31 December 2003

This is as good a time as any to make some resolutions for the new year, especially because, in all honesty, last year was the first year of my life about which I feel more or less completely dissatisfied: I only wrote one short story, I wasn't ever in love, and as John Rhys-Davies might say, I had quite a few bad dates. On the bright side, I bought an expensive couch, learned a lot about index and hedge funds, and finally saw a story published (although it was a story that I had written three years ago and revised the year before). All in all, not much of a year. How to make the next one better? Well, I'm open to suggestions...

28 December 2003

I never did see Elephant, I'm still waiting on Cold Mountain, and there are literally dozens of good movies still in theaters that I would probably love. (The big one: The Company, which I'm hoping to see with a friend later this week.) But all the other film critics are compiling their Best of the Year lists right now, and I'm feeling left out. Here, then, is my provisional, subject to revisional, top ten list for the year:

1. Spellbound. Easily the funniest and most suspenseful movie of the year, with the most memorable cast of characters. I often write about those rare movies that grow in your imagination after the initial viewing, and this is one of them.
2. Kill Bill Vol. 1*. For all I know, Vol. 2, due in February, could be terrible. But what we have at the moment is a slice of pure, violent, aching cinema that gloriously embodies most of the less reputable, and totally indefensible, reasons that I go to the movies.
3. Big Fish. The critics are surprisingly divided on this movie; I have a hunch that if you're closer in age to Albert Finney than Billy Crudup, you'll dismiss it as a bunch of hooey. But I'm still young enough that I haven't been divested of all the romantic notions about love with which I commenced life, and I found it almost unbearably beautiful. Not sure how well it will hold up over the years, but there we are.
4. The Return of the King. So much better than its predecessors that I'm at a loss to explain why. Maybe Peter Jackson grew up in the intervening years, or maybe he just learned how to edit an epic movie, but the result is far better than anything I would have expected.
5. Master and Commander. Another miracle; I would love to know how such an intelligent, exciting, uncondescending movie came to be made for $120 million. Almost absurdly rich and satisfying.
6. Capturing the Friedmans. Comes closer to a guided tour of hell than just about any movie I've seen. Interviews, home movies, suburban interiors, and then suddenly: the abyss.
7. The Fog of War. Robert McNamara is much too intelligent and too articulate to stumble into the abyss that Elaine Friedman (or Gollum) unwillingly enters, and he stops just short of the rim. That's a disappointment, but only a small one, and what we're left with is merely fascinating, terrifying, essential.
8. Lost in Translation. A great, beautiful movie about a foreign city at night where nothing much happens, worthy of putting alongside Wong Kar-Wai's movies about Hong Kong. Silences, unheard conversations, slapstick, rain, light.
9. Finding Nemo. It doesn't quite hold up to repeat viewings, but my first glimpse of this movie was possibly the most exhilarating evening I've had at the movies this year: awe-inspiringly beautiful, gut-bustingly funny.
10. Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, there's way too much skeleton-on-skeleton violence, but with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Kiera Knightley happily devouring the goofiest roles of their careers, this is a movie I'd happily rewatch any night of the week.

And what about The Last Samurai? Well, heck. Tom Cruise had to drop off the list one of these days, and this happened to be the year. And if the last five minutes had been removed, would The Last Samurai have made this list? Maybe. Yes; just possibly maybe.
The great British character actor Alan Bates, of King of Hearts and Gosford Park and damned near everything in between, died today. He will be missed.
I returned to the office on Sunday to find a message on my voicemail from a Newsday reporter asking about the FAO Schwarz acquisition. Here's the article she wrote about it in my absence. As she puts it, "[Company] officials didn't return calls seeking comment."
From the submission instructions for the Times wedding annoucements: "Couples posing for pictures should arrange themselves with their eyebrows on exactly the same level and with their heads fairly close together." Does this mean that highbrows and middlebrows shouldn't get hitched?
It's always helpful when the media reveals that you're a member of a cultural subgroup that you weren't aware existed. And if what a recent Times article says is true, I don't mind being a member of Generation E.A. "E.A." stands for "Ethnically Ambiguous," of course, and apparently it's quite chic these days. I feel like quoting the entire article, but I'll try to restrict myself to a few snippets:
On a recent evening Pedro Freyre, 26, an artist of French, Mexican and Spanish heritage, was strolling [in New York] with his cap tilted to accentuate his cheekbones. "We are the new mix," Mr. Freyre said, borrowing the language of the D.J. booth. "We are the remix."

Mr. Jimenez, [a] model, said that being perceived as a racial hybrid "has definitely opened doors for me." He added, "suddenly there is a demand for my kind of face."

Ahmed Akkad, 44, a New York artist who is Turkish and Albanian, said that being an ethnic composite "sometimes gives you an edge, a certain sexual appeal."

But some multiracial 20-somethings view their waxing popularity with skepticism. "Back home in Minneapolis, I sometimes feel like a trophy," said Ryoji Suguro, a 28-year-old lighting director of Sri Lankan and Japanese descent. "When you're introduced, it's sometimes like, 'Oh, here is my exotic friend.'"
All right, guys, 'fess up. Am I just your exotic friend? I mean, it's not like I haven't noticed the trend towards multiracial, especially Eurasian faces in the media: three enormous billboards on the street where I work all feature models with distinctly Eurasian features. As a guy quoted in this article says, "Today what's ethnically neutral, diverse or ambiguous has tremendous appeal."

So not only am I a bourgeois bohemian member of the American meritocracy with Ivy League credentials, I'm also ethnically ambiguous and a walking example of "melting pot chic." So why don't I have a girlfriend? (Maybe it's time I bought a hat to accentuate my cheekbones....)
I've recently taken to reading the Times wedding announcements on a weekly basis. Not sure what this means. Am I just fascinated by these glimpses of the ruling class, envious, or wistful at the happiness of others? In any case, this story is particularly awww-inspiring.

27 December 2003

Speaking of Santa, I seem to be developing a reputation here: for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice Extravaganza I received four martini glasses, a cocktail shaker, a cocktail recipe book, and a bottle of Absolut Citron.

I guess I'll be holding a cocktail party sometime soon. If I can manage to haul all of this stuff back to Berkeley, that is.

26 December 2003

Wow, talk about Bad Santa! A few days ago I went shopping in San Francisco, hoping to drop by the landmark FAO Schwarz toy store in Union Square to buy a Kermit the Frog doll for my mom. However, upon arriving at the old location, I discovered that the entire chain had recently filed for bankruptcy. This came as a surprise to me, although apparently FAO Inc. has been in and out of Chapter 11 all year. Anyway, I just noticed an article about the bankruptcy on the New York Times website, and clicked on it, curious to see who had purchased the company.

And it turns out that, uh, well, we did. My company just bought FAO Schwarz. Obviously I picked a pretty lousy time to go on vacation.

Anyway, I'm pretty blown away by this news, which is by far the highest-profile deal my company has ever undertaken. (In terms of media coverage, anyway. In financial terms, this $20 million purchase is actually on the smallish side.) I probably can't comment on it any further, but rest assured that this is an interesting deal in all kinds of ways, especially in the direction that it bodes for my firm as a whole.
Our old Spanish teacher stopped by today and chatted for a while. At one point he started asking me about what church I was going to and whatnot and I really desperately wanted the conversation to stop... So I piped up that I was thirsty and would anyone else like some water. By the time I was back with a few glasses he and jesse were talking in spanish about teaching. It was remarkably subtle and effective. Laura would have been proud of me.
Just played our 2 on 2 basketball game... All the games were really close, either 7-5, 8-6, or 9-7 in games to 7. I lost 4 of them though. I only won one of the two games that I had AJ on my team. Played well though. I had a few really pretty passes.

25 December 2003

Here's a great headline: "Former Miss South Africa attacked by hippo."

I wonder though how that gets classified as "Space and Science."
My family went to see Cold Mountain, which, after a rather slow start, turned out to be really good. Renée Zellweger was especially good; Nicole Kidman did the strained romantic heroine bit, and our good friend Natalie even made an appearance. As was the case when she dined in Adams House, I didn't recognise her until she was pointed out to me.

I got my sister Pirates for a Winter Holiday Celebration present and we watched it from 1 to 2.45 am last night. Yo ho!
My family just went on its now annual christmas movie outing (earlier we reconstructed what they've been: prince of egypt, castaway, ali, the two towers) and this year we saw the last samurai which we all rather liked (though my brother jesse didn't like tom cruise, and my brother joel didn't want to see it because he hates when tom cruise has long hair, but ended up liking the film anyway). I must say though, tom cruise does find a novel solution to the old all girls already have boyfriends problem.

24 December 2003

Ach, it's come down to this -- blogging on Christmas Eve. I got hit with some bug this week, and I'm still getting over it. Usually everyone in Santa Fe worships fire on Christmas Eve (as we do at select other times of the year as well), but since I'm still recovering I'm staying in.

