Saturday, December 27, 2008

Return of "Review in Haiku"

One of my favourite pursuits over the holidays has been watching movies, and I have managed to watch an average of a movie a day over the past week. It's hard to fully review all of those movies in so short a time, so I thought it would be easier to rejuvenate the dormant "Review in Haiku" format. Enjoy.

Raging Bull:
La Motta's a bum
But De Niro's brilliant and
Deserves all the hype

Simpsons Movie:
Nineteen years waiting
Results in classic Homer
And lots of guffaws

Galaxy Quest:
Star Trek spoof takes off
Still hilarious the fifth time
Watch for Dwight early

Man on Wire:
Breathtaking story
Of artistic crime; creates
Mythos of Towers

Kung Fu Panda:
Flick joins kung fu with
Funny; but what's with needless
Celeb voices, eh?

Futurama - Bender's Game:
Third full-length feature
Fun spoof of Lord of the Rings;
Come on, renewal!

I'm Not There:
Biopic sometimes flawed, but
Blanchett saves the show

The Sting:
Con man buddy flick
sets up and pays off; classic
Redford and Newman

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas of firsts

We went with some friends to a carol service and midnight mass at the Catholic Cathedral downtown. I couldn't stay in the building because of the incense, so I took some time and walked around until the service let out and the others were able to leave. In that time of perambulating, I realized that this is a Christmas unlike any other I have had. It almost feels like my first "grown-up Christmas" I am in a new city, with a new wife and new apartment. I have a new church, a new community here, a job that I enjoy, and I do not have to be concerned about what is happening at the end of April for the first time since high school. Although I am not with family and friends and I miss you all so much, I am having a very relaxing Christmas, and I have had a great first Christmas with my wife. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review: Man on Wire

Biopics have long been a staple of film culture. Re-imagining someone's life and presenting it with new actors and new perspectives almost always attracts attention and publicity, and a certain cachet of respect. Sure, sometimes they revise history a little bit or omit some of the less likable parts, but that is where "artistic interpretation" comes in (riiight). It was very refreshing, then, to watch a documentary about someone's life that still featured the creativity and freshness of a retelling of a story, while preserving the facts and history of the actual event. The film Man on Wire is the story of Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker who schemed and plotted his way into mounting a rope between the towers of the World Trade Center and performing for close to an hour in August 1974. The film features interviews with all of the participants in the event, pictures and video from the preparation and the walk, as well as creative re-enactments of some of the events, which help give a visual guide for following the action. The result is a combination of a "heist" picture, with the planning of how to stage the stunt, a story about friendship, and a breathtaking look at how one man defied the odds - and gravity! - in a quest to reach his dream. It is a very interesting film just to see all of the preparations for the stunt and to see the video of Petit finally on the wire, but what adds to the film is the mystique of the imagery of the Twin Towers. They now seem to have an almost mythical significance not only for Petit, as the site of the "artistic crime of the century", but also for the viewer. There is no mention of 9/11, but the way in which the towers are treated in the film - with reverence by Petit - helps contribute to the sense of something special in the making both for the time in 1974 and now. In a sense, this movie might help people see beyond the terrorism, and also to see that the WTC was not just an American icon; it had - and still has - an effect that goes beyond America, beyond 9/11, beyond terrorism, and that the sense of wonder brought about by Petit that day in August 1974 still lives on, even if the towers do not.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Super Mario Awesomeness

I just spent the weekend immersed in the world of Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii, and I was amazed. The way the game designers found ways to make the gameplay fresh and fun is really exceptional, and the game's controls are so unique that this is a brand new Mario experience. The creators have introduced several new abilities for Mario in addition to his already expansive list, and these new abilities - including Bee, Boo, Spring, Flying, and Ice Mario - help make the game different from anything that has come before. And then I started thinking about where I would put this Mario game in my Top 10 list of Mario games over the past twenty-five years. I decided to eliminate puzzle, sports, racing, and party variations and to focus just on the Mario games that have a storyline, whether they are platform or adventure format. I also have not played the handheld Mario games, so they will not appear on my list. This is my attempt to answer the question, "If I could play only one Mario game for the rest of my life, which one would it be?" Here are my top 10:

10. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) - The variation that did not quite work, though playing as Luigi was a lot of fun, and throwing vegetables was awesome.

9. Super Mario Bros. (NES) - The original side-scroller set the standard for platformers for many years, and it still stands up well.

8. Super Mario World (SNES) - The new twists of Yoshi, secret levels, and dual endings for levels made the 16-bit debut replayable. The Star Road secret levels made this game truly gnarly...or was it tubular?

7. Paper Mario (N64) - I have not played the two sequels to this game, but there was a really unique feel to this game that would be fun to play over and over.

6. Super Mario Sunshine (GC) - This was the most original Mario game, as Mario was equipped with a water pack with which he had to remove gunk from all over an island. This game would be higher on the list if not for its difficulty level - it was almost unbeatable in places, and there are only so many times one can play a level before frustration sets in.

5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES) - I know that this is not exactly a Mario game, since Yoshi was the main playable character, but it still featured the same kind of format as most of its predecessors, as well as many of the same enemies and situations. As one of the last entries of the 16-bit generation, this game set a new standard for side-scrolling platformers, and it was a lot of fun, despite the annoying crying of Baby Mario.

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) - Mario transformed, warped, and P-Winged his way through the eight worlds of this masterpiece. The game may be twenty years old, but it is still a really fun way to spend an afternoon. My favourite was always World 7, the Pipe World, but the whole game is still fun.

3. Super Mario 64 (N64) - This game reinvented Mario and set a new standard for platform-adventure games. The idea of exploring worlds with different missions was revolutionary, and the game has enough fun challenges to be worth playing over and over.

2. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) - Part of the joy of playing this game is simply marvelling at the wonder of the game and the seemingly endless creativity of the designers. It is inventive, and though it still uses many of the same motifs as previous incarnations of Mario, it does so in new and exciting ways. The uniqueness of the controls, which often require players to execute three separate functions at once, make for an unparalleled gaming experience. One of the drawbacks is that the game has a fairly low difficulty level, though perhaps my previous experience with Mario games contributed to my success. It is a breath-taking game at times, and it would be number one if not for...

1. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES) - The combination of Nintendo and RPG master-developer SquareSoft resulted in one of the most entertaining and replayable adventure-style RPGs ever. The storyline of the game is very interesting, and the gameplay is nearly flawless. The mini-games are a lot of fun, and it is fun to see how the Mario universe really expanded with this game. Plus, this was the first game that allowed players to play as Bowser, and that is still really cool.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The decline of Heroes

[Spoiler alert!] In the past three years, I have faithfully watched Heroes. But midway through Season 3, I have begun to wonder if the show has lost its way. I thought it might be useful to recount what has happened so far to see where Heroes has gone wrong. Heroes had an riveting first season; from the initial story arc of "save the cheerleader, save the world" through "are you on the list?" to the finale in Kirby Plaza, viewers became consumed with the lives of real people who were discovering their abilities as the season progressed. Though the season-ending showdown was not as climactic as many had hoped, it still served as a satisfying coda to an exhilirating ride.
Then came Season 2 and the writer's strike, during which the show started its decline, to the point that series creator Tim Kring apologized for the season after it aired. Though the idea of exploring the heroes' pasts through bringing in generational lines was interesting, and the Shanti virus storyline provided some momentum toward the season's conclusion, there were many problems with season 2. Hiro was stuck in medival Japan for far too long - it should have been no longer than two episodes. Too many new characters were introduced, especially the brother-sister duo of Maya and Alejandro, who contributed little to the plot other than a vehicle for Sylar to re-enter the show. Sylar should have been left out of Season 2 and brought back in Season 3. Thankfully, the whole Shanti virus storyline was cut off by the writer's strike, and the much simpler solution of just having the virus be destroyed became the easiest way out of the traps into which the writers had cornered themselves.
That brings us to Season 3, which started with Volume 3, "Villains". The end of S2 had shown some promise, and S3 upped the stakes significantly with more violence and gore and perhaps some of the most disturbing images ever shown on prime time television. But ratings were heading the wrong way - good, but not great - and the co-executive producers got axed early into the season. But it is hard to understand: there is action, intrigue, character history, a couple of key new characters, and some really cool stuff going on in this season, which has focussed on teams of heroes coming together on either side of good and evil to either support or destroy a formula that could give everyone powers. Then, as I was thinking about the season that has been, I think I realized what has gone wrong: the show is too contrived. So much of what happens in the show happens because it's plotted to happen, rather than a natural progression from one step to the other, and many of the problems the characters face are meant to keep the plot going longer.
Take, for example, the characters of Peter and Sylar. Both have been very powerful, and both have been robbed of their powers several times, whether through memory loss, injury, another character, or an eclipse. The show seems to be trying to find ways to keep them from being powerful so that they can do things with the other characters. Another recent example is Hiro losing his powers and being stuck in time. Considering that Hiro is one of the most popular characters, it's an ill-advised plot thread at best. But after suffering through several episodes in which Hiro had the mind of a 10-year-old, his powers were taken away and he was trapped in the past, which then meant that the writers needed to make another ridiculous couple of leaps to rescue him. It was all so contrived, and all of these plot movements could have been solved by eliminating the source of the contrivance - just let Hiro do his thing. I think it is this constant see-sawing of characters' powers - and even of the morality of characters - that has made the show contrived and that has taken away from the show. Although I enjoy observing some moral ambiguity and personal struggle, let most of the characters be either good or evil, and focus on a few characters who can vacillate (the Petrellis, for example).
Things have been overcomplicated too often in the show; sometimes, the simplest solution is the best and least contrived. The writers need to work at figuring out the most natural solution and letting situations unfold, rather than creating situations that they need to create complicated circumstances to solve. It does seem, however, that there is some clarity now, as the show enters Volume 4: "Fugitives." The heroes are now faced with an X-Men-like scenario in which the government is bent on destroying them, and they will have to bond together to survive. After a maniacal purging of almost all of the secondary characters, the show is left with its main stars: Parkman, Daphne (the newcomer), Claire, Noah, Mohinder, Peter, Nathan, Hiro, Ando, Micah, and Tracy Strauss (another "newcomer"). Perhaps the threat of humans will help bring things together; perhaps the elimination of all of these lesser lights will help bring focus on the main characters. As long as what happens in the next half-season is less contrived, the show will survive. Otherwise, Heroes may find itself entering Volume 5: "Cancellation".

