Monday, December 31, 2007

Fried Rice Favorites: 2007 Movies

EDIT (Jan. 1): After Matt pointed out an oversight on my list, I realized that I posted a draft that I'd saved before I saw Juno.  So the picks have changed (#8-10) from what was originally posted yesterday.  What I should've done is listed 15 or 20 films.  That would've made things easier.

After looking through my old posts, I realized that I didn't post a Favorite Movies list last year (but did for 2005).  How the hell did that happen?  I mean, this isn't a movie blog, per se, but I love writing about what I saw.  And this time, I won't wait until mid-January to post the list.  There are plenty of movies I want to see that haven't yet shown here in Michigan (and as I did last year, I'll also post a list of movies I wish I'd seen, but didn't), but there were so many good ones this year that I already had a hard time whittling my choices down to ten.

Here are the Best Movies I Watched in 2007.  Movies I previously wrote about are linked back to the original posts:

1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: I'm going to be writing a lot more about this movie later in the week.  (And it won't be contained in four sentences).  This is an achievement in filmmaking.  In adapting Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir, portraying both the abstract and literal, Julian Schnabel and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, utilize the camera as creatively as I've ever seen it used in telling a story.  It's heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

2. I'm Not There: Had I not seen "Diving Bell" last week, this would've been my favorite movie of the year.  Todd Haynes probably could've told the story of Bob Dylan more coherently, and knowing something about Dylan beforehand would surely help, but it wouldn't have been nearly as fun to watch.  Musical biopics should never be told the same way again.  Haynes re-invented the genre.

3. Starting Out in the Evening: It seems like movies about writing would be boring.  The trick, I suppose, is to make the writer an interesting, compelling character.  And that's exactly what Frank Langella did with his portrayal of Leonard Schiller, an author whose work is close to being forgotten and who has watched the culture completely change around him.  Compared to movies and TV, literature is almost a fringe form of entertainment now, and those who enjoy and celebrate it increasingly find themselves doing so in secluded, almost underground environments.  So what happens to a man whose livelihood, identity, and self-worth is tied to such pursuits?  How does that affect the other people in your life (such as your children)?  And how important is it to find someone else (even if she's decades younger) who not only feels the same, but is also utterly in love with your work?  Watching that relationship develop between Langella and Lauren Ambrose is fascinating.

4. No Country For Old Men: How did I not get around to writing a Four-Sentence Movie Review for this one?  I could cause serious injury trying to kick myself.  If not for the seemingly anti-climactic (and low-key) ending (or last 1/4 of the movie, really), this might have been the best movie of the year.  For 3/4 of the story, however, the Coen brothers made one of the scariest, tensest films I've ever seen.  Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh makes Hannibal Lecter look like a wine-and-cheese-eating dandy boy.  (Though Chigurh has the dandy boy haircut.)  It's too bad the Oscars don't have a Best Ensemble Cast award, because the entire cast (even Woody Harrelson) is outstanding.

5. Once: I wince when I see critics call this a "musical," but given the role that music plays in the story, maybe there's no better way to classify it.  And if the music wasn't really good, this probably wouldn't be an enjoyable film.  But it's an unconventional romance, which is what I liked most about it, along with a perfect ending.

6. The King of Kong: Seth Gordon might be one of the luckiest men on the face of this earth.  Or he's a living example of the maxim that says good luck is the result of hard work.  Either way, following the exploits of video game champion Billy Mitchell provided him with one of the best villains a documentary has ever had.

7. Ratatouille: Another one I wish I'd have taken the time to write about.  If there was ever any doubt as to how large of a place food and cooking holds in our culture, an animated movie devoted to foodie love should decisively answer such questions.  I thought it was amazing enough when Pixar could make water and hair move realistically.  Making food preparation, with bubbling liquids and sauteing meats and vegetables, look real (and tasty) is a whole other level of computer-generated verisimilitude.  I also wonder if Ratatouille is more appealing to adults than to children.  Themes such as finding your passion in life, the battle between criticism and artistry, and getting back in touch with your inner child provide plenty of intellectual chow for grown-ups.  But the kids get talking animals.  And they probably won't be as disturbed by the imagery of filthy rodents taking over a restaurant kitchen as their parents might be.

8. Juno: It's so refreshing when characters don't behave in ways we're accustomed to seeing in a story.  I don't know if that makes the people in Juno more real or not.  Maybe it makes them too good to be true.  (The dialogue is probably too clever at times, though it's frequently hilarious.)  Of course, I never had to tell my parents I was pregnant, so I don't know how that goes.  But several interactions between these characters felt real because people don't always say exactly the right thing and often hope the other person figures out what they really mean.  Being funny and poignant along the way helps, too.  Ellen Page is getting a lot of praise for her performance, and justifiably so, but Jennifer Garner deserves some applause, as well.  There's a scene in which her uptight exterior melts away and you see what's really important to her character, and it's a joy to watch.

9. The Host: Am I mostly recycling previous movie reviews to fill up this list?  Oh... lil' bit.  But it's always easier to write about a movie I loved, rather than hated, so that's what usually sends me over to the computer.  The Host is a good ol' monster movie, like the ones a lot of us grew up with (the Godzilla flicks, Alien, etc.).  But it doesn't follow the familiar formula, especially in regards to revealing the monster (which is a total freakshow), while also remembering that movies like this should be fun.  Sequel!  Sequel!

10. Michael Clayton: I was hoping this movie would be about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver who killed my fantasy football team three years ago.  Surely, other fantasy players made the same mistake after reading draft guides and previews that said Clayton would be a good pick.  And he had a good 2004 season.  Since then, however, he's been a bust.  But George Clooney went and made a movie about something else.  Yet I'm not sure what that was, exactly.  Shortly after seeing it, I told myself I needed a second viewing because when someone asked to explain the story, I couldn't do so.  Yet recalling all the details didn't seem that important as the story is more of a character study (which I assume is why the filmmakers chose the rather boring title they used).  Clooney isn't just a personality anymore; he can act.  The ending (and end credits) give him the chance to show that.

Ten Other Really Good Movies: Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Knocked Up, Breach, Waitress, Charlie Wilson's War, Away From Her, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, and The Assassination of Jesse James.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Today's Reading - 12/27/07

The Top Player in This League? It May Be the Sports Reporter

Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate wrote articles on ESPN's hiring trends, as well, which is an interesting coincidence.  (Though the Slate piece was a response to the WSJ article.)  When the big boys come callin' (and ESPN has put a lot of reporters on TV over the years), sportswriting can be a lucrative field.

(To anyone from ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. who might be reading this, I humbly refer you to the Detroit Tigers blog, Bless You Boys.  The author is a very close, personal friend of mine.  Ahem.)