Dave, for a belated answer to your question about authors of this blog skiing, Santa Fe is at least in part a ski town. We can't compete with the biggest resorts in the country, but we get our share of visitors for our modest mountain (which is far superior to anything east of the Mississippi, to be sure). The elementary schools here have ski programs, where kids can ski at reduced rates one school day per week during the winter. It's quite popular, especially because it means you only go to school four days out of the week for a few months. It's a great deal for the ski resorts (every other ski town in the country that I know of has a similar program) because they hook young skiers for life and put these kids on the slopes during the week, when it's normally slow.

The last time I went skiing was at Taos (which is the best ski resort in the state and can hold its own with the big resorts in other states) last year, the day that the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated. It was interesting the way the news spread -- all the new skiers who descended the mountain were treated to the news, and then when they went back up they spread it to the people they came across.

23 December 2003

You know, I was never as impressed by the Lord of the Rings movies as most of my friends were. Fellowship had some wonderful qualities, but to me it seemed like the same old sword-and-sorcery in slightly newer jars, and it also suffered from some astonishing lapses of taste; I don't think I'll ever forgive Peter Jackson for blowing Galadriel's big speech to Frodo. The Two Towers was an astonishing technical achievement, but shapeless and carelessly cross-cut. And knowing that all three films were shot at the same time, I didn't expect much in the way of surprises from The Return of the King.

As many, perhaps most, of the readers of this blog already know, boy, was I wrong. Return is so much more satisfying than its predecessors, I'm flabbergasted. It has all of the qualities that I stubbornly refused to see in the first two: it's beautiful, visionary, thrilling, moving. It's more generous to its supporting cast, especially Eowyn and Samwise. The action is sharp and transcendent. I'm not sure how a movie shot contemporaneously with its prequels can seem infinitely more mature and vivid and assured, but this one does. I'm humbled; not only will this movie sweep the Oscars next near, but I damn near think it deserves to.

22 December 2003

Hello from the Apple Store in Southdale Mall, Edina, Minnesota (which by the way was America's first enclosed shopping mall way back when...leave it to Minnesotans to figure out how to avoid the elements). I have spent far too much time in this mall in the past four days: Friday I went holiday shopping with Robby, Saturday I went holiday shopping with Derek (who was in town for 24 hours...his stepdad flew his private plane up from Kansas City so his brother could go to a Vikings game), and today I'm having my computer fixed (the optical drive started chewing up CDs). Minnesota life is very quiet; I sleep a lot, eat, read, and watch movies. I saw The Return of the King the other day, which was quite entertaining. I also rented Top Gun while I was sick last week. A bit much fighter plane action for my taste, but so much great 80s music! I made Lisa promise to take me to an 80s club when I go to Oregon in January. (Oh yeah, I'm going back to Oregon, for almost a week. Hmm.) Any other recommendations for classic 80s/early 90s movies I surely missed out on during my youth? Not much else going on; I should go see whether my computer's ready. Later.
One more for the "i feel old" list and the "most people i know don't have serious relationships but the closer they get to me the most likely they are to" lists that i'm always complaining about: my "long lost ex-pseudo-girlfriend" (i.e. the girl i sort of kindof dated sophomore year of highschool (what can i say? I was kind of stupid then)) just got engaged.

To clarify: The "i was stupid" was meant to explain why i was "kindof sortof maybe" dating someone instead of actually dating them (not meant to imply anything about the girl in question, whom i should have dated). If there's anything the last 10 years have taught me it is that if you're "not dating" someone, then you really should be dating them. "not dating" has all the disadvantages without the advantages.
It's always nice when the media reminds you of anxieties you didn't know you were supposed to have. This article on holiday tipping from the New York Times is one example. The whole article is fascinating (and somewhat terrifying if you happen to live in a Manhattan apartment), but here's my favorite bit:
Convinced that their holiday tip can be the ticket to 12 months of preferred service, [New Yorkers] engage in a kind of pre-emptive gambit. One financier, who lives on the Upper East Side, said he calculates holiday tips based on "who can be helpful or hurtful."

Under this scheme, the newspaper delivery man has little leverage because his options for retaliation are few--too bad for him. A doorman, garage attendant or the person who takes squash court reservations at his club--all of whom have the opportunity to favor him over someone else--come in for heaping largess.

"Let's say the super can come to me or come to you," he said. "If the expected tip is $300 and I gave him $500 and blow him away, he's coming to me first."

The financier, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to give away his competitive strategies to other building residents, said that he has used elevator conversations to throw off rivals. "You say, `Oh, I give $100,' so everyone underbids," he said. "Then you give $500."
See, the bourgeosie aren't so bad!
Pirates is a jolly good movie, all right. Just finished rewatching it myself. A bit too much skeleton-on-skeleton violence, though; all that hacking and rehacking of dead bodies offers you a glimpse of how dull and embarrassing it might have been if it weren't for that surprisingly witty screenplay and the most delectable cast of the year.

21 December 2003

The other big takeaway moment from the movies this year: Johnny Depp's entrance as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Carribean. Alec, I know you're partial to The Third Man but this is my favorite entrance of any character in film.

Speaking of Pirates (which i just resaw), I think I will add to our list of datability movie criteria (e.g. Alec's anyone worthwhile would like Casablanca, Nat's "anyone who didn't like Being John Malkovich wouldn't appreciate my sense of humor), is that any girl worthwhile prefers Captain Jack Sparrow to Will Turner.
Sorry I haven't been blogging more, but it's been quite a week. Noah was here until Tuesday, of course, and on Wednesday I went to see The Caretaker, a Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's odd black comedy with Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlan in the leads. My date K. and I have been MacLachlan fans going way back to Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, of course, and we were both generally pleased by the production. K. may have been the only person in the audience who didn't know who Patrick Stewart was; squinting at the program, she asked, "Oh, didn't he play Captain Nemo?" Boy, did I love this girl once.

Then, on Thursday, I attended my company's holiday party at the Temple of Dendur, an extravagant ballroom-sized location at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a vast skylight along one wall and the ruins of a Hellenistic temple in the center of the room. My date, a certain farmgirl in a very fetching five-dollar dress, compared the evening to something out of the Cena Trimalchionis, and she wasn't far wrong: small, delicately cooked crustaceans were served by tuxedoed waiters; a Israeli string ensemble, flown in from Jerusalem, played tastefully within the temple itself; and the usual assortment of quants, accountants, and financial associates floated around the room, huggy and high on champagne.

We then adjourned to the Hotel Chelsea, but stayed only for an hour or so: louder music, harder liquor, but I had to be at work the next morning. S. then forced me to walk fifty blocks back to my apartment on the Upper West Side instead of taking the subway or a taxi like a reasonable human being; "After all," she pointed out, "when's the next time you'll have a bumpkin visiting you?" True, true. But S. is now legendary among my colleagues for accidentally revealing to my coworker's girlfriend's brother that said coworker was planning to propose to said girlfriend. Silly me; I should told S. Bumpkin that this was a secret. But all in all, S. was an ideal date, the recipient of some admiring looks and one ill-advised pass to which she responded in her inimitable fashion: "How dare you, sir!" she exclaimed indignantly. "There, there!"

And so to bed, or in S.'s case, to my expensive couch, which she admitted was, in fact, more than passably comfortable. Then more work, interviews of young college seniors who are infinitely more accomplished than I ever was, tying up loose ends, some holiday shopping, and now suddenly I'm in my parent's house at Castro Valley, CA, going through my old papers from elementary school and wondering what in God's name to keep. Happy holidays, all.

17 December 2003

What a difference a year makes. Over a year ago, I interviewed for an internship at New York magazine, and didn't get it. Today the news is that the magazine has just been bought for $55 million by a famed Wall Street deal maker, and my first thought is: Hey, I just read that guy's book!

15 December 2003

Big Fish really is wonderful, by the way. It's beautiful, funny, and satisfying. Of all the movies released this year, only Spellbound gave me more moments to remember and turn over lightly in my mind after the movie was over.

These "take-away" moments are what movies are really about, and there were some great ones this year. A few that come to mind: The five-alarm I'm-gonna-kill-you camera zoom into Uma Thurman's face in Kill Bill Vol. 1; Ewan MacGregor brushing aside suspended bits of popcorn as time stops in Big Fish; Geoffrey Rush growling "Arrr!" to Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean; those two shy, electric kisses on the cheek in Lost in Translation; and those three kids standing at the schoolyard fence in Spellbound.
Yes, The Return of the King is opening on Wednesday, but I'm finding myself much more excited about The Fog of War. Errol Morris is one of the most consistently fascinating filmmakers in the world, and with the possible exception of A Brief History of Time, I've never seen a movie or short feature by Morris that I haven't loved. A couple of them (notably Gates of Heaven and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control) have entered into my pantheon for all time. (However, his short feature on Rick Rosner, the math-loving bouncer who faked his identity to repeat high school four times "until he got it right," and who later sued Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, may be his single most engaging portrait.)