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The winter of my content

I had my first snow day yesterday. We had about 6 cm of snow and a windchill of gasp! -13 here in Victoria, so school was cancelled. It strikes me as quite humourous that I had to leave Saskatchewan to get a day off work because of winter weather, but a day off is a day off. It's actually quite nice right now on the Island, as temperatures are not supposed to be above freezing until Christmas Eve. Yay for snow in December! Also, it's much brighter at night now, and there's wind! I did not know how much I would miss wind until I heard it again. So, sure, it's the kind of weather that Saskatchewan has at the beginning of November and the end of March, but it's still winter, and it still reminds me of home. I am content.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Trekkie time

I, like other bloggers, am nerding out over the new Star Trek trailer. I am very optimistic about the movie, which seems to be prepared to re-vision the Star Trek universe in much the same way James Bond and Batman have been re-imagined. But even the release of this movie speaks to the enduring nature of Star Trek; the series is one of the most significant examples of pop culture becoming enduring culture. I think, along with the writers of Futurama, that Star Trek will be looked upon as a significant part of Western culture in the latter half of the 20th century; not only has the show had a committed following, but it has had significant cultural impact beyond its media. It has changed technology, language, cultural customs, and even politics (in a minor way, but the influence is still there). Plus, it introduced the world to Shatner, without whom we wouldn't have this. Or this. Or this (one of the DVD releases I really want to see happen soon).

And for your enjoyment, here is one view of how William Shatner may have reacted to the new trailer.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Careful, man, there's a beverage here!"

I have, in the recent past, declared my fandom of the cult classic movie The Big Lebowski. When I meet people who say they are movie people, I often throw out a quotation from the movie, just to see if they live up to their words. If another quotation comes back, I know they're not lying; if they stare at me blankly, I know I've got some work to do. It is one of those movies that stayed mainly in the cultural subconscious - at least until this year. The critical success of No Country For Old Men and the relative box-office success of possible future cult favourite Burn After Reading have resulted in a renewed interest in the Coens, which combined with a recent tenth anniversary release of Lebowski, has brought the movie back to common pop culture awareness. One example is this New York Times article, which chronicles the revival of the White Russian, the Dude's main beverage. It is doubtful that the movie will ever become "mainstream", but its reputation has grown and developed over the past ten years, both in pop culture and academic analysis, and it is not hard to foresee that the appreciation of the movie will only continue to grow. As always, the Dude abides, and I take comfort in that.

The Canadian "Crisis"

What a week it has been in Canadian politics and blogger rhetoric. The metaphorical fur has flown throughout the week, and many vindictive tirades have been lashed against the "power-hungry PM" and the "undemocratic, insurrectionist, unconstitutional, anti-Canadian, pro-separatist" proposers of the coalition government. And then, today, Governor-General Michaelle Jean ended a week of speculation by proroguing Parliament according to the wish of the PM, which then avoids the impending vote of non-confidence and preserves the Conservatives' power until the new year. Of course, it is doubtful that the media exposure to this "crisis" will end; there will be endless posturing on the future of Harper, Dion, and Parliament, much to the delight of the major newspapers, to the chagrin of people who are sick of politics, and to the indifference of the rest of the world. But only in Canada could this situation be called a "crisis"; after all, it has challenged our values of "peace, order, and good government," and left Canada with the possibility of a Parliament run by a different party that is mostly filled with middle-class white people with semi-conservative social values and semi-liberal political ideals (and yes, I would consider myself a political cynic). This is a situation that has been blown way out of proportion because of media frenzy and opposition parties who are frustrated with a minority government that is ruling like a majority, and I believe that the G-G made the correct decision in proroguing Parliament. Dion would have, at best, been a lame-duck PM, with his resignation impending with a leadership convention upcoming in May, and it is difficult to foresee that the coalition would have functioned any better than the current dysfunctional government has. In proroguing this session of Parliament, the G-G has given this government a chance to right its wrongs through compromise and negotiation, rather than giving up on this government entirely. She has also partially corrected the mistake she made in allowing an election to happen in the first place, when she should have told Harper to make Parliament work; she has now seemingly taken that step, and it is a good precedent to set on the Hill. She has put some faith in Stephen Harper's ability to fix things, and it is now his responsibility to do so; whether Harper rewards her faith in him will be seen when Parliament resumes in January. And if his government fails after this measure, he will bear the brunt of the blame - and deservedly so.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Release on the Horizon

With most of the major 2008 releases now in stores (including the long-awaited Chinese Democracy, which is definitely on my radar), it is time to start looking forward to the releases coming in 2009. As Cities Burn, mewithoutyou, Fiction Family (Jon Foreman side project), Mute Math (check out the new song "Spotlight" off the Twilight soundtrack!), and Switchfoot are among my eagerly anticipated (although some only rumoured) releases of next year, but the one that tops my list is U2's next album, which is tentatively titled No Line on the Horizon. The band has been working again with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and this interview with Edge only makes me want to hear it more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Synecdoche, New York

"Eschew obfuscation" - words of wisdom to remind writers to forego making writing overly complex and to keep things as simple as possible. Charlie Kaufman must have missed that lesson. All of his films feature some kind of warping of the mind, and all of them hang on some sort of conceit that is unpacked throughout the film that, though initially difficult to understand, is a key component to entering into his twisted world. With his history of writing, one would expect that his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, would feature an accelerated sense of this mindbending style because there is no director to balance out Kaufman's mania. One would be right - this film is more involved, more twisted, and more introspective than any of Kaufman's previous films, which is precisely why it works so well.
On the surface, the film is about a middle-aged theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who proves yet again why he is perhaps the best actor of this generation) who is given a grant to create a work of art. He chooses to focus on creating a replica of his life, which features a rotating cast of women, an unhealthy fixation on death, a deteriorating nervous system, an estranged daughter, and many labyrinthine contemplations on life. Below the surface, this is Kaufman's projection of anxiety over life, love, death, reality, art, faith, medicine, calling, purpose, and value. Does Kaufman attempt to answer any of these issues? Indirectly, I suppose, but it is in the asking that they find their significance, and that Caden finds his.
This is a film that is full of metaphor and imagery, unlike almost any other film I have seen. And it is not easy imagery, either; this is a difficult film to understand. To begin unpacking it is an exercise in Graduate English studies, and one gets the sense that there are few - likely including Kaufman - who fully grasp everything that the film is saying and doing. It does not have a "point", per se, because, like life, it has many points, and there are many truths presented. Part of the brilliance of Kaufman is that he manages to leave so much up to the interpretation of the viewer without becoming relativistic. His films are more like prisms through which light shines in many ways than a light bulb which allows for one type of illumination; both let you see, but the prism is far more engaging and beautiful.
This brings me to a very significant point. Some critics, like EW's often sophmoric Owen Glieberman, discounted this film because it is difficult (This is the same reviewer who labelled Epic Movie as "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Serious credibility issues there). They are denouncing it as labyrinthine, self-involved, and obscure, and counting that as a reason for not watching it. Of course it is labyrinthine and involved - it's Kaufman! Kaufman is not easy, and he never will be, nor should he be. His films are difficult, but that should not detract from evaluating the film. The question to ask is whether the film accomplishes what it set out to do in a way that is engaging, fresh, visually appealing, well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and innovative. The answer to all of these questions is yes - Kaufman has brought to life a difficult conceit, and he directs Hoffman through the maze in mesmerizing form. This film is brilliant, and it explores all of the issues of life through the life of one man who stands as a synecdoche for us all. Even Owen Gleiberman, who would seem content to not even try.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Human or danser?

The Killers have a lot going against them. Brandon Flowers has little stage presence. At the worst, the music descends into the depths of synthesizer hell. And sometimes the lyrics are painful prose. The latest offender is the new lead single, "Human", which features the lyric, "are we human, or are we danser?" - both a rhetorical and grammatical travesty. And I checked, and that is the lyric. And despite all of these shortcomings, I am excited about the new album, Day and Age, which releases on Tuesday. They truly are my guilty pleasure. And for your pleasure, this is their recent performance of that song from the European Music Awards. Enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movies in November and December

The regular bi-monthly media update is here with my movies to watch for in the next two months. As usual, November and December are extra busy, what with all of the award contenders coming up, so it's a good thing that January and February provide ample time for catching up. Of course, I missed out on a couple of movies from October (Passchendaele, Synecdoche, New York), so I've got a bit of a backlog, but here are the ten movies coming out in the next six weeks that I am hoping to watch.

