Thursday, January 29, 2009

We'll always have Paris

Last night, we watched the recent comedy Leatherheads, in which director and star George Clooney lampoons the beginnings of professional football. The self-described screwball comedy was mildly entertaining. Part of the appeal of the movie is in how much attention is given to detail in recreating the look and feel of the 1920s; the other part is how well stars Clooney, Renée Zellweger, and John Krasinski banter back and forth in rapid-fire exchanges of wit. But even with the movie being enjoyable, as I watched it, I could not help but think that it would have been better if it had been made sixty years ago with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Gregory Peck. After all, re-creating the charm of Hollywood's golden era is not the same as actually watching films from that era. In the past few months, I have watched several films from the 1940s as part of my quest to watch all of the AFI Top 100 films: The Philadelphia Story, Double Indemnity, and most recently Casablanca. I have only since started to realize how much films from that time are different, and how well those classic films have aged. I wonder which films that are released now will still be around in sixty years, and how well some of these films will stand up to the test of time. Think for a moment about which movies from 1998 (a decade ago) are still common: Saving Private Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, The Truman Show, The Big Lebowski, You've Got Mail. I know I'm oversimplifying, but what other 1998 movies do you remember? Ten years, and five to ten movies left. So of all of the movies released each year, only a few will actually be remembered; then we move on to the next thing and leave the old ones behind. So I'm glad that, for the most part, I spend my time on films that mean something and that matter. I am, of course, aware of the possible fallacy of only regarding movies that have "lasting significance"; I am also aware that movies that are good do last longer. Fluff movies like Leatherheads are okay every so often, but it's better to spend time on substance. After all, we can always keep the good bits in our memories, and then we'll always have Paris.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Would Jesus run up the score?

A recent article in the National Post chronicles the story of an Christian high school whose girls' basketball team won a game against a rival school by a score of 100-0. The team's coach was fired after disagreeing with the school's principal, who apologized to the other team for his team's conduct. The article raises questions about ethics of compassion and mercy, particularly in amateur athletics, and how those ethics should be observed by faith-based schools, daring to ask what Jesus would do if faced with an inferior basketball team. I not sure what arrangements the winning team may have made to accommodate the other team (who is now competing against junior varsity opponents), but I did notice that they scored only 41 points in the second half, approximately 2/3 of what they scored in the first half (59). Perhaps the team did their best not to run up the score - relaxing on plays, substituting bench players, trying new formations - but they had difficulty not scoring. What I found most interesting about this article, and the discussion that will ensue, is that the team is being blamed for their talent and for the mistakes of the association in charge of the league, and that they are being further attacked for being a Christian school and perpetrating this offence. It really does bring up the question of how Christian athletes should be evaluated, and how they should compete.
This will come up again throughout the week with Kurt Warner back in the Super Bowl. I suppose that the trite answer is that they should compete to the best of their ability, but that they should also show mercy, integrity, and grace in what they do. But how that looks in reality can be difficult to understand. Maybe I just need to go watch some Friday Night Lights and watch them wrestle with these issues...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dr. T and the Women

About a week and a half ago, I spent some time thinking about which actors would be on my must-see list. I then started thinking of which women I would include on a similar top ten list. At first, I thought it would be a very difficult task, as I could think of far more actresses I would avoid than that I would make a point of seeing in a movie. But as I thought about it, I came up with a strong list based on acting ability, rather than physical appearance (though many of them are quite attractive). Here are my top 10, along with a couple of honourable mentions.

Honourable mentions: Sigourney Weaver, Frances McDormand, Emma Thompson - I don't think I would ever see a movie because of these actresses, but they are strong in almost everything they act in. Also to Amy Adams, who might have made this list if I had already seen Doubt.