As Noah mentioned somewhere below, The Fog of War is distilled from 23 hours of interviews with Robert McNamara, and is structured as a series of "lessons" from his life and work. On a somewhat related tangent, this New York Times article about the film mentions a similar vade mecum called "The Rumsfeld Rules," which Donald Rumsfeld circulated to Pentagon employees shortly after assuming his current office. Formerly available on the Department of Defense's official site, it has since been removed, but you can find an online copy here. It's actually a rather charming read (Rumsfeld's a smart guy), but there are certainly aphorisms that take on a different flavor when read in light of recent events. My favorite: "The oil can is mightier than the sword."

Oh, and one for this past weekend: "First role of holes: If you get in one, stop digging."
From last week's Page Six:
Tim Robbins is sorry he called the Bush Administration and most of Congress "chicken hawks" in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "I regret using that term. I meant to refer to their militarism without actual war service but I was also aware that chicken hawk refers to older gay men who go after young boys," Robbins told Webster Hall curator Baird Jones. "I just used the wrong words."
Well, we certainly wouldn't want any confusion on that point. (The next thing you know, the Wall Street Journal will be apologizing to all those bears on Wall Street....)
Just got back from a great weekend at John's house in Tahoe. I'll recap later (after I've finished the take-home exam due tomorrow), but I was wondering: was this the first time any author of this blog has gone skiing?

13 December 2003

Oooh: History of Math and Classics!
So I was working on this final thursday while my friends with real jobs
are all off working. I was trying to remember exactly how the long exact
sequence of homotopy groups for a fiber bundle works... And ran accross
this article written by my officemate at school.
Still at Alec's...

After a wonderful day at the Met with Tamara and Anna M. (the patron's lounge is ridiculous, maybe i should sell out someday...) and a long dinner Alec and I went to see Big Fish

I liked it, but, more than that it made me realize something:

Growing up I wasn't taught to think of love as a fairy tale of the "happilly ever after" off in the distance sort. I was taught that love was work, but I was taught another sort of fairy tale... That you meet someone and decide to love them (and "to your father there were only ever two women: your mother and everyone else") and that yeah there's a lot of work and effort and sadness but if you put in the love it'll be appreciated and 25 years later she'll still be there. In the past year I've lost a lot of things, many of which needed to be lost, but above all I think I lost that fairy tale. I know that it isn't true anymore... It's just a good story, and life doesn't always turn out that way, and maybe never does. However, it's a damn good story, and when it comes down to it even if it isn't true it's a story worth believing.

12 December 2003

Blogging from Alec's where I spent the afternoon doing math and watching DVDs. I needed two of them that wouldn't distract me too much from my math final but were really good, so I went with "High Fidelity" and "North by Northwest."

Tonight I went to Karaoke with Bessie, Alec, and Tamara for a night of lost in translation inspired revelry. Highlights were saranading Dave on his brithday with all you need is love and birthday by the Beatles, and Tamara's stunning renditions of I Will Always Love You and My Heart Will Go On.

I was sufficiently inspired to make three dedications... One was to alec for Kiss Me Goodbye and Nothing Compares To You: "To Alec who introduced me to many many movies and exactly two songs." I was drunk at the time, but I think the other two were "I'd like to dedicate this to Erin Lawrence who I danced with exactly once 7 years ago to this song" (ob-la-di of course) and "This song is for Laura: "Fuck You"" (Time Goes By).

We ended with: The River, No Surprises, and Lean on Me.

Oh and if you ever get a chance Alec's rendition of Prince's Kiss is absolutlely to die for.

11 December 2003

The more I learn about Schilling the more I like him. This article explains all the weird clauses he put into his contract. The big one? A $2 million bonus the next year "when the red sox win the world series."

10 December 2003

To satisfy a dispute at work, I just did the most boring Googlefight ever: nihil sub sole novum vs. nihil sub sole novi. I wouldn't dream of telling you who wins.
GOAT, the enormous Taschen coffee table book about Muhummad Ali, is the first book in a while to be advertised in terms of its weight and other vital statistics: 75 pounds, 792 huge pages, 3,000 images, and an unbelievable 600,000 words. It's modestly advertised as "the greatest gift of all time," and more:
We were on a mission to do something that was significant and meaningful and could pass on knowledge and philosophy, as well as something that's a piece of art. We all shared the vision that this is more than a coffee-table book, but the most comprehensive piece of work ever done on anybody in the history of mankind, period.
All in all, it sounds like the sort of vaguely terrifying Uberbuch that Borges might have dreamed up. (Well, maybe not.) None of this comes cheap, of course; at $3,000, GOAT is approximately the price of six Codexes Seraphiniani, so it might be a while before I pick up a copy. If it were about Tom Cruise, well...

09 December 2003

Spike Jonze and Sophia Coppola, arguably the world's coolest couple, are filing for divorce after four years of marriage. Sigh; I guess there really aren't any happy endings in Hollywood. It does make you wonder about the autobiographical aspects of Lost in Translation, though.

08 December 2003

I have heard a rumor that Arnold Schwarzeneggar has made several high-profile pardons in his first few days in office. Unfortunately, I have been unable to verify this on the web. Have any California readers heard about this?
I just spent a weekend in Clayton, New Mexico, which was an eye opener in terms of the economic realities facing small towns everywhere. It's historically been a ranching town, but I don't think there's a theoretical limit to how few ranchers America needs to supply its beef habit -- ranches can consolidate and ranching, like many other industries, can be outsourced to foreign countries. So what's Clayton's best shot at not becoming a ghost town? Well, it's on a nice road. And that means that it's a great place for Texans to stop over for the night while they travel to the ski resorts of Colorado and New Mexico...

04 December 2003

Moviefone.com currently lists the stars of The Last Samurai as Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, and Tony Goldwyn. Hmmmm. Looks like Asian actors don't count, presumably because they don't have a large enough fan base...as opposed to, say, Timothy Spall, whose vast following should be out in droves this Friday. (I'm being unfair. Spall's great in everything he does. But Ken Watanabe has a shot at becoming a star; he's got terrific presence and charisma, and his English is several notches better than, say, Chow Yun-Fat's. He might even be tall.)
The National Board of Review, traditionally the critics' opening volley in the movie awards season, has named Edward Zwick its Best Director of the year for The Last Samurai. I like the movie a lot, but in a year that included Peter Weir's far superior work in Master and Commander, not to mention Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill and Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation, that's pretty inexplicable.

03 December 2003

Yen's comment about the ending of A.I. got me thinking about unnecessary endings to great, or nearly great, movies. Both The Last Samurai and Mystic River run, in my opinion, about five minutes too long (although a decent argument can be made for the ending of the latter). Identity, like many thrillers, had one twist too many. The all time winner, however, would have to be Psycho, which ends with a five-minute explanatory speech so ill-advised that it makes the conclusion of Vanilla Sky feel like a model of restraint.
According to the Daily News, there will be a "big surprise" at every theater nationwide showing the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon on December 16. Hmmm...They couldn't send John Rhys-Davies to all ninety-nine theaters, could they?
My only comment on The Simple Life is that even in full makeup and couture (as opposed to, say, videotaped in an unflattering position using the "night vision" feature of an off-the-shelf camcorder) Paris Hilton is almost painfully unattractive. Much too thin and blonde.

I should also point out that so far as teenage hotel heiresses are concerned, Liesel Matthews, star of A Little Princess and heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is everything that Paris Hilton isn't: talented, smart, undeniably beautiful, and a billionaire, at least if her multibillion-dollar lawsuit against her own family is a success. (Paris Hilton's own net worth, by contrast, is a paltry $30 million at most.)

02 December 2003

I found this New York Times article on sidewalk congestion in Times Square especially interesting, because I wade through this sea of people every morning on my way to work. Lots of interesting tidbits here. For example, current laws on sidewalk vendors date back to the Civil War, "when the state entitled disabled veterans to use almost any sidewalk to sell their wares." And: "In a worse case, [a consulting group] found 6,959 people walking in the street from 8:30 a.m. to midnight on Oct. 25 in front of the Virgin Music Megastore on Seventh Avenue between 45th Street and 46th Street." Yeah, tell me about it. This was the highlight, though:
The sidewalks of Times Square are also impeded by stationary groups of smokers outside their office buildings, massive concrete planters on the sidewalks designed to block suicide bombers and screeching crowds of teenagers who gather below a second-story window of the MTV studios.
I'd always wondered why those planters were there. Makes you feel safe, doesn't it?
It's Bored Farm Girls, the TV series:
Viewers [of Fox's The Simple Life] are supposed to laugh at the harebrained heiresses in their high-heeled shoes and Von Dutch baseball hats, but not too harshly; these days relatively few Americans of any age or background have much experience hand-plucking chickens or milking cows. The promos suggest that the "Simple Life" reality was molded to conform to a storybook arc: as time passes, the girls end up performing barn chores that might make a grown lawyer faint. The girls, who share one bathroom with the entire family, do complain a lot. Nicole even tells a proud middle-aged farmer at a barbecue that she finds rural Arkansas boring. [Italics added.]
S., do you have a television set? We desperately need some expert color commentary.