Quantum of Solace - New Bond. 'Nuff said.
Australia (Nov. 26) - Baz Luhrmann's first film since 2001's Moulin Rouge should be worth the wait.
Happy-Go-Lucky - Mike Leigh's movie about Poppy, an ever-pleasant primary school teacher, has been generating a lot of buzz.
Slumdog Millionaire - Call it Boyle meets Bollywood or Trainspotting in India; however you identify it, it looks really good.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec. 12) - Scott Derrickson's revisioning of the 50s sci-fi classic could be really good...or really Keanu. I'm not sure how it will turn out, and that's half the fun.
The Brothers Bloom (Dec. 19) - Rian Johnson directs Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo in a millionaire-thief-caper-heist movie. It could be fun.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec. 25) - David Fincher and Brad Pitt are back together in this adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story about how a man grows younger as he ages. It will be trippy if nothing else.
Valkyrie (Dec. 26), Defiance (Dec. 31) - Two movies about real events in WWII. The former, directed by Bryan Singer, tells the story of a plot to kill Hitler; the latter, directed by war-movie veteran Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), tells the story of three Polish brothers who defied the Nazis. Singer's movie could be overly jingoistic and Zwick's might be overwrought, but they will both likely feature at least one memorable performance and some amazing camera work.

Also on the radar: Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, which pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet again.

P.S. - My Early Best Picture nominees prediction: Australia, Defiance, Valkyrie, Happy-Go-Lucky, Slumdog Millionaire.

AFI Top 100

In season 1 of "30 Rock", Pete and Liz decide to start watching through the American Film Institute's Top 100 films of all time; they get stuck because they only own Tootsie and Star Wars, but the sentiment was there. After watching that episode, I went back to look at how many of the top 100 films I had seen, and I was astonished. Of the 121 films included on the original list or on the revised list, I had seen only about 20. I have since watched a few more, but as a "movie guy" and "pop culture enthusiast", I am ashamed to admit that I have 93 of these films yet to see. (I do realize the possible logical fallacy I am committing in subscribing to this authority, but this list is fairly comprehensive, and it's the best list I could find.) So in an effort to continue to expand my horizons, as well as to eliminate the gaps in my knowledge, I am embarking on a journey to attempt to watch all of the films remaining on my list by the end of 2010. Two years, 93 movies...I think I can do it. I will post some comments or thoughts on each film on the blog as I view it. In the past month, I have watched the audacious Hollywood musical Singin' in the Rain, the witty and acerbic romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story, and the deliciously dark and devious mystery The Third Man. I am thoroughly enjoying my project so far, and it will be an interesting couple of years.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama the orator

It has only been a day since the American election was decided, but I am decidedly optimistic about the future of the United States under President Obama. I am not ready to canonize St. Obama yet, but I think that his election to the presidency is and will be a significant historical marker for this generation and decades to come. I also believe that he is the first true statesman to be elected President since JFK (I know Bill Clinton had his folksy charm, but a lot of his stature came through his time in office), and that there is a strong possibility that Obama will be remembered as one of the great orators of this generation. Like the leaders of the sixties (JFK, RFK, MLK), he has a sense of purpose and vision behind his words that belies a much greater spirit. I remember that I first saw Obama speaking on The Daily Show shortly after his election to the Senate in 2004, and seeing him not only keep up but outdo Jon Stewart in jokes in an interview; that kind of sharp wit and quick tongue demonstrates not only his appeal but his ability to wield the word. It is ironic that much of his campaign was reduced to three words ("Yes, we can!") when he seems to be an eloquent speaker, but now we have four years to see what kind of lexicon Obama can manipulate. Perhaps his orations will even outdo to contributions to society's speech from the outgoing President - though there will likely be far fewer malapropisms - unless I'm misunderestimating Obama.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review - W.

It seems like a powder keg waiting to explode: a controversial director making a movie about the most reviled U.S. President ever while he is still in office, right before a potentially world-changing election. But despite the apocalyptic possibilities of W., Stone has crafted a film that is balanced, fair, and measured, though perhaps overly simplistic at points.
Stone chooses to frame the film within the context of the invasion into Iraq, beginning in 2002 and ending before the 2004 election. He uses flashbacks to show the viewer some of the complexity of W.'s faith, political background, and economic successes. Stone deftly uses past events to inform and enhance the narrative of the administration's decision to enter Iraq. The film's editing is almost seamless, as it constantly changes times without confusing the viewer, and Stanley Weiser's writing is certainly to credit for the success of the parallel narratives. So what does Stone do with these useful tools?
He seems to conclude three premises in the film: that W. has a severe daddy complex, and that his failure to meet his father's standards is partially what drove him; W. has always had people around him to tell him what to do, whether that was his father, Karl Rove, or Dick Cheney; and that at the heart of it all, W. is just a man like the rest of us. Stone portrays W. sympathetically, as a man who is simply trying to make something of himself. We are meant to see him as a man who is constantly in turmoil, and who is battling his own expectations along with the expectations of the people around him. To accomplish this, Stone plays on the baseball motif - there are, after all, rumours that W. would love to become Commissioner of Major League Baseball - with surprising success. But where he seems to come up short is in going too far in making W. a simple man. There seems to be a little too much going on behind the scenes, and it robs W. of some of his mystique. Perhaps it is true that Bush is that simple and that he was almost entirely extrinsically motivated; but I think Stone does oversimplify unfairly to make his point.
Stone does bring some great performances out of his actors. Josh Brolin captures the essence of Bush without succumbing to parodying him. There are only a few examples of the "Bush face", and Brolin's portrayal contains the kind of nuance required to make the points that Stone wants to make. The supporting cast varies from excellent to comical, especially in Bush's Cabinet. While Richard Dreyfuss (Cheney), and Scott Glenn (Rumsfeld) give their characters a quiet yet powerful presence, Thandie Newton (Condoleeza Rice) and Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell) seem to be performing more of an impersonation than an interpretation. The real stand-outs are James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn as George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. They bring a lot of emotion and passion into the film, and they both steal several scenes.
So the big question is not what Stone is trying to say with this film, but what he doesn't say. Stone is not derisively satirical of the president, though he allows some levity at the expense of Bush. Neither does Stone want us to reverse all of our thinking about Bush and to remember him more fondly than we should. Stone's primary point is not to tell us what W.'s legacy will be, but to remember to consider different points of view when evaluating that legacy. And perhaps, in a way, Stone is asking us to re-evaluate our view of his legacy, too. If he can seemingly become a measured filmmaker again, there is hope for everyone. Even W.

Award prediction: W. will be nominated for several Golden Globes, which will then be followed by several key nominations at the Academy Awards: Picture, Actor (Brolin), Supporting Actor (Dreyfuss or Cromwell) and Supporting Actress (Burstyn), Writing, Director, and Editing.

Nerd of the year

Put down your calculators and pocket protectors, and turn down your Stephen Hawking podcasts! It's time to name the winner of the prestigious "Nerd of the Year" title. For those who do not remember, here are the winners of the first four "Nerds of the Year" here at Life of Turner. (Okay, okay, I haven't named any nerds of any year yet, but let's pretend that I did and that this is the recap.)

2004: Although Michael Moore came close with his hit movie Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004's title was owned by a scrawny kid in snow boots who encouraged us to vote for Pedro - Napoleon Dynamite (played by Jon Heder). Napoleon was a nerd for the ages, and his sweet moves still inspire nerds all over to think they can dance.

2005: Steve Carell made virginity cool again in the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and he also made boss Michael Scott somewhat likable in spite of his extreme nerdiness in the American version of The Office.

2006: Two nerds who focused on the truth tied for this award in '06; one's was inconvenient, and the other's was very fuzzy. Al Gore continued to campaign against climate change, for his election to the Presidency (though it was six years too late), and to take a stranglehold on "nerd of the decade" with his slide-show-stravaganza An Inconvenient Truth. Stephen Colbert was responsible for coining words like "truthiness" and "wikiality", and his incessant nerdish ramblings captivated a nation - the Colbert Nation. Now if only Colbert could interview Gore...

2007: Runner-up Michael Cera came close with his decidedly nerdy turns in Superbad and Juno, and runner-up America Ferreira became a sensation in Ugly Betty, but the top nerd for 2007 was another insecure woman working in a cutthroat industry: Tina Fey. Her program 30 Rock won its first Emmy in its first season, and Fey's frantic Liz Lemon was a huge reason for that success. The first female nerd of the year really deserved her crown, as well as some more Spanish cheese puffs.

