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Saturday, January 31, 2009


In the culmination of way too much time spent delaying my job search, I have finally achieved the high score among my friends on Scramble, an addictive Facebook application I've been playing for a few months now. From the time I added Scramble I knew I couldn't stop until I was the top dog on the list, but I knew it would be difficult. The top score was 290 and I was averaging about 150 at first. For about two weeks now I have been stuck on 287, which was infuriating. I've also been forced to worry about another friend of mine who was sneaking up on me, he seems to be stuck on 285 right now, but there's always the chance that he'll get a good round and I'll be back in second place.

But for now, I'm rejoicing in my 294 and crossing my fingers that it stays on top. Take that, Colleen Mahoney.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

What should a movie be? More specifically, what characteristics should a movie nominated for Best Picture have? Theoretically, the nominees (and especially the winner) are those rare movies which are codified into the canon in their own time, held up as worthy examples of the form to be passed down to succeeding generations. This is why people still watch Casablanca and The Godfather. (Of course, the Academy doesn't always get it right, see The Greatest Show on Earth beating both High Noon and The Quiet Man.)

Some people think a movie has to be important to be granted entrance into this club, that it must deal with an important issue to be included. Or even better, it should be a sweeping statement (preferably an indictment) of us and our times. These people are how Crash won a Best Picture despite being one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

I may not be much of an expert in cinema, it's really not my field, but my belief is the same as it is for fiction. A movie should try and tell whatever story it has decided upon, and do it in the best manner possible. Most great stories will provoke reaction and introspection anyway. The difference is that they don't come across as lectures.

This may be a demeaning and unenlightened thought, but what I want out of a movie is a good story and great pictures. To my mind, the reason movies exist is to show us pictures. This is why I don't get upset so much by the existence of CGI but by its lack of realism. That's what makes Benjamin Button so amazing. At no point in this effects-laden film do the tricks of the trade distract from the story by calling attention to themselves by being unnatural or obviously fake.

They do however occasionally intrude by being so utterly fantastic that they cannot help but arrest your attention. So much has been said about how the movie goes about making Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett look older than their real selves, but the movie's most gosh-wow moment comes when Pitt shows up as the much younger version of Button. The effects make Pitt look like he did when he was 20 himself, to the point that you have to remind yourself that Pitt really isn't that young anymore.

Movies are supposed to impress us in this way. From the early 20th century, when the Lumiere brothers made their audience believe a train was heading straight at them, it is what they have been intended to do. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is perhaps one of the surest signs that CGI is advanced enough to trick the human eye in ways that will allow to be a benefit to the films that use it, instead of a distraction.

The story is a little thin for a movie which lasts nearly three hours, I guess, but for whatever reason the love story between Benjamin and Daisy really resonated with me, much more than it seems to have for many other critics. The scene where a Benjamin (looking 50-ish) is watching Daisy dance around the studio with her ballet friends and realizes he's made a mistake in coming by was poignant. His reluctance to pursue Daisy at other points, and her conflicted feelings about a possible relationship all felt very real to me. Despite the fact that one of them was aging backwards, this couple felt much more true to life than the "destined" union of Jamal and Latika in Slumdog Millionaire.

A lot of people are complaining about the movie's similarities to Forrest Gump, and while I can certainly see the argument (heck, they were written by the same guy) I think to a large extent that complaint misses the point. First of all, a lot of the so-called exact similarities are pretty slim. "Both Benjamin and Forrest are unusual people, with unique views on life." That's a quote from IMDb. Um, aren't most movies about unusual people, like say, a gay civil rights leader, an illiterate female Nazi, an unbelievably lucky gameshow contestant, or the 37th President of the United States?

Anyway, I think Benjamin Button is a better movie. Whereas Forrest Gump was really some sort of catch-all homage to Boomerism and its principles, this movie feels more like a story about a person, instead of an excuse to make jokes about Nixon and Vietnam. Forrest Gump didn't deserve it's Best Picture win, but Benjamin Button might not get the one it deserves. (I haven't seen Milk or Frost/Nixon, so I can't say for sure yet).

What should a movie be? A story, yes, but also a spectacle. And if I had to describe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in one word, spectacle would be my choice. I give it a 9.4 out of 10.