30 November 2003

So I caught a sneak preview of The Last Samurai last night with a good friend. My verdict: it's surprisingly fun pop entertainment, exciting and interesting to watch (at least until the ending...but more on that in a minute). However, it marks the end of the extraordinary series of Tom Cruise "problem pictures" that was inaugurated with Eyes Wide Shut. The Last Samurai is good, but resoundingly conventional. It isn't going to make any Worst of All Time lists, and that's a shame. For all of their problems, Eyes Wide Shut and, to a lesser extent, Vanilla Sky were movies that taught you how to watch them as they went along. The Last Samurai is as safe as Seabiscuit.

For all my efforts in defending Tom Cruise, however, I have to admit one thing: the guy has a problem with endings. Eyes Wide Shut, Vanilla Sky, Minority Report and The Last Samurai all end with five minutes of mostly unnecessary dialogue determined to tie up every loose end. In the past, I've defended these torrents of closing exposition as the necessary concession for making complex, slippery movies. However, The Last Samurai doesn't justify that defense: the ending just doesn't work. More accurately, the film contains one ending that does work, and very well at that, but then inexplicably coasts on for just one more scene. If you see the movie, you'll know the moment I'm talking about.

But maybe I'm being too rough on this movie. Any other actor and I'd have been generally well pleased: it has some thrilling action, an endlessly interesting story, and only a hint of interracial romance. Oh, and a Japanese baby. Is he cute? As David Mamet once wrote, he's as cute as a Chinese baby.

28 November 2003

Schilling to the Sox!!
Speaking of campaign ads, this attack ad from the Republican National Committee deserves a look. Not only because it accuses the Democrats of being soft on terror, but because it's simultaneously so ominous and so hopelessly unslick; it looks like it was put together in about ten minutes on iMovie. As far as tone and message goes, it reminds me of the old Simpsons ad that went something like this: "Mayor Quimby supports revolving door prisons. Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob, a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? (quickly) Vote Sideshow Bob for Mayor."

Also, what's Ed Gillespie doing there?
Searching the web heres' some earlier news on google ads for candidates:

Dean campaign buys an ad for "Wes Clark" and the Clark campaign strikes back.

A Media Daily News article on this subject.
Further news on google ads...

The Clark campaign has an ad. that appears when you google "Dean", "Democrat", "new hampshire primaries", and "Clark"

Dean and Clark have "Howard Dean", "primaries", and "Iowa caucus"

[adding more ads as I find them]
Talk about internet savvy... The Dean campaign has started advertising on deadlymantis. That's right. Look at the top of the page, about a third of the time one of the ads will say:

What does Dean say?
Civil Rights & Justice, American
community, equal rights for all.

Judging by the fact that the other ads are "Lesbian legal services" and something about voting democratic to stop the marriage ammendment, I assume this is a google add tied to some word related to the recent massachussets case.

A bit of sleuthing shows that it comes up on the google search for "gay marriage."
I'm glad that somebody is finally researching the scientific questions that matter. Witness the following paper on Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow. The anticlimactic answer:
Although a definitive answer would of course require further measurements, published species-wide averages of wing length and body mass, initial Strouhal estimates based on those averages and cross-species comparisons, the Lund wind tunnel study of birds flying at a range of speeds, and revised Strouhal numbers based on that study all lead me to estimate that the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.
The fact that I find this amusing probably explains why I've had so much trouble finding a date to my company party. As a famous BBC advertisement for Monty Python once said: "If your girlfriend laughs at this, marry her."
True story from the front lines of music piracy: Yesterday I was flagrantly breaking the law by transferring songs from my iPod to my brother's computer, using a nice little piece of software called iPod Rip. Among the songs I transferred were a handful that I'd recently purchased from the iTunes music store. By doing so, I seem to have triggered the virtual equivalent of an explosive dye pack: I can no longer play any of the songs from these albums, at least not on my iPod. Even if I delete the old files and try to replace them with the songs from my laptop (which still work fine), the iPod refuses to read them. Apparently this is Apple's unadvertised way of making sure that I respect copyright…or else. The annoying thing is that nothing prevented me from transferring the files in the first place; rather, it punished me after the fact. How cruel and unusual is this? I've been deprived of Moby's Play, the Avenue Q soundtrack, and Justin Timberlake's Justified. Needless to say, I'm crying myself a river.

26 November 2003

So, I need a date for my company's holiday party on December 18. Normally I wouldn't make a desperate appeal on the blog like this, but I've realized that I no longer know any available women in New York, or at least no viable prospects. (At least, I don't think so. Hard to tell with some...) The party will be held at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Music will be courtesy of, hmmm, the King David String Ensemble. Any takers?
All this talk of bear-proof suits raises the obvious question: Has The Simpsons jumped the shark? There have certainly been seasons where my answer would have been "Yes," but I've been encouraged by recent episodes, which include the best Treehouse of Horror in a while, and a generally pleasing trip to England. (I was a big fan of Joe Millionaire in The Cherry Orchard: "I don't...have...a cherry orchard.") On the other hand, there were those leprechaun jockeys...

More to the point, has my life jumped the shark? If college was a TV show, this is rapidly turning into ER, where all of the original cast members have gradually been eliminated. Am I the Noah Wylie of my own life? Or this that too solipsistic? (The producers haven't even found a hot Indian girl to join the cast yet.)

Noah's reading of our college experience as a TV show, if I recall correctly, was that the original season was an edgy comedy about a roomful of lonely college guys. In subsequent seasons, it was sexed up a bit. More than one cast member written out of the series. Some goofy supporting characters began to receive a lot more air time than they probably should have, a la Newman on Seinfeld. "But the series really jumped the shark," Noah observes, "when Alec moved in with Haiwen...and became an investment banker."
Sunday's episode of The Simpsons involves Homer crafting an elaborate set of bear-proof armor. As a public service to those who aren't aware of the real-life inspiration for this episode, I proudly present a link to Project Grizzly.

The official site notes that the film follows Troy Hurtubise "from the donut shops and biker bars of North Bay to the mythic Rocky Mountains." Yes, well, if you're looking for actual bears, biker bars probably aren't a bad place to start....
Yay! Tuesaday Morning Quarterback is back! At Nfl.com.
The trailer for Troy is up at apple.

25 November 2003

The other fasicnating thing about reading Loving v. Virginia (see this earlier post) is how similar the argument for the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws is to the argument for the constitutionality of heterosexual marriage only laws. I didn't think the anology between these two things held when I was reading articles making the connection, but when you look at the actual arguments presented in Loving v. Virginia the connection becomes much more clear.

In Loving v. Viriginia there's an argument that, basically, there's no equal protection violation because the law treats both blacks and whites equally in terms of punishments and because blacks can still marry, so long as they marry someone black.

Similarly in the recent gay marriage cases you see essentially the same argument that there's no equal protection violation because the law treats gays and straights the same way, gay people can still get married, so long as it is to someone of the opposite sex.

I thought this was a bad analogy, but now I think that's just because I didn't understand the anti-miscegenation debate well enough, and it looks to me now like they're really the same issue.
The other week I was talking to someone about a math problem and he wasn't allowed to tell me the example which they'd constructed to solve it because he was in the process of applying for a patent. I remember being a little weirded out by this, I mean why should some mathematical object be patentable? The more I thought about though the more it seemed consistant with the current trend to patent things like genes. Anyway this trend went one step further when today the patent office announced that they "will consider ‘serious’ applications to patent specific integer numbers." For more details see this article.

22 November 2003

The same week that they almost elected this guy, Louisianans also struck a blow at annoying telephone menus by not being able to talk "right." There's probably some joke to be made about what a bad idea voice recognition voting devices would be, because then no one would have been able to vote for him with his decidedly un-Southern last name.

21 November 2003

If you have two minutes to spare, this might amuse you. Courtesy of my sister.

20 November 2003

Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we've come in the past half century. In 1955 the Virginia Supreme court wrote "the state court concluded that the State's legitimate purposes were "to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens," and to prevent "the corruption of blood," "a mongrel breed of citizens," and "the obliteration of racial pride," obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy. Id., at 90, 87 S. E. 2d, at 756." (quote from the SCOTUS decision Loving v. Virginia) and in 1967 they upheld this decision. 1967 was only 36 years ago.
Salon has an article about Professor Hamamoto's attempt to make an all-Asian pornographic movie, a clip of which was featured on The Daily Show segment I saw last night. I can't read the whole thing, but Noah can probably give us some color on it.