And that brings us to the Nerd of the Year for 2008. Honourable mention goes to Joel and Ethan Coen, whose film No Country for Old Men dominated the Oscars, which was followed by box-office success with Burn After Reading. But the true Nerd of the Year is Chuck Bartowski, the star of Chuck who is played by Zachary Levi. Chuck is one of the most enjoyable shows on television right now, and it is in large part to Levi's portrayal of Chuck as a frantic yet unashamed nerd working simultaneously in a dead-end job for the Nerd Herd at the local Buy More and as a secret spy for the government. Whether it's using his alias Charles Carmichael or reciting battle plans from Call of Duty 4 to defeat murderous villains, Chuck has made disaffected, unmotivated twenty-somethings everywhere proud. And that is why Chuck Bartowski is the 2008 Nerd of the Year.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Chase"-ing his dreams

When you have a spare fifteen minutes or so, take a read through the story of Chase Hilgenbrinck, a professional soccer player who decided to enter the priesthood. It is encouraging to see this kind of commitment to God's leading.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The futility of grading

Over the past week, I have been attempting to catch up on grading assignments to give the students an "accurate picture" of where they are before report cards. As I have tried to compute their grades in PE, I have been reminded as to the futility of grading. How is it possible to give physical activity a number? I'm evaluating their behaviour, not their ability. I would far rather have a number of subjects, like PE, be Pass/Fail courses, rather than trying to assign meaningless numbers to the students. Then there is the disturbing fact that a relatively arbitrary number becomes meaningful as a measure of one's worth, and that it remains that way as long as we participate in our western education system. It bothers me that I have to give out grades which reflect as much my personality as it does theirs but that have fairly significant meaning for them and their future. (As a ridiculous example, I had to submit my high school transcript to be qualified to teach in BC, eight years, two degrees, and a teaching job later. What possible bearing could those outdated marks have on me being qualified to teach now? But I digress...) Our system of grading is inherently flawed, and it is frustrating and futile, but yet I must relent and obey the rules of the system. Where's Jack Keating when you need him?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

That's all kinds of constitutional, baby!

I'm always in favour of resurrecting classic pop culture moments, and the return of Terry Tate, Office Linebacker is long overdue. The Palin is painful, but Tate is terrific. Enjoy.

"You better vote or that’s all she wrote!" - Terry Tate

P.S. Thanks to QOWP for the link.

Student aid

Today's Globe and Mail contained this article about how, despite the increase in overall amount of money put toward student aid, that fewer students are receiving aid according to their needs. So even though the pool is bigger, there are more swimmers in it, which means that there is less room for each swimmer. The study states that students in some provinces have in excess of $7,500 in student debt for each year spent in university, and that students are graduating with far more debt. As someone who graduated with debt of around $60,000, I am an example of these statistics. Granted, I made choices that oriented me toward accruing more debt: I did not work for most of my time in university, and I chose to do low-paying summer camp work for five out of my six summers as a student, and I completed two degrees over seven years. But I also chose to live in situations that I could afford, and to forego certain conveniences and privileges in accordance with my choices. There are many possible solutions: perhaps more money can be given in performance-based scholarships; perhaps governments need to work on debt-forgiveness rather than unproven post-graduation tax breaks; perhaps governments can funnel more money into helping fund university programs. The fact is that governments (provincial and federal) cannot keep up with need in the current model of providing student aid, and the needs will only continue to increase as universities continue to have higher operating expenses that then lead them to accepting more students, which in turn means that more students are trying to receive aid. It will not be easy to revamp this flawed system, but with a comprehensive re-evaluation of how money is distributed, it can happen. And I might even have my loans paid off by then.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The post-election hangover

It is two days after Canada marginally changed the country's political make-up. Here are some of my early responses to the election.

1. I still have a dislike for the combination of voting for regional and national representation simultaneously. In this case, in choosing the best regional candidate I had to choose a less-than-satisfactory candidate for PM. Granted, I was not happy with any of the candidates, but the discrepancy that can occur between legislative and executive is enough for me to continue to mistrust the first-past-the-post system.

2. Rick Mercer was right on Tuesday night when he commented that nothing has changed and all it cost us was $300 million to find that out. This was an unnecessary election, and it accomplished nothing. The only reason the next election will wait is because of all of the hubbub surrounding the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver; but all bets are off after that.

3. Columnists like Jonathan Kay, who wrote an intriguing piece about the leftist shift in Canadian politics, are correct when they write a lament for the majority government. With the Bloc and NDP splitting significant parts of the vote, there is little hope for a majority government in the foreseeable future, despite the fact that all but the Conservative Party share very similar values. Canadians would be better served having three distinct options - right, centre, and left - rather than two options disguised as five.

4. The fact that the Bloc is still allowed to exist is an indictment of the problems inherent in our system. The Bloc can never hold office, and all they can ever hope to do is to interfere with the Canadian values of peace, order, and good government. Duceppe's claim that the Bloc is what kept the Conservatives from achieving a majority government is proof enough that his party - though purporting to represent Quebeckers - serves little more purpose than over-representing the imagined needs of a continually unsatisfied province. At least parties like the Conservatives have overcome their regional origins to have national appeal; the Bloc simply block others from making governments work. I would love to see a bill passed that required parties to run candidates in a certain percentage of ridings or to receive a higher percentage of the popular vote to exist as a party, if only just to see the Bloc eradicated. I am not anti-Francophone, but I am anti-Bloc; if you confuse the two, you're just giving into Duceppe's rhetoric.

5. The voter turnout - the lowest ever at 59.1 % - is shameful and appalling, and it indicates that something is seriously wrong. As much as we malign other voting systems, at least many of them can get more than 3 out of 5 people to vote. It's an absolute disgrace, and it needs to be fixed for the next election; I don't know how, but something needs to change, and soon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Picking "my teams"

After much haranguing and consideration, I have decided that I will follow only two sports teams: the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. I have flirted with the idea of trying to follow basketball, American football, and baseball more closely, but I don't have the time and I could never settle on a team - and sports are not as interesting without following a team. Sure, I could have just picked teams, but I felt like there had to be some kind of emotional connection to a team. I think if I were to pick teams, I'd go with the Minnesota Twins in baseball (I'm just not a Jays fan), the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, and who knows in the NBA. But the fact is that it would take so much to follow those teams and sports, and there just is not the kind of return from such a pursuit that would justify the time and energy I would spend. I will keep up with the sports on a casual basis, as I still want to keep some level of credibility as a sports guy, but unless something really changes I will keep only two teams in my constant radar. And since the only thing to cheer for the Leafs is that they lose enough games to draft John Tavares, the Riders get way more of my attention right now. Go Green and White!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reviews: Delirious?, Dragonforce, Deas Vail

Delirious?, Kingdom of Comfort - The pioneers of the contemporary arena worship movement released one last album before calling it quits, and it shows that there is still life not only in their artistry, but also in the genre. Though at times their sound is derivative of other artists (Radiohead, U2, Newsboys, early Delirious - the usual), there are some songs that are truly inspiring and worshipful. Comfort is a fitting end to a strong career, and an epitaph for one of the more creative artists in worship music. 3/5

Dragonforce, Ultra Beatdown - No surprise here, just more metal-meets-Nintendo-on-speed in eight-minute increments. There are a lot of solos, a lot of guitar and voice wails, and arpeggios aplenty, and not much variation from previous albums. But really, how many of these songs does one need? I'll venture that "Through the Fire and the Flames" is probably enough for most people, but diehard fans will buy into this album. 2.5/5

Deas Vail, White Lights EP - Deas Vail's All the Houses Look the Same, one of 2007's more original albums, receives a much-needed follow-up EP to bridge the gap until the release of the next full-length album sometime next spring. The EP demonstrates more melodic creativity and anthemic awareness than before and proves that Deas Vail is an artist to observe over the next year. 4.5/5

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Burn After Reading

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who starts chuckling at what they think is a shared joke, only to realize awkwardly that you had no idea what they were talking about? Or have you ever been with people who start laughing, and when they try to explain why they are laughing, it just is not that funny? Or when someone tells a story that starts to go somewhere but just ends up leaves you wondering about the point of what they were trying to say? Burn After Reading is all of these things simultaneously, providing a mildly entertaining yet ultimately forgettable experience. (For an accurate perspective, read Rick Groen's review of the movie.)
Reading is set-up as a farce, and all the pieces are in place for a Coen-style comedy: some wacky characters; a need for money; some random coincidences; and a random played-up ethnic stereotype (Russians). It tries to bring everything together in a comic explosion, but the self-proclaimed "screwball comedy" tries vainly to live up to its own billing, but the story never gains the momentum to be able to do so. There are certainly some chuckles (and a few outright guffaws), but most of the film seems to consist of situations that are not funny in themselves but that provoke laughs because it's a comedy and it's time to laugh. It seems like the movie just does not quite succeed, so perhaps the best review is to look at how the movie does not do what it sets out to do.
The characters are a little too thin. The Coens are known for writing parts for actors, and the star wattage is here: Clooney, Pitt, McDormand, Swinton, and Malkovich. Clooney is very enjoyable as a suburban lothario, and Malkovich spews forth frustrated expletives as no one else does, but Pitt and McDormand are too over-the-top; more understated performances may have helped bring the viewer in more, but they are just too far removed from reality. Though J.K. Simmons steals the show - as he always does. The circumstances that bring everything together are also too coincidental. Sure, comedies like this thrive on coincidence, but there comes a point at which there can be too much random happenstance. And besides, not everything fully comes together - several stories are left hanging, and there is not the kind of resolution required of a farce.
But perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the film is the fact that it ostensibly has no point - not even the characters figure out what's going on (even the smart ones). The viewer just scratches their head and wonders if what they saw had anything to do with anything. Of course, that might be the point, knowing the Coens - maybe the point is that things just happen and stories go on and in the end it amounts to nothing. But even if that is their point, it doesn't quite work the way it should.
Finally, much has been made of how this film is the Coens' next cult film, a la The Big Lebowski. Though there is a cult-ish quality about the movie, I doubt Reading will achieve the same legacy. Lebowski worked because of the cluelessness of The Dude as he weaves his way through a web of intrigue that is really, at its core, about a soiled rug. The humour comes primarily from watching the Dude because he's a really likable guy. But Reading lacks that charm and that sense of purpose; it features mostly unlikable people doing unlikable things in an unlikable way without having that centre character to bring it all back in. Maybe this is the Coens' way of subverting the genre; again, if it is, it still doesn't work.
So despite some gamely performances and some great set-ups, Burn After Reading collapses under its own attempts to eschew convention and try something a little different. It will undoubtedly have its proponents, and Coen fans will find a way to make it fit into the Coen canon, but the result is weak, even for Coen fans - an inside joke that nobody's in on, and an unfortunate waste of a great premise and trailer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mini-reviews: Cooper, Superchick, ADM, Dylan