Next? I'd still like to see Frost/Nixon and The Wrestler.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike

A single short story, an essay in a sportswriting collection, and about 30 or 40 pages of a novel before I quit. That's the extent of my experience with John Updike. Maybe it's a bit ridiculous, but I feel a little guilty about this. An author, by nearly all accounts a giant, and perhaps the most accomplished American writer of the 20th century (he won two Pulitzer Prizes and everything else at least once) and this is all I've read? I have been derelict, I think.

This is something I wonder about sometimes. Is it better to read everything by a few authors, or keep trying new authors, reading one book by as many authors as possible but never really getting too deep into any? I'm only 23, so I'm sure I'll get to the Rabbit novels eventually, but the daunting thing about literature is that you can never get to it all. I've got Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamozov sitting on my shelves, and I hesitate to pick them up, not out of any fear that I won't appreciate them, but more so that in my head I calculate how many shorter novels I could read in the same amount of time.

That's my non-Updike Updike post. I'll be back later with a Benjamin Button review.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House- "Big Baby"

Last night CBS decided to do me a favor and show repeats of both Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, so I got to watch House without worrying about my opportunity cost. (Of course, they could do me an even bigger favor by putting The Big Bang Theory episodes on-line, but you can't have it all, can you?)

Last night's episode dealt with a familiar theme. The patient of the week was an impossibly good person, which causes House to believe that their goodness is in fact, pathological and possibly symptomatic. (See Abby, the kid with cancer who kissed Chase, or the TB doctor, played by Office Space's Ron Livingston.) This one was a special education teacher, who never seemed to get upset or lose patience with her students. Like the other times, this episode tried to play it both ways, House gets the case right, but the person wrong. Even though the teacher's disorder kept her from feeling stress, she still appeared patient and kind with an autistic child at the episode's end.

The main thrust of the episode was once more focused on character development, which is a nice sign, as they still need to interweave the new team more seamlessly. Dr. Kutner showed a bit of spine, which was good, though Dr. Taub was almost absent. (Tellingly, he wasn't exactly missed) I was upset that Cameron's increased presence is apparently a one-shot deal, though I can see where the writers would have had a hard time believably sustaining that scenario.

Cameron's self-demotion means Cuddy, who had struggled successfully to form a bond with her newly adopted baby, must go back to work. I'm interested to see if they'll play with the idea that if it weren't for House, Cuddy could in fact spend more time at home. Wilson also seems to be inserting himself into Cuddy's life, in what seems like an obvious set-up for a relationship. (House has often harangued about Wilson's need to be a savior)

Then of course, there's the big development between Thirteen and Foreman. Foreman, with a possible push from House, switched Thirteen from the placebo to the experimental drug. This sets up next week's episode, in which Thirteen is apparently going to be made sick by the drug, which, even though I could see it coming a mile away, sounds like an awesome episode.

So, this wasn't a great episode, but it serves as a nice set-up for some interesting developments down the line. Even if none of them involve Dr. Taub.

Slumdog Millionaire: Review

I have a contrary nature, and I'm not exactly proud of it. I don't like the idea that my estimation of the worthiness of a piece of art or literature or cinema can be predetermined by the amount of praise it has garnered. When I first heard the idea behind Slumdog Millionaire (if you haven't heard by now, a poor kid is one question away from the top prize on India's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and is forced to explain how he knew the answers) I was mildly intrigued, mostly, to be honest, out of my love of trivia. But then the awards and the fawning praise piled up, and I began to get nervous. The reactionary places in my brain were overheating, desperate to say "OVERRATED!" and "How in the hell can this be #34 on IMDb's Top 250!

I decided to give it a chance, mostly because I got to the theater too late for Frost/Nixon but at least partly in the hope that it really would be deserving of the hoopla. I'm sorry to say that I just don't get it. I guess 95& of Rottentomatoes movie reviewers can be wrong.

I think I've explained before that if I go to a movie theater to watch a movie, I'm automatically inclined to like the picture. The atmosphere is very persuasive, the largness of the images is impresive, and the largeness of the price I'm paying leads me to want to get a good value out of the experience. On TV, I'm much more objective. The fact that I saw Slumdog in the theater and came away so dissatisfied is telling, I think.

