Monday, November 30, 2009

Dance, Floor, Round

  • The Monologue:
    • A bunch of Amish families are moving into a small Maine town. Which is going to be great until their kids start hanging out in cornfields. This will end badly.
    • Miley Cyrus said that all of the hoopla around Twlight is a "cult." Then she told the thousands of screaming fans at her concert to buy more t-shirts because God said it was the right thing to do.
    • They came out with the annual study of how much the presents in "The 12 Days of Christmas" would cost. I was going to make a joke about how the $87,403 price tag was high but little Jimmy whined about drumming for Rock Band until his mom bought it all anyway. But then I read the article. How do ten lords-a-leaping cost $2,000 more than twelve drummers drumming? Neil Peart needs a new agent.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Alec Baldwin says he's going to quit acting once 30 Rock is done because he considers his movie career a "complete failure." Sure, nobody's proud of Along Came Polly and Pearl Harbor. But Beetle Juice? The Hunt for Red October? Glengarry Glen Ross? The Cooler? The Departed? He's selling himself a bit short.
    • I took a quick break from the game tonight to watch House, which was excellent. They did an episode with Wilson as the main character, showing House's team only in snippets as they crossed paths. Really, really good stuff and a nice way to shake things up a bit in the middle of the season.
    • How anti-climactic was this week's Amazing Race episode? A horrible decision and a worse episode. Hopefully it's the calm before next week's finale storm, though how do Meghan and Cheyne not win it all?
    • Newsflash: the Saints are good. I've seen a bit of the Colts lately and they keep making big plays to win close games, but nobody's getting close to the Saints right now. Their closest victory was by five at St. Louis two weeks ago. One of only two single-digit wins this season. They're creaming teams, especially the good ones. They beat Philly by 26 and the Giants and the Patriots by 21. It's hard to see anyone beating them because I don't know how you slow down that offense. So many weapons. More, in terms of quantity, than the Patriots had two years ago.
    • Also, the Saints won me big money this week. In order to win my office pool, I needed them to win and the total to be 53 to 55 points. A missed FG towards the end cemented the 38-17 victory. Lucky!
  • Random Music Video:
    • The greatest album ever was released on November 30, 1982. Twenty-seven years ago today. So torn... Do I post the best video from the album? The best song? Hmm... You know, I posted the best video on the day he died, so here's the best song from the album:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worst of the Worst: #34, The Haunting of Molly Hartley

It is often interesting to try to put yourself in a film maker's head and ask what they were thinking when they make a movie. In Inglourious Basterds, was Tarantino trying to make revenge porn or was he trying to make a social statement about our thirst for violence? In A Serious Man, were the Coen Brothers trying to tell a modern-day Job story or were they trying to comment on the Jewish psyche?

And so, I find myself wanting to ask this of the people behind The Haunting of Molly Hartley, #34 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst movies of the decade: "What were you thinking?"

The stars of 90210 and Gossip Girl join to bring you a movie that would have more appropriately been a TV movie on the CW. Instead, the script has a few curse words -- but absolutely no blood -- and so it was somehow released in theaters. To be fair, it actually turned a profit because of its very low budget. What was the audience thinking?

Here's the plot: If a baby is stillborn, a minion of Satan approaches the parents and says they can save the baby, but the child must be turned over to Satan on their eighteenth birthday. Molly Hartley is such a child. Her mother, realizing what she agreed to, tries to kill Molly and goes into an insane asylum. Molly finally learns the truth of her circumstance and tries to kill herself, but it's too late and she becomes evil.

Full disclosure: I chose to watch this movie because I wanted the shortest one I could find and, at 85 minutes, this fit the bill. The thing about this movie and the plot above is that for the first 60 minutes of the movie, all you know is that Molly's mother tried to kill her. You learn the rest in a ten-minute span at the very end. Not only that, but other than Adrianna from 90210 getting killed in a meaningless flashback at the very beginning, there is no death or action until this last flurry at the end. In other words, nothing happens for the first hour of this hour-and-twenty-five minute movie. I mean it, nothing!

I could go on about how bad the acting is, but all you need to know is what I just said. Nothing happens for over two-thirds of the movie. One of the worst-paced films I can remember. They could have made this a twenty-minute short film and it would have been fine plot-wise. So again, I have to ask the film makers: What the hell were you thinking?

NFL Picks, Week 12

Didn't post them last week, but I was 7-9, making me 90-69-1. Add 2-1 on Thursday (got the Dallas-Oakland game wrong) to go to 92-70-1:
  • Atlanta (-12.5) vs. Tampa Bay: Hard to figure out this Atlanta team. They have the ability to put together good games, but they rarely do. Sort of like Green Bay but healthier.
  • Miami (-3) at Buffalo: Miami's playing some good ball, even without their best player.
  • Cincinnati (-14) vs. Cleveland: The Bengals have to be pissed after their loss at Oakland last week.
  • Seattle (-3) at St. Louis: I know the Rams have played decently the last couple of weeks, but they're getting only three?
  • New York Jets (-3) vs. Carolina: This means that on a neutral field, Vegas thinks the Jets are basically even with the Panthers. What a fall from 3-0 grace.
  • Washington (+9) at Philadelphia: The Skins stink, but they haven't quit and they play teams close.
  • Houston (+3.5) vs. Indianapolis: I picked the Texans to win this outright in my office pool. Can they? Freeney's hurt and Houston only lost the last game by three when their kicker missed at the buzzer. Indy has to lose at some point. Spread-wise, I'll happily take 3-1/2.
  • San Diego (-13.5) vs. Kansas City: Shocked this line is this low.
  • Jacksonville (+3) at San Francisco: Coin flip, part one. Came up heads.
  • Tennessee (PK) vs. Arizona: Coin flip, part two. Came up tails.
  • Minnesota (+10.5) vs. Chicago: Another one with a surprisingly small line. Minnesota is not playing close games right now.
  • Baltimore (PK) vs. Pittsburgh: Dennis Dixon is starting at QB for the Steelers. On a side note, kudos to House for finally, this week, making a joke about how much Omar Epps looks like Mike Tomlin.
  • New Orleans (+3) vs. New England: I really don't know. Just hard to pick against the Saints.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Gates Of Hell

