Thursday, October 21, 2010

Riders update - Week 17

When I blogged about the Riders almost five weeks ago, I stated that I needed to see the proof of who the Riders really were. Were they the team that had been shellacked by Winnipeg, or were they a team that could not only beat, but perhaps even dominate the best teams in the CFL? After seeing two road wins and a tough home loss in the three ensuing weeks, I watched last Sunday's Riders-Stampeders game with high expectation. The Stamps had stumbled significantly in recent games, and if the Riders won, they had a very good shot at first in the West and a bye in the first week of the playoffs. The green and white had one of the best starts I can remember: two possessions, two quick touchdowns, an early 14-0 lead, and a 19-10 lead at halftime. That's partly what made the final score - 34-26 Calgary - so devastating. The Riders were pounded on the ground and in the air, and the defense got only a short break in the fourth quarter when Durant engineered another quick TD. The loss meant not only that the Riders have almost no chance of getting the bye, but that Calgary took the psychological advantage in the almost inevitable rematch in the Western Final on November 21.
So here's the new reality: the Riders have clinched a home playoff game in the Semi-Final with three weeks to go. The most likely teams they will play: Edmonton and BC, who are both currently 5-10. The teams they play in the final three weeks: at Edmonton, at BC, home to Edmonton. Dominating these last three weeks would go a long way in preparing for the playoffs; even winning two of three would give a lot of confidence to the team and the fans. I'm still not sure what to expect for the rest of the year, or which Riders team will show up each week, but there's still always hope that this year's team can redeem last year's heartbreak.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lethargy

This week marks the halfway point between our return from the US and Christmas holidays. It's a little frustrating that two months have gone by, and I don't feel like I have much to show for it. I'm still working on items from my "to do" list before summer, and I have not spent much time investing in some of the activities I thought I could have time for: writing a book; watching movies/TV; re-learning Greek; thoroughly organizing my house. Last night I began to wonder what has been happening with my time, and I realized that I have been not functioning anywhere near full capacity. I have been lethargic - sick from trying too hard and not fully resting in the time I have. I've only been able to use 60 or 70 % of my time effectively; the rest is spent trying to "get better", as it were. I will have to take the time to heal before I can be back at my "normal", and that means taking the effort to rest well. I'm glad to have the time to do so, though it will be difficult. My full time job is working on me. Huh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall TV Review: The returning shows

It's a few weeks into the new TV season, so I figured it was about time to post some of my thoughts on the shows I'm watching this fall. I'll start with the returning shows, and I'll try not to spoil anything (though SPOILER ALERT just in case).

Community might be the funniest show on TV, and it has not lost a step from the end of last season. Ken Jeong is still hilarious and steals every scene he's in, and the cast works well together. I'd be surprised if the show makes it past this season, especially since it's up against Big Bang Theory, but it's funny while it lasts.

Big Bang Theory is the only "sitcom" I watch, which should tell you something. It's awesome, and the shtick is still fresh, thanks to "Shamy".

30 Rock is absolutely hilarious. I'm stoked for the live episodes this week.

Chuck is my favourite show on TV right now. It still has the comedic edge, a great story hook, and the energy it needs to keep things captivating. It also has a great sense of humour about itself, like having Dolph Lundgren guest star as a Russian in the season premiere and spitting out lines from Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Awesome. I am part of a devoted, though still small, fan base, so I hope that NBC gives the show the chance to finish what it has started.

Glee is a mixed bag for me through the first three episodes. Though there were flashes of musical genius ("Stronger", "Telephone", "Toxic", and "Losing My Religion" come immediately to mind) and some interesting character developments, the show has also featured a number of incomprehensible music choices, sporadic character development, and cloyingly saccharine sentiment disguised as genuine emotion. I suppose it's the trap of being a hit, but I think the show could return to the form it displayed in the first half of Season 1. Still, it has presented some interesting conflicts, and the "Grilled Cheezus" episode was at least worth watching to see how the show dealt with crises of faith. I think there is still a temptation to wrap everything up within each episode, and that there still might be too much pandering to audidences, but it's perhaps the biggest "watercooler" show around, and it is still interesting enough to watch. That may change, but for now I'm still tuning in.

Survivor: Nicaragua has had an interesting beginning, though there seems to be little strategic ability in this group of players. The Medallion of Power is a great twist, and it should be an interesting season as it plays out.

Dexter seems to still be strong, and I'm interested to see where it goes. You can't top John Lithgow, so I'm glad they're not trying to, but the show still has a lot of life left. It should be an interesting season, and Michael C. Hall is enigmatically captivating as always.

Other shows I keep track of, even if I do not watch them each week:

The Office is irrelevant to me. I might catch up on Season 6 and 7 sometime, but I haven't watched it since Jim and Pam's wedding. But when I binge on it, I'll probably get sucked back in. I know the show is still going, but I'd call it quits soon - next season if it keeps going the way it has. (And yes, that plan still fits my "7 season" theory, since "Season 1" was only six episodes long. Unless a show really has something meaningful to say, Season 7 should end it. See: Scrubs for proof.)

Futurama is on a temporary hiatus, but it's as good (if not better) than it ever was. Thank you, Comedy Central.