Now that I've disposed of my biases both in and out of the movie's favor, on to the film itself. Unlike most people, my main criticism isn't thematic or based on a desire to tell people what they can and can't put in a movie. I don't believe the movie is intent on being "poverty porn" and I disagree with the notion, proposed by some Indians but more by people who think it makes them multicultural to bitch on behalf of other races, that it is somehow wrong to showcase the poor of India in a movie. I think that a movie should really only try to tell one story well, and a movie that tries to depict all of India in a fair and balanced manner sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

I also don't really mean the framing device wherein Jamal's life teaches him the answers to these questions, even though the notice that it did so chronologically in a practically unbroken narrative makes the device that much more unlikely.

My objection is that, even given the allowances the movie blatantly demands when it calls itself a feel-good fairy tale, that the movie itself is uninteresting, vapid, and practically devoid of dramatic moments.

This is largely the fault of starting the movie with Jamal one question away from the top prize. Throughout the quiz show scenes, we know with unerring certainty that Jamal will get the right answer. On top of that, because of the film's marketing campaign, it is impossible to even suspect for one moment that Jamal won't get the girl in the end.

To illustrate my point, I knew within probably 10 minutes what the final question would be. The only question we don't know Jamal will be able to correctly answer is ruined very early. Also, I'll avoid spoilers, but the scene is so poorly thought out and lazily conceived that I was able to think of at least three better resolutions.

The dialogue is also incredibly weak. The last lines of the movie, meant to be a capstone to this supposedly remarkable, fairy-tale journey, are so lame that I involuntarily rolled my eyes. At no point did Latika (the female lead) say anything that made her an interesting character, or demonstrated why Jamal was so intent on her and her alone. I mean, yeah, she's very attractive, but that's about it.

The movie's over-reliance on destiny was offensive to me. Any unlikely occurence, any ridiculourly corny plot contrivance could be wiped away with the "It is written" canard.

This is a movie that is getting worse every time I think about it. When I left the theater it was just an ok movie that was getting over-hyped, but it just keeps unraveling in my mind. And I didn't want to hate it, really I didn't and I probably still don't. I don't think it would be healthy to hate this movie. There are some funny scenes, some heartwarming ones (until you think about them, anyway) and the visuals are nice.

It gets a 5.9 for these. If it wins Best Picture, I'm dropping it to 3.5

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Moving Target

I usually don't like to read multiple books by the same author in a row. I like to vary things up a little bit. But after reading The Drowning Pool I tried to pick up Anna Karenina and that didn't go so well. (After reading the first 15 pages, I extrapolated the amount of time it would take to finish the book and got scared.) So I turned back to Macdonald and his creation, Lew Archer.

I'll keep this short because I've already written on what I think of Macdonald. This is the first Archer novel and it is very much in line with the others, however it was interesting in that you could see some of the rough edges, some of the things Macdonald would improve upon in later stories. The writing and plotting are more derivative of Chandler, and there is a larger, more ungainly cast of characters, many of whom are largely unneeded. And Archer is almost comically incautious and unprepared, to an almost farcical extent. (I believe in this one novel he was concussed more often than either Steve Young or Troy Aikman ever were.)

However, I did like the rollicking pace of this novel and the solutions (there's never just one) are intriguing, unconventional, and a satisfactory pay-off for two-days' reading.

I liked this just a little bit more than The Drowning Pool, so I'll give it a 7.2 out of 10.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Emptying Out the Shelf

You can always tell when a best-selling author is just offered too much money to put out a book. They release some sort of "compilation" of "previously unreleased materials" most of which, like the deleted scenes on a DVD, were withheld from public consumption for good reason.

I also am not feeling the whole "new material" thing right now, and I also like the idea of having some of my better writing samples up on the blog, so here's one of my favorite Viewpoint Columns, and the only one to ever receive a letter in response. Yep, one year of wracking my brains trying to come up with column ideas, and one letter in return. Clearly it was all worth it.