'The Wire' gets the newsroom right

Just in case the media gets too puffed up after reading that NY Times piece, consider that HBO's The Wire is coming after that profession next.  Considering David Simon's previous social commentary on law enforcement, the war on drugs, city politics, and the public school system, there could be some bruises inflicted.

23 Reasons Why A Profile of Pete Carroll Does Not Appear in this Space

One reason I hate most football movies is that they usually try to make the coach seem like a cool guy.  Football coaches aren't cool guys.  They're mostly anti-social control freaks who live, breathe, eat, and sleep football at the cost of almost everything else in their lives.  Except for USC coach Pete Carroll.  This guy is cool.  And if I were a stud high school football player ready to play in college, Carroll would be the coach I'd want to play for.

The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies

Kind of film geeky, but I thought it was noteworthy.  I was often under the impression that digital filmmaking would make movies less costly.  Maybe not so much, especially in the long-term.  Film studios should consider hiring the Be Kind Rewind guys for film preservation.

Be Kind Rewind Director Michel Gondry Forgoes Dreamy Plots for Straight-Up Comedy

Is Michel Gondry the most creative filmmaker working today?  He might be especially so when you consider that some of his "tricks" were constructed more simply than you might think.  Be Kind Rewind looks quirkily hilarious, and a movie about two guys remaking blockbuster films on cardboard budgets seems just about perfect for our current YouTube culture.  Maybe "unconventional" is a better word for Gondry's work.  (Pete, I promise I'll be watching The Science of Sleep soon.  It's in rotation on HBO.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Scorsese Does the Stones

A Martin Scorsese film about the Rolling Stones?  Yeah, I'll probably see that.  And if it's showing in IMAX, all the better.

When I first watched this trailer (which you can see a much better version of at the film's official site), I wasn't sure I liked Scorsese being part of the film.  But then again, that's part of the story that would interest me (and I'm sure many others).  If we get plenty of scenes like the one in which Scorsese and Mick Jagger disagree about whether or not a camera crane should be used, that should make for some good documentary.  (I think I have to side with Mick, though.  If you were in the Beacon Theater for this show, and your view was blocked by the camera swooping in and moving around, you were probably pissed off.  But as Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.)

By the way, does Scorsese get enough credit for being one of the great rock music documentarians?  I just watched No Direction Home, his film about Bob Dylan, which chronicles the effect Dylan's music had on the 1960s.  (I wish it had gone later into his career, however.)  And then there's The Last Waltz, maybe the best concert film (and documentaries) ever made.  (Though Levon Helm seems to disagree.)

(via The Set List)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What I'm Really Doing on Vacation?

Uh-oh.  Looks like I've been busted.

FRT New York Bureau Chief Mis Hooz uncovered what I was led to believe was a top-secret image from a project I may or may not have been working on.  At this time, I simply cannot comment on whether or not I've joined The Hives and filling in for Howlin' Pelle Almquist is what I'm really doing on my "vacation."

Besides, I think the look on Dr. Matt Destruction's face says it all.  He doesn't look too happy about us being cheek-to-cheek.  Hey, it wasn't much fun for me, either.  But really, I was just happy to be there.  Allegedly.  Since I'm not commenting.

(Just in case you're wondering, here's what the real thing looks like.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Today's Reading - 12/17/07

MICHAEL ROSENBERG: U-M didn't make a good hire -- it made a great one

The University of Michigan's long football nightmare is over.  After missing out on at least two other candidates to take over as head football coach, Michigan finally got their guy - and Rich Rodriguez looks like the right one.  (I was hoping to get a call.  The opening line of my introductory press conference would've been "You can't spell 'Michigan' without 'Ian.'"  T-shirts and bumper stickers would've eventually followed.)

The people of West Virginia (such as Fried Rice Friend, Wabi-Sabi) are surely sick of seeing their coaches migrate to Ann Arbor (men's basketball coach John Beilein left WVU for U-M in April), but a program with the Mountaineers' kind of tradition will likely bring in a fine replacement.

I don't blog much about sports other than baseball anymore, but I love this hire.  I like that he's a young coach who could stick around for a while.  But most importantly, he represents a break from a coaching tree and mindset that was becoming increasingly fossilized, and brings some long overdue creativity to Michigan football.  Go Blue!

Changing Courses at the Food Network

Fewer people are watching and the top-rated food show on TV belongs to Bravo.  So Food Network apparently has to freshen things up.  Neither Emeril Lagasse nor Mario Batali are part of that new direction, it seems.   Hell, the food shows I watch the most are on Travel Channel, so maybe Food Network knows what it's doing.

Out of South Africa

A grateful memory from my two years at Iowa is the opportunity to have read virtually all the works of J.M. Coetzee.  If there's a better chronicle of the divisions existing in post-apartheid South Africa than Disgrace, I'd like to read it.  (Well, not right now.)  So when an author whose work seems so intertwined with a particular region moves to another country, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows in curiosity.  But his admiration for other writers who have re-invented their cultural identity may have tipped off his eventual intentions.

An Actress Who's As Great as the Sum of Her Parts

I think Laura Linney has been in a decent amount of the movies I've enjoyed in recent years.  She's kind of the female equivalent to Philip Seymour Hoffman, so isn't it interesting that they're in a new film together?  The Savages opens next week in Ann Arbor.  I'm there, man.

The No One Could Get Time Off @ X-Mas Extravaganza

This year, no one on Team Casselberry could get time off the week of Christmas, so we're celebrating a week early down south.  Dr. Lil' Sis insisted that we still visit because it's the last time we'll celebrate the Christmas holiday amongst original family, as she's getting married in April.  It didn't take long to convince me, as eating my way through Charleston is one of my favorite pastimes.  Here's a preview of what the blog will probably read like this week:

And if I wasn't already on board with hanging out down south before Christmas, the weather reports from Michigan have me even happier about that choice.  I suppose shoveling a foot of snow when I get home will be a good way to work off all that barbeque.

(Image from "Get Fuzzy" ©2007 Darby Conley/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Bats in a Theater Lobby Near You

I guess I couldn't go a whole week without posting a new Batman movie poster.  These two new ones went up some time over the last day or so.  I think the marketing for this film has been deviously clever.  In comparison, this is another reason why Superman Returns was so lame.  Just throwing up the big red "S" wasn't enough.  This is pretty similar to the way Marvel Comics movies have been promoted.

Anyway, here's the Batman poster:

Kind of a strange image to use.  From far away, would you even be able to tell this is for a Batman flick?  (Maybe the Bat insignia up top takes care of that.)  I think it also suffers in comparison to the Joker poster:

Now that's the good stuff.  The new trailer for The Dark Knight is now lurking around online, too.  (And it's a killer.)  The clip I saw is pretty murky, in terms of video quality.  (And I bet it'll be taken down soon enough.)  Surely, a higher quality, official version will be released very soon.  (EDIT: Apparently, it's coming on Monday.)