Friday Night Lights is entering its last season, but I still need to catch up on the last two seasons.

My wife has been watching How I Met Your Mother recently. She's partway into Season 3, so she may catch up soon enough. I like it enough to watch it once in awhile, but the whole feel of a sitcom with a laugh track really kills it for me. And again, I hope they end it at Season 7 (next year); it would just be cruel to keep it going.

I may try to catch up on Modern Family sometime. I haven't watched it yet, but I at least want to give it a try. And Breaking Bad and Mad Men are still on my "I'll watch them someday" list. And maybe I'll finally try out Parks and Recreation before it comes back in the spring.

And for those keeping track at home, that's three comedies, two comedy-dramas, one reality show, and one drama I watch every week, for a total of 7 shows in 4 hours. There are two comedies and another drama in my sphere of awareness, as well as a couple of shows I've been meaning to watch, but my TV-watching schedule feels almost full even without the new shows. I'll post about them soon, but so far it's not looking good for many of them to crack the line-up permanently. But that's the returning shows I'm watching this fall.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Review: The Social Network

The Social Network may just be the film of the year. I am not suggesting that it is the best film, or even that it would win awards (okay, maybe I'll suggest that), but that it may be the film that helps define not only this year, but both the decade past and to come. It is receiving perfect reviews from almost every major film critic, and it currently has a score of 97 on Metacritic, which makes it one of the top films reviewed in the sites decade-long history. So why is the film so amazing? It has the cachet of a top-level director (David Fincher), one of the most notable writers in film or television of the past decade (Aaron Sorkin), and a number of up-and-coming actors (Andrew Garfield, the next Spider-Man; the underrated Justin Timberlake; and Jesse Eisenberg, the nerd-du-jour), as well as impeccable timing in release. Let's take a closer look.
I can think of few examples in which both the writer's and director's styles are so distinctive yet identifiable in one film (Eternal Sunshine comes immediately to mind). Both Sorkin and Fincher have left their mark on this film, and it is difficult to imagine it succeeding without both creative influences. The feel of the film is undeniably shaped by Sorkin, with whose pen Zuckerberg is transformed into a neurotic archetype, preceded by similar characters in his previous works. (Jeremy in Sports Night, Matt in Studio 60, Gust in Charlie Wilson's War). The medium of the film, Sorkin's rapid-fire repartee, fits its subject matter while tapping into both the irony and the meta-ironic awareness of both its subjects and audience. (And yes, there are a couple of walk-and-talks, and a few shots at blogging.) Meanwhile, Fincher's steady and deliberate direction counterbalances the frenetic pace of Sorkin's script, and frames the personal nature of the film well. Fincher is known for featuring characters undergoing emotional distress, and The Social Network focusses much on the main characters in a way that could have easily been lost in the attempt to focus on the "bigger issues" (as Sorkin is sometimes wont to do).
There are some stellar performances in the film. Eisenberg's portrayal of founder Mark Zuckerberg, though occasionally too aloof, is mesmerizing in its variety. Eisenberg manages to convince the audience that Zuckerberg is egomaniacal, despotic, disloyal, self-absorbed, and arrogant, while maintaining a fairly likeable character who can also be seen as ingenious, driven, innovative, witty, and even... Several of the film's main questions concern Zuckerberg's motivations for creating Facebook and conducting himself in that way, and Eisenberg gives both the film's creators and the audience the opportunity to consider the answers. Andrew Garfield serves as the emotional core of the show as co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake steals every scene he's in as Napster founder Sean Parker. All three may receive attention in awards season, and understandably so.
Of course, the film would not be as significant were it not so directly a huge part of society. There are few films that tap into the zeitgeist so pressingly, immediately, and effectively and that can become as iconic as this one seems destined to. The list in the past two decades is arguably short, perhaps one or two per year: Fight Club (another Fincher film); Jason Reitman's Juno and perhaps Up In The Air; Good Will Hunting; High Fidelity; Lost In Translation; Crash; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name a few, but I digress. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the film may not go far enough into acknowledging the influence of Facebook on society. I know that's not the point of the film, and it comes across tangentially, but it may have gone further in its exploration. Still, the film does touch on issues of intellectual property, privacy, and business and life in an electronic age, and sets itself as a piece for discussion in this new e-world. Facebook, like Google or even Napster before it, has not only shaped internet culture but ultimately life. But perhaps, like Zuckerberg and Parker both state in the film, we're still figuring out what Facebook is and how it works. To wit: FB went fully public only four years ago, and has only started growing exponentially in the last year and a half. We still don't know where FB is going, how much culture has shifted as a result, and what the next step is. And that future may shape the way this film is perceived: we may look back at this film as a quaint reminder of time gone by; or we may see it as a visionary examination of a transition from the world that was to whatever will be. Or perhaps we'll see it for what it is at its core: a story about people, relationships, and how ideas can grow and change along with those relationships. Perhaps it's a cautionary tale, but I think it's more like a parable for our times. Zuckerberg, likely unwittingly, is a representative of a new way of thinking, and this film showcases that shift. That's why this film is worth watching, and what makes it the film of the year: it captures the moment and communicates it in a way that leaves more questions than answers. It's a good thing we have Facebook to help us figure it out together...right?

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