Alice Cooper, Along Came A Spider: Cooper's 18th album brings the familiar snarl of the shock rocker, along with the twist of perspective to address issues of morality from the point of view of a killer named Spider. Although it is impressive that Cooper has been making albums for forty years now and that there is still some creative fervor in his new work, Spider is not anything new or really interesting. 2/5

Superchic[k], Rock What You Got: Grrl power is back with a harder edge than previous efforts, perhaps in part due to popularity of aggressive female-fronted acts like Paramore and Flyleaf. The message of empowerment and believing in yourself is as strong as it ever was, but the playful sense of the band's early albums has been replaced with the feeling of having the message stuffed down your throat. There are one or two catchy new songs ("Hey Hey", "Hold"), but it's a tired schtick. 1.5/5

Austrian Death Machine, Total Brutal: For all of those metalheads lamenting the lack of comedy-thrashcore, this album is for you. ADM is the brainchild of Tim Lambesis from As I Lay Dying, and it combines his love of the Arnold Schwarzenegger and some really heavy metal riffs. The result is both hilarious and hardcore, and fans of the band will smile as they bang their heads. "Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers" will never be the same. 3.5/5

Jakob Dylan, Seeing Things: Dylan's debut solo album is mostly acoustic, mostly folk, and mostly brilliant. He sounds a lot like The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello) and his dad - both of which are good things. Dylan's album is honest, vulnerable, and simple, and one of the best albums of the year so far. 4/5

Life after God

"Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."

-Douglas Coupland, Life After God (p. 359)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A different type of election

Well, it's voting time again. There are so many familiar parts to this election, like the sounds of politics: mud being slung; promises being uttered; retractions being muttered; and caterwauling the norm of all candidates. But I think this election will be different from the last few for me after moving from Saskatchewan, a place that is either highly Conservative or extremely Socialist - and sometimes paradoxically both simultaneously to Victoria - a rather Liberal place. It will be interesting to see how media coverage is different here, and how the election plays out here on the Island. Also, I will be interested to see how much Harper wins his majority by; I don't necessarily like him or his policies, but he really seems to be the only candidate who could win, and I think the voters will be sick of minority governments. Maybe he and Barack could make nice-nice, too. But there is one big downside to the election being called now: I made the unfortunate decision of delaying teaching Social Studies until next semester in hopes that the Canadian election would be called then. Oh well.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Media in Sept. and Oct. 2008

I will admit it: free time will be at a premium for me over the next few months, what with a new wife and a new job in a new city and all. But what spare moments I do have will very possibly be devoted to keeping up with some of the following music, movies, and television coming out over the next two months. Here is a list of the media I am planning to watch, listen to, and experience in September and October.

Burn After Reading (Sept. 12) - The Coens' new movie has been compared to The Big Lebowski. That's a good thing, especially with a delightfully manic Brad Pitt and John Malkovich involved.
Slacker Uprising (September 23) - Michael Moore takes a page out of Radiohead's book and releases his new movie - about the upsurge in 20-something voting in 2004 - online for free, ostensibly to motivate the kind of people who would only download movies to vote in November.
Body of Lies (October 10) - Ridley Scott has not had the greatest track record lately, but this thriller is written by William Monaghan (The Departed) and stars Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. It could be good, or...
W. (October 17) - Oliver Stone's supposedly inflammatory view of George W. Bush's presidency, with a star-studded cast and Josh Brolin as W. Whether you agree with Stone or not, this will be a hot-button movie.
Passchendaele (October 17) - Paul Gross brings one of the greatest times in Canadian military history to the big screen. Finally.
Synecdoche, New York (October 24) - Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a manic director in Charlie Kaufman's newest film and debut as director. It will be interesting, at least.

Television: The big question is whether TV-dom can recover after an overall weak year because of the writer's strike. Some of the shows I'll be watching for include:

Chuck (September 29) - One of the few bright lights last year; but can they keep up the spy-nerd show feel as successfully this year?
Dexter (September 28) - S2 took viewers through a cat-and-mouse chase with an FBI agent abd deeper into Dexter's twisted psyche, and ended with a newly resolved Dexter. If S1 was about his childhood, S2 was his adolescence, and now he is an adult. Scary.
Friday Night Lights (October 1) - NBC and DirecTV begin the great experiment of sharing a show between mainstream and cable. FNL's fans might just make it work - especially with Janine Turner joining the cast. But there needs to be more football!
Heroes (September 22) - Volume Three: Villains will improve on Generations. It has to.
My Name Is Earl (September 25) - This season's promo is "Back to the List", which makes me wonder why they ever got away from it in the first place. Earl should regain its step this year, especially with guest stars like David Arquette, who plays a person with no memories who Earl needs to make up to.
The Office (September 25) - S4 ended on a high note, but the looming spinoff series might interfere with the show. And something needs to happen with Jim and Pam!
Survivor (September 25) - the show goes back to Africa
30 Rock (October 30) - By far the best comedy on TV last year, but can it keep the laughs coming? Let's hope!

Music: 2008 has been a really weak year for music. Really weak. But I hold out hope for a few releases coming out in the next few months.

Jonezetta – Cruel To Be Young (September 16)
Anberlin – New Surrender (September 30)
Keane - Perfect Symmetry (October 13)
Bloc Party – Intimacy (October 27)
Snow Patrol – A Hundred Million Suns (October 27)
Dido – Safe Trip Home (November 3)

Throw in the NHL premiere on October 4, the American election, and trying to catch up on Battlestar Galactica, and I'll be a busy guy. Ah, the life of a culture vulture.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Life on the Island

I am now three weeks into my life on the island, and there are a few oddities that I have already noticed in my time here. Some products are more readily available - fruit and fish, for example - but some are strangely rare, such as stir fry mixes. (I was confused too.) Milk is ridiculously expensive - twice as much as in Saskatchewan. But since Wal-Mart carries Dairyland products, we can still get Saskatoon Berry yogurt! Fruit is very cheap, but it spoils much more quickly.
There is a refreshing lack of fast food in Victoria, except for two: Tim Hortons is everywhere, and the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets here are old school. "Island time" is fairly relaxed, which has been convenient so far for us. And there are thrift stores everywhere - perhaps because nothing really leaves the Island, even though people leave all the time. But I stand to get some pretty good stuff out of the deal, so it's alright by me. But I do miss my socialist paradise - car insurance and health care cost money here. Seriously, what is that nonsense. But that's life on the Island.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

How's married life?

When I looked at the calendar and saw today's date, I was taken aback. I could not account for the past month. And then I thought about it, and I realized that in the past month I have: gotten married, gone on a honeymoon, travelled around Saskatchewan, packed up all our earthly belongings, stayed at several different houses, said goodbye to many many people, and begun planning courses for the fall. And I have all but shunned my pop culture addiction in the last thirty-one days; for the first time in about eight years, I did not buy a new CD this past month. But I did see The Dark Knight - and that was all I needed to see. The pace does not change in the near future: two weddings sandwiching a week in the 'Toon that will be full of people, followed by the Move. And in the midst of all of this, people ask "how's married life?" The answer, for now, is one word: convenient. The rest I will know in September.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review - The Dark Knight

Many moviegoers entered 2008 with one movie that they "had to see": The Dark Knight. Between the questions left after 2005's Batman Begins and the unexpected publicity the movie received after Heath Ledger's death, TDK became the movie of the summer, setting the record for money earned in an opening weekend. Though it is rare that a movie with this level of hype can actually live up to its expectations, The Dark Knight exceeds them because of the nuance and depth of Christopher Nolan's Gotham, and the movie takes its rightful place as the best superhero movie yet.
The Dark Knight begins in medias res, in a Gotham that is darker, more twisted, and more morally complex than the Gotham of Batman Begins. In this new Gotham even Batman is seen as an agent of division, and the moral integrity of the city's hero is repeatedly questioned. While most superhero movies settle for a superficially binary examination of morality, Nolan's tangled web of mob men, crooked cops, bribed officials, and good guys allows for a mature investigation of themes such as justice, free will, moral responsibility, violence, identity, and accountability. It is this depth that really allows the characters to shine and explore new territory. The Dark Knight is, more than anything, a tale of morality; it uses its characters and situations to make the viewers think about their values and their humanity.
Christian Bale seems to be unfortunately disengaged from the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for much of the movie, but perhaps his performance was simply restrained to accentuate his foil, the manic Joker. Heath Ledger's Joker is a re-visioning of the famous villain which honors the previous incarnations (particularly Nicholson’s iconic 1989 performance), but which eliminates the elements of camp and kitsch from the Joker. This Joker is concerned only with creating chaos and "watching the world burn", and Ledger uses the right combination of cavalier and insane to make the character work. He is both uncontrollable and in control; amoral and obsessed with human morality; anonymous yet instantly identifiable. Ledger repeatedly upstages all other performers in the movie, and may garner consideration in awards season.
But what is surprising is, when examined closely, how little this film is actually about Batman and The Joker; though they are the principal characters, the responsibility of carrying the themes of the movie lies in two characters who have connected trajectories: DA Harvey Dent and Commissioner Jim Gordon. Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman, respectively, bring the required integrity and nuance to both of these characters, and the movie is able to make the commentary it does because of the quality of these two performances. The final act of the movie brings a pitch-perfect conclusion to the events of the previous 150 minutes, and it leaves as many questions as it answers.
And in the midst of all of this deep moral questioning, Nolan does not forget to entertain his audience. The Dark Knight contains more fights, more explosions, and more violence than its predecessor – though sometimes it seems overly violent, it seems like Nolan uses the graphic nature of the violence to make observations about the characters and the morality. His statements might be lost on the pre-teen set, but they are part of the reason that the movie succeeds so spectacularly. In all, The Dark Knight is a visual feast, a probing exploration of the extremes of human morality, the best superhero movie yet, and one of the top movies of the year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Preparing my "house"