(via The Movie Blog)

Today's Reading - 12/14/07

The 53 Places to Go in 2008

Here's an ambitious list to take into the New Year.  The good news is that I have a really good chance of visiting at least one of the choice places to go, as it's only approximately 40 miles away.  I'd love to add at least one or two other destinations, though I might just have to settle for traveling (and eating) vicariously through Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.

Busting Out

Enjoy the tales of a large-busted woman (that's an adult way of saying it, right?) trying to find a bra that properly fits (and looks good).  My curiosity was fueled solely by my appreciation of good writing.  Really.  The anecdotes from the fitting room are hilarious.

What Katherine Heigl said about 'Knocked Up'

Katherine Heigl seemed to be portrayed as ungrateful when she called Knocked Up "a little sexist" in this month's Vanity Fair.  Meghan O'Rourke of Slate is glad she said it, though, because it allows her to write about how men and women were portrayed in the movie.  But it's not an attack; it's a thoughtful critique.

Why last year's products make this year's best gifts

If you've been thinking about buying a quality single lens reflex digital camera or high-definition television, this could be a good time to do it.  The prices on last year's models are significantly cheaper.  (Note to self: You deserve could use a better camera.)

A New Shelf Life Begins

I still call Nick Hornby one of my favorite writers, though I haven't really fallen for either of his last two novels.  Though I noticed that he'd published a new book, I wasn't too interested because it was shelved in the "young adult" section.  But apparently, that was more of a publisher's decision than Hornby targeting an audience.  And that was a narrow-minded judgment from me, anyway.  If you're a fan of his, you'll probably like this profile.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spoiler Alerts You Can Wear

I guess this is image week at FRT.  This thing - called "The Spoiler Shirt" - is hilarious.  Maybe I wouldn't feel that way if I hadn't already seen all the movies referenced.  And I think that's going to apply for most people who regularly go to theaters or hit video stores.  But if you want a bunch of people staring at your chest, this could be the way to go for you.

Maybe the next thing can be "Spoiler Jeans," where a movie spoiler is embroidered on each back pocket.

(via The Movie Blog)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Enough With the Batman Stuff?

I know, this is two straight Batman-related posts, with really not much substance to them.  The baseball gig kept me busy all day with the big trade between the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins.  But this is a clever teaser poster, and if we didn't already know what The Joker will look like in the new Batman flick, I think this would be even more spooky.

(via The Movie Blog)

Monday, December 03, 2007

If You Gotta Go, Go with a Smile!

There are plenty of pictures of Heath Ledger as The Joker to be found on the internet now, but I definitely like the look of those that popped up on Ain't It Cool News yesterday.  (Not a big fan of the new Batman suit, however.  Too much going on there.  He looks like a Star Wars character with a Batman head.)

To me, there's something delightful about the filmmakers creating a Joker that could very well scare the hell out of children.  It's difficult to imagine that face being on a Happy Meal toy next summer.  (And I can't believe that's the same guy I saw last week in I'm Not There.  Great work.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tonight's Reading - 12/02/07

Black Sunday for Maize and Blue

I'll admit it: I wore my Michigan hooded sweatshirt with some struttin' pride yesterday when ESPN reported that LSU's Les Miles was going to take over as Michigan's head football coach, and would add Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to his staff.  The future at the corner of Stadium and Main was going to be bright.  I went out to lunch, ran some errands, caught a movie, and then came home to see Miles angrily denying the report.  Even worse, he emphatically stated that he'd be the coach at LSU.  I choose to be delusionally optimistic, trying to read between the lines of what Miles really said (and didn't say).  But right now, it appears that Michigan will have to expand its coaching search.  Plus, the basketball and hockey teams lost on Saturday, too.  Go Blurgh.

A Sinner's Tale

In anticipation of the film adaptation of his novel Atonement hitting theaters, the New York Times has 10 questions for author Ian McEwan.  Interestingly, McEwan was an executive producer on the movie.  I guess he doesn't subscribe to Ernest Hemingway's belief that authors should drive to the border of California, throw his/her book over the fence, wait for Hollywood to throw money back over the fence, and drive away.

The 10 Best Books of 2007

You know it's December when these sorts of lists are published.  Of the New York Times' 10 best, I have read... none of them.  As if I didn't already know that my literary consumption was vastly lacking this past year.  I don't suppose having the intent to buy at least two of these books at some point counts for anything, does it?  (By the way, since I never got around to it before, congratulations to fellow Hawkeye Denis Johnson for winning the National Book Award for Tree of Smoke.)

Book Vs. Film: No Country For Old Men

Adapting books into movies has always intrigued me, and I'm often fascinated by the differences between the literary and filmed versions of what's presumably the same story.  Why does something work on the page, but not on the screen, or vice versa?  And after seeing No Country For Old Men, I was very curious how closely the Coen brothers had followed Cormac McCarthy's novel.  This is a fantastic analysis of the two versions, and the differences between them.  (And just in case it needs to be said, spoiler alert.  Don't read this if you still plan on seeing the movie.)

Slaughter on Union Square

If I was in New York tomorrow night, I'd try like hell to attend Michael Ruhlman's appearance with Anthony Bourdain at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, to promote The Elements of Cooking.  (Mis Hooz is probably wiping her brow with relief, as I would've made her accompany me.)  If you're a fan of either Ruhlman or Bourdain, you probably enjoy the feudfriendship between these two.  That should be a fun event.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Making the Uncomfortable Hilarious

Is this funnier if you have or haven't seen those dumb Coors Light commercials that use NFL coaches' post-game press conference footage?  Anyway, if you're not familiar with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's tirade at a local sports columnist for something she wrote about one of his players, here's an explanation and a video of the outburst.

But tonight, we are here to laugh.  At a man.  Who's 40.  And had his tantrum turned into something hilarious.

The only thing that would've made this more hilarious is if they could've somehow incorporated Gundy's "This was brought to me by a mother... of children" into the gag.

(And I really hope this YouTube video isn't taken down by the time you get to read this.  I've had bad luck with that lately.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Not There: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

The musical biopic genre sorely needed a fresh approach, something that wasn't going to follow the paint-by-numbers "Behind the Music" formula of rise, fall (due to drugs, of course), rise from the ashes, and eventual contentment that most of these stories (Ray, Walk the Line, and the upcoming parody Walk Hard) seem to follow, but could still sum up the career and capture the creative spirit of the musician, and that's exactly what Todd Haynes has done for Bob Dylan with I'm Not There.

Haynes' choice to use six different actors (including Batman and The Joker) to portray Dylan (or a Dylan-esque figure) seems head-scratching, but think of each actor and story segment as a representation of a certain phase of his career (for example, a 12-year-old black kid embodying the early development of Dylan's musical tastes and style, which was heavily influenced by the blues) and the whole idea makes such brilliant sense - even if you're not overly familiar with Dylan's biography, which I'm not - that you wonder why no one's ever tried it before.

