Friday, December 31, 2010


*The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, based on the 1983 novel by Ron Hansen, starring Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt, featuring a bazillion other crazy talented actors, scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and shot by the renowned Roger Deakins.

Three Up:

1.  The Cinematography--Movies ought to be a synergistic explosion of compelling characters saying interesting things in a beautiful-to-watch way.  This movie was beautiful.  I loved the vistas, I loved the coloring, I loved the costuming.  BONUS.  This is one of the few recent movies that realizes that movies are less about plot than they are about characters and visuals.  A certain director of increasingly bad movies could learn a lesson.

2.  The Acting--Casey Affleck, I think we all know, is an amazing actor.  Brad Pitt is surprisingly underrated, despite creating great characters in a lot of movies lately.  (Did you see him in Interview with the Vampire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith?)  Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Schneider support the leading duo like professional actors.  Mary-Louise Parker turns her 6 lines in 24 minutes into a brilliant study of the devoted wife of a larger-than-life man, and Zooey Deschanel turns her 6 lines in 2 minutes into a fascinating study of the supporting girl of a crumpled man.  There are too many brilliant actors doing too many brilliant things to list it all.  When you watch it, pay close attention to the scene when Jesse James comes over for dinner.  Brilliance on cellophane.

3. The Score--Long story short, I haven't enjoyed a score this much since Moon.

Three Down

1. The Running Time--First, a caveat.  This movie is terribly long at 160 minutes.  Second, an admission.  I cannot think of 2 minutes that could be cut without taking away from the movie.  Still, I can't see myself popping it in on a Tuesday night when there's nothing on TV.

2.  The Mumbling--Being from the quasi-South (Is Texas Southern?  Is Maryland?  I never know.), I can appreciate a good Southern accent.  Mumbling is part of it.  But interesting dialog is only interesting if it is understood.  I think I missed out on half of the great lines.

3.  The Long Title--I dread telling my friends at work, "Have you seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?  It's great!"  And, since I have a Texas mumbling drawl, they'll be all like "Wha--???" and I'll have to repeat it.  And I can't shorten it because I despise shortening titles.  Sigh.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stargazing in the Wee Hours of December 21, 2010

The moon in the sky is a peach
That dropped in and bounced out of the bleach.
I'd go if I could.
I hope that you would.
So let's gaze at the stars and let's dream.

We lay on our backs and we stare
Past the trees and the dust in the air
What's up with the moon?
It's orange, not blue.
It's the end of the world--I'm scared.

The moon hides behind its big brother
To get out of the glare of its mother
It'd rather be seen
In a faint orange gleam
Than to be drowned in her kisses and smother

A sign of the end of the times:
The moon is a fat copper dime.
So turn back to God
You ignorant sod
And don't be the one left behind.

I hope you enjoyed these weak rhymes,
That they feel on your lips like cheap wine.
Now, I know the truth--
So don't disabuse
By complaining I've wasted your time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Inverted Pyramid

According to Wikipedia:
The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists and other writers to illustrate the placing of the most important information first within a text. It is a common method for writing news stories and is widely taught to journalism students.
I guess nobody taught the AP staff covering the Baylor-Bethune-Cookman game that.  This little nugget of trivia is stuck down in the very last paragraph of Yahoo!'s version of the copy:
Baylor’s [school record] 12 wins in a row at the Ferrell Center isn’t even the longest active winning streak by a Big 12 men’s team in the building. Oklahoma has won 14 in a row there.
Come on.  How is that not lede material?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Philadelphia Heat


Cliff Lee has signed with the Phillies.  No Rangers, no Yankees, just Phillies.  That makes him (apparently) the second starter after Roy Halladay and before Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.  I don't want to say anything rude, but I hope that the Phillies flop and die.

I hope the Giants go 7-155 next year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: 4/5


Basically, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) accidentally lands a role in some movie, gets shipped out west to L.A., meets Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), learns how to be a P.I., and reunites with his first love (Michelle Monaghan).  Oh, Shane Black (Predator) writes and directs.


1.  The Characters - A post is brewing in my head about how characters are the real meat of any story, be it written, spoken, or shown.  The characters in a story are what brings people back to it years and years down the road.  Harry, Gay Perry, and Harmony are the kind of people I want to hang out with for a couple of hours.  (I don't know how long this movie was, sorta like losing track of time while hanging out with friends.)  I can't say much about the characters that will explain why I like them, but I'll try.  Harry is a lovable Every Man who walks the fine (in the movies) line between irrelevant brilliance and hopeless incompetence.  Gay Perry has the competence and confidence that makes you want to be his friend, as well as the social resistance that makes him irresistible (especially when he agrees to be your friend).  And Harmony has the brains, the body, and the face of the girl you hope you marry.  Why wouldn't you want to hang out with these people?

2.  The Opening Sequence - It reminded me of my favorite opening sequence of all time.

3.  The Depth - I am POSITIVE that there is more to this than one viewing can reveal.  For example, the title comes from an Italian movie poster which, translated, said simply, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang."  According to a famous reviewer, those four words are "perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies."  That is, we watch movies to imagine ourselves living a life full of sex and violence.  A lot of bad movies will use sex or violence (usually both) to pump up a dead scene or draw in crowds that wouldn't otherwise watch the movie.  I like to call that "gratuitous sex or violence (usually both)."  Ironically, almost all the sex and violence in this movie serves some purpose within the movie, beyond mere gratuity.  (The lone exception I can think of is itself an allusion to how Hollywood exploits young actresses, which, some say, is Shane Black's theme.)  So, all that to say, a movie promising sex and violence from the title card that limits itself to meaningful sex and violence?  There must be more here than meets the first viewing.

Three Down

1.  End Credits - First, this was quite possibly the most disappointing end credits I've ever seen.  Please note my use of the word "disappointing" rather than bad.  The end credits were fine, but even bad movies usually get that part right.  Happy (bad) movies end with happy music; sappy (bad) movies end with some sappy song.  You want triumphant or introspective or celebratory music that resounds with the ending of the movie, not some random, disconnected song.  Maybe these end credits can be explained by 3-Up, but this fan-of-end-credits-music was not happy.

2.  The Plot - I know it's a parody, but I would have liked a little more sense.  At least, something a little clearer about what the plot was supposed to be.  I will admit, though, that using the telegraphed "hint" about the two deaths being connected (as in, a double murder) as a red herring was alright.  After a week's thinking, I'll also admit that the plot falls clearly within 3-Up as well.

3.  The Finger - I am really confused about (a) how a slamming apartment door could cut a finger off so cleanly and (b) how exactly he lost his right ring finger.  I can't figure it out.  Is Shane Black making fun of me?  Try it and let me know what happens.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Do the Paul Morphy

The joy in a battle of chess
Is fighting your damnable best.
But I like to win
Again and again:
Losing's a pain in the neck.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


They tell me that one death is fine
As long as at least two survive.
But what if my two
Go blow up a nuke?
Equations go weak late at night.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To a Confused Friend

The girl is a keeper, I say,
Agreeable most of the way.
But if she turns mean,
Remember she's been
Wearing those heels every day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Game 1 of the Most Exciting World Series Ever

So that didn't quite go according to plan.  For the Rangers: Cliff Lee gave up 7 runs (6 earned) got chased in the 5th and suffered his first postseason loss ever; Vladimir Guerrero had trouble in right field; Michael Young and Josh Hamilton combined to go 0-for-8; Young and Elvis Andrus bobbled plays they normally make.  For the Giants: Tim Lincecum gave up 4 runs and got chased in the 6th; the Giants' bullpen gave up 3 runs (all with Brian Wilson on the mound).  The stat book: 10 doubles in the game (4 by the Rangers, 6 by the Giants).