I have spent most of the past week doing a thorough sorting and cleaning of my possessions in preparation for the move - my first cleaning of this degree in five years. I have gotten rid of around 30 board games, 50+ books, 100 CDs, and 5-6 garbage bags of clothes and assorted items. A lot of these items had reached the end of their usefulness to me, while some had never been used - mostly finds at Value Village that seemed like good deals at the time. But I realized today that some of the things I have jettisoned were remnants of a person who is now gone - a past me. Many of these things are insignificant, but they represented times of my life that are past. Alphabet fridge magnets, erasable wall calendars, old cassette tapes, Veggie Tales videos - they all represented, in some way, part of who I had been. And with this epiphany, I realized that this sorting and cleaning and packing is not just about eliminating material possessions before I move; it's also about being ready for marriage. I am saying goodbye to some of the physical possessions that have represented worldviews and ways of thinking that are now gone, and clearing these possessions out will help me adjust to the new ways of thinking that are already coming into play. Different things are important now, and I have different needs and desires than what I did five years ago. And every time I wonder if this is the best use of my time, I remember that I am preparing myself and my "house" to be combined with someone else; it's not just about numbers and amounts, but it's about a mindset and how who I have been has become who I am, and how that me will continue to grow into something new over the next few months.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mini-review: Viva La Vida

A fourth studio album, produced by Brian Eno and named after a famous painting, that features more complex lyrical imagery and manipulation of metaphor than in their previous efforts, increasingly experimental and layered orchestration, an occasionally nauseating sense of belief in their own purpose, vague political and religious overtones, and two or three standout tracks that are already fan favorites. Though the album outlined here is Coldplay's Viva La Vida, these criteria form an equally valid description of U2's 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. I know the comparison between the two groups has been overdone, but it is useful to look at Vida in the light of U2's work.

Vida is not a perfect album, nor is it even Coldplay’s best or most unified album. Some of the songs are timeless ("Viva La Vida", "Reign of Love", "Violet Hill"), while others are rather dull. But what the album lacks in cohesion it makes up for in ambition, which is both Martin's blessing and curse. He and his bandmates would do well to take a page from the U2 playbook and to temper their unbridled optimism with a healthy dose of cynicism in future efforts.

Just as U2 began their career with albums that explored their faith and personal relationships, Coldplay has focused on the simpler themes of love and trust in their early work. It was on The Unforgettable Fire that U2 started to develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world around them; though it was still rather immature, it blossomed into much more, just as we hope Coldplay’s worldview will continue to grow.

This album will produce skeptics of Coldplay's talent, but doubters must remember their history: The Unforgettable Fire was actually rather forgettable aside from "Pride" and "Bad." But U2’s next album was The Joshua Tree.

Read the rest of the commentary on the new Coldplay album Viva La Vida here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Viva La Vida

I managed to get an early download of the new Coldplay album "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends", and after several listens I think this might be Coldplay's best album yet. It is much more guitar-heavy than their previous outings, but the music is also much more layered and developed. The lyrics are much more mature than the simple relationship-focussed lyrics of the last three albums, and there is more religious and political metaphor here than Bono would know what to do with. Plus, the album features "Viva La Vida", which is probably the best song Chris Martin has ever written, including "Clocks" and "Til Kingdom Come". Say what you want about how they're saturating themselves in media, or they're pop sell-outs, but this is undeniably the biggest album of the year (at least until U2 finally announces the release date for their next album). And if you need something else to get you excited, just watch this commercial for the album and iTunes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review: Indiana Jones 4

It has been over a week since I watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I have repeatedly considered writing a full review of the movie, but I think that would be giving too much credit to what was at best a lazy effort and at worst an insulting molestation of my suspension of disbelief. I understood after the fact what Spielberg and Lucas tried to do with making a "50's sci-fi B-movie" with the aliens and all, but I don't think it worked with the feel of Indiana Jones. And for every inspired moment - including the setting of the movie in 1957 - there were multiple unbearable sequences, most of which seemed to come out of Lucas' need to employ his cronies and feature random animal critters. The ants, the monkeys, the gophers - they just didn't match up to snakes, or even to the Scarab beetles of The Mummy. The cast was at best middling - the combination of Cate Blanchett's horrible impression of Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Shia LaBeouf's forced imitation of his lack of character from Transformers, Harrison Ford's range of emotions of grouchy to grumpy, and the forced facial expressions of Ivan Drago (the random big Russian), John Hurt and Ray Winstone looked inspired (though, to be fair, their performances suffered from scriptwriting more than their talent). There is little reason to watch this movie more than once, and even that one watching is more for nostalgia and seeing Indy on the big screen than it is for value. Perhaps the lasting legacy of this movie will be the long-overdue introduction of a phrase to replace (or at least accent) "jump the shark": "nuke the fridge". 2.5/5

Mini-reviews: P.O.D., Weezer, ScarJo

It has occurred to me that I should do more to communicate what I am watching and hearing. I do find that a "full" blog post is too much to ask, so I am going to endeavour to write "mini-reviews" on a more regular basis. Here are three mini-reviews of albums that have dropped in the past couple of months. Enjoy!

P.O.D., When Angels and Serpents Dance - They might try to tell me that with Marcos back that this is the same P.O.D. as the Southtown and Satellite albums, but the music says otherwise. I think that the band has been replaced by lifeless alien spores, judging by the bland nature of this album. It is one thing to make a "mellow" album; it's another entirely to make a spineless mushy album. Ariann thought we were listening to Creed - need I say more? 0.5/5

Weezer, Weezer (Red) - This is their third self-titled album (preceded by Blue and Green), and their musical and lyrical progress mirrors their titular progress: very little. This album is more of the same: a couple of very radio-friendly jingles ("Pork and Beans"), some straight-forward pop-rock songs that sound like they could have been released on the band's blue album in 1994, and one really good song ("The Angel and the One"). The name-dropping is even more egregious than on past efforts, and as much as they seem to be trying to perfect the "pop" artistry, it seems like Weezer's creative well has run dry. And I think they can do better, which is what makes this album even more disappointing. 1/5

Scarlett Johansson, Anywhere I Lay My Head - I will admit to being much more intrigued by starlet Scarlett's debut album than by those of some of her actor-turned-singer peers, if not only because she decided to cover only Tom Waits songs, which sets her apart from the kind of teeny-bopper music one might expect. And the album certainly gets points for stretching both singer and audience: there are some very unique arrangements and instrumentations on this album, and it does not obey the expected conventions. Unfortunately for ScarJo, her voice does not really work with Waits' songs, and the production often masks her voice behind the studio instruments. I think she could really do something with her voice; this just wasn't quite right for her. 2/5

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Body piercing saved my life

"I can't imagine anything worse than being forced to pay for my salvation by listening to worship music for the rest of my days. Worship music is the logical conclusion of Christian adult contemporary music - not just unappealing but unbearable to anyone not already in the fold. Every song follows the same parameters. It opens gently, with tinkling arpeggios or synthesized harp glissandos that portend the imminence of something celestial in glacial 4/4 time. In the second verse, the band - invariably excellent players - soft-pedals in, gaining in volume to the bridge. And then the chorus. Heavens, the choruses. They could put U2 out of business for good, they're so huge. Another verse. A middle eight. Then, a breakdown when the audience takes over singing. Another massive chorus. Fin. This isn't music to appreciate; it's music to experience. People at a worship service close their eyes and, as ecstasy spreads across their faces, begin to rock rhythmically, arms out, mouthing the lyrics. It's more than a little sexual and a tad uncomfortable if you're sitting next to an attractive person who's been overcome by the Spirit." - Andrew Beaujon, Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock (Da Capo Press, 2006, p. 158-9)