10. Maggie Gyllenhaal - Her short-lived performance in The Dark Knight proved that she can do major movies as well as indie flicks.
9. Anne Hathaway - She stole the show in Brokeback from everyone except Heath Ledger, and she has proven that she can do comedy and drama.
8. Michelle Williams - She has come a long way from Dawson's Creek, and she has some serious acting ability. The best is yet to come from Williams.
7. Emily Watson - The soft-spoken British actress is still relatively unknown after thirteen years, which is a shame.
6. Charlize Theron - The South African can do funny (Arrested Development) and serious, and she chooses interesting roles. I'm excited about the upcoming The Road, in which she stars with Viggo Mortensen.
5. Julianne Moore - She has made a couple of mis-steps, and her career is a little overfull of weepy movies, but she can act.
4. Catherine Keener - She has starred in one commerically successful movie - The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I'm good with her continuing to shine in indie roles.
3. Laura Linney - The first time I remember Linney was in The Truman Show, and I've kept an eye out for her since.
2. Cate Blanchett - Though she can occasionally veer into "overacting" (see The Aviator or Indiana Jones 4), Cate's performances often have nuance and boldness. Her Bob Dylan was spot-on, and she almost always chooses interesting roles.
1. Kate Winslet - Her double-win at this year's Golden Globes finally brought Winslet's consistent brilliance to critical approval. No actress is consistently as strong as Winslet, and she is still only 33! The best still may be yet to

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Know-It-All

"I've been thinking a lot about thinking lately. Or more specifically, I've been thinking a lot about thinking and knowledge and intelligence, and the relationship among the three. It comes back to that old question that my aunt Marti put to me - will stuffing my head with knowledge actually make me smarter, or is this a year-long fool's errand?"
- A.J. Jacobs, The Know-It-All, 325.

I have spent the last week reading A.J. Jacobs' (yes, the same man who followed the Bible for a year) memoir of the year in which he read through the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. He chronicles some interesting experiences he had during that time: attending a Crossword tournament, joining Mensa, visiting Britannica HQ, interviewing Alex Trebek, and making a failed appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. His writing is humourous, insightful, and unique; he structures the book by encyclopaedia entries, and his writing alternates between facts he found interesting and memories or experiences that are related to what he is reading. What I found most interesting were the passages in which he thinks about the nature of intelligence, since I have thought about that subject a lot myself, being an intelligent person who is daily trying to figure out ways to gauge the intelligence of students. One of the biggest challenges is in meeting the different types of intelligence, since both the educational system and my strengths are skewed to the more traditional side of evaluating intelligence. I rate very highly on intelligences that have traditionally been valued on scales like IQ tests (for which I do not know my score, by the way), such as linguistic and logical/mathematical. It's a good thing I'm a teacher and not an artist or a gardener. I also have a strong memory, so I have always been considered smart. But I do not think that simply remembering trivial facts or thinking logically should be the end of the definition of intelligence. I think that critical and creative thinking are the most important parts of intelligence, and that not everyone needs to accomplish those tasks in the same way. I think this outlook is in large part why I ended up in education: in a lot of ways, teaching is a huge puzzle to figure out, and it's a constant challenge in critical awareness and creative problem-solving. This is a profession that uses my skills - my intelligence - and drives me to learn new skills and work on my weaker intelligences (like teaching Phys Ed helps me improve my kinesthetic intelligence). I suppose the point at which teaching stops doing this is when I will move on to something else. So I am glad that A.J. Jacobs has made me think about how I think, and how I teach, and how I can keep learning to do both better. And if all else fails, I still rock Trivial Pursuit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Early Oscar observations

Well, it's time again for the race for Oscar! The nominations were announced today, and perhaps the only surprise was how unsurprising the nominations were. As I looked through the list, there was nothing unpredictable, save for the omission of Cate Blanchett as Best Actress; even the relative blanking of Revolutionary Road was expected. Of course, that's usually the criticism of the Oscars, but that's also what makes them kind of fun; you can guess the winners even if you haven't seen the movies. On to my early observations and predictions...

Best Picture: I think the race here is between The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (with 13 nominations!) and Slumdog Millionaire. Though Slumdog has the buzz, Button has the history of Oscar behind it, as similarly structured and themed movies have traditionally done well. It's really difficult to say which way the voters will sway, but I think that it will be Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Director: In recent years, there has not been a split vote between Picture and Director. I think the trend will continue, and Danny Boyle will win for Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Actor: This is perhaps the most interesting category of the year, with a couple of biopics, a comeback, and an indie nom to go with the frontrunner, Brad Pitt. I see the Academy looking to reward a body of work, and Pitt fits the bill.

Best Actress: Although Anne Hathaway has been getting buzz, I think this will finally be the year for Kate Winslet, in The Reader.

Best Supporting Actor: The question here is whether to award a posthumous Oscar to Heath Ledger. Josh Brolin will likely receive some attention, but I think that Ledger will win the award.

Best Supporting Actress: This is often the category where the awards go off-script. I think this is a competition between Amy Adams and Penelope Cruz. I think they go for Adams.