Not all of the segments work (Richard Gere's didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the movie), but the flashiest and most radical interpretation is Cate Blanchett's androgynous portrayal of the late 1960s, Don't Look Back incarnation of Dylan that seemed utterly unlikable, yet was surely formed by the endless attempts by fans and media to mold him and his music into the defining voice of a generation, a burden that would probably make almost any artist run and hide.  Blanchett's performance might be seen as too gimmicky to deserve an Academy Award (although you could probably say the same thing about her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator), but she should absolutely score a nomination and if she wasn't already considered the best actress on the planet, this should give her the title.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/26/07

Good Will Hunting, Ten Years Later

Sweet Mother, time flies.  It's been 10 years since Good Will Hunting was in theaters?  Any time it plays on cable, I usually watch.  And once I became interested in studying screenplays, I think this was one of the first scriptbooks I bought.  Unfortunately, this is mostly a photo gallery from the Boston Globe, not an article.  But we kind of know what's happened to everyone now, don't we?

Life's a Blur

You already know this, but the words "based on a true story" seem to be more of a "cover your ass" philosophy these days with biographical films.  After seeing both American Gangster and Mr. Untouchable, I'm wondering which is the truer story.  Maybe both of them are.  Or neither.  Maybe it shouldn't matter, either, unless you're watching a documentary.

10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking

I think of myself as a decent cook, though I'm always looking for ways to improve.  (And it seems impossible not to, with all of the food blogs, websites, and cookbooks that are readily available these days.)  Having said that, I think I've only done about three or four of the things on this list.  And there are a couple of things I can't imagine I will do.  But it's worth a read, especially if you were working over a hot stove last Thursday.

The death of e-mail

My first reaction to this article was "Aw, c'mon!"  I mean, the vast majority of us still traffic and communicate via e-mail, right?  It's ludicrous to say it's becoming obsolete.  But I also know that I send a lot more text messages and send out info via Twitter than I used to even six months ago.  Hmm...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Can We Do That Again? That's What She Said (Episode #34)

At the risk of ruining the "surprise" that Matt set up for the latest episode of That's What She Said, we're having ourselves a little reunion this week.  For what could be the season finale of The Office, Matt asked me if I'd like to come back and play podcast super-friends with him.  And with my nights and weekends currently baseball-free, that sounded like a fun idea.

Any episode that presumably centers upon the augmented, slightly demented Jan Levenson is something I can get behind (that's what he said), so "The Deposition" looked perfect for me.  Of course, this is Michael Scott's show, so his buffoonish naiveté got the spotlight.  Oh, well.

Episode #34 is available for your downloading and listening pleasure, either from the That's What She Said home page or via iTunes. If you liked or didn't like what you heard, please send Matt an e-mail, post a review at TWSS' iTunes page, or leave a comment at the show's blog page.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Attention, Comic Book Aficionados... !

I'd been pouting through most of last night and this morning because I missed The Simpsons last night, with comic book creators Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Daniel Clowes guest-starring.  But I didn't pout too much, knowing that the clips would likely end up on YouTube today.  Someone didn't disappoint me.

10 years ago, this sort of thing would've made my geek head explode.  Affirmation, baby!  Acceptance for comic books!  Now that comics are pretty much woven into the pop culture, however, it gives me more of a warm feeling.  It's even warmer with the show using three guys whose comics are challenging and provocative to adult audiences - the furthest thing from "kiddie books," even when handling mainstream icons like Superman.  Well played, Simpsons crew.

I only wish this had played before I saw Spiegelman speak at the University of Iowa three years ago, so I could've said "Maus in the house!" when he signed my book.  And a Clowes version of Batman - surely with an ill-fitting uniform - would be hilarious.

UPDATE:  Curses.  Foiled again.  What fun is posting YouTube videos if they're just going to be taken down 12 hours later?  This is totally harshing my blog mellow, man.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/16/07

Confronting the Fabled Monster, Not to Mention His Naked Mom

So who's interested in seeing Beowulf?  I'm definitely curious about the animation techniques used and am all for cinematic adaptations of ancient epic poetry.  (Okay, it really comes down to the naked animated Angelina Jolie - you got me.  And I can see that in IMAX 3D, right?)  Maybe it's just who I talk to, but I don't hear anyone eager to see this.  Is it going to be a huge flop?

Barry Bonds indicted on 4 perjury counts, obstruction of justice

This Barry Bonds indictment is sort of ho-hum news to me.  Maybe it's because I just don't care anymore.  And though I think Bonds comes off as a total asshole whose hubris might have finally brought him down, I'm not sure he should be singled out as baseball's steroid guy.  Anyway, the San Francisco Chronicle has been on this story for years, breaking the original story on Bonds' grand jury testimony, and they have all the need-to-know info on the indictment and where it leaves Bonds.

Shadows and Blog

With the continuing tension between blogs and conventional media (especially in regards to sportswriting), readers and peers have been waiting to see what Joe Posnanski thinks on the matter.  Not only is Posnanski a columnist for the Kansas City Star (and arguably the best sports columnist in the country), but he's also gotten into blogging over the past year, which is equally must-read material for sports fans.  Not only does Posnanski tout the virtues of both newspaper writing and blogging, but he also takes a position that is refreshingly candid.

(Tip o' the cap to Billfer)

Sexiest Man Living 2007

Matt Damon was People's choice for Sexiest Man Alive.  Despite (inexplicably!) not seeing The Bourne Ultimatum yet, I did watch Damon seduce Ellen Barkin in Ocean's 13, which provides sufficient evidence.  (Although Damon needed "The Gilroy" to get the job done...)  Anyway, has many more choices for their sexy men of the year.  My favorite choice: Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.

Beyond the Multiplex

Southland Tales is opening in Ann Arbor this weekend, almost sneaking into town.  (And is No Country for Old Men really not here yet? What the #@$%?!)  I don't even know what the hell the movie's about, but I want to see it.  To me, any film from the director of Donnie Darko should be seen as a major event, but that was more of a cult phenomenon than big hit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lions for Lambs: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

When I first saw the teaser trailer for Lions for Lambs, I was a little bit irritated because it didn't tell me much about the movie, other than Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, and Robert Redford were in it - with Cruise asking Streep if she wants to win the war on terror and Redford scolding someone with "Rome is burning, son!  And the problem is us, all of us, who do nothing!" - and the story probably had to do something with the war in Iraq.