The real reason there aren't more Asian-American males in porn, I suspect (and the clip from Hamamoto's film only confirms this), is that most Yellow men just aren't capable of exuding raw sexual magnetism. Not that we haven't tried. Boy, how we've tried.

19 November 2003

Uh-oh. I have The Daily Show to thank for the following link, a scholarly article by University of California professor Darrell Hamamoto about the absence of Asian-American males from the porn industry. (I'm afraid that I can't provide the title of this article without this blog being banished forever from the York, Pennsylvania public library. Suffice to say that it's a variation on The Joy Luck Club). I'd intended to post this article as an example of the sort of thing that Haiwen will write when he a) gets tenure and b) goes completely crazy. However, the following paragraph was an unexpected bonus:
The transfixing power of White racial imagery as embedded within Asian American sexuality is seen in the short but sensational criminal career of Andrew Phillip Cunanan of San Diego, California. The son of a Filipino American immigrant who once served in the U.S. Navy (he has since returned to the Philippines, having been implicated in an embezzlement scandal), Cunanan is alleged to have murdered five people, including the couturier Gianni Versace. The accused killer's former roommate Erik Greenman speculated that it was Cunanan's obsession with Tom Cruise that helped set off the killing spree that had people across the nation riveted to news reports. According to Greenman, Cunanan was "passionately" in love with Cruise and told of bondage and Foucauldian power-exchange fantasies that involved the actor. "He had pictures of Tom plastered all over his bedroom," says Greenman. "He'd rent five Cruise videos in a single night and spend the whole evening stopping the films frame by frame, studying Tom's every nuance and gesture." Cunanan also kept a carrying case full of visual material featuring Cruise, including photos, movie reviews, and articles. While making the rounds of cafes and leather bars at night-a routine he called "Tom Cruising"-Cunanan reportedly would seek out men who bore a physical resemblance to his Top Gun.
"Tom Cruising?" "Foucauldian power-exchange fantasies?" Holy shit. No more jokes about Tom Cruise inspiring any killing sprees, S.; as usual, reality got there first.
"Dear Diary: Jackpot!.
There's an interesting contrarian review of Master and Commander in today's New York Times by Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House. Epstein points out a number of big problems with the story, and suggests that fans of the original novels will be disappointed by the movie version. On the other hand, he concedes, the masses may love it:
The film's crashing and banging, the feeling at all times of emergency, heightened by a pounding score, even when the seas are calm and with no enemy in sight, the huddled intimacy of a crowded ship under threat of attack by a powerful enemy or in a violent sea, may appeal to fans of action films for whom O'Brian's subtle characterizations, being out of sight, will also be out of mind.
Which is interesting; as a man's man sort of action fan myself, I'd argue that much of Master and Commander feels positively sedate (which is part of what I loved about it). In the end, all of Epstein's barbs could be equally directed, and with more reason, to Lawrence of Arabia, say, which is a great film that takes great liberties with history and plausibility and doesn't have much to do with Seven Pillars of Wisdom, its alleged source. Which isn't to say that the books aren't better. Aren't they always?
Analog has finally updated the website for their January/February issue, which includes a story by a talented newcomer named "Alec Nevela-Lee" [sic]. Sigh.
So the finalists for the design of the World Trade Center memorial have just been announced. Each entry, no surprise, seems worthy and thoughtful. My only comment, if anyone cares, is that several of these designs depend upon electrical illumination for their effects, which seems like a bad idea. Their use of light is often surprising and ingenious, but I'd rather see a lasting, permanent monument that would retain its meaning without any human care, even if the power were to fail (or, say, if this country were to cease to exist). Maybe this is just my classical side speaking, but there's no guarantee that these memorials will still be plugged in after two thousand years, and it'd be nice to have something that will speak eloquently to people in the fortieth century, even as a ruin, after all the lights have gone out.
I was mildly surprised that nobody brought up the whole Scientology thing in our recent epic debate over the merits of Tom Cruise. Even a booster like myself has to admit that his fixation with Scientology is somewhat troubling, especially now that Cruise is drawing Penelope Cruz into the fold. (Cruise also credits Scientology for making him into a great samurai. Why am I posting this?)

18 November 2003

Breaking News
The Massachussets Supreme Court just released their decision in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health holding 4-3 that a prohibition on same-sex marriages violates "the basic premises of individual liberty and equality under law protected by the Massachusetts Constitution" (3 justices) and the Massuchussets ERA (1 justice).

In conclusion the majority writes:

"We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution. We vacate the summary judgment for the department. We remand this case to the Superior Court for entry of judgment consistent with this opinion. Entry of judgment shall be stayed for 180 days to permit the Legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion."
Wow, Erol Morris does Robert McNamara. It'll be fascinating to see if he can do as good a job with a famous character as he does with his usual obscure and odd characters.

17 November 2003

There are a bunch of movie lines that I've always wanted to use in real life. Many of them are from The Untouchables. Alas, Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute and thus clearly a man of action, has beaten me to the punch: "Getting in a public relations fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger," he says in the Times, "is like bringing a knife to a gunfight."
Ah, the joys of News of the Weird:

Gunn had confessed, saying he killed his tenant using a crowbar, a butcher knife, a handsaw, a fireplace poker, a 12-inch bolt, a straight-edge razor, an ax, walking canes, a pool cue and a large salad fork.

15 November 2003

This article at msnbc begins:

"As one of only 192 blacks who scored higher than 1450 on the SAT this year, Alice Abrokwa is being wooed by some of the nation’s most elite colleges."

I had no idea things were that bad... 1450 isn't that high and 192 is really low. Is our country really doing that abomidably bad of a job of teaching black children? (Yes, haiwen, this is an invitation for a rant...)

In tangentially related news this week's FM is on the lack of economic class diversity at harvard. It's an interesting read, especially for me since i was in that 9% of "poor" harvard students.
So my december plans are set. I'll be in new york city from the night of thursday 11 Dec. to the morning of monday 15 dec, in york pa from monday 15 dec till jan 4, and then leaving early jan 5 and getting back to oakland at noon on jan 5. If any of you are in any of those places and want to see me drop me an email.
French winemakers have a pro-drunk driving advertising campaign...

14 November 2003

Oh, and by the way, the holiday edition of Analog Science Fiction & Fact is finally on newsstands across the country. Buy it.
After seeing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, I'll have to concede that all the things I admire about Tom Cruise (his obsession with quality control, his shrewd way of choosing projects, and his willingness to take on challenging parts with great directors) apply equally, and perhaps with more reason, to Russell Crowe. Crowe is by far the better actor, of course, and his recent string of home runs is almost as impressive as Cruise's: L.A. Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind are filled with enough energy and versatility for an entire career...and they were made over a period of just under five years or so. Even Proof of Life was tough, intelligent, and satisfying as long as Crowe was onscreen.

And Master and Commander is so deeply satisfying, so well-crafted and lean, that I can barely believe that it was made for $120 million. It may be the most impressive $100 million+ blockbuster ever made, and just about the only one with a good story. Most "epic" films, even the great ones, suffer from an indifferent script or characterization; I loved Gangs of New York, for example, but not because I cared about (or knew) what was happening, or why. Master and Commander is so tightly constructed and written, by contrast, that it would seem like the most expensive novella ever made, if it weren't so rich with detail and incident. The only worthy comparison is with Bridge On the River Kwai. See it.
Today the Twins traded my favourite player for a guy named 'Boof.'
I know I'm late with this, but I guess I've got to post the recent Ten Worst Films of All Time poll by the BBC's Film 2003. Here's the list:

1. Titanic
2. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
3. Pearl Harbor
4. Vanilla Sky
5. The Blair Witch Project
6. Batman and Robin
7. The Avengers
8. Battlefield Earth
9. Eyes Wide Shut
10. Highlander II: The Quickening

No surprises here: Titanic, a great example of how quickly success can turn against you, along with some notorious bombs and a handful of challenging, sometimes brilliant movies that wrought havoc on the audience's expectations. (I'm surprised that Punch-Drunk Love didn't make the cut.) Incidentally, one of their quotes about Eyes Wide Shut is a direct quotation of what I heard in the audience on the movie's opening night, on the second of the four times I saw that movie in the theater: "What the hell was that all about?"
Passing over such obvious choices as Chungking Express, Blue Velvet, and High Fidelity, I'd say that there are only two films that I can call truly life-altering: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Say Anything. 2001 was the movie that really launched me into cinema at the age of eleven; it bored me to death at ten, but at eleven, it was suddenly the greatest movie ever made (even if I still didn't know how to spell "Odyssey"). As for Say Anything, one line of dialogue says it all: "What I really want to do with my life...what I want to do for a living...is I want to be with your daughter. I'm good at it." How has this line changed my life? Well, it hasn't, at least not yet. But someday it will, as soon as I awake from this living doze I'm in.
The movie of the week is I Know Where I'm Going!, a sweet, slight romantic comedy from 1945 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell and Pressburger, as I've mentioned before, are currently my favorite directors, and I Know Where I'm Going, while a minor work compared to The Red Shoes or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, is full of their usual invention and visual wit. It's about a headstrong young British woman (Wendy Hiller) who goes to Scotland to marry her wealthy fiancee, but falls in love with another man (Roger Livesey) while waiting to cross to the island. Lots of loving photography of the Hebrides, visual jokes, and colorful supporting characters, like Under the Tuscan Sun written and directed by a couple of obsessive artisans. If it were remade today with Ewan MacGregor and, say...I don't know...Keira Knightley, it would be a big hit.