Viewpoint #5

I've noticed that the Viewpoint section has gotten rather stale lately. I yearn for the glory days when we debated so vigorously lyric changes and hypothetical reactions to unlikely football victories. Unfortunately, it's a little too early for the annual spring dust-ups, the unholy trinity of Vagina Monologues, meatless Fridays, and how the Keenan Revue is oh my God the most offensive thing ever. Did you hear they made fun of Saint Mary's?

Let's work together to break this dull, plodding train of unoriginal objections. My part in this is simple, over the next 700 words or so I plan to take all manner of debatable positions on ridiculous issues. I will occasionally, as is my privilege as a columnist, use questionable logic and I reserve the right to resort to demagoguery.

Where do you come in, gentle readers? Why you must respond with equal vitriol, and even less reliance on logic, of course! I want you to flood the inbox of my editor with strongly worded pleas for reason, while demonstrating none yourself. If you think my positions too absurd for discussion on the editorial page, just remember this: There's a freshman out there somewhere composing a letter stating that her class should be referred to as "freshpeople" in order to be more inclusive.

There is something in here for everyone to argue about: music-lovers, sports fans, and people of all majors. I swear that I strongly believe in at least half of these statements, and that I am willing to fake it on the rest. Do your worst, Notre Dame!

I believe that Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is beyond question the greatest of all 19th-century British epistolary horror novels. "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" backers, I welcome your disdain.

The biggest fault to be found with Charlie Weis isn't arrogance, foul language or occasionally questionable play-calling. It is his taste in music. I'm about as New Jersey as they come, but I can't stand Bon Jovi, and the next time I respect someone after hearing that they love "Living on a Prayer" will be the first.

"Mickey's Christmas Carol" is the best version ever made of the Dickens story. Scrooge McDuck is much more convincing in the Ebenezer role than Alastair Sim.

Leibniz invented the calculus. And people who are truly refined only refer to it as "the calculus."

"Family Guy" is the most extensive work of plagiarism since Joe Biden's law school career.

Typing "plagiarism" into Wikipedia in order to make a moderately obscure reference is completely acceptable.

I removed a joke about Ron Paul from this column because I don't want to give Libertarians anything else to whine about.

People who complain about the low quality of American television but don't watch "30 Rock" are empty-headed pedants who do not have to be taken seriously.

Bacon, ham and pork are all wildly overrated meats. I eat so few pig products that I'm afraid I'll wind up on a government watch list.

It shames me to admit this after so many years of arguing for the positive aspects of the Hayes presidency, but Tilden really should have won in 1876.

Your favorite beer is swill. All beer is swill. ResLife, you know where to mail my check.

The worst result of the Cola Wars was that R.C. Cola got left in the dust because it was unable to lure Max Headroom or Michael Jackson to be its spokesman.

The best way to cure doubts of one's sanity is to spend 90 seconds in conversation with a Chicago sports fan.

The Cubs are not lovable. Your Rex Grossman jokes are not funny. You're not a Bulls fan if you can't name more than five post-Jordan players. Go away and try to figure out if Luc Longley or Bill Wennington is still playing.

I am as yet unsatisfied that Fermat's Last Theorem has been proved.

George Harrison had the best solo career of any of the Beatles. Anyone who cites "Imagine" while making the case for John Lennon is deafer than Beethoven.

It is okay to make deaf jokes about Beethoven because he's been dead for 180 years. The fact that he couldn't hear them anyway is only an ancillary consideration.

If your car leaked oil onto an easel, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between that and a Jackson Pollock original.

I certainly understand that colonialism was oppressive and exploitative, and that it is the right of every free people to name their own country. I just happen to think Rhodesia sounds better, and I don't think you have to so rudely correct me.

The same goes for Ceylon and British Honduras.

This column is an inane, irrelevant, and poorly thought out piece of tripe written at the last minute by a hack writer too ill-informed or lazy to form a cogent argument on one topic over 800 words.

Alright, get going on your responses, although you better not disagree with that last one. I happen to know it for a fact.

John Everett is a senior English major. He is thought to be somewhere between 21 and 45 years of age. He is armed only with a sharp wit and is considered cantankerous. If you have any information regarding his whereabouts, please contact jeverett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Must Scathe TV?

One of my favorite Back Room posters, the inimitable Czarobski, recently posted a comment Dave Eggers made to the Harvard Crimson on the psychology of hipster culture and its need to constantly tear down the very artists it props up and the prevalence of "sell out" and "their old stuff was a lot better" in the language.