Three Up

1.  The Rangers' lineup - Numbers 2 through 5 in the lineup (Young, Hamilton, Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz) combined for an awful 2-for-17, but the Rangers still scored 7 runs?  Clearly, this lineup knows how to hit.  (Bonus points to Elvis: his leadoff single extended his start-of-his-postseason-career hitting streak to 12 games.)

2.  The Rangers' resilience - (a) Down 8-2 against Lincecum with 2 outs in the 6th, the Rangers refused to give up.  Ian Kinsler walked; Bengie "The Vacuum" Molina doubled him in (8-3); Mitch Moreland singled off Lincecum's leg to put runners on the corners; and David Murphy singled to right, scoring Molina (8-4) and chasing Lincecum.  (b) Down 11-4 against the Giants' reputedly lights-out bullpen in the 9th, Julio Borbon led off with a single.  Elvis Andrus walked.  Josh Hamilton drew a walk after Michael Young's flyout.  Hamilton's walk loaded the bases with only 1 out for Vlad.  The Giants brought in their version of Mariano Rivera.  (Brian Wilson entered the game with 12 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched, having given up only 1 run on 4 hits this October.)  Wilson's third pitch to Vlad went deep into right, scoring Borbon from third.  Two pitches later, Nelson Cruz dropped one near the wall for a 2-run double.  Faint praise indeed: "Wilson got the Giants out of a bases-loaded, 1-out jam and limited the Rangers to only 3 runs."  No, the runs won't be held against him, but he is clearly not invincible.

3.  The Rangers' bullpen - Take out Mark Lowe (who made his postseason debut), and the Rangers' bullpen gave up only 1 run on 3 hits with 0 walks and 5 strikeouts in 2-2/3 innings.  (That one run came off the bullpen's third pitch, the one Juan Uribe deposited in the left field stands.)  Alexi Ogando got his 6 outs from Freddy Sanchez, Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, and Juan Uribe (a/k/a, the heart and soul of the Giants' lineup).  In other words, take away Cliff Lee's unrecognizable 5th inning, and the Rangers win 7-5.  (Of course, take away Tim Lincecum's unrecognizable 1st, 2d, and 6th, and the Rangers lose 5-3.)  After the first batter went deep on this young bullpen, you probably thought they would fold.  They didn't.

Three Down

1.  The Rangers lost.

2.  Cliff Lee proved himself human.

3.  All the professional writers will make this sound like a blowout.  Anybody who watched it and cares enough to think their own thoughts will realize it was just a sloppy game on both sides.  Both teams proved themselves vincible.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Rangers Win the Pennant

"No more words." - Javert, Les Miserables.

When Neftali Feliz's slider slid past Alex Rodriguez to make the Rangers the 2010 American League Champions, I had no words.

I remember the day I "became" a Rangers fan.  I was walking around, thinking really hard about which team was my favorite baseball team.  I kept going back and forth between the Rangers, the Athletics, the Blue Jays, and the Mets.  The Rangers were the home team; the A's had Rickey Henderson; the Jays were the best team in baseball; and the Mets were just plain exciting (little did I know that they frequently engage in buying up established stars who promptly forget how to play).  I thought to myself, "I always come back to the Rangers."  Then they traded for Jose Canseco, Kevin Brown won 21 games, and "they" became "we."

That was 1992.  This is 2010.  Eighteen years in the making, I am finally rooting for the American League champions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Game 5

Dear Rangers fans, both fair-weather and die-hard,

Fear not.  Tonight's loss was expected.  The Yankees are great because (a) they have more money than God, (b) they play in a weak division, and (c) they understand that baseball is about endurance, and they endure.  They won Game 5.  They will lose Game 6 or Game 7.  CC Sabathia is an excellent pitcher.  Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte are not (any more).

Dear Yankees fans, mostly fair-weather since you don't know what a rain storm looks like,

Be afraid.  Tonight's win was expected.  CC needed to avenge himself.  He has.  Sorta.  Now you rest your hopes on Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte.  I wish you luck, only not really.  You need to know what a rainstorm feels like.  Losing in the ALCS won't teach you that, but it's a start.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trust the Hitch

Alfred Hitchcock said:
The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.
 He was looking at you, James Cameron.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Psycho: 4 or 5/5


Psycho is probably my favorite Hitchcock.  I've read that he directed it in the aftermath of North by Northwest (not my favorite Hitchcock) and wanted to do something cheap and fun.  He secured an itty bitty budget, borrowed a production crew from his TV show, and headed out to Arizona (maybe it was California).  Next thing you know, we have one of the best horror films ever made.

Three Up

1.  Starting small, there's a great scene with Arbogast that is full of Hitchcock's dry wit.  Arbogast is visiting the Bates Hotel for the second time.  You'll remember that, during the first visit, Arbogast had really pushed Norman's buttons.  This time, he bypasses Norman and goes straight for the house.  He opens the door without knocking, but takes his hat off before entering.  Yes: Arbogast has enough manners to take his hat off inside, not enough to knock.

2.  Another piece of dry humor: The movie starts off with Marion stealing $40,000.  She can't make it all the way to Fairvale, so she takes a nap on the road side.  She sleeps all night and gets awakened by a cop.  He is pretty clearly (to us) trying to make sure she's OK, but she obviously thinks he knows about the money.  Later, after Norman kills her and Arbogast comes by, Norman thinks that Arbogast knows about the murder when Arbogast is really only investigating the missing money.  A little comment about how we're always a step behind real life, perhaps?

3.  I've always wondered how Psycho survives so well without any real protaganist.  First, we have Marion Crane, but she dies only halfway through.  Then, we sorta have Norman, but his major screen time doesn't last long.  Then, we get Arbogast, but he gets killed.  Next, we switch to Sam and Lila hunting down Arbogast, but in the last scene, they give way to the psychiatrist explaining Norman's condition.  And in the final scene, Mrs. Bates takes the stage and chills us to the bone with that look of hers.  This parade of 6 characters--or, shall we say, "personalities"--shuffle onto the stage and fight for control of the movie.  Sorta like how Norman and Mrs. Bates fought for control of his psyche, eh?

I don't have three down.  That's how much I like this movie.  They say it's not his best, but I'm really having trouble finding something I don't like about it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A little too Byronic

Poetry is more than rhyming words. That's why I love these three lines by the master of Byronic poetry
This is the patent age of new inventionsFor killing bodies, and for saving souls,All propagated with the best intentions.
That stop?  That line break after "inventions"?  The expectation that builds up (and the next line ironically knocks down)--and the good sense to write it down--is why he will be remembered as long as people speak English and you and I probably won't be.

The Third Man: 3/5


The Third Man (1949) is my first exposure to Carol Reed and my second to the Joseph Cotten/Orson Welles duo.  Graham Greene wrote the screenplay (and simultaneously released novelette).  The basic premise is that Holly Martins (Cotten) reports to work in post-war Vienna only to find that his best friend and employer, Harry Lime (Welles), has been run over by a truck in front of his house.  But something is amiss in Vienna, and Holly, a penniless Western pulp writer, tries to play sleuth and figure it out.  Along the way, he kills his best friend and tries to steal his girl.  He fails, so he ends up penniless and friendless.  But he has the esteem of the British government, so that's nice.

Three Up

1.  The best part of the movie is its ending.  Holly lures Harry into a trap, helps chase him into the sewers, and eventually fires the shot that kills him.  After Harry's second funeral (a nice bookend), Holly and Major Calloway drive past Harry's girl Anna (Alida Valli) walking back to the city.  Holly gets out and waits for Anna.  He's ready to inherit Harry's girl, but she walks right past him without even a sideways glance.