It turns out, however, that the trailer (again, a teaser) captured almost everything this movie is about, which is basically a 90-minute lecture by Redford (though he didn't write the screenplay) directed at three sources: the government, for getting us into this predicament and appearing to be clueless as to how to get us out of it; the media, for brainlessly selling this war to the American people without asking tougher questions and challenging those in power; and young people - perhaps college students, more specifically - for being too cynical and apathetic to affect change in this country when they're in an ideal position to do so.  But the actors most certainly sell it, especially Redford as the antagonistic, yet nurturing professor that many of us were fortunate to learn from in college, along with Cruise in a role that's perfect for him, because his character is just a little too polished, but very opinionated, and arrogant enough to think he has all the answers.

Those who prefer to go to the movies to escape that sort of stuff or just don't prefer having a finger wagged at them will probably hate this thing (and judging from the critical consensus and last weekend's box office, that's the majority opinion), but if you really liked The West Wing, and enjoyed seeing characters trading intelligent, passionate ideas and opinions, engaged in serve-and-volley dialogue that makes you think about the world we're currently living in, you might just dig it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Hope the Poster's Not Better Than the Movie

With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the lead roles, I was already interested in seeing The Savages.  But the movie's poster might actually have me more excited about the film.  It's a Chris Ware original:

That is a thing of beauty, man.  It just has to be framed on a wall in my home.  I might have to see the movie by myself, however.  Team Casselberry caught a trailer with Dr. Lil' Sis was visiting over the summer, and the subject matter of two siblings caring for an ailing parent seemed to make everyone uncomfortable.  Maybe the poster would make us all feel better.

(via The Beat)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/11/07

Chalk the week off to my aching back?  It's feeling a lot better now, so let's make this here blog look current, shall we?

Why Norman Mailer Mattered

I can't go into a long eulogy or tribute to Norman Mailer, since I haven't read that much of his work (which touches on something I'd like to write about later in the week), but he's obviously an iconic literary figure, the type of which I don't think we'll ever see again.  Everything I've ever read about Mailer made him out to be a rock star within New York literati circles, in terms of his stature, machismo, and provocative behavior toward his peers and the culture at-large.  It's a cliche that I'm sure would turn Mailer's stomach, but his passing really does signify the end of an era.

TV Writers’ Strike Leaves Jilted Authors Looking for a Bully Pulpit

Most of the media coverage on the Writers Guild of America strike concerns how it will affect the television industry, with late-night talk shows going into immediate reruns and scripted programming only having a handful of episodes left to air.  But this is also affecting another group of writers: those who depend on shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to promote their books.

Industrial Strength in the Motor City

An exciting event for Detroit will be the re-opening of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which has been closed for renovations and expansion since the end of May.  Here's a profile on one of the artists whose work will be exhibited when the museum opens again for the public on November 23.  Julie Mehretu's architecturally-inspired paintings provide an interesting companion piece to the famous Diego Rivera mural.

Leroy “Nicky” Barnes: Godfather or Snitch?

Okay, I'm on kind of a Harlem gangster kick, having seen American Gangster and Mr. Untouchable in the past week.  (Four-sentence movie reviews soon to come.)  Nicky Barnes is a supporting character in Ridley Scott's film, yet depending on what else you see or read, he was the drug lord of 1970s New York City, not Frank Lucas.  This is an interview with the director and producers of the documentary of a new documentary about Barnes.

Little-Bang Theory of Violence: It All Begins With a Toy Gun

I've written before about being the scourge of the townhouse complex I grew up in, running around shooting cap guns from behind fences and trees.  Honestly, I have no idea how I'd react to a little kid doing the same in my neighborhood.  But kids playing with guns obviously carries a far different meaning these days, and apparently, some parents aren't thrilled with a new accessory to the Nintendo Wii that looks a little too much like the real thing in their eyes.  Here's a history of toy guns and the controveries they've stoked.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Detroit: Sports Reporters vs. Sports Bloggers

[This was originally posted on my Detroit Tigers blog, Bless You Boys, but it touches on old media vs. new media arguments that aren't just restricted to sports, so I thought it might be appropriate to publish here, as well.]

And here I thought I was having plenty of fun yesterday, watching college football while zonked out on muscle relaxers for my frighteningly aching back.  While spending the day away from the computer, lying flat in the blissful state of a relatively flexible and painless lower back, it appears that a column written by the Detroit News' Chris McCosky had much the same effect on the Detroit sports blogosphere as tossing a molotov cocktail through the window of an unsuspecting home during family dinnertime.

This was brought to my attention by The Detroit Tigers Weblog's Billfer, so I'll begin by linking to his retort to McCosky's column.  I don't know if I'm quite as outraged as Bill, but it's definitely amusing that a prominent member of the local sports media apparently feels so threatened by bloggers that he deems it necessary to explain why his work should be considered more credible, going so far as to remind his readers that he actually went to school to learn his trade.

Journalism employs trained professionals.  We actually have to go to school for this stuff.  We take our jobs seriously.  There are rules and standards that we are beholden to.  There are ethics involved.  We actually talk to, in person, the people we write about.  If we rip somebody in an article, you best be sure most of us will confront that person the next day and take whatever medicine we need to take.

Just so you know where I'm coming from on this, I went to school to study journalism too, and have some experience working as a credentialed member of the media.  Some of that work included exchanging e-mails with Mr. McCosky for a Detroit Pistons season preview that I wrote for a magazine last year.  (And even back then, he railed against the sports talk radio/message board culture that was apparently making him chase stories he felt he shouldn't have to.)

Maybe that's made me more reverential toward the media than I should be.  I know beat writers, especially, put in long hours at the arena or ballpark pursuing the latest newsworthy information.  They also have to cull that material - most of which isn't usually very revelatory or compelling - into something readable while working on a tight deadline, which can be pretty stressful work.

However, a lot of "reporting" is also watching a game and recounting what happened for the next morning's paper.  They saw it, you saw it, and I saw it.  Would our accounts of the same event that we all just witness really differ that greatly?  Of course not.  The only difference is that the media can go down to the locker room directly after the game and ask Jim Leyland why he didn't take Jason Grilli out after he loaded the bases or ask Grilli why he threw four straight balls when there wasn't an open base.

But really, how often is the answer to that question really informative?  And how often is the person asking that question really going to challenge his or her subject when he knows he's getting a flat, meaningless response?  If Leyland dismisses a question with "It was the right call, and I'd make it every time," how often is a simple "Why?" the follow-up query?  How often does the mainstream media really take advantage of the access and opportunity that McCosky touts as the shiniest badge of honor for his profession?

I'm not saying it's easy.  To ask a sharp, probing question face to face, and risk an angry response that could affect everyone else trying to do his or her job in that clubhouse, can be a difficult situation to deal with.  I've had Dmitri Young, post-rehab, tell me to my face that he wasn't talking.  And I didn't push the issue because it wouldn't have mattered.  He didn't play in that particular game, and I was just looking for an easy interview to post on my magazine's website.  Maybe I should've pushed it, but I didn't want the fledgling magazine I was working for to lose its credential because of my grandstanding.