This really got me thinking. I've been relatively displeased with a lot of the television shows I watch recently, and Eggers's words forced me to consider whether or not I was being fair to House and 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother, or whether I was reflexively dismissing change as for the worse and looking to be ahead of the curve in pointing out a show's downfall. This is the pitfall encapsulated by the phrase "jump the shark" and in it's recent ubiquity. It became a sort of game for us as viewers to try and spot the disaster around the corner, instead of enjoying the ride. In light of this I decided to try and critically re-evaluate my own thoughts on the shows that I watch.

How I Met Your Mother is clearly an example of me false-starting. The "Friends With Benefits" episode was a bit of a disappointment, yes. But I was too harsh in extrapolating that to the series in total. I reacted very badly to the change in Barney's character, but I think that if the writers are careful, and respect the viewer, this might come off well. This past Monday's episode was very well done, and surprisingly touching. It's nice to see a show which considers it possible for a married couple to live in relative harmony. On a related note, The Big Bang Theory continues to be awesome, and looks to be safe from my inner-hipster.

House, unfortunately doesn't fare quite as well. I am concerned about Kutner and Taub's lack of inter-connectedness. In the first few seasons it seemed as though every character had a relationship with all of the others. However, there really isn't even any byplay between Thirteen and the other two doctors. And they really are burying the lead when they hastily explain an incredibly nonsensical diagnosis. I'm really pulling for the show though, it has consistently produced gripping episodes. Marathons on the USA Network can really pull me in.

The Office and 30 Rock are interesting cases. The Office is picking up its game very nicely lately, tonight's episode being no exception. I think the key is keeping the stories more realistic and less extravagant. Tonight's Hillary Swank plotline was hysterical and also seemed very plausible. Tonight's 30 Rock was hilarious as well, and I was glad to see Frank and Two-Fer back in the mix. I think the absence of Salma Hayek was also a benefit.

In the future, I'm going to try to hold off on the predictions of doom based on one or two bad episodes. Even Seinfeld and Cheers had bad episodes, it's just a little harder when you're in the moment and looking forward to every episode at its first airing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Woody Allen X Two

I've always been a little ambivalent about Woody Allen movies. Maybe this is because the first one I ever saw was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which I went to see in the theater with my father. There were maybe fifteen people total in attendance, and my father was the second youngest. I don't remember disliking the movie so much (I'm ridiculously easy to please when I see a movie on the big screen) but I felt a little uncool being the only person my age there.

On top of this, there is the fact that the revelations of Allen's disgusting behavior occurred before I had seen any of his films. It's hard to motivate yourself to see the work of a person who seems so abominable. But eventually I caught Annie Hall on TV, and wanted to see if it really should have beaten Stars Wars out for Best Picture in 1977. I liked the movie a lot, and since then I've decided to be more open-minded and give his movies a shot. I liked Bullets Over Broadway (perhaps especially because Allen wasn't on-screen), and Scoop, and didn't mind Sleep. I didn't particularly like Manhattan, but I was in a foul mood at the time, so who knows?

Recently, I caught two more of Allen's films. Broadway Danny Rose and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Broadway Danny Rose is clearly a film made out of love. Love for a time, a place, and a way of life that is pretty foreign to my generation. My father loves this movie, and watching it with him I actually felt a little sad that I wasn't reacting the same way.

The movie is structured in an odd way. A group of old time comedians playing themselves are sitting around at a Deli telling a story concerning talent agent Danny Rose (Allen), which involves an alcoholic old Italian crooner, his mistress, and some out of control gangsters. I think in order to love this movie you may have to have seen these old comedians on TV, to have put up with the washed-up crooners in nightclubs, and to have a sense of nostalgia for the lives that this movie pays homage to. Some scenes, including a shootout in a balloon-storage warehouse, are very funny, but overall I couldn't connect to this movie. Allen's character was an even more enervating version of his stock personality. He kept repeating the phrase "If I could interject an observation at this juncture" and telling unfunny anecdotes about his relatives. I also didn't buy Mia Farrow as a high-maintenance Italian woman.