Best Animated Feature: Wall-E. It's not in question.

Best Original Screenplay: Although Milk might get its Oscar here, I see Wall-E winning because it is so innovative.

Best Adapted Screenplay: I think this is the most difficult category to predict. I think that Simon Beaufoy will win for Slumdog Millionaire.

Those are the big ones. A brief summary of my predictions for other awards:

Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Foreign Film: The Class (France)

Art Direction: Benjamin Button
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design: Benjamin Button
Film Editing: The Dark Knight
Make-up: Benjamin Button
Original Score: Wall-E
Original Song: Wall-E
Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: Wall-E
Visual Effects: The Dark Knight

So, I guess I'm picking Wall-E to go 6 for 6, Slumdog to win 4, Button 4, and The Dark Knight 3. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, my list of films to see in the next month has not really changed: Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, and Frost/Nixon are the three I really want to see before the awards on February 22. Let the race begin!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy belated de-lurking day!

You may have noticed that in the past month that I have made more of a concerted effort to keep this blog updated more regularly. It has been a conscious decision, and I am glad that I am taking the time to write out the things I am thinking about. I don't think I have more to say that I ever have; it's just that I am taking the time to write now. There are a number of reasons that I might be posting more - I'm feeling more settled, my job is less stressful, Ariann is blogging more - but whatever the reasons, I am happy to be renewing the significance of this forum. In the past week, I have also met a couple of milestones with the blog: 600 posts and 35,000 visits (the latter since December 2004, about six months into the blog's existence). I know they're just numbers, but it means something to me that I have made it this far and that I'm still going strong. I am not sure what surprised me more about these landmarks: the fact that the blog has gotten this far, or the fact that it took me this long (4 1/2 years) to get to these points. I know that there are a lot of dead blogs out there, and I'm determined not to become one of them. Still, I am pleased with where I am, and how my life online has developed. I am curious about who is still reading this blog, and since I missed National De-lurking Day was on January 12th, I am going to celebrate it now and ask anyone who reads this blog to reveal yourself and comment on this post, even if it's a week or two from now. I'm hoping for at least 20 comments, so de-lurk!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A "grande" speech?

Today was the inauguration of President Obama. We took time away from class to watch it, and there was certainly a sense of significance about the day. Rick Warren's invocational prayer was as powerful as Obama's speech, and Warren is certainly poised to be the successor to Billy Graham as pastor to the presidents, despite the controversy about his inclusion in the day's festivities. There were few, if any, lines of the speech that will be remembered beyond today; perhaps the most memorable line was when Obama declared that "This is the price and the promise of citizenship." The speech will likely mainly be remembered for the unnamed attacks at the Bush administration, and how Obama declared that the challenges facing the United States "will be met." But what I found very interesting were something that happened after the speech concluded on that I think help understand the day. The online video of the speech was sponsored by Starbucks, which made me think about the general blandness of the speech and many political speeches. Starbucks prides itself on uniformity and consistency, and today's speech showed that same sense of comfort in the familiar. Occasionally, there was a sprinkle or a taste of syrup in the speech, but it was mostly the same kind of rather bland rhetoric that now permeates political addresses. Aside from a few references to racial realities, I do not think that John McCain would have given a much different speech. If I had to compare the speech to a Starbucks drink, it would be a Christmas blend coffee - it was special, but not unexpected, and it left a nice aftertaste. A grande, not a venti.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Get On Your Boots

It's official: March 3 is the most significant day of the year for me. Well, maybe July 5 (first anniversary), but March 3 is the release date of the new U2 album No Line on the Horizon. The first single, "Get on your Boots", is currently streaming at the website. I have listened to it a couple of times, and it picks up where Atomic Bomb left off: this is a scorching rock n' roll song. It's got a great guitar riff and driving bass - Adam is totally loving this groove - along with Larry's simple but effective drum beat. It's the cousin to "Vertigo", with its mixing of religious, political, and sexual imagery. And Bono still sounds great with his false-etto and swaggering vocal bravado. It is in the top 5 pure rock songs that the band has written, along with "Even Better Than The Real Thing", "Elevation", "Vertigo", and "All Because of You". I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds great, and I'm getting my sexy boots on.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Silly movies

