Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are You Band Enough? Music Reviews: Stan Bush's The Ultimate: Track 5: "Stand in the Fire"

"Caught in between the fire and the flame/ You gather your strength as you take deadly aim"

You've heard of being caught between a rock and a hard place. What could be worse than that? Being caught between two deadly things that are the same deadly thing. And the only way out? Burning away all your weaknesses!

If "Heat of the Battle" is the perfect song to accompany bone-crushing karate tournament action, then "Stand in the Fire" is its prequel, the aural embodiment of the blood, sweat and tears you expend during your pre-battle training montage. This is despite appearing two tracks later in order of songs on The Ultimate. Clearly this was done with purpose, to drive home the fact that life itself is not a chronological journey but a collection of moments throughout history that can strike at any time.

The construction of the song cleverly mirrors the struggles of training. The song's signature guitar riff is extremely technically complex. It must've taken forever to perfect, just like how it takes years to hone the 70 Snake Palm Strike technique. But when that riff gives gives way to devastating power chords in the pre-chorus, that's when you set your new record for maximum bench press weight. And reps.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Essential Clone Wars Episodes

Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This animated series got surprisingly little hype for being George Lucas's official follow-up to Episode III. I think everybody, assuming that no more movies would ever be made, wanted a live-action TV series. Not to mention there was a lot of angst over the prequels not matching expectations and people were eager to move on.

But in retrospect, animated was definitely the way to go. A live-action show would have to be on a small scale for budgetary reasons, and this show is anything but small scale. Sure, the animation and visuals are modest at first, but by the third season, Uncle George had cracked open the wallet, and things started looking amazing.

It's not just about the looks, though. The series, which takes place in the three-year span between Episode II (which kicked off the in-universe Clone War) and Episode III (which ended with the Emperor's ascension and the birth of Darth Vader), addresses a lot of the common complaints about the prequels––that Anakin wasn't at all likable, that we didn't get to see his much-talked-about friendship with Obi-Wan, that all the actual star wars seemed to happen offscreen between movies.

That said, the series does swing and miss occasionally, which is why I've created this list of all the guaranteed good stuff. It's worth your time, and it's on Netflix streaming, so it couldn't be easier to jump in.

Clone Wars is anthological in nature, meaning that we don't follow one set of characters through every episode. This is good in that out of nowhere you might get a crazy bounty hunter-focused episode, watch some jobber Jedi go on a doomed mission, or be treated to one of the series' classic genre-themed episodes. But you also might get stuck with a Padme diplomacy episode or Jar-Jar hijinks. (Guess which ones I left off the list?)

To complicate things further, the episodes were produced out of chronological order until the third season. That's why this list starts with the 16th episode of the second season and continues to jump around a bit between seasons––due to the anthological nature of the show, it's not totally necessary to watch episodes in chronological order, but it doesn't hurt, and the last few seasons do tend to add more of the serialized elements that you would expect from a quality modern TV show, often building on seemingly unconnected aspects of early episodes in interesting ways.

This list contains the bare essentials. As you can see, it's weighted heavily to the later seasons, where the show really got rolling. If you get hooked and are left wanting more, you could do worse than watching the whole series, or picking and choosing additional episodes based on their Netflix descriptions. If it sounds like you'd like it, you probably will.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. These are the Clone Wars episodes you should watch! Do it!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Murder She Wrote Recaps: S2E7: A Lady in the Lake

What could go wrong when Jessica vacations at an upstate lake resort with a painting of Edgar Allen Poe in every room? Murder, for one thing. But even worse, she must suffer the awkward romantic advances of an amateur ornithologist. Luckily, he turns out to be the killer. Two birds, one stone. Well played, Fletcher.