All that being said, the end of the movie, including Danny Rose's love of his less-than-superbly-talented acts, was heartfelt and moving. I'll give it a 5.1 out of 10.

Crimes and Misdemeanors I received a lot better. This is probably the first Allen movie I've ever seen that was a more serious affair. There were some funny lines, but they didn't stand out, and it seemed like that was a concious decision. Even Allen's trademark character is a little more subdued, allowing the drama to take precedence.

The movie's structure is also quite interesting. The movie tells two very different stories, only related on the flimsiest of coincidences. In story one, Martin Landau is an opthamologist whose mistress is about to rat him out, and his portion of the movie chronicles his attempt to come to a workable solution to this dilemma, while sorting out a Dostoevskian argument over whether or not there is a God, and if His absence means that anything is permissible.

In story two, Allen is a filmmaker with noble intentions, stuck in a loveless marriage, who watches what he thinks is a chance at happiness slip away. Allen's Cliff Stern is stuck in a world of ideals and morals and Hollywood endings, where badguys get there comeuppance and the true heart wins the girl. It doesn't sound so different from traditional Christian and Jewish theology.

The confluence of the two stories, (a chance meeting at the wedding of a mutual friend's daughter, the mutual friend a rabbi played by Sam Waterston) is a fascinating scene, where Landau's character bares, well, not his soul exactly, but bares himself to Allen, while Allen's character insists on maintaining a version of reality that the movie has basically assured us is a fiction.

I really liked this serious and yet not smugly intellectual film. Jerry Orbach and Alan Alda are great in supporting roles, as is Mia Farrow as Allen's love interest. I'll give it 8.8 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Drowning Pool

The Drowning Pool is the third of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels that I've read, and the second in the series. Ideally, from a rhetorical standpoint, I would say it's my number 1, but that honor goes to The Blue Hammer, a fantastic and psychologically complex novel that more than earns the lavish praise that critics bestow on Macdonald.

This novel does come in at number two, ahead of the slightly disappointing The Way Some People Die. The thing I like about the Archer novels is that they deal with the evil that men (and women) do and the desperate conditions people find themselves in. In some of the Golden Age stories (I should note here that I'm not putting them down, I've read about 50 Agatha Christie novels) there is a sense that the crime was only committed to provide a puzzle for the reader's enjoyment.

Macdonald is in line with the hard-boiled tradition of Chandler and Hammett, though his prose doesn't crackle with the wit of either and his characters are not as eccentric and memorable. They are however probably two or three shades more realistic.

In The Drowning Pool, the body of a matriarch who holds the purse-strings tightly closed on her son and his wife turns up floating in the backyard pool. Like Chandler's Marlowe novels, there are multiple crimes and also multiple perpetrators, making the actual "solution" almost a secondary concern.

Like The Blue Hammer, The Drowning Pool is an exploration of a family and its secrets, where the detective serves a merely functionary role in the drama. Archer is less of a personality than a Marlowe or any of Hammett P.I.s, but he is admirably resourceful at getting out of the requisite jams and avoiding the requisite femme fatales.

All in all, I'll give it a 7 out of 10.

Next Up: I'm not sure what to read next. I have Bleak House and Howard's End sitting on my shelf, or I could stick with the noir element and read James Cain's Double Indemnity.

Things I'm Not a Fan Of

Here's a list of things I'm not a fan of:

Blog Titles Ending in a Preposition (Haha, just kidding. Irony!)

Two-Day Facebook Outages

That Hair-Color Commercial Where The Daughters Tell Their Father He Should Dye His Hair to Meet Their New Mommy
-Seriously, that's just inappropriate.

Notre Dame Basketball's Suspiciously High Rating
-Even at 19, that's way too high. This season is a disappointment so far. Our Out-of-Conference SOS is atrocious, and we can't seem to win away from home. I get the feeling that ND is going to become the highest rated team to be left out of the tournament entirely. I'm used to the football team being drastically overrated in the preseason, but not basketball.

Television Network Executives
-This is the biggie. At the start of the TV season there were six shows I wanted to watch, Conveniently, these shows managed to take up an hour each night Monday-Thursday. But since then, my Wednesday night show (Pushing Daisies) has been canceled, and now, because of American Idol, FOX has moved House to Mondays at 8. I already watch Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother from 8-9 on Mondays. And yeah, I know, I should get a DVR or watch the shows on-line, but it's just not the same.