I don't think a beat writer for one of the city's two major metropolitan newspapers is going to have the same problem.  Would the Pistons really ban the Detroit News from the locker room or press row because one of the players got angry at its reporter?  I seriously doubt it.  Yet many writers act as if such a penalty could be incurred.

Go ahead and boast that you have to face a player or coach the day after bashing him in print.  But that same boast is also frequently used as a shield to justify not asking tougher questions in the first place.  ("Hey, I have to work with these people every day.  I'm not pissing them off to make my job miserable.")

I've probably spent far too long on that particular point, so let's move on.

With blogging and Web sites, it seems the hard work, standards, accountability, courage all of that is bypassed.  Who needs to study this stuff, or attend games, or conduct interviews when you can just sit in your basement and clack out whatever comes through your head, right?  If I rip somebody, or if I get something wrong, who cares?  Nobody will see me.

This is ridiculously reductive.  To McCosky, it "seems" the hard work is bypassed because he apparently didn't look at much to back up his unsubstantiated assertion.  Study what "stuff" exactly?  If Billfer devotes a post to hitters' spray charts or Lee Panas writes about runs created by position, did no amount of work go into that?  Did they just conjure that information out of thin air?  No, they looked far deeper into the game than any member of the mainstream baseball media.  And they did so because the information provided by those who are ostensibly the be-all, end-all authority on sports reporting doesn't tell enough of the story.

That brings up the ugly truth about the sports blogosphere that the mainstream media doesn't want to acknowledge.  They created us.

Fans are increasingly not getting what they want and need from the conventional outlets of newspaper, TV, or radio.  So we, as readers and fans, are either going to seek out the kind of information that's more in line with our thinking, that gives us another way of looking at the game, or just create that material ourselves.  Along the way, we might even find something that we hadn't previously considered, and that feeling of discovery is a refreshing bit of flavor among all the gruel we're consistently served these days.  And if many other fans weren't beginning to feel that way, McCosky wouldn't have felt it necessary to explain that his job is more important than our hobby.

Furthermore, if we "get something wrong," we're most certainly held accountable.  Not only by our readers, but by other bloggers.  It's why there's a comment section at the end of every post, so that readers can offer up an immediate response to something they agree or disagree with, a luxury conventional media hasn't offered them until relatively recently - likely in an attempt to keep pace with new media.  Maybe that's another reason McCosky's so miffed at bloggers.  Maybe his editors are suddenly asking him to keep up with an outlet that's providing a much quicker fix than the next morning's newspaper.

I want my writing to be taken seriously, so if I write that I believe Brad Wilkerson should be the Detroit Tigers' left fielder next season, I'm going to do everything I can to support that belief.  Otherwise, why should anyone bother to read any of my material?  Nothing's more humbling (and embarrassing) than being called out by a reader who can collapse your argument with a simple breath.  No one understands how precious one's time is than those who invested their own into something almost purely out of love and interest.  Those who don't take their work that seriously won't be getting much more of anyone's time.  We don't receive the benefit of the doubt that many attribute to anything that's in print.

But while we're talking about what's in print, let's address another McCosky assertion:

Bloggers are having a field day speculating on how Joel Zumaya really injured his shoulder.  Nobody believes a heavy box fell on him.  So the Internet is rife with stories about how he fell off his dirt bike.

There is not a single Detroit Tigers blog that posted this rumor about Joel Zumaya injuring his shoulder while dirt-biking.  And if I'm wrong about that, McCosky didn't bother to point me to where I'd find this theory.  As far as I can tell, the closest anyone came to that was me addressing that conspiracy theories were being floated out there and linking to a couple of places where such rumors could be found.  I also said that such conjecture was irrelevant.  And do you know what opened the door to such a subject being approached in the first place?  An article by McCosky's colleague at the Detroit News, Lynn Henning:

The details of Zumaya's mishap, and the long lapse between the incident and Thursday's disclosure, raised at least as many questions as were answered.

That was in print.  In a newspaper.  Speculation.  By a professional journalist.  And message boards and commenters ran off from there.  No blogger created that.  Yet apparently, we're all swimming in the same cesspool that McCosky used to soak the brush he's painting the Detroit sports blogosphere with.  This is exactly the type of irresponsible conduct he's charging sports bloggers with carrying out.  And it didn't even happen.  How's that for accountability?

Finally, McCosky proves just how original his thinking really is with the same old, tired shot that all those who find themselves threatened by new media love to take:

But you do have to know most reporters at legitimate news sources work hard to deliver fair, accurate and pertinent information.

And what they do is vastly different than what the clever dude in his pajamas is doing on his computer, down in his basement.

This is right up there with saying that Detroit sports fans still light cars on fire when they're celebrating a championship, the old stand-by writers from other cities pull out whenever their teams are playing one of ours.  It's a throwaway comment that's actually easy, thoughtless hackery.  Should I now make a crack about freeloading sportswriters gorging on complimentary food in the media lounge?  (And the food provided on McCosky's beat at the Palace of Auburn Hills is pretty good.)

I'm also offended because I'm typing this in my home office (which happens to be on an upper level of my house) while wearing a sweatshirt and jeans.  That's pretty much the same thing your sportswriting colleagues wear, based on my personal experience.  The pajamas went in the hamper before I took a shower this morning.  Get your facts straight like they taught you in school, McCosky.  Well... at least he called us "clever."  Maybe that's what McCosky was trying to be here, and this was just some poorly executed attempt at satire.

It's baffling to me how writers like Chris McCosky get so defensive about this stuff.  Ask most sports fans where they get their news, or how they caught up on last night's game.  A majority of them will still probably say the newspaper.  And if they do read sports blogs, they still know who was on the scene to report on events as they occurred.  They hear who's called an "insider" on the radio each week.  They see who ESPN puts on the air as "experts."

So why feel so threatened?  Why act like old man Tom Smykowski in Office Space, having to explain his job to that consultant, Bob Slydell, so he doesn't get laid off?  ("Can't you understand that?  What the hell is wrong with you people?")  Is it because he sees his job changing, and doesn't like it?  Is he having to chase rumors or write website material that you previously didn't have to?  Are bloggers suddenly getting more credit than he thinks they should?  (And if that's the case, let me know where that credit's being handed out, because I think a lot of us would love some of that.)

Maybe that's something he can address in print, after talking to some of the bloggers he criticized.  You know, in person.  Or even via e-mail.  As an accountable professional journalist is supposed to, upholding the standards and ethics he or she was taught in school.  Or is it just easier to attack and move on?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/01/07

An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

This would've been more appropriate yesterday, but since back spasms had me laid out as flat as a coffin for most of the day, I couldn't get around to it.  (No, that didn't stop me from posting on my Detroit Tigers blog.  The painkillers were working then.  And they're working at this moment, along with heat pads.)