So I went out this morning around 7 to buy Tiger Woods 10 and a Wii Motion Plus. The game was half-price at Walmart and not discounted anywhere else. I waited in line for an hour just to buy one item, but it was totally worth it. It's all about the watching how people react. Some highlights:
  • Standing next to a meeting of police and Walmart management as they discussed some of the goings-on of the morning. One person had apparently impersonated an employee in order to shoplift and people were selling the "doorbuster" TVs in the parking lot for a profit.
  • Watching people in front of me leave their carts to keep grabbing more and more items. When they got to the register to find out those items weren't actually on sale? They bought none of them.
  • Someone applauding another shopper for grabbing a copy of Fast and Furious because it was "like, a really great movie."
  • The fact that more people were in one of the various lines around the store than were actually shopping.
  • My favorite: someone coming up to one of the managers standing near me and asking, "Where are all of your Snuggies?"

In the meantime, I shot a 100 and hurt my back on the first round I played of the game. The gyroscope attachment actually reads your swing, so any little bit off and the ball is flying all over the place. Can't knock the realism.

On the plus side, I didn't drink and drive today like some video game-naming golfer we know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Erev Thanksgiving

  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I saw the G.I. Joe movie tonight via Netflix. It's bad -- bad acting, bad script, some weird scene-to-scene cuts, way too many flashbacks, some very derivative scenes (especially of Star Wars as the Joes try to infiltrate/disarm/escape the enemy base). If you accept this and go in with the lowest of low expectations, it's actually quite entertaining. I was surprised that I enjoyed myself as much as I did. Sure, some of it is laughing at the movie, but that's entertainment, too. Bad, but entertaining. So now you know.
    • Sunday's Dexter ended with a jaw-dropper of a twist. So much of the episode had been predictable and they led you to believe all signs were pointing towards one certain thing happening, but then they took a left turn at literally the last moment (the twist came in the last three or fewer seconds before the end of the episode).
    • So the fall portion of V is done and the show goes on hiatus until March, at which point it will have a new person at the helm. It shows enough promise here and there that I'll stick with it for now.
    • College basketball is on. Tonight was the championship game of the Maui Invitational, as Gonzaga and Cincinnati went to overtime before the Bulldogs won it with a big defensive play at the buzzer. I like both of those teams to be solid tournament teams. Cincy has great size, plays stifling defense, and has a potential star in top recruit Lance Stephenson. Gonzaga is Gonzaga -- great guards, enough size, solid experience.
  • Random Music Video:
    • It's easy to go with Adam Sandler's song, but the best Thanksgiving song is, without a doubt, Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree". Baltimore's 98 Rock plays it every Thanksgiving at noon and I try to tune in every year, as if I didn't also have the song on CD. So to honor my favorite holiday (how could anyone disagree?), here's the story of garbage, twenty-seven 8-by-10 color glossy pictures, and how to start a movement:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Slappy Tuesday

  • The Monologue:
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger was caught on film parking his Porsche illegally in Beverly Hills. And then it blew up. Because all traffic cameras in Southern California are operated by Michael Bay.
    • Las Vegas leads the country with the highest percentage (81.8%) of homeowners owing more on their house than the house is worth, but we can get it down to 40% if only black will hit just once.
    • Lou Dobbs is thinking about running for the White House. So am I. So am I.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Is it me or have there been a whole lot of non-elimination legs on The Amazing Race this year?
    • I'm still one episode -- tonight's -- behind on V, but it still seems pretty lame. It's trying really hard to be Battlestar Galactica, but a) it's failing and b) BSG wasn't a network-type show anyway.
    • Lost returns on February 2, Idol and 24 in the middle of January.
    • I've had "Somewhere Out There" in my freaking head all freaking day.
  • Random TV Scene:
    • Was going to go with more Community -- the laugh-out-loud Troy/Abed kicker this past week with the pepper water -- but there was more than one funny show over the last few days. Here's the end of last night's great How I Met Your Mother. Sure, South Park did this to some extent with the Mr. Hanky fake commercial, but I still enjoyed this quite a bit:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Find One Another