Rock writer Andrew Beaujon took a year and a half to write this book, a chronicle of an outsider's look at Christian rock. He attended Cornerstone in Illinois and Florida, GMA Week in Nashville, and a weekend festival at Calvin College in Michigan. He interviewed many of the industry's current and past leading artists, including many who operate in the gray area between CCM and the mainstream: mewithoutyou's Aaron Weiss, MuteMath, and David Bazan of Pedro the Lion. He truly attempts to investigate what is going with this industry, and why it functions the way it does. Beaujon's investigations are balanced and journalistically sound, and he has a way of pointing out the flaws in CCM without sounding preachy or judgemental. He is simply trying to understand CCM, and on a greater scale the American Evangelical subculture that has arisen in the last forty years. There are moments when he comes to points of clarity, and moments when he concludes he cannot understand the appeal of what is happening - his account of worship music, for example. He concludes, much like I have in my studies of the genre, that it is a fundamentally American construct, and that it exists because it does. My only criticism of the book is that, even with as many people as he has interviewed, I wish he had gone further. Artists like Matt Morginsky (O.C. Supertones), Andrew Schwab (Project 86), Leigh Nash (Sixpence None The Richer) and Reese Roper (Five Iron Frenzy) could have provided insightful commentary, and there is little discussion of the Christian hip-hop scene, for which Pigeon John would have been an interesting resource to consult. But the book does a very good job of introducing the industry as a whole to an uninitiated population, and it made me think of my own journey through CCM. Though for a time I listened exclusively to CCM (and U2), I am now at a point in life in which I listen to increasingly few artists who are on mainstream Christian labels other than Tooth and Nail. I would estimate now that only one of every four albums I purchase is found in a Christian store, and that most music in Christian stores drives me nuts. I use CCM listings as an easy resource point to find out about artists I already follow, rather than the complete list. Perhaps the best way to sum up my opinion of CCM is that most of it is immature, both musically and theologically, and, like many evangelical churches, it does not tap into the fullness of the creativity that is present in the Spirit. There are artists who choose to remain in CCM who have moved beyond that early stage - which not coincidentally tend to be artists who I follow - and who see CCM for what it is: at best, a place for new talent to be nurtured and to grow into true art; typically, a marketing tool and a place where people can discover new artists in a safe environment; and at worst, a soul-sucking musical and theological black hole from which there is no escape except to have God himself appear to every church and say that Casting Crowns are not talented. Or at least to have people who know what they're talking about deliver that message on behalf of the divine; after all, that's what I'm here for.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A faithful skeptic?

"But...showers of small frogs, tiny fish, and mysterious rains of pebbles sometimes fall from the skies. Here and there, with no possible explanation, men are burned to death inside their clothes. And once in a while, the orderly, immutable sequences of time itself are inexplicably shifted and altered. You read these occasional queer little stories, humorously written, tongue-in-cheek, most of the time; or you have vague distorted rumours of them. And this much I know. Some of them - some of them - are true."
- Miles Bennell, protagonist of Jack Finney's novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers (p. 219, 1978 paperback ed.)

I have been thinking a lot about skepticism in the past week because of two books I have recently finished reading. One was the aforementioned sci-fi classic in which a trained doctor is faced with the possibility that aliens are invading his small town; the other an academic examination of strange beliefs entitled Why People Believe Weird Things, written by Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine. Body Snatchers is more about how we process information that seems to lead to an entirely foreign conclusion, and is more of an interesting footnote to this discussion. Shermer's work is very thought-provoking, as he spends the book discussing the problems with beliefs like UFOs and alien abduction, holocaust denial, Objectivism, and creation-science. He uses statistics, anecdotes, logical analysis, interviews, and many other resources to demonstrate the fallacies he sees in each of these movements, which all come back to one basic point: they deny or defy the existing scientific method and knowledge and thus are irrational beliefs. He spends some time indirectly discussing the relationship between science and faith in the creationist section - even going so far as to confess that he is a former "Jesus Freak" - coming to the conclusion that one of the biggest problems that creationists have is that they are performing bad science to justify particular religious beliefs. To Shermer's credit, he does not outright insult religion; he is more agnostic in his perspective, which maintains that the realms of science and religion address separate needs and dimensions of human existence (the observable and the unobservable), and thus should remain separated. But his discussion made me wonder about whether it is possible to be a skeptic within the Christian faith - is there some form of "scientific" method that can be rigorously applied within the boundaries of the church? I propose that it is possible to be a "faithful skeptic", as long as one accepts the following fundamental beliefs of Christianity: that the Bible is the divine word of God, the Church has 2,000 years of tradition that have also been subject to God's leading, and that while we do not understand the working of the Holy Spirit all of the time that God will reveal reasons for the Spirit's movements according to the parameters set out in the Bible. Within this construct, one can productively examine odd beliefs of the Christian faith skeptically, looking for not only logical fallacies but misappropriations of Biblical passages and manipulation of meaning. We do not hear much about "heresy" anymore, but the identification of heresies was essentially a work of faithful skepticism. As I have grown in my faith, I have realized how much we need to be vigilant within our faith since there are many "weird beliefs" that seem to defy both reason and Spirit, including Slaying in the Spirit, the rapture, and the prosperity gospel. Skepticism should not be confused with conservatism, though; we should not refuse to believe something just because we disagree with it, but rather because it does not stand up under the rigours of an appropriate examination that includes Bible, tradition, and Spirit. That is the definition of a faithful skeptic.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Review - Iron Man

Note: This review has been finished for a month; I have simply forgotten to post it. Enjoy!

Iron Man

It was only a decade ago that many critics declared the superhero genre dead. The failure of several poorly-executed movies in the mid-1990s had left a negative impression on viewers, and it seemed like the trend of bringing the larger-than-life heroes to the big screen might fade. But within the next year, production began on two superhero pictures with highly-regarded directors, big-name stars, and lofty expectations for bringing life back to the genre: Bryan Singer's X-Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. The smashing success of those two movies guaranteed the continuation of the genre, which now welcomes as many as five new entries to its ranks every year. But in 2007, releases such as Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer brought the genre to new lows. Viewers everywhere had hope that 2008 would bring greater success to the genre, with the impending summer releases of The Dark Knight, Wanted, Hancock, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2, and the season's first big blockbuster, Iron Man. Though Iron Man may not reinvent the genre or bring it to new heights (pun intended), it is a visually stunning and entertaining movie for both fanboys and filmgoers.
Billionaire inventor Tony Stark is irresponsible, libidinous, immature, brilliant, and one of the top suppliers of weapons to the U.S. government. The movie begins in medias res as Stark introduces his newest weapon of mass destruction - the Jericho - on site in Afghanistan, only to be ambushed and kidnapped by a terrorist cell named "The Ten Rings" (a veiled reference to Iron Man's nemesis, the Mandarin). Stark suffers a life-threatening injury in the ambush, and is forced to construct a copy of the Jericho for the cell. He chooses instead to spend his time constructing a perpetual energy source to help stave off the effects of his injury and then to build a suit of indestructible armor so that he and fellow scientist Yinsen can escape. Stark manages to escape, and then determines that he has a new purpose: to make the world a safer place by finding out who is supplying weapons to renegade groups. To do this, he updates his suit and assumes a new identity: Iron Man. But an unexpected enemy surfaces who forces Stark to evaluate his character and his resolve, and a titanic clash between Iron Man and this enemy looms as the story unfolds.
One of the highlights of the film is the casting and performances of the four primary actors, each of whom have been nominated for Best Actor or Actress at the Academy Awards in their career. Of the four principal performers, Robert Downey Jr. is the most impressive as Tony Stark. Though the movie goes to too many lengths to demonstrate Stark’s playboy nature, he plays up that angle of the character well when asked to. Though his dialogue is limited by some stunted writing, Downey Jr. manages to flesh out the character of Stark and to allow the viewer to see the change that is working within Stark's soul.
Jeff Bridges, as Stark’s business partner Obadiah Stane, and Gwyneth Paltrow ,as Stark’s personal assistant Pepper Potts, both add unexpected nuance to flat characters, and both have moments of inspiration in their roles. Terrence Howard tries gamely to bring life to Stark's friend Col. James Rhodes, but the character is too limited to allow for any depth to be developed. Though each of the four are hampered at times by the script, their efforts to bring flat characters to life help liven up the entire movie.
The movie is visually stunning, and the special effects are astounding. The fact that effects have progressed to the point where this level of visual acuity is expected of movies of this caliber should not take away from the actual accomplishment of the movie’s effects designers. This is the best looking comic book movie since Spider-Man 2, and arguably the most visually entrancing superhero movie ever. Where the movie fails is in pacing and writing. Favreau lets some of the exposition material go on too long - especially in the establishment of Stark’s playboy identity and sexual prowess - and the movie is about ten to fifteen minutes longer than it needs to be as a result. The dialogue is also fairly weak, clichéd, and uninsightful throughout much of the movie, and there are some significant plot jumps. But despite these shortcomings, Favreau does stay true to the established story of Iron Man, and he leaves room for development and improvement in the upcoming sequel (due for release in April 2010).
Iron Man is also a disturbingly violent movie. There are several deaths throughout the movie, which is expected of this genre, along with the requisite number of explosions and a climactic battle of titans to conclude the course of events. What is disturbing about the violence is its contextualization in a current war zone (Afghanistan) and the realism with which it is depicted. One of the most disconcerting moments features Iron Man blowing up and walking away from a tank, which is played for comic effect. This is troubling not so much because of the scene itself, but because of the laughter of some of the children in the audience at that scene. Though the presence of wildly unrealistic technology helps the viewer suspend disbelief, it is still realistically violent, and not suitable for children, even with its comic book aura.
Iron Man is a serviceable and entertaining comic book movie. It provides some laughs, a lot of thrills, and it draws the viewer into the internal conflict raging within Tony Stark. It does, however, also feature lapses in writing and plot development that may have some viewers shaking their heads in wonderment. Fortunately for the filmmakers, most of the viewers will be staring in awe at the cool effects and not scratching their heads at the plotholes and leaps of logic. Iron Man is a suitable entry into the superhero movie genre, and an enjoyable start to the summer movie season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Survivor: Micronesia wrap-up