Why is that so awesome?  Well, it suggests an answer to the film's central question: whether it is OK to kill one person so thousands may live.  Reed doesn't tell us.  Instead, he reminds us that, either way, there are consequences.  Society's anonymous and short-lived appreciation but the condemnation of your friends and loved ones, or the opposite.

And second, it suggests a difference between men and women, Americans and Eastern Europeans.  Men and Americans stereotypically view the world romantically, while women and Eastern Europeans stereotypically view the world pragmatically.  Anna doesn't embrace Holly as the hero who saved countless children's lives; she rejects him as the bastard who trapped and killed the love of her life.  And it is beautiful.

2.  The unusual soundtrack is great.  Anton Karas composed and performed the soundtrack on a zither, a native Austrian instrument.  Sometimes, the jangly upbeat music jars with the noirish atmosphere, but it belongs to the scene.  I also liked all the untranslated speaking in German.  Not only do we see weird visuals, but we hear unfamiliar sounds.  The cumulative effect is to help put us in Holly's shoes: we, too, are strangers in a strange land who (literally) don't know where to turn.

3.  Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) is a great, great character.  I know that Harry Lime is probably the most famous character from this movie (and even had his own radio show spin-off), but I preferred Major Calloway.  He personifies the romantic pragmatism of the British so perfectly.  Most movies that deal with the conflict of romanticism and pragmatism present one side as obviously right and the other as obviously wrong.  Without Howard's suave performance as the British major trying to make Vienna safe for children, this movie would fall into the same trap.

Three Down

1.  Meaningless name mix-ups.  Holly kept calling Calloway "Callahan."  Anna kept calling Holly "Harry."  And Holly kept pronouncing Dr. Winkel's name wrong (with an American W instead of an Austrian V).  As far as I can tell, these three don't do anything more than (a) show Holly's disregard for Calloway, (b) show that Anna still loves Harry, and (c) show Holly's stereotypical American ignorance.  Faux symbolism annoys me, but accidental symbolism is even worse.  Graham Greene and Carol Reed are professionals.  They should have known the value of names and done something with it.  They should have known that doing it three times makes me think it's worth something.

2.  Some people love the almost constant Dutch angle.  I don't.  I get the artistic choice, but I don't dig it.  That's all I got on that one.

3.  I realize this is a classic film noir, but there was a little too much noir for my taste.  I dig the deep blacks of film as much as anybody, but it annoys me when I can't figure out what's going on (not metaphysically; I mean I literally couldn't tell what was on my screen at some points).  Blame it on my TV, blame it on Netflix Instant Queue, blame it on the bossanova, but I don't like it.

Closing Statement

The Third Man is regarded as a film noir classic.  It's # 65 on IMDb and # 534 on FlickChart.  The AFI ranked Harry Lime # 37 in its list of the top 100 villains in cinema, the movie # 57 on its first list of top 100 movies, # 75 on its list of top 100 thrills, and the # 5 mystery in its 10 Top 10 list.  The BFI called it the greatest British film of all time (at least through 1999).  There are probably other accolades to recommend it; you don't need mine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fahrenheit 451: 3/5

François Truffaut is one of those guys who is more familiar to me because of a side project than for his main thing.  But I love Ray Bradbury's classic story, and I had heard that French cinema was interesting, so I thought I'd give it a try.  The results?  Not as good as I would have liked, but better than I expected.

Three Up

1.  Julie Christie was nominated for the BAFTA for best actress that year for her roles as both Linda Montag and Clarisse.*  The best way I can do justice to her performance is to point out that I had no idea she played both roles until after the movie was over.  In my mind, there is no single higher feat in acting than to portray two characters so independently that nobody can tell.  Plus, it makes me wonder what Truffaut was trying to tell us with that.

*Notably, she was nominated twice that year: for her role in Doctor Zhivago and her role in F-451.

2.  Maybe it's a French New Wave thing, maybe it's a Truffaut thing, maybe it's an homage-to-Hitchcock thing, but I really dug the longer cuts.  Sometimes I like to count off seconds between cuts while watching boring movies.  This movie wasn't boring, but I noticed that the cuts were unusually long, so I tried to count.  I lost count.  And I was awesome at seeking in hide-and-seek, so you know I can count pretty high.  But neatness isn't greatness.  The long cuts became great because they contributed to the story and broke down walls between the audience and the characters.  By keeping us in one place for so long (actually, we were moving around like somebody in the room), Truffaut tried to help us forget about the fourth wall.  It felt more like we were actually in the room observing the events first-hand rather than outside the room observing the events through a TV.

3.  Finally, I loved the deep irony about a movie that presented as dystopic a future where people only watch TV.  Granted, the TV was terrible (with terrible acting and terrible storylines).  So maybe Truffaut was trying to suggest that an appreciation for great books (like Bradbury's classic) leads to the making of great movies?

Three Down

1.  Although I liked Montag, he never broke through for me.  He never became more than a guy on a stage.  His passive response to Linda's betrayal left me cold.

2.  Although I generally liked the long takes, I don't get the point of the long takes of the fire trucks.  I mean, it seems like the fire company was driving way the heck away from the firehouse, but why was that important?  Was Truffaut fluffing?  What's going on with that?  The film is only 112 minutes long . . .

3.  I found the "video wall" disappointingly small.  This is supposed to be the future, and the illusion is supposed to actually convince us.  There's just something not convincing about a little bitty screen.  I know they had projection technology back then (as in, you know, movie theaters), so it's not a question of technology and effects.  It seems to me that Truffaut made a choice with which I disagree.  And I hate him for it.  No, actually, I hate him for the long takes with the fire trucks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts on Championships

I grew up rooting for the Rangers, and I’ve only recently developed an affection for the Orioles (definitely post-1983), so I’ve never known what it’s like to win a World Series.  But I also grew up rooting for the Dallas Cowboys (I played my first games of street football in the early 1990s), so I know what it’s like to win a Super Bowl.
Stephen King writes:
[W]inning the Super Bowl isn’t the same as winning the World Series.  Not even in the same universe as winning the World Series.
King wrote that in May of 2004.  The Red Sox were still five months away from winning their first World Series in a while, but the Patriots had just won their second Super Bowl in three years and were about to win their third in four.  He didn’t know what it was like to win the World Series, but he knew what it was like to win the Super Bowl.
So what do you think: jealousy?  Wanting what he can’t or hadn’t had?  
What do you think, part B: Which tastes sweeter to kiss, the Lombardi Trophyor the Commissioner’s Trophy?  Maybe the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

This is Birdland

The Beach Boys once sang about loyalty:
When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And say his school is great
I tell him right away
Now what's the matter buddy
Ain't you heard of my school?
It's number one in the state
I was one of 18,247 people who saw the Orioles beat the Red Sox fair and square on Tuesday night.  A brief visual survey suggested that perhaps 12,000 were Red Sox fans, 6,000 were Orioles fans, and at least one guy was a Twins fan.