  • The Monologue:
    • Hundreds of icebergs are leaving Antarctica and floating towards warmer weather. Just like the thousands of Goldbergs that move to Florida.
    • Heidi Klum took her husband Seal's last name. From now on, she will be known as Heidi.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • How I Met Your Mother has its moments, but it outdid itself tonight. Not only did Chris Elliott have a role, but they made a Get A Life reference with Elliott living in his parents' basement. A current TV show made a Get A Life reference. That's gold.
    • The season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm was very funny, though not as funny as some of the other episodes this season. It didn't need to be, though; it just needed to give us a true Seinfeld reunion and wrap up the Larry/Cheryl story. It did both well. It also, like many of the jokes this season, gave us a new social faux pas to beware of. "Having said that..." The conversation about why that phrase is so bad was dead on. Throw it with "whatnot" in the pile of things not to say.
    • I'll echo the reviews of the Curb episode that have asked that, if there is a next season, Jerry Seinfeld become a regular character. His chemistry with Larry is too good to not see again at some point down the road. Shoot, they should just get a talk show. I'd make it appointment TV to just watch them talk about nothing for a half hour a week.
    • Last week's Grey's Anatomy was its Christmas episode. The week before Thanksgiving. Didn't like it, for some reason.
  • Random TV Scene:
    • While we're on last week, Community had a pretty mediocre episode that built into two of the best minutes of this TV season. Here are those two minutes:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Random Music Video

Out late after a long day that included Colts-Ravens and a weird production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, so haven't watched The Amazing Race or the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm yet. I'll get there tomorrow and there's more to come including a potential new online project that needs to be hashed out a bit more.

In the meantime, it's November 22. This song seems appropriate, though this is a cover. Google it if you don't know.

Worst of the Worst: #26, Kickin' It Old Skool

With its third season complete, I've written a lot about Mad Men. It is a show set in the past that lets our knowledge of '60s history interpret what we see on the screen. They use that innate foreshadowing to inform our views of the greater cultural impact and import of the characters' actions. These actions are subtle. The humor, for the most part, is derived from these subtleties. Rarely are we hit over the head with anything on the show. You have to do some thinking to derive the characters' motivations, their possible next steps. It is an intellectual show requiring an awareness of the cultural drivers and an open mind to deal with the complexities of each of is characters.

Now, take everything I wrote in the previous paragraph and make it exactly opposite. I give you Kickin' It Old Skool. It's a movie about a breakdancing teen from 1986 who, upon missing a crucial move, goes into a coma for the next twenty years and wakes up to find himself played by Jamie Kennedy and in a new world of DVRs and iPods. Except all of his friends and enemies from 1986 are still in the same town. And all of them are still into breakdancing. So, when a breakdancing competition (like the one you might come across on MTV, hosted by Mario Lopez) promises a $100,000 prize, Kennedy gets his friends together to make a go and get the girl. In the meantime, they make as many blatant '80s references as they can. Smurfs, Karate Kid, He-Man, and so on and so on. I Love The '80s didn't have as many lame references thrown into as short a time period. And that time period? At 102 minutes, Kickin' It Old Skool is excruciatingly long. I kept checking to see how far along the movie was. At an hour, I started counting down the minutes. At an hour and twenty, I flat out fell asleep and ended up having to go back to see what I had missed. Lucky me. I missed the second pee joke, but thankfully I caught up with it.

I may have missed the boat last week with my wholly negative review of Corky Romano. To be fair, there was one line in that movie that made me give one chuckle -- a part where Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos) shakes down a kid for money. On the other hand, I stared at Kickin' It Old Skool with horror the whole time. My brain is actually sitting on the keyboard in front of me because it shriveled to the size of a raisin and fell out of my nostril. I don't know if Kickin' It Old Skool is the worst movie I've ever seen, but it sure is the stupidest. It is stupid to the max.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Great Black And White Way

Back tonight from New York and started in on the effort to catch up on TV from the past week. I'm a little confused by the strategy in this week's Survivor. Also there was a typo in one of the subtitles that said the word "feasable". Yikes. Putting that aside...

I stood in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square last night and had my choice of a quite a few different shows. Having seen a number of ads on TV, my colleague and I settled on tickets for David Mamet's new play, Race. It actually opened for previews last Friday. It is a four-person play with big name actors. It deals with a rich white man (played by Richard Thomas, Broadway veteran and Emmy-winner as John Boy on The Waltons) who is accused of raping a black woman. He comes to a law office to ask them to defend him. The office consists of two male partners, one white (James Spader) and one black (David Alan Grier), and a younger black female associate (Kerry Washington). The lawyers discuss whether or not they want to take the case and also whether or not they could win it.

It's a short play (two acts consisting of three total scenes and probably about ninety minutes if you don't count the intermission), but it is, as is often the case with Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, among many others) funny, frank, and powerful. It deals with questions of racial shame. Do black people hate white people? Do white people feel shame about their relationships with black people? Do black people feel shame about their hatred of white people and themselves, for how easily they are victimized? And so on. The writing is superb, as one would expect. Even in so short a play, I can think of at least four lines that caused the audience to clap and cheer so loudly that the actors had to stop for a second. The language is beautiful, even the frequent obscenities, which are used more as punctuation and emphasis than for gratuitous shock value. Similarly, the choreography stands out, with the movements -- or sometimes lack of movement -- accentuating the dialogue and tension.

It's in previews, so there are still some kinks to be worked out before opening night. Most notably, Washington, making her Broadway debut, seemed lost in the first act. She, so much smaller than the men, had a hard time projecting her voice and acting at the same time. Thankfully, she improved greatly in the second act, really catching a groove. If she hadn't, two of the crucial moments of the play would have fallen short as she is set one-on-one against Spader. Yet she held her own and the confrontation worked. Spader, for his part, slipped on a couple of lines. Still, he is a great actor and not only recovered, but gave a great performance. With those small slips from the others (except Thomas who is not in it quite as much), Grier stole the show. Although known for comedy, he is a classically-trained actor and it showed. His comic timing also helped on a number of lines.

