantage of the full size of the screen. For everything else, the perks of watching from the comforts of my own living room outweigh whatever the theater provides.

My ticket to 1986…

The final trailer is out for Top Gun: Maverick. Like any movie of this particular genre, you can poke holes in a lot of details. God knows the internet has spent much of the last 24 hours doing just that. 

Look, I know this new iteration of Top Gun is going to be formulaic. The notes it’s going to hit are predictable. It’s not going to be a Best Picture nominee.

All of those things can be simultaneously true and in no way limit how much I’m looking forward to seeing it. Any faults it has are going to be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of nostalgia this movie is hauling along with it. I am, quite simply, here for it. 

I haven’t been to a movie theater since well into the Before Time. None of what Hollywood put on offer was compelling enough to contend with both people and plague. For a trip back to Pete Mitchell’s universe, though, I’m willing to make any exception necessary. 

I’ll be there with a 55-gallon drum of Coke, a bathtub-sized popcorn, and a two hour ticket to everything that was good about 1986.

On the importance of knowing your audience…

I didn’t watch any of last night’s Super Bowl. The looks of confusion and disbelief when I tell people that is delicious. My up front admission of this saved me today from some, but not all of the conversations I didn’t want to have today. So vague is my understanding of the the state of modern football, even if I had watched, my only contribution was smiling and nodding at what felt like appropriate moments.

I don’t think my choice to be bowl-free makes me morally superior, but I can’t see any sense in watching something that doesn’t interest me when I have 300 channels of cable, 5 streaming services, and 1000 books stored away just waiting to be read. We live in a world where there are too many options to be troubled to stare at something that would bore me to tears.

I might flip on the occasional yacht race or tune in for women’s beach volleyball, but otherwise, there’s just nothing in the sporting world I consider a “must watch” event. There’s only so much free time on any given weekend and I’m determined to spend as much of it as possible doing things I want to do rather than things that might improve the next day’s water cooler conversation.

I mean I don’t drag disinterested people down into conversations about the details of Buffy episodes or the Royal Navy in the age of fighting sail. No matter how much those things interest me, I’m well aware they’re not for everyone. Now if I could just convince people to acknowledge that two groups of millionaires beating the hell out of each other for fun and profit need not be the central point of conversation we’d be all square.

Maybe I’ll just started responding to every football reference with “It’s just like when Rodney captured four ships of the line and prevented the French invasion of Jamaica during the Battle of the Saintes” or “I mean it’s not as bad as those couple of times when Buffy had to die to beat her big opponent.” All I’m saying is maybe you should know your audience a little before launching into a detailed discussion of your particular fandom. I promise you, the recounting of stats and plays sounds as nerdy to me as anything I could say about my fandoms does to you.

Hella Mega…

Aging comes with some penalties. Sometimes body parts hurt for no apparent reason. There’s the indignity of bifocals and waking up in the middle of the night to take a wiz. Electronics are getting to be just a little too complicated. 

Whatever. In addition to the penalties, aging also comes with a few underrated perks. Twenty-year-old me usually couldn’t scape together the $20 or $30 for nose bleed tickets let alone the gas money to drive to wherever the concert was happening. Now, though, I’ve arrived at the age where I can finally see many of the bands I wanted desperately to see 20 years ago… and now I can get really good seats.

Even in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime plague, the chance to see Green Day and Weezer on the same bill proved too tempting to resist. I’m awfully mindful that this will be my first trip out into the plague lands into anything that could be remotely considered crowded. I’ve been bitching these last eighteen months about people who refuse to believe in science, so I suppose it’s a case of walking the talk. We’re outside, I’m vaccinated, and my risk of severe illness or death as a result of showing up here is low. Still, crowds make me vaguely uncomfortable to begin with. The plague adds several extra layers to that.

Once the music starts, though, I’m relatively confident I’ll be able to silence that little nagging voice in my head. So much of these band’s “best of” catalog plays out as the background music of my teens and twenties. I’m not one to say high school and college were the best years of my life, but I do have an awful lot of fond memories from back there and back then. These guys were playing the music that underlayers so many of those good times. 

So here I sit, eighth row, slightly left of center, behind the pit (because I’m damned well too old for trading sharp elbows for position and I like to have a tolerably comfortable place to sit down to rest my aching feet between sets).