Brian Matusz started the top of the 7th by walking J.D. Drew.  The Buckwalter Show visited the mound, and Jim Johnson jogged out to keep the Orioles' 3-2 lead safe.  A Jed Lowrie single and a Bill Hill sacrifice put runners on 2d and 3d for Daniel Nava (pinch hitting for Darnell McDonald).  After two pitches, Johnson was ahead in the count, 0-2.  Two of the next three pitches were balls (and one foul), so after five pitches, the count stood at 2-2.  With the go-ahead run in scoring position, we started to hear this mysterious chant:
Let's go, Red Sox
[clap, clap, clap clap clap]
Let's go, Red Sox
The chant began in one guy's lungs but was quickly taken up by the crowd, and the strength and volume of the chant made me fidget in my seat.  The guy behind me started yelling things like, "Let's go [Nava]!!"*  And most of the crowd agreed.  If you've ever attended an Orioles-Red Sox game at Fenway Park Camden Yards, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  You start looking around for the Green Monster.

*He actually yelled, "Let's go, J.D.!!" about eighteen times before somebody corrected him about who was batting.  I kinda thought I was at a Lakers game in the Staples Center for a second.  (Since that guy was probably a Celtics fan, did I just compare a Celtics fan to a Lakers fan?  I think I did.)

So I did what any self-respecting Orioles fan should do in that situation.  I stood up, I clapped, I whooped, I yelled encouragements to Jim Johnson.  I made people behind me start calling out "Down in front!"

Wait a minute.  You want to come into my house, wear your nasty dark blue and red (and green), chant your chants, and sing your songs?  Fine.  But now you want me to take it sitting down?

Don't tread on me.

I turned around:
Me: "Hey---you're in Baltimore.  You wanna support your team, you can stand up, too."
Red Sox fan: "Well, do you wanna be a jerk about it?"
I guess that depends.  Do you want to be a jerk about coming into my house, wearing your nasty colors, and chanting your stupid chants?  Then, yeah, I want to be a jerk about coming into my own house, wearing my own colors, and chanting my own stupid chants.  Yes, I will be a jerk.  It's called "loyalty."  I think you're familiar with it.  It's the kind of thing that makes you drive 400 miles to see your home team.

So, Orioles fans, listen.  I know the glory days are all in the past.  I know that you may not be the biggest fan of the current ownership.  I know that you hate paying money to see your team lose.  But you should hate even more that Red Sox fans feel welcome to come into our house, wear their colors, and chant their chants.  You should hate even more that they chant and cheer and jeer louder than we do.  You should hate even more that they're starting to think of this as their house, their home away from home, where they can give you dirty looks and tell you to sit down because you're making too much noise for the other team.

You should hate even more that "Let's go O's" gets smothered by "Let's go Red Sox" every f'n time.

So, Orioles fans, there are 15 home games left, including two against the Red Sox and three against the Yankees.  Show up in droves.  Wear our colors.  Chant our chants.  Give Camden Yards its name back.

This, mis amigos, is Birdland.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

V for Vendetta: 4/5

There be spoilers here.

The fifth year of the new millennium was a good year for movies: three great comedies (40-Year-Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, Fun with Dick and Jane); a great epic (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire); a great coming-of-age tale (Elizabethtown); one of my favorite movies (Match Point); and what may be the best adaptation of a comic book I've seen: V for Vendetta.

James McTeigue stepped up from the associate director's chair to direct this relatively concise telling of a sprawling tale about the last man on earth (V, played masterfully by Hugo Weaving) finding a suitable helpmate (Evey, played charmingly by Natalie Portman) with whom he can resuscitate civilization from the cultural death throes of 1984-style dystopia.  The Wachowskis wrote and produced it, so you might think it would be Matrix redux, but it's not.  It's better.

Three Up

1.  First off, this is one of the best pragmatic adaptations I've ever seen.  The Wachowskis take a long and complex story, written over the course of a decade, featuring dozens of characters---many based on contemporary (then-relevant, now-unfamiliar) personalities---and squeeze it into 127 minutes.  How do they do it?  They know what to keep and what to chuck, and what to shift into something that works better on film.  Maybe the best example: V's alliterative introduction.  It's not in the novel, but it uses one of film's defining differences from sequential art (i.e., sound) to introduce us to V's passion for the art of the moment.

2.  If I had really thought about who ought to play V, I would have a hard time coming up with someone better than Hugo Weaving.  You need someone with the flare of Johnny Depp, the menace of Al Pacino, and the ability to play from behind a mask.  Hugo Weaving---whom you may recall as Agent Smith---uses body language and subtle intonation to turn a lifeless mask into something expressive and sympathetic.  Put more simply, Weaving played V like I imagined.

3.  Like 1984, V for Vendetta has aged remarkably well.  Contemporary critics complained about the use of black hoods and words like "rendition"---they thought it smacked too loudly of political commentary and would age more quickly than organic bread. Watching the movie from half-a-decade out, however, those references slipped right past me.  I didn't think, "Wow, this movie is about Bush!"  I thought, "Wow, this movie is about how art keeps us free and censorship kills us."  It worked for 1984, and it (so far) works for V for Vendetta.

Three Down

1.  I must admit, first, that I missed some of the ambiguity surrounding the character V.  In the novel, you didn't even know V's gender.  By the end of the twelfth issue, you thought s/he might be some random concentration camp survivor, or maybe Valerie (who wrote the letter on the toilet paper), or maybe even Evey's dad/mom/brother.  I think Moore and Lloyd intentionally kept it ambiguous, and I dig it.  Obviously, with a movie, you can't do that.  We can hear V talk, so we know instinctively his or her gender.  That eliminates half the ambiguity right there, and I missed it.  (Even so, I have to admit that the Wachowskis did an excellent job making up for it.  See 1- and 2-up.)

2.  One problem I have with a lot of movies is that, when the story's over, it's over.  The war has been won and the future is secure.  The Wachowskis slipped into the same rut.  You remember: the masses converge in a (deliciously ironic) display of mass individualism and tear off their masks to reclaim their individual individualism, Big Brother dies, along with his Dragon, and a new day dawns on Mother England.  But what if . . . V dies and Evey takes on his mantle, carrying forth the battle for freedom, beauty, truth, and love; Big Brother A is dead, but Big Brother B steps up to fight the fight for safety through conformity like nothing happened, and the war rages on?  I find that ending more interesting.  (Even so, I love the irony of the mass individualism.)

3.  I'm having trouble coming up with a third down.  The Missus didn't care for it (she fell asleep, an unmistakable sign of distaste), so that means I likely won't get to watch it again for some time.  But if your complaint is that you can't watch it again as soon as you want, maybe that's really an up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Black cat

I recently downloaded a doodling app for my iPod Touch and drew my cat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Synecdoche, New York: 5/5


The first time I watched Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, I just watched it.  I tried to follow the events and purposely let the metaphors and symbols slip right past my eyes and into my subconscious.  When the ending came, I was floored.  I didn't know why, but I was floored.

The second time I watched Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, I knew what I was looking for.  Subtle hints of time passing (something like 6 months in the first 10 minutes), covert suggestions about who was who (Sammy shows up a lot sooner than you think), dialog that makes clear we are living in Caden's memory (or are we?).  Still, I got sucked into the story and the characters and their relationships.  The metaphors and symbols slipped right past my eyes and into my subconscious.  When the ending came, I was floored.  I knew a little better why, but I was still floored.

What is SNY about?  I really don't know.  I know that we follow Caden's life from the moment it really begins for him until the day he dies.  But what is his life about?  Why are we following this particular character?  Maybe this is just a giant exercise in Rashomon-like memory play.  Maybe this is a direct assault on the tendency of modern American movies to have their plots play out over two or three days.  Maybe Kaufman is trying to show us that the real poetry in life stretches out over decades.

Maybe that's why I was floored both times I watched SNY.  Here is a movie that takes on the grand scheme of things and wrings out the poetic poignancy of life.  A director who can put on a brilliant play in the theater but can't put on a decent show at home.  The same director thinks that every ailment is life-threatening but survives every one---for thirty or forty years, no less.  He doesn't die from some sickness or his inability to salivate or whatever holocaust is wreaking havoc on the outside world; he dies because he acquiesced to someone else's control.