I don't go to a lot of shows and I go to even fewer plays. I'm pretty sure it was the first non-musical that I've seen on Broadway. So while I was blown away, leaving with a feeling in the pit of my stomach because of how powerful the play is, I wasn't sure if I'm really just a sucker with no "refined" taste. However, the standing ovation was given freely by the audience and a lot of people who seem to go to a lot more shows than I do were buzzing, as we left, about what a hit this play is going to be. I agree, if people have any sense. It's not only well-written and well-acted, but it made me think and I still can't get parts of it out of my head. Can't ask for much more than that.

So there you go, my turn as theater critic. Back tomorrow as we resume our regularly-scheduled program.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In The City, cont.

Walking by Ground Zero as I type this. It is such an underrated and immense failure of Giuliani/Pataki/Bloomberg/whoever that there is no finished memorial at the site. Over eight years later? Inexcusable.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In The City

A delayed train meant I didn't get into New York until pretty late. There's just such a feeling excitement here. I love New York. Is that too cliche?

Also, the pizza is pretty freaking good.

While Waiting For The Adrenaline Rush To Die Down At 12:45AM

  • NFL Week 10:
    • I watched football all day, but it's really hard to remember anything at this point besides the ending to Pats-Colts. So hard to believe. I was surprised that Belichick went for it, but not that surprised, because he does that sometimes. I was more surprised at how he wasted his timeouts, which ended up hurting the team as much as anything else.
    • Great day though. Other last-second wins for the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Chiefs. A huge win for the Bengals that all but clinches the division for them. The top teams stand out, but the wild card picture has started to get very muddy.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I'm pretty surprised at how well Brian and Ericka have hung around The Amazing Race. I don't think they're a real threat to win, but Brian has willed them far beyond what anyone could have expected.
    • I like that there has been, in effect, a Seinfeld reunion, but it's just happening on a different show. They even brought back George's mother, Banya, and Newman for tonight's episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. But (surprise, surprise) the greatness of the episode came from Leon's portrayal of a Jew. First, that he dressed like someone from the Nation of Islam. Second, that it led to them finally riffing on Michael Richards' racial problems. And more than any of those, his made-up rant about being Jewish and having Groat's Disease. "Danny Duberstein is good at two things: math and f***ing." So many great lines this season.
    • I was going to watch Dexter, but I ended up deciding to watch the last ten minutes of the football game, just until the Pats put it away. Glad I decided to do that.
  • Coming Up:
    • I may post tomorrow during the day, but I have rather unexpectedly been called to a week of meetings in Manhattan. I'm taking the train up tomorrow afternoon and coming back Friday evening. So, hopefully I'll have the chance to post something, but it may just be about night life in the big city.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Worst of the Worst: #64, Corky Romano

I'm going to make this short and sweet. There is no redeeming quality to Corky Romano. Every second of it is agonizing. I question why the villains in Saw or Hostel need to do the crazy things they do when they could just show their victims this movie and be done with it. There came a point about halfway through where I was in physically uncomfortable watching the movie because it was so bad. I wanted very much to shut it off. The fact that I soldiered on means that I can make it through any of these. I deserve a Veterans Day just for finishing this film. The director, the writer, and all of the actors should be embarrassed. It's no surprise that of the main people, the director has never worked again, Chris Kattan's career in comedy is dead, Peter Berg is no longer acting and sticking to directing, Chris Penn is dead, Peter Falk is a shell of himself, and Matthew Glave (the guy who played Glenn Gulia in The Wedding Singer) is only doing TV. A pox on their houses.

Here's a typical scene:

Now that I've watched ten of the worst 100 movies of the decade, according to Rotten Tomatoes, here is my current ranking (#1 being worst, with Rotten Tomatoes' ranking in parentheses):
10. A Sound of Thunder (#93)
9. The New Guy (#94)
8. Pavilion of Women (#86)
7. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (#79)
6. BloodRayne (#48)
5. Rollerball (#28)
4. The Celestine Prophecy (#55)
3. Epic Movie (#21)
2. 3 Strikes (#8)
1. Corky Romano (#64) -- 3 Strikes is way worse of a movie, but it's really low budget. The expectations that would go into a Saturday Night Live-ish movie with some budget mean this is at the top/bottom of the list.

NFL Picks (Last week, 8-5; overall, 74-55-1, including a win on SF -3 on Thursday night):
  • Tennessee (-6.5) vs. Buffalo: Now that Vince Young won me actual cash in the office pool last week, I'm firmly on his bandwagon.
  • New Orleans (-13.5) at St. Louis: I find it hard to pick another team to win the Super Bowl besides New Orleans right now.
  • Tampa Bay (+10) at Miami: When did Miami deserve to be giving double-digit points? I feel like, if Josh Freeman is as good as he seemed last week, we're in an arbitrage position with the Bucs until Vegas catches up with them being better than they've been.
  • Minnesota (-16.5) vs. Detroit: At home, coming off the bye.
  • New York Jets (-7) vs. Jacksonville: See above.
  • Cincinnati (+7) at Pittsburgh: The Steelers look great, but so do the Bengals. Figure this has to be a close game.
  • Denver (-3.5) at Washington: 3.5?! It's not like they're playing Baltimore or Pittsburgh again.
  • Atlanta (-1.5) at Carolina: I smell a trap. I can't pick Carolina, but wouldn't be surprised at all if they won.
  • Kansas City (+1.5) at Oakland: I don't know how Oakland gives points to anyone.
  • Green Bay (+3) vs. Dallas: Dallas has been playing above their heads lately.
  • Arizona (-8.5) vs. Seattle: I'm sure what I'm about to say means that Seattle will win, but this seems like really easy money.
  • San Diego (-2) vs. Philadelphia: That two points means that Vegas thinks the two teams are exactly equal. I don't see that.
  • Indianapolis (-3) vs. New England: I don't care who wins this. I just want to sit back and enjoy.
  • Baltimore (-11) at Cleveland: Brady Quinn's back!