The DVD is especially worth renting because of a short documentary feature included with the movie, I Know Where I'm Going! Revisited, which, in an odd way, is even more moving than the film itself. While it includes interviews with the usual talking heads and surviving cast members (including Petula Clark, who plays a little girl in the movie), it focuses on a woman named Nancy Franklin, who claims that I Know Where I'm Going! changed her life. Franklin's name may ring a bell to faithful readers of The New Yorker; she's a career editor, and currently their television critic. (There's a touching moment when Franklin, a charming Joan Cusack-type, shows off the view of the Empire State Building from her office window, and explains how she used to draw the blinds and play "Rhapsody in Blue" to visitors when she first got her job.) The documentary doesn't explain how, exactly, this movie changed her life, but you can fill in the blanks easily enough, and its quite touching to watch Franklin tour the locations where the movie was filmed.

Anyway, I love hearing stories like this, and I plan on posting about what movies have changed my life later today. (You may be surprised...) Anybody who wants to contribute is more than welcome.
Can you really respect a state whose official song is "Hang on Sloopy"?

13 November 2003

While randomly browsing online, I found Quentin Tarantino's complete first draft of Kill Bill, which dates from long before the movie was split in two pieces. I'm not going to so much as glance at it before Vol. 2 comes out, of course, but at some point, assuming that no Director's Cut is planned, it will be interesting to see how Bill might have been structured in its original three-hour form. (This link is just to make sure that I can find it again.)
Various sources are reporting that all appearances of Christopher Lee as Saruman have been cut from The Return of the King. I'm only a middling fan of the movie series (and of the books, for that matter), but even I'm somewhat shocked by this. It's been years since I read the trilogy, but I do remember "The Scouring of the Shire" much more vividly than the rest of the book, and it just doesn't work without Saruman. Predictably, Tolkien fanatics can discuss this development more interestingly than I can.
Andrew Tobias links to this article in the Washington Post about George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has been anointed "the major financial player of the left." The reason? Contributions to liberal causes to the tune of $15.5 million. And he means business:
Asked whether he would trade his $7 billion fortune to unseat Bush, Soros opened his mouth. Then he closed it. The proposal hung in the air: Would he become poor to beat Bush?

He said, "If someone guaranteed it."
I should also note that Soros is the former boss of Victor Niederhoffer, mentioned before on this blog. In his memoirs, Niederhoffer refers to Soros as "the palindrome."

12 November 2003

(Hm, am I trying to procrastinate?)
Here's a new hometown hero.
And from the 'How Very British' front: The chief of Sussex police is going to make a personal visit to the family of a man that the police shot and killed even though he was unarmed and in bed with his girlfriend, in order to tell them, 'We're terribly sorry.'
Baseball news: Apparently Alan Trammell got one third-place vote for Manager of the Year, for fearlessly leading the Detroit Tigers to an American League record 119 losses. Or maybe it was for leading them to victory in four of their last five games, thereby avoiding the major league record for losses? Who knows.
Inspired by the Men's Journal list, I'm trying to think of famous movies where no women appear whatsoever, at least not in speaking roles. Glengarry Glen Ross comes close (there's a brief appearance by a "Coat Check Girl"), as does Paths of Glory (which does feature a memorable song at the end by the future Mrs. Kubrick). Apparently there are no women in speaking roles in the upcoming Master and Commander. (Since I'm seeing the movie this weekend with an avowed misogynist, this is probably a good thing.) The only women in Lawrence of Arabia are seen from a distance, ululating. But women love Lawrence of Arabia, right? (At least, one girl of my acquaintance did. But that was years ago.)
Yep, more lists: Men's Journal picks The 50 Best Guy Movies of All Time. Only the top ten movies are listed on their site, but their choices seem reasonable, given the criteria they've set down:
We believe that a true guy movie is a movie only a guy can love. A crucial distinction. Pop one into the DVD player and your wife or girlfriend should run screaming from the room. We frown upon films that are too serious or sensitive. The Deer Hunter got KO'd despite lengthy elk hunting and torture scenes because Meryl Streep was in it. Sure, she's a great actress, but rules are rules: no films with Meryl Streep.
Which is too bad, because The Deer Hunter is the racist, violent, borderline fascist guy movie of all time. I haven't seen the rest of the list, but their criteria would also seem to disqualify L. A. Confidential, my own top choice, because despite its violence and fascination with the masculine code, it's still a movie that even a mother could love. I'm curious about the rest of the list, though. Did they include The Searchers? The Wild Bunch? Glengarry Glen Ross?

11 November 2003

So, um, I'm going to take a moment to write about the animation I like. Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection is now available on DVD. Buy it, rent it, or just visit a friend who has it. (My copy is currently en route.) Yes, it's missing a lot of classics: not just "What's Opera Doc?" and "One Froggy Evening," but even "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy" ("Ho! Ha-ha! Guard! Turn! Dodge! Parry! Spin! Thrust!") are conspicuously absent. But c'mon: "Rabbit of Seville," "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," and "Duck Amuck" (the greatest cartoon short of all time) alone are worth the price of the four-disc set. I do miss the annual Looney Tunes retrospective at the Brattle in Cambridge...which still ranks as one of the most joyous experiences I've ever had at the movies...but this more than makes up for the loss.

(Update: I've just discovered that both "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy" are included on Disc Two of the wonderful new edition of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Well, heck. You can never own too many DVDs....)
From The Onion: Mom Finds Out About Blog. Hmmm. Some excerpts:
"I don't have one of those sites that's a big tell-all about one-night stands and wild parties," Widmar said. "I mostly write about the animation I like or little things that happen to me and my friends. But there are definitely things in there that I wouldn't, well, write home to Mom about."

Widmar said he imagines his inbox filling up with e-mails containing elaborate questions about an off-hand comment on Kill Bill.
Hmmm, indeed. No comment.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback has a new temporary home.
Before noticing this tribute in the Fashion pages of the Times, I wasn't aware that C.Z. Guest had died last weekend. C.Z. was one of those figures whom I found inexplicably fascinating, probably for the same reason that I occasionally browse the Times wedding announcements: she was a woman famous for little more than being rich, stylish, and beautiful, friend of Truman Capote, horsewoman, New York society hostess, former "glamour girl of the Massachusetts north shore." Hemingway was the best man at her wedding. Even if you have no particular affection for the idle rich, it's hard to dislike anyone who could inspire tributes like this: "She could be unbelievably funny without realizing it," Oscar de la Renta said. "She assumed, for instance, that everybody had a pony."
Here's an old but fun site on what to do if you win the lottery.
Speaking of Mme. vs. Mlle....

Rumor has it that one pressing life question has finally been resolved: which of our blockmates will get engaged first? (Hint: it's not me.)
The New Republic has a fascinating article about the man who will probably be running against Karl Rove.

10 November 2003

I'm rather depressed to discover that 3 of my top 5 musical groups/artists have best ofs being released this year. On top of that a fourth is having a reunion tour.

All my favorite music is over and dead.

(For what it's worth Badly Drawn Boy has snuck into that 5th spot.)
The New York Times science page has a new top 25 list out.

For what it is worth, it is pretty bad.
I for example was one of those rare people who didn't know the ending of Citizen Kane, though I did guess it before the end.
It occurs to me that the IMDb poll mentioned below is missing a couple of obvious candidates: A Beautiful Mind, maybe, and Vanilla Sky, certainly.