Maybe, in the end, that's the key to unlocking SNY.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Fly: 3/5


David Cronenberg directed the 1986 sci-fi horror The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.  It's a re-make of the 1958 Vincent Price thriller, but my understanding is that it only keeps the rudiments of the 1958 plot.  Basic story: Seth Brundle (JG) is a scientist trying to solve the problems of motion sickness once and for all by mastering teleportation.  He invites a reporter, Veronica Quaife* (GD) back to his warehouse apartment for a demonstration.  They fall in love.  One night, she leaves to break things off with her ex-boyfriend, and Brundle gets all nervous and insecure.  He drinks a bit too much and tries to teleport himself.  He succeeds, but (because he was drinking?) a fly came along for the ride, and the result is Brundlefly.  The story then revolves around everybody coming to terms with Brundlefly.

*Weirdest last name I've heard in quite some time.

Three Up

1.  Jeff Goldblum's acting is brilliant.  It's not so difficult to portray a static character; it's not much more difficult to portray a character who experiences some instantaneous cathartic change; it is very difficult to portray a character who changes incrementally. Jeff Goldblum pulls it off.

2.  Subtlety.  In a movie known for being disgusting, maybe you don't think it's very subtle.  But you're wrong.  Take, for example, when Seth Brundle asks Veronica Quaife for something personal to prove that his teleporter pods can work.  She demurely reaches up her skirt, unsnaps her stocking, and pulls it down.  Cronenberg could have gone all fan-service on us, showing Geena Davis pull her skirt up to her waist, showing the audience her undies, and having her slowly, slowly pull the stocking off.  Instead, it's a subtle hint that this girl is more interesting than we at first thought.  Throughout the film, Cronenberg hits some things hard and other things very, very softly.

3.  There might be more to this than we thought.  Watching the film, I kept thinking that the whole thing was symbolic for something.  Technology gone too far?  Maybe.  Man's desperate search for glory and immortality?  Perhaps.  The disastrous effects of trying to re-enter the womb?  Feels a little cozy.  As much as I did not enjoy physically watching the last half-hour, I can't stop thinking about what Cronenberg was trying to tell us.

Three Down

1.  This movie was stomach-churningly disgusting.  I normally have a strong stomach, but, especially during the last half-hour, I had to look away.  But kudos to Cronenberg for his unwavering commitment to showing the disgusting effects of seeking immortality (or trying to re-enter the womb).

2.  Veronica's pregnancy.  A 96-minute movie shouldn't need tacked-on unnecessary conflict.  Cronenberg could have done great things with that pregnancy (the grub nightmare is disturbingly great), but it felt less like "OMG?!" and more like "o. m. g."  I see why (theoretically) it's the catalyst that propels us through the final act, but it felt over the top to me.  Especially since it goes unresolved.  Too much, too late.

3.  Stathis Borans's descent into madness.  Weird coincidence or valuable insight into Cronenberg's mind: both men who fall in love with Veronica Quaife slowly go mad and suffer irreversible physical deformations.  If somebody can explain to me why this is neither simple misogynism nor junior high fear of commitment, this might be one of the more fascinatingly subtle parts of the movie.

Verdict: I recommend it, if only because it's a classic of science-fiction cinema.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Watchmen: 3/5


The Watchmen, is Zack Snyder's (at least) third try to take a property with a cult fan base and make it into a movie.  You've read all the reviews about how he was damned because he did and damned because he didn't.  I won't bore you with that.  Instead: three up, three down.

Three Up

1.  Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach.  Rorschach was my favorite character in the graphic novel, and he is most definitely my favorite character in the movie.  He is so true to his morals---even if he is a bit absolutist.  He is a black-and-white person lost in a world of greys; I love that his name is Rorschach.  And Jackie Earle Haley plays him almost exactly as I imagined him.  Finally: "You don't get it.  I'm not locked in here with you.  You're locked in here with me."

2.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.  All I can really say is that, in the book, I found The Comedian a bothersome character.  I didn't understand why anybody cared about why he was murdered.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan made me care why he was murdered.  (Though I still don't really get the plot.)

3.  The Opening Credits.  A great use of Bob Dylan.  A lot of people thought this was the best part of the movie.  I don't know that I'd go that far, but it's the first opening credits I've paid attention to in a long time.  (Now closing credits . . . )

Three Down

1.  Rorschach's Death.  I know Snyder was true to Moore's conception, but I didn't like Rorschach's death in the novel either.  My two cents: Dr. Manhattan should have let him walk off into the Antarctic wilderness.  There's no way all-too-human Rorschach is making it anywhere in his trench coat and purple pin stripe pants, but he'll go down fighting.

2.  Running time.  At two hours and forty-five minutes (give or take) this movie is w a y t o o l o n g.  Snyder should have broken it in two (or twelve?).  He is damned because he did . . . too much.

3.  The Ending.  I felt no catharsis.  The only guy I had been rooting for (Rorschach) gets obliterated like the human water balloon that he is, and then it's over.  All I felt like was that I had spent two hours and forty-five minutes (give or take) watching this w a y t o o l o n g movie drag its feet and shuffle and then my man Rorschach dies.  That's a big eff you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Out out brief Replicant

From Blade Runner:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
From Macbeth:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Can there be anything more tragically beautiful than Shakespearean nihilism?  Charlie Kaufman tries his hand at Shakespearean nihilism in Synecdoche, New York.  Go check it out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blade Runner: 2/5

My beef with Ridley Scott's Blade Runner:

1.  The Characters.  I did not connect to any single character.  Not Deckard, not Roy Batty, not Tyrell, not even Rachael.  Nor did I care for Roy Batty's arc.  "Look!  Even our genetically engineered pets aren't as horrible and destructive as we are!"  That kind of theme ranks right up there with "You know, communism works on paper" in terms of originality and freshness.  I don't even want to engage that line of thought.  To me, the characters are the most important part of the story, and they fail to do anything for me here.

2.  The Music.  The music in Blade Runner hasn't aged very well, imho.  The synthesizers instantly tell me the movie is stuck permanently in the 1980s.  I don't hold that against Scott (how could he have known how quickly synthesizers would go out of vogue?), but it really interfered with my suspension of disbelief.  Are you trying to tell me that in 2019, we have gone full circle and are back into synth pop?  Maybe we will be, but watching the movie in 2010, I couldn't help but realize I was watching a movie made in 1982.

3.  The Visuals.  I don't care for cyberpunk.  I know a lot of people love it, but it just isn't my cup of tea.  I can't say much more about that.