What You See

I recommend the "Written in Bone" exhibit that is currently (through February) at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It deals with forensic anthropology, the science of looking at bones (in this case, unearthed skeletons from Jamestown and St. Mary's City) to learn about the people and culture of the times when the people died. It's fascinating and the skeletons are all laid out for you to examine.

Otherwise, it's Friday and I didn't get to watch my bad movie yet. I do have G.I. Joe from Netflix, so maybe I'll get to see two bad movies tomorrow! In the meantime, from the album Simple Things, released eight years ago today, here's Zero 7 with a cool song that made the Garden State soundtrack as well:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Doesn't It Pop?

  • The Monologue:
    • In Sarah Palin's new autobiography, she bashes Katie Couric and talks about how dysfunctional the campaign was. Also, it's a pop-up book!
    • Look, I'm not saying that Palin's stupid, but the first draft of her autobiography was a narrative about her car.
    • Forbes ranked the sixty-seven most powerful people in the world. #1 is a foreign-born Muslim who hates freedom and wants nothing more than to bring about Karl Marx's vision. Bastards...
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Not my favorite Community episode tonight, but still pretty funny. The funniest part was the throwaway line about the basketball team that paid off ten minutes later.
    • Does Russell get credit for being a genius? Do we knock Dave for not even considering that Russell could have had the idol? Do we knock the producers for hiding the idol about as well as Shambo hides her white-trashiness? Either way, tonight's tribal council ranks among the tops in show history in terms of ridiculous tension. When Jeff grabbed the first vote, I seriously had no clue what name was going to be on the other side.
    • If you've ever loved Survivor and you're not watching this season for whatever reason, I feel sorry. It's as good as, if not better than, any recent season has been.
    • Izzy Stevens is my least favorite character on TV. Yes, she's even more annoying than LaGuerta or Quinn on Dexter.
  • Random Movie Scene:
    • Released ten years ago today on November 12, 1999. Ten years!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Clouds Away

  • The Monologue:
    • Lou Dobbs quit CNN. As a cost-cutting measure, he has been replaced by an illegal immigrant.
    • The rumors of Aerosmith's demise were proven to be entirely untrue, as frontman Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry appeared together. They reunited to form a new band, Tyler/Perry, that promises to sing poorly-written one-note feel-good tunes.
    • Wal-Mart has changed its rules for Black Friday to guard against any riots. It's their new "Let's try not to kill anyone this year, guys" policy.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • How will the Amazing Race final leg not come down to a tight race between the surfers and the Globetrotters? It would be a big upset if they weren't the #1/#2 teams in some order.
    • The first few minutes of the second episode of V were awful. Awful. I almost shut it off and stopped watching for good. It got a little better as the show went on, but the dialogue is cheesy and the special effects are cheap-looking. My big hope comes from the fact that ABC switched show-runners, so perhaps upcoming episodes will be better.
    • I will say that V is exactly half as good as Spike Lee's movie, X.
    • Thursday night football starts tomorrow, so get your picks and your lineups in. So early to start this; we have to be moving towards oversaturation, right?
  • Random Music Video:
    • Clearing off the DVR tonight (Amazing Race, House, V) and in between shows the channel happened to be on ABC, which tonight was broadcasting the CMA Awards. Not my cup of tea. However, the Zac Brown Band -- shocker, a country act I have never heard of -- was on and playing one of the great songs of all time, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". Sick. Here's a different performance of their version of the song:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quite A Day

I've had a very good fifty-three weeks or so for political speeches. On November 3 of last year, I was able to see Obama's last speech of the campaign, in front of 80,000 people in Virginia. Amazing. On January 20, I was downtown for the Inauguration and heard the speech, though I couldn't see him. One of the top days of my life. Today, I was able to see two of the great recent Jewish leaders, Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is, of course, the current Prime Minister of Israel. He spoke about the peace process and some other issues facing Israel, including the work to make the world less dependent on oil (and therefore funnel less money to Arab states) and the hope for Jewish religious pluralism in Israel (which is too complicated an issue to go into here but a very important one to me personally). Netanyahu, who lived in the US for a long time, has no accent to his English.

On the other hand, Sharansky, the new head of the Jewish Agency for Israel (the top funding agency in the country), is very hard to understand with his thick-as-pea-soup Russian accent. He is, however, the more impressive Jewish leader. Sharansky was jailed for eight years in Siberia for speaking out about human rights violations in the Soviet Union and for proclaiming his Jewish identity. He was the face of the American Jewish community's push to free the Soviet Jews and let them practice their religion. I'll link to his wikipedia page, because I can't possibly do his story justice. To not only see him, but to see him on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a great honor.