Anyway, this means that every Monday I know have to make a choice. And that every Tuesday night, I know have nothing to watch. (I am not watching American Idol.)

Tonight, I chose House, because it had been a while since the last new episode. Normally, I don't mind the unlikely, incredibly bizarre medical scenarios, because the premise is that's he's a last resort type of doctor. Also, the characters are so interesting in the way they interact. But tonight's episode was kind of a disappointment. The set-up (a man in constant pain who takes even more pills and is even sadder than House) was all there for a fantastic and emotionally devastating conclusion, but no, they took the safe route and had House provide the usual magic (and unintelligible) diagnosis just under the wire. It bothers me continually that they don't even bother anymore with more detailed explanations of the actual medical reasons. Even though I too treat them as secondary concerns, they are ostensibly the basis of the show.

There were some interesting revelations about Thirteen and Foreman, but I thought that the Taub-Kutner back and forth fell a little flat. House's ratings have been down, and I think these two are probably the main culprit. They're just not all that interesting, and they don't really play well with the other characters.

I am heartened to see that Dr. Cameron is going to be taking a more active role in the series. I've been shocked that they would basically keep her and Chase on the bench this long. I was upset that there was so little of Wilson in this episode. He basically only served as a Deus Ex Pedant to Cuddy in one small scene. Maybe I should have been watching CBS.

Monday, January 19, 2009


My grandmother has Alzheimer's. Sometime around 2000 her mind just stopped and everything since then is kind of hazy. She knows who I am but has no idea how old I am. She's been living in my parent's house for five months but still thinks she's going back to her apartment in Jersey City any day now. Often she'll try to leave the house, and when you bring her back in has no idea where she was going or why she wanted to leave.

And every time she sees Barack Obama on TV, she says the same exact thing:

"I thought we had to vote for the President in this country. How'd he become president so quickly?"

That's right, my grandmother doesn't think there's any way that a black man could have possibly been elected President of the United States.

I think it's worthwhile to recall that while most of us in the last months of the campaign just assumed he'd be elected president, and a great deal were fervently hoping it would happen, it's still a big shock to the system. My grandmother isn't stuck in the sixties, she's not even a racist. But what she'll watch on television tomorrow will shock her again.

That'll Show You

So I went 0-2 in yesterday's games. Which, in a way, proves me right, that you shouldn't listen to me. Ha! That's the wonder of managed expectations for you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eagles, Ravens

These are my picks for today's games, which I may or may not watch. I'll give the points with Philly and I think Baltimore can win outright despite being a six-point underdog.

Note: I'm picking this because it creates the least interesting Super Bowl matchup possible, and that seems to be the direction things are heading this year. This post is not based on a scintilla of football acumen, as I have none to rely on. People who gamble on sports are by definition foolhardy, and those who would do so based on my picks doubly so.

Sub-Note: I'm not at all ready for a world in which the Phillies' World Series win is followed up by an Eagles Super Bowl victory. Philadelphia going around calling itself Titletown is an upsetting thought.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

30 Rock

I'm a little worried about 30 Rock. I don't mean to sound like a Pitchfork reader, but I think success has gotten to them a little bit. They don't know how to handle this success and it's hurting the show. They're like the kinda cute girl that few people notice until all of a sudden everyone notices (oddly like Tina Fey in that regard) and then they stop hanging out with all their old friends (where the hell are Two-Fer and Frank and the rest of the writers?) and surround themselves with the cool kids (okay, Steve Martin and Oprah were awesome but Jennifer Anniston?) and then they tell off all their old friends at an awards ceremony. Okay that last one is just 30 Rock.

Salma Hayek maybe the worst guest star yet. Her character is pretty lifeless and doesn't deliver her lines crisply at all. I don't mean this as insensitive, but I don't understand half the things she says. (Which is especially odd, because I've never had that problem with her in other parts, so I think that's something she's doing for this role.)

Tracy's not the same either. His line about his flu shot being truth serum in this past episode didn't really hit home. Alec Baldwin's topical humor is getting more and more strained too. (A Huffington Post joke, really?)