Anyway, is it true that Daylight Savings Time was moved back a week to sell more candy?  Apparently, the candy lobbyists are quite powerful.  Next, we'll be hearing how a candy bar a day will help regulate your cholesterol or whatever.

In short: 49855

My fellow Detroit Tigers blogger, Kurt Mensching, has a neat new gig blogging for his newspaper, the Mining Journal of Marquette, MI, and his first post went up on Tuesday.  I'm eager to see what he'll choose to write about.  (Yesterday, he profiled a local high school volleyball player.)  Anybody that references Richard Ford has to be pretty interesting.

Two Pigs

So are you a better, more morally upright carnivore if you know exactly where your meat is coming from?  If you helped raise the pig or cow that will yield the pork or meat you'll be eating for dinner?  Does that make you more in tune with nature or give you a healthier respect for the meat?  I don't know the answer to those questions, but some people feel that way.  I think buddying up to my swine would make me a vegetarian.

Vegans vs. Vegetarians: What kind of diet is best for the environment?

Speaking of vegetarians, would they be helping the environment if they pushed a little further and became vegans?  (So asks the meat-eater.)  It seems like a no-brainer, but as is often the case, the truth is a little more complicated.  For instance, certain types of land aren't suited to growing particular kinds of vegetables.

The Worst Football Coach in the Universe

Maybe the greatest fraud perpetrated on sports fans in the 2000s was the idea that Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis is some kind of genius football coach.  Weis should be sending checks to his old boss, Bill Belichick, and quarterback, Tom Brady, for creating the impression that he was some kind of strategic mastermind.  Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish are likely stuck with this guy after giving him a 10-year (!!!) contract extension last year.

Friday, October 26, 2007

May '30 Rock' Be On TV For 10 Years

Is it a coincidence or just a beautiful instance of serendipity that in the same week Alec Baldwin was on Inside the Actors Studio, he turned in this performance for the ages on last night's 30 Rock?

Oh, and Tracy Morgan's line - "Who's crazier, me or Ann Curry?" - is yet another gem.  The Tracy Jordan Line of the Week could be a blog in itself.

Gawker thinks Baldwin just won himself an Emmy.  Who's to argue?  But here's something to fight over: Was Baldwin better in that or in Glengarry Glen Ross?  ("Coffee is for closers only.")

UPDATE:  Damn, the video was taken down.  Should've figured that would happen.  So I guess we'll have to wait until the rerun to see the magic.  Good job, NBC.  Was this Jack Donaghy's idea?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today's Reading - 10/25/07

Bruckheimer and 'Pirates' Writers Eye 'The Lone Ranger'

To quote Mars Blackmon, "Please, baby, baby, baby.  Please."  A Lone Ranger movie is so damn overdue.  My friends are tired of hearing me say it (along with saying "I should write a Lone Ranger screenplay").  Westerns are trendy again.  Superheroes are hot.  Bring on the Western superhero, Kemo Sabe!  

(via The Movie Blog)

Indie films could use a little 'Sunshine'

Are independent films suffering because too many of them are being released in theaters?  Even movies with big names like George Clooney (Michael Clayton) and Brad Pitt (The Assassination of Jesse James) are drawing squadoosh (totally an industry term) at the box office.  In Ian's world, no one's going to see independent films because far fewer of them make it out this way these days.  But maybe that's because the market is over-saturated.

Mario Unclogged: How to Sauce Pasta

According to Mario Batali, we put too much sauce on our pasta.  "It should be noodles, with a little stuff."  Guilty as charged.  (That is, if I were eating pasta nowadays, which I'm not.  I am currently hating life.)

Farewell to Arms

This article is more than a week old now, and probably has the faint whiff of "Pervy Old Man" to it, but Stephen Hunter's lament for all the (female) flesh that will now be covered due to the chillier fall weather is a beautifully written ode to... flesh.

Scranton Embraces the ‘Office’ Infamy

Next week is the first annual The Office Convention in Scranton, PA.  And my former podcast partner, Matt Sommer, will be in attendance with press pass in hand (as he should be).  The whole thing seemed to come together pretty late, but sounds like it'll be fun for all involved.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford: A Four-Sentence Movie Review By the Windbag Ian Casselberry

Whenever I hear that a movie is featuring Jesse James, I'm reminded of the dozens of times I watched The Long Riders on whatever movie channel we had once we got cable, how glorious the gunplay and sex (and Caine as a cowboy!) was to my grade-school self, and how that movie (along with the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone flicks) surely must have influenced my current affection for Westerns.  Unfortunately, The Long Riders was a long time ago, and to the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a portrayal of Jesse James (and that includes the one with Colin Farrell and the chick from Heroes) that's come anywhere near a movie that made me run around our townhouse complex with my friends, shooting die-cast metal six-shooters (cap guns were the shiznit, I reckon), and constantly getting me in trouble with neighbors - and thus the manager of our complex.

Going into this version of the James story, I knew that it was going to be slowly and deliberately paced, with plenty of long, lingering shots of wheat stalks swaying in the wind and clouds moving along the sky, along with the added tedium of characters contemplating... whatever the hell the voiceover narration (blurgh) told us they were contemplating, but was also confident that the presence of Sam Shepard (for any Western to be good, it must have Shepard, Sam Elliott, or Robert Duvall in the cast), as well as the assassination referenced in the title meant that the movie wouldn't be missing too many key ingredients.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like the fable-like tone of the movie - including the camera's loving adoration of Brad Pitt simulating the culture's fascination with the outlaw, and everyone in James' company shivering with fear and suspicion, reminding us that this "hero" was a thief and a killer - is actually perfect, better suited to deal with a legend and whatever tales might come with that, rather than attempt a closely historical account that could demystify any memories - from movies, storybook, or otherwise - that some of us might still enjoy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shouldn't 'B.Y.O.B' Also Mean 'D.Y.O.B'?

It's been a long time since I've posted something from Gene Weingarten's Tuesday chat ("Chatological Humor") at (mostly because I'd gotten out of the habit of reading it myself), but sometimes, readers bring up a dilemma or observation that seems worth putting to the (decidedly smaller) readership that takes the time to stop by here each day. But here's something from this week's chat that I'd love to see other people weigh in on:

Wuntuma, N.Y.: Etiquette question: A couple (the husband is a co-worker, known for three years) is invited over to watch a football game.  He brings a six-pack of lower-tier canned beer.  Said friend puts his six-pack in the fridge, and then says, "Ooh, you have Guinness, mind if I have one to start?"  His wife then says, "That sounds good, could you grab me one too?"  There are four Guinness in total.  The husband, in response to his wife, says, "Honey, ask (host) if it's alright with him."