My tea with Ridley Scott's Blade Runner:

1.  It's right in the sweet spot at 117 minutes long.

2.  I appreciate the contemplation on morality throughout.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Less Is More

So today I'm reading about movies, as I tend to do a lot these days, and I stumble across this:
[Orson] Welles would have loved [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford], were it not for it being over his two hour maximum comfort zone[.]
It seems Mr. Welles and I have something in common (other than mastering deep focus cinematography and the low-angle shot).  As I (too) frequently tell The Missus, there is a spectrum to movie running times:

  • Less than 90 minutes: something terrible happened to cut the movie short (e.g., the creators didn't realize the idea wouldn't pan out until way too late in the process).  They feel like TV episodes run too long.  Classic example: The Ex (89 minutes).  When I see a less-than-90 running time, I expect holes and dissatisfaction.
  • 90 to 120 minutes: the sweet spot, especially in the 100-110 zone.  These movies are long enough to develop storylines and characters but still short enough to watch repeatedly.  Classic example: The Graduate (105 minutes).  When I see a 90-to-120 running time, I get excited about watching a director who understands less is more.
  • 120 to 150 minutes: you're pushing it.  Every minute past 120 better be important.  The creators are on the verge of author appeal.  But, if done right, those extra minutes don't feel extra.  Classic example: The Empire Strikes Back (124 minutes).  When I see a 120-to-150 running time, I check the director.  If it's Quentin Tarantino, OK.  Anybody else, I am pre-planning a bathroom break.
  • 150 minutes to infinity: 9 times out of 10, the director has gone too far.  The movie ceased being about communicating with the audience and started being about the director "expressing himself or herself"---only the audience doesn't know it.  By the time the movie ends, almost any kind of tacked on ending will seem amazing because the audience has put so much effort and time into watching it.  But when you sit back later and talk it out, the truth comes out.  (See, e.g., Stephen King's It.)  Classic example: Avatar.  When I see a 150-plus running time, I put it back on the shelf until I have an entire afternoon free.
Listen, directors, if it's too long for Orson Welles, it's too long for me.  Do like the Coen Brothers (average running time of 107.2 minutes, ranging from 94 (Raising Arizona) to 122 (No Country for Old Men---their only 2-hour-plus-er)), and not like James Cameron (average running time of 140.1 minutes, ranging from 94 (Piranha II---the only one less than a hundred and one of only two less than two hours) to 194 (Titanic)).  A friend of mine likes The Godfather.  I like The Godfather, too, but I refuse to watch it again.  I don't have that much free time.

Who really wants to sit still for 2 hours and 55 minutes?

Mirrors freak me out

Since it's mid-July and time to start ramping up the scary movies, I spent an hour and a half this weekend watching Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity.  And---I can't lie---I spent another hour and a half tossing in bed trying to escape my nightmare.  The movie slithered into my subconscious, exploited a random nightmare I had in fourth grade, and held me in its grip for about half a day (until I fell back asleep and had a nightmare that I got way too deep into the drug industry).

I prefer my scary movies to slip just a little bit inside my head.  I'm not really scared of people, so movies that use people as the main scare (e.g., Saw, The Silence of the Lambs, Hostel) may be entertaining, but they don't scare me.  I prefer my scares with a hint of the supernatural.

My favorite scary movie ever is The Exorcist.  It's creepy at parts, frightening at others, and satisfying in the end.  I also like The Shining, but I don't find it very scary.  But for the scariest movie ever?  For the movie that stuck with me for days and weeks afterward, not letting me sleep?  For the movie that found a fissure in the dam of my subconscious and turned that moon into a space station?

The Ring.  The American version.  Yep.  I'm lame.  In my defense, you have to admit that the washed out colors, the girl whose face hides behind a curtain of straight black hair, and---most importantly to me---the shot where the woman looks into the mirror and there's no effin camera.  Oh and the end?  When she takes the fly off the TV screen?  F r e a k y.  If Paranormal Activity scared me for 12 hours, The Ring scared me for 12 weeks.  Like I said: fissure in the dam of my subconscious.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


The health food aisle at Target.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Defense of The Seven Year Itch

Three questions.

1.  Is The Seven Year Itch an exercise in wish-fulfillment fantasy or a character study of the six-months seven-years-later phenomenon?  It seems to me that the driving question is not whether Richard will get together with The Girl but whether Richard will remain true to Helen.  As evidence, I point to his jealousy when he finds out Helen went on a hayride with Tom MacKenzie.  I further point to the fact that all his fitful wandering begins from the point when he imagines Helen laughing off his claims that he appeals to other women.  This isn't a story about boy-meets-girl, this is a story about boy-figuring-out-how-to-stay-true-when-the-excitement-of-boy-meets-girl-has-worn-off.

And don't compare it to the play.  The film and the play are two separate pieces of art.  Take each for what it's worth.

2.  Is Richard Sherman a wandering husband or a lost child finding his way into adulthood?  Given his powerful imagination and his ineptness at wooing The Girl, I tend toward the latter.

3.  Is The Girl an innocent, dumb blonde or a conniving seductress?  I point to the major plot point of her kissing him on the lips and telling him not to wipe away the lipstick: "If she thinks that's cranberry sauce, tell her she's got cherry pits in her head."  What she doesn't say, but we hear nonetheless, is, "And if she thinks you've been kissing other girls and asks for a divorce, I'll be upstairs all summer."

Watch the film again, ask yourself these three questions, and let me know what you conclude.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Seven Year Itch: 4/5

So I have this pet peeve about people using well-known phrases ignorantly.  Here is just another example:
Long live Marilyn Monroe!
I'm just sayin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Invictus: 4/5


Tonight, the Missus and I watched Clint Eastwood's Invictus.  Reading the reviews cited on Metacritic, I noticed two major themes: (1) the characters are flat and boring, so it fails as a character drama, and (2) the sport is confusing and the game scenes too drawn out, so it fails as a sports movie.  But Invictus is a bit too slippery to fall neatly into either of those cubbyholes.

First, the important characters are not flat.  People think that since Morgan Freeman was (finally) cast as Nelson Mandela that he must be the main character.  Or maybe it's Matt Damon---he's a big name.  People are wrong on both points.  The main character in the story is the people of South Africa.  The motivating question isn't whether Mandela and Pienaar will accomplish their goal, but whether the South African people can figure out how to get along.  Just think about how much time we spend watching nameless characters develop trust in each other.  Think about the security guards who start off hating each other and end up playing rugby together.  Or think about the poor kid who starts off refusing a free Springbok t-shirt and ends up listening to the game on the radio with two white men he doesn't know.  South Africa wanted to figure out how to live as a nation, and the 1995 Rugby World Cup gave them a glimpse of national unity.

Second, Invictus heavily features a sport, but the game is used to show it's impact on the characters.  If I wanted to watch a rugby match, I could have found one on TV.  Instead, I wanted to watch a series of characters go through an ordeal and come out on the other side.  This movie did exactly that.  The most  important aspect of the game is its impact on the important characters (i.e., South Africa).  That's why Eastwood doesn't tell us how rugby works; that's why he only cuts to the game clock once; and that's why the winning points are scored with "minutes" to go in extra time.  The movie isn't about the game or its players; it's about the spectators.

I think the best compliment you can give a director on seeing a movie is to say that it makes you want to watch more of his or her stuff.  This is the third Clint Eastwood-directed film I've seen (fourth, if you count Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I don't, because I was high on Novocaine after having my wisdom teeth removed).  Changeling didn't do it for me, but Gran Torino is one of those movies I keep thinking about.  I think Invictus will be more like Gran Torino than Changeling.  And I also think I'm going to watch some more of his stuff.

Starting with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Matrix: 4/5

"There is no spoon."  Keanu Reeves really should have said that about a dozen times in The Matrix.  How great would it have been if, after Agent Smith empties a clip in Neo, Neo opens his eyes, looks Agent Smith in the eye, and quoth, "There is no spoon."  Crowning moment of awesome!!

I first saw The Matrix almost ten years ago.  I had been told how it was awesome, mind-bending, spectacular, and all the other meaningless adjectives we use.  "Dude.  It is sooooo crazy.  It.  Will.  Change.  Your.  Life."  Unfortunately for my expectations, I had just finished reading a bit of Descartes for school; the idea that we might be living in The Matrix was something I had just gotten through processing.  (I applaud the Wachowskis for introducing a generation of young men to the philosophical dilemma of reality without making it a boring exercise in linguistics.)  When I watched it today, I wasn't looking for mind-bending awesomeness; I was actually watching to hone up for potentially forthcoming philosophical debates.*

*Wittgenstein cured me of the desire to understand and explore ontology one fine Saturday afternoon, but I seem to be the only dab of paint who has given up on trying to see the painting.  Still, everyone else seems to care about it, seems not to be conversant in Cartesian philosophy, and seems to be conversant in the philosophy of The Matrix.  When in Rome and all that.