As I have reflected on the kinds of movies I return to repeatedly, I realized that a large category belongs to silly movies: the kind of comedies that are just silly and have little value other than entertainment and distraction. I find that I tend to add one or two of these films to my repertoire each year. I thought that Be Kind Rewind might have been an addition in 2008, but it just did not measure up; it had some great moments, but the movie is a little too long and the silliness is too short. My list includes all kinds of genres: science fiction, musical parody, mockumentary, school, cop movies, film noir. I've been starting to make a list of my favourite silly movies, and here's what I have so far for a Top 20:

Hot Fuzz (2007)
Nacho Libre (2006)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
A Mighty Wind (2003)
School of Rock (2003)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Office Space (1999)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Rushmore (1998)
The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)
So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)
Wayne's World 1+2 (1992-93)
Bill + Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1990)
UHF (1989)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

I've got some favourite directors in there - Edgar Wright, Christopher Guest, and Jared Hess - as well as some actors that appear more than once (Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Jack Black, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). I know I'm missing a few - Slapshot and Raising Arizona, for example - that I would probably add to the list if I were to watch them. But I'm wondering what your favourite silly movies are, and how your list might compare to mine. So what are your favourite silly movies?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically

"One of the reasons that I embarked on this experiment was to take legalism to its logical extreme and show that it leads to righteous idiocy. What better way to demonstrate the absurdity of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism? If you actually follow all the rules, you'll spend your days acting like a crazy person. I still believe that. And I still plan on making a complete fool of myself to get this point across. But as with everything involving religion, my project has become much more complicated. The spiritual journey now takes up far more of my time. My friend Roger was right. It's not like studying Sumo wrestling in Japan. It's more like wrestling itself. This opponent of mine is sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel, sometimes ancient, sometimes crazily relevant. I can't get a handle on it."
- A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically (End of month 3)

A.J. Jacobs is making a career out of making himself an experiment in extreme living. For one year, he endeavoured to follow all of the laws of the Bible as closely as he could; he sets up some guidelines to help make it easier (such as spending eight months focussing on the Old Testament and four on the New Testament), but he actually comes close to doing it - at least, as close as someone could. He also travels to different communities who practice Biblical literalism - Pennsylvania Amish, Crown Heights Hasidic Jews, Rev. Jerry Falwell's congregation in Virginia, serpent handlers in Tennessee, and Samaritans in Israel. Through his reading, travelling, and life, his previously agnostic world is opened to what it means to be religious. It profoundly changes his life: he changes his language, dress, and habits; he prays, and he even has spiritual experiences. What is really interesting is to see how a non-religious person (who is culturally Jewish) reacts to much of the Bible and the ways in which people have interpreted it. His journal is often laugh-out-loud funny, and it is also very thought-provoking. The main question Jacobs raises is what it means to follow the Bible. Many Christians use the term in a literal sense, and Jacobs' example helps prove just how difficult that would actually be. He often wonders about what type of commands each one are - moral or legal - and whether that the difference in context means a difference in interpretation. I think he also raises questions about the difference between religion and faith; while Jacobs lives out religion for a year, he doesn't find faith. And what does it mean to be faithful, rather than just religious? How much of what we do is based on ritual, rather than redeeming value? And which rituals do we keep because they are still significant and valuable? Jacobs does not come up with answers, but he does do a great job of asking the questions, and that is really what this book is about: making people think about what it's like to follow the Bible and that crazily relevant God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The six inches in front of your face