Obviously, I have no sympathy for anyone who blows the ending to any movie, even a bad one. (This scrupulousness on my part has prevented me from making all kinds of bad Fight Club jokes, for instance.) However, of all the movie endings listed below, I think I'd be most furious at anyone who intentionally blew the ending of Citizen Kane for someone who wasn't already aware of it. It's a miracle to go very far in life without learning the secret of Citizen Kane, and seeing the movie with that surprise intact is a gift that few people are afforded these days.
I can't resist posting a link to today's IMDb.com Poll, which asks: "What now-infamous spoiler do you think shouldn't be considered a spoiler anymore?" Warning: You shouldn't click on this link unless you've seen, or have no plans to see, all or any of the following: The Sixth Sense, The Others, Citizen Kane, The Crying Game, The Usual Suspects, Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, Fight Club, Seven, Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, What Lies Beneath, or Planet of the Apes. No mention, of course, of The Human Stain. Or Magnolia, for that matter.
Mme. Dewar, one of our Constant Readers, sends this link to the New York Times article When Bad DVDs Happen to Great Films. It's a sobering read, and it contains the annoying news that remastered DVDs of Lawrence of Arabia and The Godfather Trilogy are scheduled for release later this year, after flaws in the picture quality of the much-hyped earlier releases (which, of course, I own) became too glaring to ignore. (Although, of course, you have no business watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time on DVD, anyway, given its occasional revivals on the big screen.) The article also contains the following observation:
Consider: A DVD stores only 17 gigabytes of data. A two-hour film, transferred to digital data and otherwise untreated, would take up more than 150 gigabytes. So the data must first be massively compressed, mainly by digitally sampling a frame, then sampling only the information that changes in subsequent frames.
It's an interesting statistic, and it only underlines the many reasons why digital projection, still being hyped as the wave of the future, should never, never be allowed to replace traditional projection, at least not entirely. There's just no way that any digital medium can replicate the level of detail possible in old-fashioned movie formats, and the result can only be a decay in picture quality on the big screen. As usual, George Lucas is to blame. How could this pompous shyster be the same man who once owned a dog named Indiana?

09 November 2003

Oh yes, Troy. Hmmm. Well, the casting works. Quick quiz: One of the following paragraphs is a description of Achilles from Gregory Nagy's Heroes and the Homeric Iliad. The other is from a CNN.com article on Brad Pitt. Can you guess which is which?
...the idealized bridegroom, sensual in his heroic beauty...the ultimate bridegroom...The very mention of him in song conjures up the picture of a beautiful flower cut down at the peak of its bloom.

...his marriage to Jennifer Aniston this summer only increased his sex appeal, making him "a poster boy for manhood in the new millennium."
Hard to tell, isn't it? Still, I'm not sure whether Brad Pitt properly "conjures up the picture of a beautiful flower cut down at the peak of its bloom." Ladies, any thoughts?

All in all, I'm not sure about this movie. I'll grant that the trailer and the official site do seem a little bit...strained. But Wolfgang Peterson is a director worth taking seriously, and the screenplay is by David Benioff, who wrote the novel and screenplay for 25th Hour, the best movie of last year. Also promising: Peter O'Toole and Brian Cox, the grandest old men in the movies, as Priam and Agamemnon. Finally, casting Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus and Orlando Bloom as Paris only makes Helen's dilemma all the more heart-wrenching. I mean, whom in Apollo's name would you choose?
I don't often post television recommendations to this blog, but if you live on the West Coast, tune in to Bravo at 8:00 tonight (or at midnight, I think, for the repeat). You won't be sorry. The reason? The cast of The Simpsons on Inside the Actor's Studio, answering questions in and out of character, improvising brilliantly, and generally giving the audience the time of their lives. It's hard to single one actor out, but I'll say that seeing Harry Shearer rapidly switch between Smithers and Mr. Burns is an especially joyous experience. Best hour of television I've seen in a long time.
My apologies to those of you who have seen something like this before.

"Spsupoedly reesrahcers hvae dermetnied taht popele can raed wrods amlost pefretcly raergdelss of seplilng as lnog as the wrods are in cotnxet and the frist and lsat ltetres are in palce.

Hwoeevr, I biveele taht cnnasnoot oderr is nresecasy to ersnue cheoposmnrein."
Looking for a good birthday present for Almea, I came across (and ultimately purchased) a large wall map that looks something like this. It is very difficult to look at this map for a long time, as my head starts to spin. On this website and on the pamphlet that was enclosed with the map, they had some interesting historical anecdotes (they're not footnoted directly so I can't verify them, however). First off, most medieval maps had the east on top, because that was the direction of paradise (hence the word "orientation"). North-oriented maps didn't come into vogue until the advent of compasses, which pointed north themselves. Supposedly, there were a slew of south-oriented maps at that time too, before north won out as the conventional top.

Here is another map dreamt up by those plucky Canadians. It projects the world based on how far everything is from Toronto.

08 November 2003

There's an interesting article in the Times about the long-awaited film version of Prozac Nation, the controversial Harvard freshman-year memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel, famously described as "the closest thing Harvard ever produced to Britney Spears." (I don't know if that's true. Any other nominations?) The movie was finished in 2000, but Miramax has repeatedly shelved it. Currently, it's scheduled for a release sometime next spring. Word is that it's pretty lousy, but that it also contains Christina Ricci's first topless scene.

More interesting, at least to me, is the tidbit that the producer of Prozac Nation is a woman named Galt Niederhoffer, who read the book while a student at Harvard and optioned it for Millennium films. Her last name rings a bell for anyone in the hedge fund business, and a quick Google search reveals that she is, in fact, the daughter of Victor Niederhoffer, who was one of the world's most famous speculators and hedge fund managers before losing a lot of money in 1997. I'm not sure what this means, but that's the funny thing about the Harvard web: it connects people as different as Liz Wurtzel and Victor Niederhoffer in unexpected ways.

I've read Mr. Niederhoffer's own memoir, The Education of a Speculator; it's extremely literate, anecdotal, and shamelessly narcissistic. This article gives a good sense of his style: it moves from a discussion of Greek tragedy to barbs at Kenneth Lay to a statistical analysis of whether companies perform worse in the market after appearing on the cover of Forbes. (The answer: yes.) And it concludes with some verses from daughter Galt, who has a "forthcoming" coming-of-age novel of her own, American Thighs...written in iambic pentameter. It's good to be rich, isn't it?

06 November 2003

My sources tell me that if you put a tireguard over your rear tire, or if you install a bike rack, it greatly reduces the amount of water that gets splashed up.

On a different note, I found the wonderful microwave website (I don't remember if it's been posted, but I couldn't find it). There are still a lot of experiments on here that I'd like to try. I'm not too keen on the soap one though because I don't want all my food to end up tasting like soap.
Apropos of my recent post about Disney's scavenging of Shakespeare for its cute animal movies, such Hamlet in The Lion King, I've just stumbled across this description of The Lion King 1 1/2, an upcoming direct-to-video release that might well have been titled Warthog and Meerkat are Dead:
Hilarity reigns in this all-new movie starring Timon and his windy pal Pumbaa -- and featuring the new song "That's All I Need"! Now, in The Lion King 1 1/2, see how things really happened -- according to their perspective -- in this rip-roaringly funny story within the story of The Lion King. Find out the truth about some "passed" events -- such as when King Mufasa introduced his young heir to the animal kingdom. Let's just say there was something behind that dramatic moment when all the animals bowed to their new ruler!
The whole thing sounds positively Stoppardian. Still in the pipeline: Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Goofy.
It's a shame that the discussion on this blog seems to dry up as soon as Tom Cruise is declared off-limits. Oh well.

02 November 2003

An impulsive late-night ego search on Google yields the surprising news that the January/February issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is already available online as an eBook for the PalmPilot. Among the stories is a little number I like to call "Inversus." Analog's website hasn't been updated yet with the new issue, but I can only assume that "Inversus" should be making its long-awaited appearance on newsstands sometime soon. If this is indeed the case, get thee to your nearest Barnes & Noble and buy a copy or three. It would be a lovely dearthday present.
Speaking of "swishbuckling," "whalebone-loosening," and "two dead men repeatedly stabbing each other," I proudly (?) present Parley!, your one-stop source for Pirates of the Caribbean slash fanfiction. It's the sort of thing that I knew existed as soon as the thought occurred to me. It's basically full of stories that pose and answer the intriguing question: "So what did Will and Jack do while they were alone on the Interceptor?"

Warning: Not safe for work. (As the Posting Guidelines page observes, "This isn’t a het archive, sorry.")
My brother reports that he just saw a preview of the all-star Henry IV: Parts I and II premiering this month in New York, featuring an anemic Ethan Hawke as Hotspur and, as Falstaff, Kevin Kline in a big fat suit. This may give Kevin Kline the distinction of being the only modern actor to have convincingly played both Falstaff and Hamlet, which is no mean feat.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind being someone else's Keira Knightley. This whole debate makes more sense if you know, among other things, that Keira Knightley is the Pirates of the Caribbean star who got her start, as this blog noted some months ago, as the "decoy queen" to Natalie Portman in The Phantom Menace. Now, I am, or was, quite the Natalie Portman fan at one time, long before I actually began to pass her in the hallway on my way to Introductory Latin Prose Composition. However, at this point in history, I would make the shocking argument that Keira Knightley is actually better than Natalie Portman. My arguments:

1. Better breakthrough role. You could make arguments for Pirates of the Caribbean versus The Phantom Menance, but more importantly, Keira Knightley was allowed to be funny, sexy, and altogether luscious in that role, whereas Natalie Portman was allowed to pose stiffly in Kabuki makeup and make goo-goo eyes at a little boy.

2. Better last name. "Keira Knightley" is much more sprightly and vivacious-sounding. As for Natalie's real last name...well, let's just say that I don't feel like being sued, so never mind.