Another Final Tribal Council is in the books, and I have some parting thoughts on the sixteenth season of the show. I have heard people say that this was one of the most entertaining seasons of Survivor ever. I'm not inclined to disagree, but that distinctive came at the expense of strategy. It is not uncommon to lament the lack of strategic players in the game, but the absolute idiocy of the male fans made a mockery of the game. I'm sure things feel different in the heat of the moment, but Jason and Erik (and to a lesser extent Mikey B and Joel) embarrased Survivor fans everywhere. I was not surprised that this season featured the first all-female final four; the women were strong and the men were not (a pleasant turn-about from previous seasons). Out of the entire cast, only a handful played a "good game" inasmuch as they did everything they could and did not make major mistakes: Jonathan, Eliza, Alexis, Natalie, Cirie, Amanda, and Parvati. My MVP for this season was runner-up Amanda. Though she did not win, she should have, and both she and Cirie were disadvantaged incredibly by a last minute twist of reducing the final three back to a final two. I agree with Survivor strategy analyst Professor Sadow who says that twists that fundamentally change the game like that are not okay to leave until the end. That last minute snafu was the reason Amanda lost, not her strategy. But perhaps this signals a return to the final two, which is much better anyway. In all, I would place this season in my top five, along with Cook Islands, Australia, All-Stars, and Fiji. Much like the first edition of All-Stars seemed to breathe new life into the series, it seems like Micronesia will energize the series for a few more incarnations. Amanda and Parvati would place in my top fifteen Survivor performances (not necessarily my favourites, and different from the list of best strategic games found here), in which I would also include the following: Richard Hatch (Borneo); Lex (Africa); Brian (Thailand); Rob C. (Amazon); Chris (Vanuatu); Tom (Palau); Danni (Guatemala); Cirie (Panama); Terry (Panama); Yul (Cook Islands); Ozzy (Cook Islands); Earl (Fiji); and Yau-Man (Fiji). Despite some mind-numbing moves and some rather weak competitors, Survivor: Micronesia did end up being one of the most entertaining seasons of Survivor, and it bodes well for the next edition in Gabon.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


My beloved Maple Leafs made yet another mistake today: they fired Head Coach Paul Maurice. At first glance, it might seem like a good move. The team missed the playoffs during both of his years behind the bench, and by more in his second year (11 points) than his first (1 point on the last day of the season). It might have been inevitable, with the GM (John Ferguson Jr.) who hired Maurice gone since January, but this does not in any way make the team better. The facts that Maurice barely missed the playoffs with the team he had last year, and that they were not last in the league this year, are evidence enough of his coaching abilities. The reality is that JFJ made bad trades and signed players to deals that were way too expensive and restrictive, and no amount of coaching could undo that damage. The Leafs have at least four "albatross" contracts (Tucker, McCabe, Raycroft, Blake), a number of "once-heralded-but-not-really-developing" young players (Steen, Stajan, Wellwood), and some valuable players (Toskala, Kaberle). But what's done is done, and the Leafs now need to focus on getting in a solid GM who can bring in another solid coach and start getting rid of players. But the best I can figure is that we Leaf fans should expect at least another two non-playoff seasons before even getting to the playoffs again, and that we could be four to five years away from having a contending team. I really wish that the team had figured out that hiring a rookie GM would not work before he did all of this damage. Maybe the drought will hit fifty years after all.

Postscript: After two rounds, I have determined that I did not know hockey this year. I went 6-2 in the first round, but I picked only one of the conference finalists (Pittsburgh), and the two teams I picked to lose in Round 1 are two of the four remaining teams (Dallas, Philadelphia). My Finals picks are both gone, so I am going to change on the fly (pun intended) and say that Pittsburgh will defeat Dallas in the final.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Review - Search the City

Tooth & Nail Records has a reputation as a trendsetting label with an uncanny ability to unearth unheard talents and bring them to an indie-rock audience hungering for something more than the latest single from the newest Nickelback clone. But the dirty truth is that for all of the innovative artists Tooth & Nail has introduced to the world, they have produced twice as many who are derivative of more popular artists—including their own labelmates. This explains, for example, the stream of emotional, ambient bands emulating The Juliana Theory and Further Seems Forever, and the copycats of the 80s-esque synth-pop-rock revival led by the likes of Anberlin, Emery, and Mae. That overly recognizable sound has a new incarnation—Detroit-based Search the City....
(Read the rest of the review here.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rookie of the year

The NHL recently released the names of the three candidates for the annually awarded Calder Trophy, which is given to the best rookie in any given year. As I read through the names - Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Nicklas Backstrom of Washington - and the analysis of their accomplishments, it suddenly struck me that these rookies are evaluated differently than other players. They are allowed time to learn the game and to adjust to the high level of play in the NHL, and it is rare that rookies come in and make an immediate impact on a team or the league (Crosby, Ovechkin, and Phaneuf come to mind, but they are not common talents). Those expectations are increased accordingly as the rookies enter their second and third years, until the point at which they have established themselves and their expectations can be more clearly standardized. As I thought about this whole process, I reflected on my year of teaching, and how it has been a rookie year that has featured a steep learning curve in which I have to learn a new system, new teammates, new "coaches", and a new level of responsibility. But as much as I think I should be able to do, others are still developing expectations for me, and I will hopefully keep learning for several years to come before I can know more clearly what I should be able to expect of myself. For now, I believe that I have helped my team, and that I have done the best job possible adjusting to the "big leagues" of teaching. I have made it through different obstacles and trials, and I am more talented at what I do now than I was in September. Maybe I will not win any awards for being the best first-year teacher ever (I'm pretty sure I won't), but at least I know that I have continued to improve and that I have better "goals" [pun intended] than I did eight months ago. And that's enough for me to hold my head high and start training for next season, in which I hope to not play as much "out of position", as long as the team re-signs me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

No longer Relevant

This space has never really been a place for reviews for me. I don't know why I didn't really get into it on this blog; perhaps I feel that my discussions here are more informal, or that the audience is not wide enough - I'm just not sure. At any rate, I have realized that I need an outlet for my writing other than this forum. For years, I wrote articles in the student press until I essentially outgrew the medium (I could not do much more to challenge myself, and I became bored with the writing). A friend and I then tried to pioneer our own site to satisfy our needs. BBV lasted for the better part of a year, but died after I went to camp and he lost access to the internet. So to fill the void, about this time last year I began writing movie reviews for It began as a relatively promising enterprise, but the vast amount of content on the site - as well as a lack of diligence in publishing articles with expedience - made that situation less than great. A month ago, the same good friend introduced me to, a site that is dedicated to writing intelligent commentary on music and culture. He began writing reviews, and encouraged me to do the same. So now is my new outlet, and my first review - of Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple has been posted on the site. I will link to the reviews from here when I post them, but please take the time to check out the rest of the site. It's worth your time.

After two years of touring, publicizing, and dropping hints of the album to come, Gnarls Barkley released their sophomore effort, The Odd Couple. And while it’s still a little odd, it’s far more mainstream than its predecessor. The first thing most will notice is that The Odd Couple is decidedly more upbeat and positive than St. Elsewhere. In place of the murky depression of their debut, the record exhibits a stronger sense of hope and purpose. To read the full review, click here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NHL playoff picks

I love the middle of April, when NHL playoff hockey is just starting to get going. It's still new and fresh, and you're not so sick of defensive hockey that you just want someone to win already. And so the Chance comes again, and with it comes my picks (in brief).

Eastern Conference:
Montreal vs. Boston - This could almost be a sweep, but I'll call Montreal in five.
Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa - I say Ottawa concludes their stunning collapse by being swept and losing at home. By being shut out. Pittsburgh in four.
Washington vs. Philadelphia - This series will be the toughest in the East. The difference is Ovechkin. Washington in seven.
New Jersey vs. New York - The Rangers owned the Devils this season, and they're too hungry not to win this series. New York in six.

For the record, that would put the second round as Montreal vs. New York (New York in six) and Pittsburgh vs. Washington (Pittsburgh in seven). I think then that New York would travail over Pittsburgh in six in the Conference Finals.

Western Conference:
Detroit vs. Nashville - I'll be nice to Nashville. Detroit in five.
San Jose vs. Calgary - Iggy and Kipper are good enough to steal a game or two, but this series is going to San Jose in six.
Minnesota vs. Colorado - The toughest series for me to pick, but I think Colorado will get the best of the Wild in six.
Anaheim vs. Dallas - Never underestimate Marty Turco. But I will. Anaheim in five.

That puts the second round as Detroit vs. Colorado (Colorado in six) and San Jose vs. Anaheim (San Jose in seven). Then San Jose beats Colorado in seven in the Conference Finals.

So, San Jose faces New York in the Finals, and I think that San Jose will win in seven. That's the pick...unless San Jose is beaten by Calgary...that would be bad.

Monday, April 07, 2008


One of the most important things I am learning about myself as a professional this year is how to relax. Teaching is relatively high-stress, and I am slowly learning the things that I can do that can help me de-stress. I did not succeed over this past weekend: I did not fully get into my work, so I did not get much work done; neither did I fully get out of my work, so I did not get much relaxing done. I find that I am more frustrated after those kind of weekends, and that I really need to relax. That is why tonight I left my work at home and I spent some time with my beloved, just enjoying her company, as well as watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Final on TV (the first March Madness game I watched this year - and I missed it). And I remembered that watching sports is something that relaxes me - and I do not do it enough. That is why I think that part of my goal this summer will be to re-discover the things that relax me and to decide to pursue those things deliberately. Life is stressful - but it should not always be that way. That is why we have the NHL playoffs for the next two months - to help me de-stress.


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