It’s going to be a very rare late night for me – certainly the first time I’ll be awake to see one day change to the next in at least two years. If the weather holds (and I don’t end up with the damned plague), it’ll be worth it… though you might not want to ask me about it tomorrow when I inevitably wake up at 4:30 in the morning no matter what time I finally crawl into bed.

Change of plans…

It turns out I’ve reached a point in my curmudgeonlyness, where I’m just not willing to stand around baking for six hours in hundred-degree weather, likely getting rained on, and surrounded by 30,000 potential plague carriers, even when the reward is seeing two of the bands I consider absolute pillars of rock music in the last three decades. 

Ten degrees cooler, not as likely to be soaked to the skin, or maybe even just a little less plague-y, and I’d have probably made different decisions. There were a lot of strikes working against the original plan for today. As it is, I seem to have woken up in a mood this morning that would only be exacerbated by any of those three factors. It’s all an almost iron clad guarantee that I wouldn’t have in any way enjoyed the experience. So yeah, I’m taking a pass on the Hella Mega Tour despite the two year wait and general excitement of the last few days.

I’m a little sad at letting this opportunity slide past, but there will be other, hopefully more favorable opportunities. In an effort to even the scales, I snuck off this afternoon to one of my very favorite used book shops and brought home a few choice bits by way of compensation. It’s not the full rock concert experience I was planning to have today, but it wasn’t a bad trade off as far as I’m concerned.

The failed bid…

The results are in and someone else is now the proud owner of the stake Buffy used in Season 5, Episode 1 to dust Dracula.

Although I had the foresight to put the auction house in charge of my bidding, in the end, it was as I feared. I wrested control back from them in the final moments for a brisk round of in person bidding, controlled entirely by my heart without even a moment’s input from my head.

This mysterious phone bidder and I threw $1,000 increases at each other all the way from $10,000 to $20,000. Bidding was already at four times the pre-auction high estimate, almost three times what I expected the stake to fetch – and double my pre-auction maximum bid that only a few hours ago felt very aggressive. I tapped out when they pushed the bid to $22,500. In staring at the abyss of a $25,000 price point, my head managed to regain some semblance of control. That might have had something to do with remembering the 25% buyers premium and 6% Maryland sales tax I’d end up owing on top of the hammer price.

I took a breath, forced my thumb to stop hovering over the large green “bid” button, and let this particular holy grail of Buffy collectibles fall to the other bidder. I hope it’s gone to a good home, because those two minutes absolutely cranked me through the wringer this afternoon. Having let it go stings more than it reasonably should.

A day at the auction or: On being a hot mess of distraction…

Most of the time, I look though auction catalogs with the vague disinterest of someone who’s curious but not particularly invested. I’m not exactly traveling in the kind of circles that make sales or acquisitions through Christie’s or Sotheby’s.  Most of the auctions I’ve been to aren’t the kind of events that even bother publishing formal catalogs. If you’re lucky, they’ve posted a few of the highlights online, but most of the items heading across the block end up being a surprise. 

One of the auction houses I do regularly check in with is Prop Store. Although I’m not a prop or replica collector, it’s always a little interesting to see what bits of Hollywood history they’ve uncovered for their sales. Headlining items across the block in this week’s auction include Harry Potter’s wand and glasses and Indiana Jones’s Fedora. I’m not mad enough to even remotely consider myself a player at that level. The hammer price for those lots is going to be absolutely eyewatering. Their collection of Star Wars and Star Trek lots should also make an impressive showing. Even that, though, isn’t territory I want to wade into. 

Having said that, somewhere early in Wednesday’s scheduled bidding, there’s something I do want. At the risk of jinxing myself, it’s a piece I want rather badly…. Badly enough that I had originally planned to burn some time off tomorrow so I could bid live during the auction.

I’ve realized, however, that in a live auction setting, heart would absolutely override head and that at some point I have to be willing to be outbid, should someone with far deeper pockets have decided they’re also determined to win. With great trepidation, I’ve handed my maximum bid over to the house with the intention of allowing them to fight my corner while I try not to obsessively watch the live feed. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve left them with what I feel is a highly aggressive bid, based on what the few similar objects that have been through past auctions fetched at the final hammer.

We’ll know how things turn out by close of business tomorrow. Until then, please excuse me if I seem nervous and jerky… because through most of the afternoon tomorrow I’ll be an absolute hot mess of distraction.