And in the process of philosophical edification, I got caught up in the story.  How will Neo figure out whether he is The One?  And what will that mean?  How will Neo save Morpheus?  How will Agent Smith be thwarted?  By what miracle will the bad guys get what's coming?  That, my friends, is good storytelling.

And this time, it gave me pause, asking a more interesting philosophical question than that of ontology: What is my place in the Universe?  Am I Thomas Anderson---someone special for whom the rules don't really apply---or am I the homeless guy at the subway station---just another (expendable) brick in the wall?  To go one step further: Who decides?

How exciting!

The Lakers and Celtics are in the NBA Finals for the first twelfth time ever!  I was a little surprised that they've only met in the Finals twelve times.  Between them, they have 32 championships (out of 64 total), and I was under the impression they had met every year in the 1960s and 1980s.  I guess I was wrong.

Side note to American sports: this is a bad year for the home team.  The Yankees are reigning champions of MLB, Duke reigns in college basketball, and now the Lakers or Celtics will reign in the NBA.  Is it any wonder the NFL is America's most popular league?

I wash my hands of this.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NBA Playoffs: Part Trois

By the way, these playoffs are lame.  I'm no longer really interested in who wins or loses.  Brief picks:

Celtics beat Magic in 5.  Lakers beat Suns in 4.  Celtics beat Lakers in 6.

Because sometimes the NBA sucks.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

NBA Playoffs: Part Deux

The first round is over, and the second round is just beginning.  How'd I do?  Let's see:


  • EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers beat EC-8 Chicago Bulls in 5 - This was actually a lot closer than I think anybody expected.  I think we all expected a sweep.
  • EC-2 Orlando Magic beat EC-7 Charlotte Bobcats in 4 - This was actually a lot less close than I think we all expected.  The Magic pulled out the only sweep in the First Round.
  • WC-7 San Antonio Spurs beat WC-2 Dallas Mavericks in 6 - This was one "upset" I think about 2/3 of people predicted.  Good games with good results.
  • WC-5 Utah Jazz beat WC-4 Denver Nuggets in 6 - Hate to say I told you sooooooo---aight.
  • WC-1 Floss Angeles Lakers beat WC-8 Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 - Who can stop the purple machine??
  • EC-3 Atlanta Hawks beat EC-6 Milwaukee Bucks in 7 - Just add another log to the fire of Milwaukee's hatred of Atlanta.  This series was a lot closer than I expected.
  • WC-3 Phoenix Suns beat WC-6 Portland Trail Blazers in 6 - I love watching the Suns lose.  This was a disappointing series for me.
  • EC-4 Boston Celtics beat EC-5 Miami Heat in 5 - Who saw this coming?  Not me.  I'm not saying the Celtics are back; I'm saying the Heat never showed up (except in Game 4).

So by my count, I am sitting even at 4-4.  Biggest surprises: Celtics beating the Heat and Bucks taking Atlanta to Game 7.

Modified Predictions
  • WC-1 Haymakers v. WC-5 Jazz - Rematch from last year's First Round.  I like how the Jazz have been paying, and I hate the Rakers, so you know my vote.  Jazz in 6.
  • EC-1 Cavs v. EC-4 Celtics - These Celtics are old.  Both teams won their first round in 5 games, but the Cavaliers seemed less hesitant.  I pick the Cavs in 5.
  • WC-3 Suns v. WC-7 Spurs - I'm hoping for a replay of 2008's first round, complete with a Tim Duncan three and everything.  But the Suns have given us some heck this year, winning the season series 2-1.  I still pick the Spurs in 6.
  • EC-2 Magic v. EC-3 Hawks - This is a good old-fashioned regional rivalry (or should be).  Maybe this round will make it one.  I doubt it, though.  The Magic were the only team to sweep in the first round, and the Hawks were the only team to go 7 games.  The Magic also won 3 of the 4 regular season matchups.  So . . . Magic in 5.

Random Notes

First, the lowest ranked team at this stage is the Spurs at # 7.  It's not so much that their beating the Mavs was an upset as it is that the Western Conference is just a very even playing field right now.

Second, speaking of even playing fields, the Western Conference First Round featured two "upsets" (the Jazz were the other), while the Eastern Conference First Round went straight by seeding.  It seems there are two powers in the East, and it's not the two from the early 1960s.

Third, all four of this year's pairings are (or should be) storied rivalries.  
  • Lakers-Jazz: these two teams are geographically close enough and culturally opposite enough that they should be (and probably are) a great rivalry.  Two historically strong West Coast teams like this?  I like it.  
  • Cavs-Celtics: I don't know anything about this, but apparently the Cavs and Celtics have hated each other since the 1960s.  If they haven't, oh well.
  • Spurs-Suns: I'm not an authority, but I know that there are three teams I love to watch lose more than any other: the Lakers, the Mavericks, and the Suns.  To me, that spells good rivalry.
  • Magic-Hawks: These two teams are close geographically, share a division, and while the Magic have dominated for a couple of years, the Hawks are historically the strongest team in this division.
So these could be a few good series.  I'll update in a week or so.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Match Point: 4/5


The basic plot of Woody Allen's Match Point can be summarized thusly:

  1. Chris Wilton wants to have it all: a comfortable life and passionate love.
  2. So Chris marries into a super-rich London family and cuckolds his brother-in-law.
  3. But you can't always get what everything you want, and Chris picks the comfortable life.

It's not a particularly original story, but no story really is.  Many critics and viewers love or hate this movie based on the plot and its twists and tricks.  The plot is interesting, and the idea is interesting (even if not original), but the originality, and the quality, of Match Point lies in its execution.

Poetry is more than rhyming words.  Poetry uses the rhythms of speech to express a meaning deeper and more profound than the denotations and connotations of the words themselves.  Similarly, a film is more than moving pictures with a sound track.  A film uses the power of images, the power of sound, and the combined power of both to tell us something more profound than the plotpoints.

Let me give you an example.  For about the first 2/3 of Match Point, Nola wears spikey heels and sexy outfits while Chloe wears ballet flats and "cute" outfits.  The last time we see Nola, however, she is wearing low, almost kitten-style, heels and a knee-length, flared skirt.  The point: Nola has lost the sexual sway she held over Chris.*

*I'm not trying to say that kitten heels and a knee-length skirt can't be sexy (though I despise kitten heels).  I'm just trying to say that they connote much less sexually than do spikey heels and a tight or short skirt.

Similarly, in almost every scene with the whole family, Chris is apart somehow.  In one scene, he literally stands in a different room.  In another, he merely stands a few feet apart from a close quasi-group hug.  And in one of my favorites, he is physically in the group, but, while everybody else is wearing white, he is wearing black.  He is there, but he is not; he is a part of the family, but we know it is only because he makes Chloe happy.

Which may explain one of the most important idea in the movie.  In one scene, Chris is about to tell Chloe about his relationship with Nola.  He gets as far as admitting that he feels guilty, but can't go any further, can't give any details.  She accuses him of infidelity, but he denies it.  He turns the conversation to their travails getting pregnant.  Fast forward to the haunting penultimate scene: Chris tells the ghost of Nola, "I didn't know if I could do it.  It was hard.  But when the moment came, I could pull the trigger."  Put the two scenes together, and you have a striking juxtaposition: We had been led to believe Chris loved Nola more than Chloe, but he could only "pull the trigger" with Nola.  It was easier for him to kill Nola than to break Chloe's heart.