So I'll leave with a quick story of what a crazy day it was. I was trying to find a colleague to grab dinner and, walking through the lobby of the hotel, saw a bunch of men moving quickly through the far side of the room. I walked over to find out that I had just missed Ehud Barak, the current Israeli Minister of Defense and former PM. As I stood there, Sharansky walked right past me. What a day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I admit it. I'm prone to hyperbole (or, as John Boehner would say, "hyper-bowl"). I try to keep myself in check, but nobody wants to read about how something is pretty good or okay. You hear hyperbole so often lately in various places because people want to be heard over the fray, they want their opinion to stand out. But what happens when something is truly deserving of hyperbole? It's a boy-cries-wolf situation.

I ask because I just finished watching the season finale of Mad Men. It's the best episode yet of that show, without a doubt. This isn't exaggeration. It just is. What the episode made me think of, though, is the short list of the best single episodes from any series of dramatic television. A couple that come to mind are two Sopranos episodes, "College" (in which Tony takes Meadow to look at schools and runs into a former snitch) and "University (the one where Ralphie beats the stripper to death). Another is the C.S.I.: episode "Grave Danger", the Tarantino-directed episode in which Nick is buried alive. A lot of people are partial to The Wire's "Final Grades", the final episode of the fourth season -- the most critically-acclaimed season in TV history -- and I also really like "Hamsterdam" from the third season involving Bunny Colvin's drug zone of the same name. Hmm, "Flashes Before Your Eyes" is the episode that saved Lost by beginning to show more of the picture, specifically the introduction of the time travel issue. The list is potentially long and I'm missing a lot.

I bring this up because, in terms of Mad Men, I'd put last season's "The New Girl" on the list and I'd put tonight's season finale, "Shut the Door, Have a Seat" near the top. It was as funny an episode as I can remember. It had more corporate intrigue than any episode has had, including our chance to see Cooper, Sterling, and Draper at work. It was heart-breaking, particularly the scene where Don and Betty tell the kids about their divorce. It was terrifying in its own way; the scene where Don comes home drunk and attacks Betty was so dark (for instance, the amount of Don's face that was in shadow). It was even romantic in its own way ("And if I say no, you'll never talk to me again?" "No... I'll spend my life trying to hire you."). All of this combined to make this episode delightful. Halfway through, I turned to my wife and said aloud, "This episode is so good." It just needed to be said. It was.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

House Party

  • Random Politics:
    • Alone at home, I spent the entire evening watching C-SPAN to see the tail end of the debate and subsequent vote and passage by the House on health care reform. It is a huge victory for progressives and for the President. I'll refrain from making sweeping statements about the country's future and its karma. You know where I stand. It passes with an attached amendment that bans the use of any federal funds for abortions. I think I'm okay with that. It's one thing for people to have their tax money to go to help the sick and another to have it go to perform a procedure of which nearly half the country disapproves. I'm especially okay with it if that amendment means that the bill can be passed more easily into law, as it convinced Joseph Cao of Louisiana to cross the aisle and support the bill.
    • It's sort of fun to see all the parliamentary shenanigans that go on in a debate on the floor. Especially fun when the only people the GOP runs out there are a bunch of angry white men (most old) and Michelle Bachman. She wore a lei during the debate tonight. A lei!
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • The cold open on SNL tonight was pretty good, but I mistakenly stuck around for the monologue and the first skit. As far as host/performers go, Taylor Swift is no Justin Timberlake. Her Kate Gosselin impersonation consisted of her wearing a wig and just speaking in her regular voice as she stared a hole through the cue cards.
    • Flash Forward continues to have some story problems, but it's solidifying a bit. I think the writers are trying to be coy, but maybe they should make a bigger deal out of the fact that people's flash forwards lack continuity.
    • I am happy that I watch NBC's Thursday night comedies a day or two late on Hulu due to my DVR being overly occupied on that night. If I were to watch them as they air, I might enjoy 30 Rock a bit less than I thought I would. It's not that it's not funny -- this week's episode had some great stuff including Jack's begging on the subway -- but it might not live up to Community, as good as that show is right now. This week's episode of Community again had a number of great lines, including the musical battle between Vaughn and Pierce.
  • NFL Week 9 (Last week, 6-7; overall, 65-50-1):
    • Miami (+10.5) at New England: I've had a rough couple of weeks and I may be way off because the Pats are coming off the bye, but Miami has acquitted itself well lately.
    • Jacksonville (-6.5) vs. Kansas City: I would maybe rather watch three more hours of health care debate than watch this game.
    • Baltimore (-3) vs. Cincinnati: Very surprising that the Ravens, who lost to the Bengals in Baltimore, would give points in Cincinnati. I'm hoping against hope, but the Ravens team I saw on the field last week is capable of being the best team in the league.
    • Green Bay (-10) at Tampa Bay: Green is a better bay than Tampa right now. Shoot, Michael is a better Bay than Tampa right now.
    • Arizona (+3) at Chicago: Over/under on "they are who we thought they were" references regarding this game: 392.
    • Atlanta (-9) vs. Washington: With the Falcons coming off of the loss Monday night and the Skins coming off of a bye, I might pick Washington if this game was at FedEx. But it's not, so the Falcons run all over them.
    • Houston (+8.5) at Indianapolis: Yes, I'm going against my "don't pick against Peyton Manning" rule. But he didn't win by much last week and the Colts lost half of their secondary for the year this week.
    • Carolina (+13) at New Orleans: The Panthers beat the Saints in New Orleans last year and thirteen is a lot of points, especially after the unexpectedly taxing victory on Monday night.
    • Seattle (-10) vs. Detroit: I fully expect this to be the biggest blowout of the day.
    • Tennessee (+4) at San Francisco: I am fully on the Vince Young bandwagon! Thankfully, I'll now have health care when it explodes and I am badly burned.
    • New York Giants (-4.5) vs. San Diego: This isn't so much a vote of confidence for what looks to be a hugely overrated Giants team, so much as a statement about how San Diego chooses to not show up for big games.
    • Philadelphia (-3) vs. Dallas: This should actually be a heck of a fun game to watch.
    • Pittsburgh (-3) at Denver: This should be the most fun though. I have no clue who will win this. Not even a feeling. Pittsburgh doesn't lose on Monday night, but Denver has played big all year, especially at home.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Worst of the Worst: #55, The Celestine Prophecy