The up side of the Great Plague…

My undying love of all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer is well known. I suppose it was only a matter of time before that abiding adoration found its way onto my book shelves.  A fluke thrift shop find about a year ago spurred me towards putting together a complete set of Buffy novels. Let me start off by saying there are a lot of them – and I mean an absolute shit ton – and that’s before you start into the cadet branches of the written Buffyverse. They’re short, written for the young adult demo, and don’t take up all that much space on a shelf. War and Peace they aren’t, but they’re fun reads layered on to a fictional universe that I enjoy spending time in. 

One of the keys to collecting (as opposed to hoarding) is starting off with some idea of what the final collection should look like. I opted to focus my attention on the “main stem” books – and excluding the novelizations of the actual TV show, books from the Angel series, and a handful of choose-your-own-adventure style books (that were wildly overpriced in fine condition anyway). I closed the loop on that collecting effort about a month ago. A few pieces are in rougher shape than I’d like – cracked spines, loose pages, etc. – but I found them cheap and they’ll do until I can replace them with better copies. In any case, now that I have them, I’m slowly enjoying injecting these books periodically into the reading list.

A few days ago, I noticed something unusual happening. The collector sites were starting to show an unusual volume of items for sale rather than just collectors showing off their finds for one another. Some heavy-duty collectors were slowly starting to turn loose of their wares – and the prices were maybe not quite at the fire sale level, but they were markedly lower than the same items would have commanded months ago. In light of the current situation, I’ve opened the scope of my hoard collection to encompass many of those titles that I had formerly excluded. A few of these them are currently trundling towards me via post even as I write this.

So, the Great Plague is bad, sure, but let us not completely ignore its up side here. Now I just need to find someone who needs to turn loose of their prop replica Scythe at a price that doesn’t require drawing a personal loan. Sure, a scythe doesn’t exactly fit into a book collection, but if people are determined to sell off the good stuff I’ll have to do my best to be a buyer and prop up the economy where I can. 

The fall season…

There was an article this afternoon running on AP that blared the headline “TV cliffhanger: New season in jeopardy amid virus shutdown.” It turns out the fall season of network television is now officially in jeopardy. Which is definitely an issue if you are somehow involved in the entertainment industry.

Once upon a time, I’d have probably been in the ranks of the concerned. Fortunately, most of my favorite television is two decades old. If it does happen to be newer, it’s seasons and seasons deep into its run and there’s a better than average chance I either own copies of every episode or can fish them off the interwebs somewhere. Even if that weren’t the case, having fallen in love with Game of Thrones taught me that two years between seasons is a “perfectly reasonable” amount of time. 

The trouble with Coronavirus crippling the television industry, isn’t necessarily that so many shows might end up delayed or lost forever. The real nightmare scenario for TV in the Great Plague era is that these delays in scripted television may loose a new and terrible age of unscripted “reality” television upon the land. I can’t imagine any way to make contemporary television more irrelevant to my life than to cram even more Housewives of Wherever or Kardashians in Quarantine onto the airwaves. 

What to watch…

There are maybe half a score of people whose judgement about “must see” TV I trust. Being that we live in the golden age of at home entertainment, they do their best to keep me well advised about what’s new, exciting, and generally worth the investment of time to see. Sure, most of the fandoms I subscribe to are well into their second or third decade now, but, I appreciate others proselytizing programming that I probably wouldn’t even consider otherwise.

The thing is, I’m quite sure I’m letting most of these people down. They always sound just a little bit crestfallen when I admit that no, I haven’t watched whatever show they recommended a few weeks ago. I promise, friends, it’s not you, it’s me.

Yes, if I’m awake and at home, the TV is almost always on… sometimes more than one of them. It’s usually tuned into something that passes for news or edutainment. Most of the time it’s purely there to be a dull hum in the background while go about doing other things. With the exception of whatever is featuring in the evenings when I sit down for dinner and actually focus in on a program, I’m rarely actually watching the television at all – and often enough that dinner hour watching is given over to old favorites like Buffy, West Wing, or Seaquest (Shut up. Don’t judge me).

There’s a wealth of television worth watching out there right now. I’m slowly getting through some of it, one or two episodes at a time. The simple fact is that when I do have long stretches of free time at my disposal, I’d rather allocate that most limited resource to sticking my nose in a book than binging whatever the cool new show is. I’ll see a good portion of them eventually – one episode at a time scattered over a period of weeks or months – but the chance of me sitting down and charging through eight or ten episodes at a time is hugely limited except under some pretty exceptional circumstrances.