Which makes it a difficult question: Does he love Chloe too much to hurt her feelings, or does he love his comfortable life so much that he would kill to keep it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Story within a story

Paul Mariani's sentence from The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane does a great job telling the story with its structure:

In the poem -- one he had the good sense finally to abandon -- he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold "Great horizons and systems and shores all along," only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling -- like Icarus -- back to earth.

The natural way we read a sentence, our (inner) voice goes up and up all the way to the comma after "along," then our voice starts falling.  Try reading it again but imagining that the comma after "along" is a period.  You will find a very interesting effect.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's that time again!  The time for me to wow you with my fantastically accurate sports playoffs picks.*  What playoff picks?  The NBA Playoff Picks!!  Woo!!  We got next!!

*I think I scored a cool 12/64 in March Madness.

How do I make my picks?  I have a very strict process.  First, I look at their overall records.  Then, I go with my gut.

Alright.  Let's get started.

First Round

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-8 Chicago Bulls

The Cavs are the NBA's winningest team this year, racking up 61 wins.  (That's 5 fewer than last year, but still second-best in team history.)  The Bulls fought tooth and nail to pull 41 wins and make sure everybody still playing is at least .500.*  So the Cavs have got a 20-game advantage.

*For the sake of my own interest, I find it interesting that if the playoff teams were chosen from the whole Association and not just the conferences, Houston would be in and Chicago out.

What does my gut tell me?  The Bulls hang tough, but the Cavs will eliminate them.  I think it might take 6 or 7 games.

WC-1 Los Angeles Clippers v. WC-8 Oklahoma City Thunder

We all know that the Thunder are on a roll* and the Lakers are on a stroll.  Was that just because the Thunder were trying to make the playoffs and the Makers were bored?  I don't know.  I just know the Nakers finished up with a best-in-the-West 57 wins and the Thunder crossed the finish line with a meager 50 wins, good only for 4th in the Northwest.

*C'mon . . . gimme credit gimme credit.  That's a good one.

So I style this series: Kobe v. Kevin.  And I pick Kevin.  Because I hate the Bakers.  I call a sweep.

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. EC-7 Charlotte Bobcats

The Magic only got 59 wins . . . because they lost to Los Spurs.  The Bobcats set a franchise record with 44 wins.  Defense wins championships, so why do we have two of the three best defenses going at it in the first round?  Because life sucks.  And as much as I want the Michaelcats to beat the Magic, I'm eventually going to predict a black-on-black championship, so I have to pick the NBA's 4th best offense over its 24th best.

WC-2 Dallas Mavericks v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs

I read recently that the Mavericks are one of only two teams to beat the Spurs in the postseason in like 106 years.*  So there's that.  And there's the Mavericks' 55 times being ahead at the buzzer compared to the Spurs' 50 dominating and merciless vanquishings.  More importantly, there's last night.

*The other is the Pittsburgh Condors.

Seriously, objectively.  The Spurs had more Pythagorean wins (55.2 to 48.7) and win the SRS matchup, 5.07 to 2.67.  The Spurs have the NBA's 9th best offense, just ahead of the Mavericks' 10th best offense (110.0 to 109.2, if you're counting).  The Spurs have the 2d-best defense in the West (3/4 of a point behind the Flakers), and the Mavericks are 12th (overall, 5th in the West), nearly two whole points behind (104.5 to 106.3).  But the Mavericks were 4th-best in attendance, compared to the Spurs' 10th (819,770 to 741,676).  So there's that.

Anything can happen in 7 games, but I'm picking Los Spurs because it's my blog.

EC-3 Atlanta Hawks v. EC-6 Milwaukee Bucks

The City of Milwaukee has every reason to hate the City of Atlanta.  So the 53-29 Hawks better keep their eyes peeled* when the 46-36 Bucks gallop into town.  I have a feeling Brandon Jennings is better than whatever the Hawks have got.  Last year, the Hawks were my team in the East, but this year, I'm pulling for the Bucks.

*Pealed?  Pilled?

WC-3 Phoenix Suns v. WC-6 Portland Trail Blazers

So the Suns think they're all that, setting* on a 54-28 season during which the Trail Blazers only found their way to an even steven 50.  Still, the Blazers have got heart, even if the Suns have got sol**, and I hate the Suns almost as much as I hate the Mavericks and the Cakers.  I love watching the Suns lose.

*You know you like that one.

**I am freakin' awesome!!

EC-4 Boston Celtics v. EC-5 Miami Heat

The Celtics have limped into the playoffs.  Dwayne Wade The Heat have limped into the playoffs.  I mean, really, what's the difference between 50-32* and 47-35?  I dislike Vince Carter and Stan Van Gundy, so I'm picking the Heat.

*First, does anybody else remember Rasheed saying they'd win 70 this year?  And second, did anybody else notice that the Celtics had the worst record among division winners?  The Jazz were next, at 53-29.

WC-4 Denver Nuggets v. WC-5 Utah Jazz

I gotta say, I like the Jazz this year.  Continentaling in with 53 wins to slip past the Blazers and tie the Nuggets.  I'm feeling the music this year.  I'm not feeling the rocks.

Conference Semifinals

I hope that wasn't too confusing about who won each round.  Maybe this will help: snapshot predictions for the rest of the playoffs.

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-5 Miami Heat.  Remember last year, when the Cavs beat the Hawks beat the Heat?  I fear it'll happen again.  Cavs in 5.

WC-8 Oklahoma City Thunder v. WC-5 Utah Jazz.  Tough call.  These teams are both doing really well and really aren't that far apart in the standings.  But I think I like Malone & Stockton more than Kemp & Schrempf.  Jazz in 7.

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. EC-6 Milwaukee Bucks.  Brandon Jennings is good, but he's not that good.  I hate Vince Carter, but he might pull this one off.  Magic in 5.

WC-7 San Antonio Spurs v. WC-6 Portland Trail Blazers.  Do you really have to ask?  Pythagorean wins: Spurs, 55.2 to 50.6.  SRS: Spurs, 5.07 to 3.18.  Offensive rating: Trail Blazers, 110.8 to 110.0.  Defensive rating: Spurs, 104.5 to 107.1.  Season series: Trail Blazers, 3-0.  It looks like matchups might be a problem, but you already know whom I favor.

Conference Finals

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-2 Orlando Magic.  Ho hum.  Rematch of last year, when the Magic pulled 4 wins out of a 6-game hat.  This year, they split the season series, the Magic have 2.2 more Pythagorean wins, almost a full point higher SRS, and play 0.2 points better on offense and nearly a point better on defense.  It kinda sounds like Dwight will put the hurt on Shaq.  And maybe quicker than last year's 6 games.

WC-5 Utah Jazz v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs.  Let's be objective.  Pythagorean wins: Jazz by 0.3.  SRS: Jazz by 0.26.  Offense: Jazz by 0.7.  Defense: Spurs by 0.5.  And the Jazz swept the season series.*

*Very interesting thought I just had: the Jazz may be the objectively best team in the West.

But I said a long time ago I wanted a black-on-black finals, and the Jazz's colors are purple and green.

NBA Finals

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs.  This will be the defensive matchup David Stern's been dreaming of.  I predict scores like 67-53, 81-80/3OT, and 36-14.  We'll probably forget what championship we're watching.

But this, my friends, is where amazing happens.