I have been feeling run down lately. A lot of it has been struggling with students, and it has been a tough week and a half since the end of the holidays. Today was a day when I needed something to remind me about what life should be like, and I turned to my old friend Youtube to provide. Here's what I found: Al Pacino's speech at the end of Any Given Sunday. If you don't feel like this changes your outlook on life, you must be a robot. Enjoy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I will begin with a disclaimer that I understand why some people would not like this film, and I can agree with many of the film's faults. At times, the narrative feels forced, and certain sections feel laborious or even unnecessary. And there is that nagging sense of déjà vu: a tight-lipped Southern hero with a profound (and justified) sense of "otherness"; a life-long love who runs away to the big city and gets caught up in a world of artistry and debauchery only to come back later in life; a journey through life that includes many improbable moments and an ornery seamate who likes loose women; and a flashback framing device that occasionally interferes with the tone of the movie. Though the similarities between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump are many, somehow, David Fincher's film overcomes its shortcomings and leaves Zemeckis' film far behind.
There are several reasons that I believe this film succeeds. The primary reason is David Fincher's unwavering attention to detail and lack of deviation from the focus of his story. It seems as if every shot in the film has been crafted and designed to fit the form of the film, and that Fincher's fingerprints are all over the film (metaphorically, of course; otherwise, the reel would be almost unwatchable with all of the thumbprints and whatnot). He works hard not to celebrate the life of Button, but rather to view his life as an almost impartial observer. Fincher is renowned for psychological thrillers and twists, and although Button is far from that genre, he uses editing and lighting to keep a subdued tension throughout the film. The film is 166 minutes long, but it rarely feels like it is that lengthy due to Fincher's vision.
The second reason the film succeeds is the prowess of the two primary actors, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. They may be criticized for being too cold or aloof (particularly Blanchett), but I think that Fincher designed the relationship that way due to the unique circumstances of their respective timelines. Blanchett is sensitive without being pouty; Pitt is terse while remaining likeable. And Pitt's performance is aided by the make-up; by the time the viewer realizes he is watching "Brad Pitt" (an unfortunate omission from my top 10 list - I'd probably slot him in at #10 after thinking about it), he is so absorbed in the character that Pitt's celebrity is almost irrelevant. Pitt manages to display a childlike wonder in "old age", and his expressions as Button often belie a sense of being that defies appearance.
The third reason this film works very well is the technical side of the production. Make-up, set design, costuming, lighting, editing, cinematography - almost all of the technical elements of film are expertly managed. And even the script is very well written, if sparse at times. Even the aforementioned framing device works very well without being overly sentimental or preachy. I'm sure many critics have questioned the use of Hurricane Katrina as a narrative device, but I think it only advances Fincher's point and contributes to the themes and mood of the film.
The primary point of the film seems to be a reflection on what it means to be "other" and how other people perceive you in that state. Button never truly realizes what it means to be "normal", and his view of the world is shaped through that lens of otherness. He looks at death, love, purpose, war, sex, and work, and ultimately seems to conclude that the main point of life is to live it and to do what you're designed to do. It is dramatically ironic that Button is almost passive in his life direction while other characters spout truisms about finding one's purpose, but perhaps in that way he is designed to be an example to us all: some of us do not have to do anything special to be special. I think the film works better as an Ecclesiastical reflection on life, and how in the end it is all meaningless, save that we enjoy our time here, but I'm not sure how much that comes out in the film.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a very strong film, both technically and artistically. Its main problem is that it emulates a film that was contrived, and it occasionally begins to wander down that path; it is never long, however, before Fincher redirects the film and sends it straight. It is a worthwhile film for those who wonder about what life means, or what is important to them. And although the Oscars are not the only measure of success, I expect this film to perform quite well at next week's nominations: I predict 10 (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Make-up, Costuming, Sound, Film Editing, Cinematography) nominations for the film and possible wins in several of those categories.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cellular regeneration

We finally switched over our Saskatchewan cel phone to BC, and I was surprised by how free I felt again. Somehow, in my brain, the association between having a cel phone and feeling comfortable and open has grown over the past few years - so I started thinking about when my cel became a part of everyday life for me. I am pretty sure that it was in the summer of 2004, around the time I started blogging. Before that time, I had had a pay-as-you-go phone, and I barely used it. But in 2004, I stayed in Saskatoon for the summer, and I suddenly realized how useful a cel could be. It wasn't long before I started giving out that number when people asked me, and that my cel was always on me and always on. That dependence did wane last year when I spent much of my time working on school, but I still have a connection to having a mobile contact. Perhaps part of the attraction was in my ever-transient nature, and having one constant (other than e-mail/blog) over the last four and a half years just made it feel more like home. But whatever the reason or regardless of how irrational it may be, I am happy to again have a local cellular number because it's a part of life, and I feel like I can now have more of a life.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Savages

We watched The Savages last night. It was a very compelling film that focussed on siblings, old age, searching for purpose in life, and dealing with death. It had a great screenplay, and leading actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney were well-directed as well as impressive in their range of nuance, emotion, explosion, and outrage. No one now does an outburst like PSH. Well, only Daniel Day-Lewis. Hoffman in my top 5 outragers in action - Day-Lewis, Nicholson, Pacino, De Niro, Hoffman. Impressive list. Anyway, that in part got me thinking about this question: if you could see a movie, and the only thing you knew about the movie was the identity of the main star, which actors would you most like to see? That is, if you strip everything away from the film except the identity of the main actor, which actor compels you to see the movie the most? (Forgive me for the Klosterman-esque set-up; I've been thinking like him since reading that book). I limited it to male actors making movies in their prime now (Pacino, De Niro, and Nicholson are past their primes, and females are an entirely different discussion). Here, I think, are my top ten - the most raw, the most intense, the most savage (hence the double meaning in the title), in order from ten to one.