The Celestine Prophecy is such an inane waste of time that I hesitate to even review it. One can tell from even the first couple of minutes that the movie is going to be poorly written, poorly directed, and slightly less exciting than watching grass grow. The production values and acting are so inferior that, combined with the fact that it seems to fade to black every few minutes, one might expect that it was a made-for-TV movie. Perhaps it should have been since it only made $615,000 in theaters domestically and less than $1 million worldwide. Of course, it only played at a maximum of nineteen screens in any given week. I expect those theaters are defunct now for the lack of business sense they showed.

The movie, based on the bestseller of the same name, revolves around some New Age garbage and some trip to Peru and some auras. There is the threat of violence in the film, but absolutely zero tension whatsoever. You never get the sense that anyone is in any actual danger, not that you'd care if they were. The major factor in the inanity of the movie is that it is only a vehicle to get the mystical nonsense out there. Any arguments that characters have against The Nonsense are quickly made and not well constructed. Because the writer has bought into The Nonsense so much, he is unable to create any sort of Socratic dialogue that would help us to see its value. I compare this to the same monotone preachiness you might find in much modern religious fiction, such as the Left Behind series, although those books were at least about a real religion and were only trying to reach a certain target market. Better arguments are even made in The DaVinci Code, and when I'm saying you're not as deep as a Dan Brown story, well, you must really stink.

The movie is topped off at the end by a slow crawl, pre-credits, of the crap we were supposed to learn about The Nonsense in the film. As the movie fades and the crawl begins, there is a short burst of music but then it goes to complete silence. Indeed, the ending is even more inane and boring than the rest of the film. It is a true accomplishment of the people who made this and who are now presumably getting ready to shoot a Bar Mitzvah tomorrow morning. The Celestine Prophecy, #55 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst movie of the decade, the ninth one I've seen on said list, and a movie that I would very much like to forget I ever saw. Luckily, I think that might actually happen.

The Tribe Has Spoken

  • The Monologue:
    • No jokes. Call this a stern talking-to instead. First of all, it's disappointing that the world was much more abuzz about some kid in a balloon than they are about a soldier shooting up an army base. Second, the fact that the shooter is a Muslim and has an Arabic name means that some people feel they have the right to outwardly prejudice. Amazing how a quick search of Twitter shows people knocking Muslims or saying that this shooting was the obvious by-product of Obama's election. Disappointing.
  • Survivor Analysis:
    • So what the hell happened on tonight's Survivor? Once Laura won immunity, there were four obvious targets for the vote: Jaison, Monica, Russell, and Erik. Russell scrambled and talked to everyone, as did Erik, so the targets moved squarely to the both of them. Both laid themselves bare, both were too outspoken and too overconfident. Russell's fortune came in his idiotic move of showing too many people the idol. Idiotic, unless he knew he was going to play it all along. Once everyone knew he had it, they couldn't vote for him. It's not worth getting the idol out there because any one vote in any unexpected direction could swing things. Erik's problem was then that nobody knew that he had his. If they can't go to Russell, Erik had to be the choice. If they knew that he had the Galu one, then Jaison or Monica would be going home. Erik was way too overconfident, never really thought about playing his idol, and paid the price.
    • So did Russell show everyone the idol because he meant to play it at Tribal all along anyway? It's hard to believe that's the case. Immunity is just way too important. He's overplayed his hand too many times. Everyone knows that he's scrambling. With the idol gone, the target will be on his back from here until the next time that he doesn't win individual immunity. Yes, with the numbers the way they were, Russell needed to do something dramatic. The problem is that it's not like Erik going made it even close to even yet. Russell is on his way out soon.
    • It's hard to say that any one player is the "best Survivor ever" because there are so many different styles of playing the game. The best physical player ever was Tom. The best strategic player ever was Richard (I'm tempted to go Yul, but I know I'd just be taking Richard for granted for how he revolutionized the game). It's quite possible that JT was the best all-around player ever, but even he needed Stephen to help him get to the end. Maybe Russell is the best underhanded player yet, but he's in trouble pretty early. He might not make the jury. Fairplay and Rob C. both made it to the final three.
    • I've said it before and I'll say it again: How freaking good is this season?!?!?!?
  • Random Music Video:
    • From the album American IV: The Man Comes Around, released seven years ago today, here's Johnny Cash with what has become one of the classic covers. Pure haunting brilliance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Year In The Making