Anyway, flame anyway, tell me I'm overreacting, but like Goldwater, in you're heart you know I'm right.

Dial M for Murder

I didn't have anything to do tonight, and I had the house to myself so I thought, why not watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie with "murder" in the title? Some quick thoughts...

The theme of the movie is how hard it is to commit the perfect murder. Ray Milland is the ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice who has discovered that his wife, the astonishingly beautiful Grace Kelly, is having an affair with an American mystery novelist (Robert Cummings). His murder plot is impressively well thought out, until it goes completely wrong. Wendice is a cool customer, and cleverer than your average movie bad guy. When his wife kills the man hired to kill her, Wendice manages to subtly turn the situation in his favor even still. From there it's up to Cummings and a rather too-silly British police officer to figure out what's really happening before it's too late.

As an aspiring writer, I felt a great deal of admiration for Frederic Knott, who wrote the play upon which the movie is based. This is an extremely well thought out plot. Every action has repercussions, every action has a motive, and every question that the viewer might come up with is eventually answered. That's very rare in movies with such a twisting, surprising plot.

I'll give it 8.8 out of 10.


I've decided to start blogging because I need something to do besides read novels and complain about the job market.

I think I'll follow the same format I have in the past when I've done this sort of thing. I'll keep the personal stuff to an absolute minimum, mostly because it doesn't even really interest me, and stick to reviews of movies and books, and perhaps reactions to events and articles that come to my attention.

Let's get started with some quick hitter reviews:

Gran Torino

I'm not as well versed in Clint Eastwood-iana as most people are. I've never seen any of The Man With No Name westerns, and I'm only half-sure I caught most of Dirty Harry once, a long time ago. So I was uncertain if I'd appreciate this flick, since most of the reviews seemed to indicate that it was some sort of commentary on his on-screen persona and it's dark side.

I don't know about all that. The movie I watched was an engrossing but small tale of an old man who learns to appreciate that he might not always have been right, and his attempt to settle his debts with God. The movies philosophical conjectures and moral stances are a confusing jumble, and some critics have objected to the film on the grounds that it supposedly perpetrates a White Man's Burden type of savior relationship. I disagree with that extreme view. I think Eastwood's Walt Kowalski is just one man, and not a stand-in for anything, or anyone, else.

I was shocked by how often I found myself laughing loudly at this movie. In the first few minutes I thought this was a sign of weakness in the acting and script. But then I realized that I was meant to be laughing, and enjoying this unlikely but likeable story.

I don't have the highest standards when it comes to films, especially ones I pay to see in the theater. I'm paying for a good time, so I put myself in the mindset that I should try to enjoy myself. That being said, even I noticed that some of the first-time actors who comprised Kowalski's Hmong neighbors weren't quite the caliber that should be expected. Some scenes, especially one with Thao, the neighbor boy, that had me laughing at what should have been a dramatic moment, make you wonder if they only did one take.

I give Gran Torino an 8.25 out of 10. Eastwood will probably pick up an Oscar nod, and why the heck not, he basically IS this movie.

Next Up: I'm hoping to see Slumdog Millionaire, or maybe The Wrestler. It's apparently too much to hope for that Frost/Nixon play anywhere near here.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

My first encounter with Michael Chabon left me wanting more from an author I'd be predisposed to think of favorably. Wonder Boys was stocked with unlikeable characters behaving in unlikeable ways. It was almost dispiriting to read it. It was also exclusively focused on writers, a tactic I'm not fond of, since it seems to suggest limitations on the part of the author.

Well, Kavalier & Clay put all those objections and more to rest. The book is awesome in the literal sense. It is an expansive and yet hyper-focused text. Some characters never travel outside Brooklyn and its surroundings, while another ventures to Antarctica and back. Chabon brings the same depth of knowledge and awareness of his readers attention to all.

Chabon weaves in real historical occurences and persons with unerring touch and consideration, and inserts true-sounding fictional occurences so effortlessly that they seem more plausible than the historical events. I was blown away by this book even though it's subject matter- the comic book industry- isn't a special interest of mine. If you're at all a cognoscenti of them, I'm sure this would be an all-time favorite.

9.7 out of 10