3. More attractive. I believe that Keira Knightley's eyes are about a millimeter further apart...and that millimeter makes all the difference.

4. Finally, Keira Knightley never snubbed Alec at the Signet. Sigh.

01 November 2003

In this article in the new york times on Nicole Kidman's career the The Human Stain spoiler appears as a throw-away paranthetical remark. Somehow people just don't think this secret is at all worth keeping despite the trailer hiding it. I guess everyone who reads the paper of record is assumed to already know the plot of all major novels.
I got a bicycle and started riding it everywhere in June. Yesterday for the first time since then it rained. I didn't realize just how bad riding a bicycle in the rain is. I got about two blocks before turning around and going home, I never made it to the department. Any suggestions for how to cycle in the rain? The spray off the wheels was just ridiculous. My current plan is to wear my waterproof pants for the ride down and then change when I get to school.

In other rain related news I got this amazing waterproof hat at the army surplus store for only $15. It looks just like normal fabric but have the amazing nanotechnology behind stain-resistant pants. Not only did they keep me completely dry during the drizzle yesterday evening, I just did an experiment of dumping an entire cup of water on my hat, and it literally just runs off. It's wonderful. I feel like I live in the future.
Speaking of coaching, here's an article on the man about to become college football's winningest coach which is worth a read.
Mystic River is, no surprise, superlatively well-acted, well-shot, and well-written, even if the last five minutes seem oddly unnecessary. It's awfully grim, though, and it doesn't provide much in the way of "take-away" moments; that is, while I was impressed throughout, I didn't find myself replaying moments in my head after the movie was over, the way you do when you've seen a true classic. However, these are quibbling comments about a movie that is really quite powerful and worth seeing.

The best part of the evening, though, was the previews. I was reminded of why it's so nice to be going to the movies in late fall: instead of squirming through a bunch of lousy trailers for movies you'd never see, you find yourself alternately intrigued, surprised, and cheerful at the prospect of releases like Big Fish, In America, and even Love Actually. (Ah, Love Actually. That trailer is awfully effective, but who in God's name would I take to see it?)

Above all, The Last Samurai. This is embarrassing. I desperately need to pan a Tom Cruise movie for once, if I'm going to retain my dignity as a critic and human being. But what can I say? There's never been a major movie star, at least in my experience, who has hit so many consecutive home runs: Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, and even the two Mission: Impossible films have all been a part of my pantheon at one time or another.

The Last Samurai would seem like an obvious candidate for a strikeout; I mean, who's this Edward Zwick character, anyway? (Confession: I met the man once, I think. Our conversation consisted entirely of him mentioning that he was working on a film called The Last Samurai, and my saying, "Oh, you mean with Tom Cruise?" He answered in the affirmative. Later, we may have had a discussion as to whether an artist can be happy. Not sure what he said in reply.) But alas: The Last Samurai looks really, really good, or at least has the slickest trailer imaginable. Anyway, we'll see, I guess.
By the way, after reading that Bob Knight bio on the Indianapolis Star website, does anyone else think that looks a lot like the obituaries-on-file that have come up several times on this weblog?
It's November, and everybody knows what that means -- it means that basketball season is here! The Chakeres era at Santa Fe Prep begins on Monday at 3:30. I won't be there, but hopefully I'll be able to make it to the late practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

My brother and I were fortunate enough to attend a coach's clinic a couple of weeks ago hosted by this guy. I am happy to report that he is as gruff and demanding in real life as he appears in person, and playing for him would be quite an ordeal. But he knows his basketball, and so we took some things that we're hoping will be able to work for our team.

The team also watched Hoop Dreams together last weekend, and I was struck by how perfect the movie was. I have never read or watched a fictional story about basketball or about high schoolers that is more compelling. I might still pick Hoosiers as my all-time favorite basketball movie, but that's because we need fairy tales and because Hoop Dreams is not really about basketball.

31 October 2003

By the way, Netflix stock is currently trading at around $70.00 per share, which means that I would have made ten times my original investment if I'd held on to those shares that I bought last October, instead of selling them a couple of weeks later at $9.00 apiece. That old financial saying holds true: the thought of a blown opportunity is infinitely more painful than the memory of an actual loss. Love sometimes works that way, too.
Retired tennis star Michael Chang is starting a hedge fund. All he needs now is a PhD in chemistry, and he'll be the perfect Chinese son. (He's straight, right?)
Ebert notes that the plotline of Brother Bear was originally meant to be inspired by King Lear, although not much of that original inspiration seems to have survived. Bearing in mind (sorry) that The Lion King was clearly rooted in Hamlet, it appears that we've stumbled across an active Disney strategy for finding new stories. Not sure if there's anything like this in the pipeline, but I'd love to see a version of Macbeth among the rabbits.
Salon's review of The Human Stain also blows the secret quickly with no spoiler warning, again I think on the principle that everyone must already know the book.
From the New York Times: Rice Faults Past Administrations on Terror.

Oh, Condi, Condi, Condi. Why couldn't you have been a nice former provost?
As usual, Roger Ebert is much more considerate. His review of The Human Stain begins with the following disclaimer:
"The Human Stain" contains a significant secret about one of the characters. This review discusses it. "There's no way we can contain the secret, and we're not even trying to," the film's producer, Tom Rosenberg, told me at the Toronto Film Festival. "It's out there already with the Philip Roth novel. And this isn't a movie like 'The Crying Game,' which is really about its secret."
Well, maybe. But this still doesn't excuse reviewers from blowing the secret for viewers who haven't read the novel (or those who began but never finished it, like me).
If you have a few hours to kill on a nice day, I recommend kayaking in San Francisco Bay. It's good exercise, the views are great, and riding 5-foot waves is a blast.

However, I do not recommend underestimating the current, paddling farther out than you can paddle back, letting it get dark, falling in the Bay while you're trying to mount the rental place's jet ski to get a ride home, and becoming utterly cold and miserable.
So yesterday I was cycling west down University Ave., and came to the intersection where northbound Shattuck makes a T with University. Since I was in the far right lane and there was no road on my right, I went straight through the red light, close on the heels of another cyclist. As we were both stopped at a light further down, a cop drove up, rolled down his window, and told me, "I'm going to give the other guy a ticket because he did it first, but you shouldn't run red lights."

The fine for running a red light in California is $271. You don't get a discount for being on a bike.

My advice: don't run red lights.

30 October 2003

I don't know what the matter is with the New York Times movie page: they have some of the best film critics in the country, but they also have this maddening tendency to casually reveal crucial plot points in the course of a movie review without so much as a spoiler warning attached. There was their infamous capsule plot summary of Magnolia, for example, which happened to reveal in the course of a few sentences the film's climactic, um, "amphibious landing." And now there's A.O. Scott's review of The Human Stain. Basically, if you have any plans to see this movie whatsoever, you'd better skip the eighth paragraph of this review...and the ninth, come to think of it. Really, you'd be better off skipping the whole article entirely. Trust me.
Of all the web sites that I visit on a weekly basis, Box Office Guru tends to be the most annoying and shoddily written, but I can't stop, if only because you'll occasionally get observations like this: "Last weekend, Brother Bear opened on 2 screens and had a per screen average of almost $146,000. With Bear expanding to around 3000 screens, if that per screen average holds, Bear would make approximately $438 million this weekend."

29 October 2003

They need to give jerry sloane coach of the year soon... The Jazz just won their first game of the post-stocktontomalone era with double digit scoring from: harpring, kirilenko, a journeymen backup named arroyo, raja bell (ditto), and pavlovic (a rookie).
What I'm reading this week: Shoot Out by Peter Bart and Peter Gruber, a juicy look behind the scenes at the modern movie industry. One of the highlights is their discussion of the movie Beyond Borders, which was originally conceived as a film about a daring volunteer doctor, written and directed by Oliver Stone and starring Kevin Costner, with Catherine Zeta-Jones (or possibly Julia Roberts) as the hero's love interest (in what was then a minor subplot). Unfortunately, Zeta-Jones passed, Costner, Stone, and Roberts dropped out, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meg Ryan took too long to decide, and so the studio was left with Angelina Jolie and no male star.

As a result, Beyond Borders was transformed from a politically-charged adventure movie about a heroic doctor (a movie that Oliver Stone certainly could have made interesting, or even phenomenal) to a love story about a woman who falls in love with the aforementioned heroic doctor. Obviously, nobody would want to see the latter movie, and nobody did: Beyond Borders opened last weeked with a pathetic $2 million dollars, not even enough to make the top ten. All in all, it's an interesting story, especially if you've ever seen the poster for a new movie and wondered, "Why did they think that anybody would want to see that?"
Noah's quote about Nietzsche reminds me of one of my favorite philosophical point-counterpoint exchanges:

Czeslaw Milosz: "What is not pronounced tends to nonexistence."
Nietzsche: "We find words only for what is already dead in our hearts."

And the debate rages on....