Relevant data: 1. Guinness was purchased by host for the host, and was sort of "hidden" in the fridge behind a gallon of milk.  2. The beer that was brought was, in the host's mind, undrinkable.  3. A twelve-pack of decent bottles was purchased by the host and in the fridge as "guest beer."  4. This was maybe the sixth or seventh time convening with these friends outside of work.

What is the acceptable course of action at this point?

Gene Weingarten: It depends.  How much did the Guinness cost, and did you have the receipt?  How much did your guests spend in gas or whatever to arrive at your house, and did they dress up especially for this occasion, incurring dry cleaning costs?

Dude -- get a life.  This was the pettiest question ever received on this chat.

Well, I must also be petty, because that would've ticked me off, too.  And I'm surprised Weingarten - who's usually more than willing to poke fun at any perceived social faux pas - react the way he did.  I mean, yes - you invited people over, they're your guests, help yourselves, etc.  But if you brought over shitty beer, shouldn't you be drinking it?  Does "upgrading" to the better beer in the fridge - especially if the gathering is more of a get-together - strike else anyone as tacky?

Or maybe this is why I live a life of seclusion and grind my teeth.  Is this a "Lighten up, Frances" situation?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tonight's Reading - 10/14/07

How to Calculate Musical Sellouts

This strikes me as an article that's a bit too late.  Really?  You just noticed that a lot of artists are allowing advertisers to use their music?  What's baffling is that the writer completely neglects to mention the role radio has played in giving bands no other option for their music to be heard.  It's not about "selling out."  It's about selling - period.  Let Volkswagen use a song, because it's sure as hell not going to be played on the radio.

Wrong for Each Other, Right for the Show

When I recently told a friend that Jan Levenson had become my favorite character on The Office, she suggested that the character's recent "enhancements" greatly influenced my opinion.  Well, sort of.  It's that she made such an effort to win back a dolt like Michael Scott.  I'd already enjoyed Melora Hardin's portrayal of Jan in past seasons because she reminded me of people I worked with and for.  Yet she's also become believably unhinged and somewhat endearing because of it, and I find myself enjoying The Office a lot more when she's in an episode.

Redemption Hunting

If you've seen ads for Gone Baby Gone, have you noticed that the director of the film isn't mentioned?  Maybe that's often the case, or maybe Miramax doesn't want to risk anyone making a face when "Directed by Ben Affleck" is shown on the screen.  But a film should also be judged on its own merits, not on whether or not a guy was overexposed in tabloid culture.  And if this movie is as good as critics say it is, maybe Affleck will have re-invented himself.

Scientists Explain Chocolate Cravings

So get this: the type of bacteria living in your digestive system might determine whether or not you have cravings for chocolate.  This might hold true for other foods, too.  When those scientists find that pizza-craving bacteria, they will truly have blinded me with science.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pushing Daisies: A Four-Sentence TV Review

Maybe it makes me feel like a smarter pop culture consumer, or maybe I just yearn for something different among much of the like-minded entertainment we're served these days, but I tend to have a soft spot for movies and TV shows (and books, even) that are near-impossible to sum up in one sentence, and Pushing Daisies most certainly fits in that category.

Okay, it's the show about the guy who can bring people back from the dead with one touch and happens to use that talent to solve murders on the side, which helps supplement his pie shop, but that's kind of a run-on sentence, and if you've been reading these Four Sentence Reviews for a while, you know I don't often favor such comma-filled, punctuation-exploiting, word-bloated rambles.

I'm not sure there's ever been a television show so infused with whimsy, romance, and pathos, featuring an utterly charming lead character who's encountered so much tragedy in his life that it compels him to shut himself off from many of the emotional comforts we all crave, and whose supernatural talent pays the bills, but also happens to keep him from experiencing the only true happiness he's ever really wanted.  Not everyone will like Pushing Daisies (I can think of some friends who might not care for it), and its quirky, goofy, sweet, surrealist tone (which is very reminiscent of the movie Amelie, if you saw that) will either be loved or hated by viewers, but if the rest of the series lives up to the pilot episode that premiered last Wednesday, this is a show that deserves to be appreciated for daring to be different and challenging the limits of programming that television can give us.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Today's Reading - 10/04/07

Curbside, We'll Never Have Paris

During the summer, I found myself wondering several times what the big deal was about eating outside, on the sidewalk.  And it drew some crooked looks from friends.  So this article by Frank Bruni seems exceptionally well-timed to me.  I don't get it, man.  We're not in Europe, okay?  I don't get the appeal of eating with cars blowing fumes into your face, with pedestrians leaning over barriers to see what you're eating, with insects landing onto your food, and most of all, while you're sweating your ass off in the humidity of July and August.  Yes, I was indoors all day, but if I want to go outside, I'll take a walk.

On the other hand, all those people eating on the sidewalk does make a city seem more alive during the summer.  I just don't want to join them.

(By the way, this isn't to be confused with drinking outdoors on a summer night.  That's different.  You're not eating; you're people watching.  You're kicking back with a beer or cocktail.  The sun's down.  It's more relaxing than standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded bar.)

A Cult Classic Restored, Again

Is it hypocritical of me to roll my eyes whenever I hear about George Lucas or Steven Spielberg wanting to tweak or alter one of their old films, yet get kind of excited when Ridley Scott is doing the same thing to Blade Runner?  If there's something that Scott feels he didn't get right before, but can fix now, I guess I'm all for it.  However, there's one story change he apparently feels quite strongly about that I don't agree with.  But if that's something he originally wanted to include, who am I to tell him he's wrong?

'Blade Runner,' Take 3

Here's a different version of the story, from the Los Angeles Times, focusing more on the historical influence of Blade Runner and the process of getting it made, rather than the changes that have been made to the new cut.

Is the ‘Mom Job’ Really Necessary?

I'm not sure this is something I should have an opinion on, given that I'll never experience anything like this.  It seems like kind of a disturbing, superficial trend, though.  But if you're a mother reading this, I'd be very curious to hear what you think about the "Mommy Makeover."

The Night The TVs Go Out

If you still get your TV through an antenna, you might want to consider an upgrade.  You have a year-and-a-half.  After February 2009, you'll be analog in a digital world.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Delightfully Mean David Letterman

David Letterman interviewing Paris Hilton? Oh, that ought to be good...

"How'd you like being in jail?"

Classic. Two sentences of ice-breaking chit-chat ("Yeah - good for you..."), and then Letterman gets into the only thing anyone would want to know.

What a meanie. The best part is when Hilton tries to change the subject by saying she's moved on with her life and doesn't want to talk about jail anymore. Oh, you can see Letterman smell blood. ("This is where you and I are different, because all I want to talk about...") Sure, he asked you on to talk about your clothing line. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the girl. Almost.

(via Hollywood Elsewhere)