Honourable mention: Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix

10. Josh Brolin - No Country put him on my radar, and his W. was great. I expect great things.

9. Will Smith - The Fresh Prince delivers on a regular basis. He can act, even in relatively simple action movies. If he can save I Am Legend, he can do anything.

8. George Clooney - He's as close to a classic movie star as I'll come on this list, and perhaps as far from a character actor as you'll find. But I like Clooney - he makes good movies, and he does them well.

7. Jack Black - I don't know what it is, but I just find Black so funny most of the time. He can be unbelievably annoying at times, but there's something about his manic energy that draws me in.

6. Sam Rockwell - Dude is just so versatile - just look at his filmography. And he's seriously funny. I mean that as a paradox; somehow, Rockwell lives in that tension.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio - I don't know if anyone does paranoid better than Leonardo. One friend thinks that Leo-Scorsese will be more productive than De Niro-Scorsese. The more Leo I watch, the more I think he might be right.

4. Viggo Mortensen - His Aragorn was surprisingly noble and unforced; Tom in A History of Violence was just the right balance for the character; but it is Eastern Promises that puts him over the top. I am excited for his performance in the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road - especially when his enemy is Guy Pearce (a close miss from this list).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis - Re-watch the baptism scene from There Will Be Blood. The look he gives to Eli Sunday sums it up. And he carries a mustache like no one else. I hate putting him third, but...

2. Christian Bale - Bale does so much with a look or a gesture. I still get shivers when I watch The Prestige or Rescue Dawn. He's enjoying a string of big-budget hits now, but I think he'll push himself in indie flicks like he did in I'm Not There. Thinking of him almost makes me want to re-watch the horrible remake of Shaft to watch him as the villain. Almost.

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman - He's the best, and most essential to his movies. I mean, he made M:I 3 into a half-decent movie, just because of his presence. And he's not playing the same character each time, either; it's fun just figuring out who he is in a movie. And there will always be the ending from Punch-Drunk Love to remind us just how great a PSH freak-out is.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

HB on FB

Today was a good day - I was (un)pleasantly surprised by a colleague doing some re-decorating of my classroom with "Hello Kitty", my students behaved well, and I did not have to teach in the afternoon because the school went skating. Unfortunately - and perhaps predictably - as an inexperienced skater (only my third time ever), my time in the rink was cut short after I knocked my head against the ice. It hurt. But then Ari and I went for supper at a local pub (Swans), and then I came home to view the carnage on my wall on Facebook. I was really happy with all of the greetings (and I hope my following observations don't contrast that statement), and 50 posts later, I have some interesting observations about birthdays on Facebook.
I'm sure I'll be getting birthday messages for the next day or two, as people check FB and get around to posting. On FB, it'll be my birthday till Thursday. And it began about two days ago, when people started posting to my wall. But it's the most random people who send you birthday wishes. My best friend from Grade 5, my crush in Grade 6, random people I haven't talked to for six years - all suddenly wished me "Happy Birthday". Now, I'm glad to have the wishes, and I'm glad to hear from those people, but it's just kind of weird the kind of people who notice it's your birthday. A lot of messages just said "happy birthday" (Or "HB" at the most abbreviated). Maybe it means enough in itself to send the wishes, but I find it interesting that many people don't take the time to say much else. No one sent a birthday "message" through FB. I got only one e-mail, from my grandmother who's not on FB. I'm not complaining - I just find it interesting that we have found a way to communicate with one another that really doesn't leave any lasting impact on the recipient or take any effort for the sender. It's less work than texting. It still means a lot, but it's thought-provoking to see how communicating has changed. Of course, I realized that I probably only send messages to one out of every ten people whose birthdays I see listed on the sidebar on my homepage. And I probably send it to people just as randomly as the ones who sent it to me. And I send messages that say just "happy birthday" because I don't know what else to say. So it's not like I'm outside of this weirdness - I'm a part of it. But what strikes me as the most intriguing part of this whole Facebook birthday ritual - it's only happened for two years at the most for most people, and it's already the standard. So just remember that when I wish you a "happy birthday" on Facebook, you're one of the lucky few. HB.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs

"As America's best-loved semipro freelance conversationalist, I am often queried about my brazen humorousity. 'How is it possible,' I am asked, 'that you are able to extemporaneously lecture so effortlessly on such a myriad [sic] of complex topics? What is the key to your incisive, witty repertoire?' It's a valid question. Certainly, there is a formula to being relentlessly dynamic. There's a shockingly simple equation to being über-interesting, and it works with every subject imaginable. The formula is as follows: When discussing any given issue, always do three things. First, make an intellectual concession (this makes the listener feel comfortable). Next, make a completely incomprehensible - but remarkably specific - "cultural accusation" (this makes you insightful). Finally, end the dialogue by interjecting slang lexicon that does not necessarily exist (this makes you contemporary). Here are a few examples..." (Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, 70.)

Chuck Klosterman may be one of the most respected voices of Gen X, but his misappropriation of Kohlberg's theory of moral development leaves the reader with the impression that he is totally cinco loco. I think that's how his formula works. Anyway, discovering Chuck Klosterman was like discovering a really amazing blog - you know, one of those blogs that has some really great insight and many previous posts, kind of like this blog - that is really well-developed. He's the evolution of blogging. And I am sure he is working on an essay about how blogging is like some obscure movie from the mid-1980s. He displays a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture; in this book alone, he discusses topics including Pamela Anderson, The Sims, Lakers-Celtics, Left Behind, MTV's The Real World, Saved By The Bell, alt-country, Guns N Roses tribute bands, internet pornography, Coldplay, serial killers, and Billy Joel. But although he alludes to shallow subjects, he uses them to dig deeper to topics like the meaning of life, love, and fame. He is entertaining and insightful, and his essays are the kind of writing that a reader would come back to repeatedly and gain new insights each time. He is a self-confessing pop-culture analyst, and he is very good at what he does. If you're a junkie like me, check out Chuck. You will not regret it.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Birthday parties

I had very few birthday parties when I was young. I remember going to a local video game/arcade/fun place in the mall when I was 8 or 9, and that's about it. I didn't really have good friends in middle school (I was a bit of a pompous prick from the ages of 10-13), and my birthday always got lost in Christmas vacation anyway. Then, when I was in high school, my birthday almost always fell on one of the days of BRIT, our school's basketball tournament; I was always involved in the tourney, so it meant no party for me. But I can remember almost every birthday since then. My first year in Regina I spent it with a good friend and my then pre-girlfriend going to see Meet the Parents. The next year - my 19th - I spent the evening going to church, taking communion, and then driving back to Regina for school the next day. So when I hit 20, I decided it was time to actually have a birthday party. It was the first day back to school, and we packed over 70 people into our low-rent town house and I had to tell the story about the "Fake Jesus" movie because the Rev and Mike found it for me. I decided on that birthday that I wanted to make a tradition of holding some kind of birthday celebration as a way to enter the new year and to celebrate me. I don't remember what I did the next year - actually, I think I might have had a class that night - but since then I have made a point to celebrate my birthday. There was 2005, when I opened up my house and then raised money for tsunami victims by fasting. In 2006, I was too tired to host the party, so I just hung out at a local burger joint and people stopped by to visit. In 2007, I had a birthday weekend in Regina, which included a party at Rev's, a midnight showing of Stranger than Fiction, and a sausage party on my birthday. I'm not kidding - we actually brought all kinds of sausage and deep-fried them in beer batter. I'm glad I didn't host that one. And then last year, we had a 90s-themed party, complete with an ice cream cake that truly was "2 Legit 2 Quit." This year, the party is a smaller affair - mostly due to the fact that we moved across the country and are still developing our group of friends here - with a tropical theme and barbecue. BBQ on my B-day for the first time - woot! But all of this reminiscing has made me think about the nature of my birthday parties. For most people they're probably not even very memorable - there are no crazy drinking stories or "I can't believe it!" moments - just different friends getting together. And that's probably what I have valued most about these times - each party has provided opportunities for different segments of people in my life to come together. Sometimes it means new friendships have started, or old ones have been renewed, or even that people get to see a different part of who I am or have been. And it gives me a chance to reconnect with those people and to have a contact point with old and new friends. So I'm glad I have these birthday parties now, to connect with friends and to be able to remember the experiences for years to come.


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