I hold these truths to be self-evident:
  • Congrats to a Yankees team that is much more likeable than their past brethren. I found myself even a little happy for them at the end. No Clemens, no Mussina, no Giambi, no O'Neill. Even with A-Rod and Teixeira, it's sort of okay because they didn't have much to do with the actual Series win. Mostly Jeter, Damon, Matsui, and Rivera. Could have been worse.
  • The Yankees had only five more hits and four more runs than the Phillies in the Series, but the secret to their victory was timeliness. It seemed like every time the Phillies scored, the Yanks would score the next inning, no more noticeable than tonight when Rollins' sac fly made it 2-1 and the Yanks scored two more in their next at-bat to essentially put the game away.
  • My biggest question for the Phillies, besides how did Howard and Ibanez disappear so completely, is: Why did they barely use J.A. Happ in the Series? Maybe he would have started Game 7 if he didn't have to pitch tonight, but he was their best pitcher throughout the regular season and he should have gotten the ball at some point, especially to start tonight if Pedro was sick.
  • So congrats again to the Yankees and their fans. Considering the current state of the Rangers, Knicks, Giants, and Jets, I'm sure they're all very excited about Spring Training in three or so months.
  • The current major sports title holders are the Yankees, Lakers, Steelers, and Penguins. Front-runner's dream.
  • Otherwise, turned away from the game after it was out of reach (only turning back to see the very end) and watched Dexter. It can be an up and down show, but this week's was an up episode. Just enough of each of the supporting characters and some good humor thrown in.
  • Where were we one year ago tonight? I'm writing this sentence at 12:13. One year, one hour, and thirteen minutes ago:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Media Bias

  • The Monologue:
    • It was announced today that the Oscars will be hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. It's going to make for a very awkward moment when their upcoming movie It's Complicated wins Best Picture.
    • Kraft is holding a contest in Australia to rename Vegemite. They want a name closer to what it is, like "Oh My God I Can't Believe I Just Put This Awful Crap In My Mouth".
    • You thought I was going to make a Men at Work joke. Couldn't think of one.
    • Apparently Jon Corzine is going to lose in his race for re-election as governor of New Jersey. He was last seen speeding away from his headquarters without a seatbelt.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • So far, ESPN has aired only five of its 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries dealing with major sports events over the last thirty years, with one movie for each year. I saw the first, Peter Berg's King's Ransom that was about Wayne Gretzky's trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles. It was good, but I didn't care about the subject too too much. I have yet to watch Barry Levinson's The Band That Wouldn't Die, about the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, but it's on my DVR. Tonight, I watched Kirk Fraser's Without Bias, about the death of University of Maryland superstar Len Bias in 1986. It is a very tough movie to watch, relentless in its presentation of what happened through the words of Bias' friends and family and local reporters. It's too much subject to cover in an hour, especially the discussion of how the death changed the US drug laws, but apparently it's shortened from a full-length feature. Either way, because it hits so close to home -- there is a Town Hall Liquors reference -- it is recommended viewing.
    • Watched the series premiere of V, or, as it's called in Rome, Five. I resent the 9/11 bit at the very beginning. Also, I seem to think that there was some religious imagery in there somewhere, but you have to spell it out for me at least twenty-one times before I get it; shoving it in my face twenty times just isn't quite enough for me to be sure. Still, Elizabeth Mitchell is as good as ever and the supporting cast, including Morris Chestnut and Scott Wolf (go GW!) with an appearance by Alan Tudyk, is strong. It was pretty cool, bordering on freaky at times, with a decent action scene at the end. The special effects could be better, but it's TV. Promising.
    • One year ago tonight, I was standing in a crowd of 80,000 at the Prince William County Fairgrounds to hear Obama's last speech before Election Day. A year ago, wow.
  • Random Music Video:
    • The album Keep The Faith was released seventeen years ago today. Rather than go for the title track, I decided to take it a cheesier route. With the second single, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, here's Bon Jovi:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Care If It's Wrong Or If It's Right

  • Random Pop Culture:
    • There has been one pretty bad episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm this season, but there have also been three all-time greats, including yesterday's epic tale of murder and conspiracy in the country club. The additional tip line, which is indeed a total travesty. "It may have been an accident, but you're a murderer." The Derek Jeter argument. "To: Larry David Subject: Swan Killing" "Mother of Larry, A**hole and Swan Killer" These and much more in yet another classic episode.
    • What do you think of this week's The Amazing Race? I've read people claiming that the Detour was inherently unfair to the girls. I'm not sure; it looks like Tiffany came close to hitting the bell and they should have been successful at golf if it weren't for the weather or their own inability.
    • I am often critical of How I Met Your Mother because of the laugh track and the very uneven writing. Tonight's episode was really funny. They didn't beat the bagpipe gag into the ground and they had just enough of everyone, with just enough more Marshall and Barney, to get the right mix working.
    • I love this movie poster.
    • Man, the Falcons and Saints are fun to watch.
    • Phillies survive. Their only hope is that Pettitte is weak on three days' rest and Pedro can take care of business. Not impossible, but very difficult.
  • Mad Men Thoughts:
    • Last week, after Don finally came clean to Betty, I said that it was the first time I could remember seeing love in their marriage. Well, I guess I was wrong, huh? Turns out I was only seeing it from Don's perspective.
    • Speaking of, I'm struggling with the idea that Don is now Dick whenever he's with Betty. I think we watch it assuming that he's only Draper now, but that's not the case when Betty looks at him.
    • What happens to Betty if she leaves him? I can't imagine her still being a major character on the show if she's out of his life.
    • Two best scenes of the episode: 1) when Don kisses Betty on the dance floor and tells her everything will be okay; 2) that fantastic shot when Betty walks out of the ladies' room and sees both Don and Henry while we wonder, briefly, which one she's going to approach.
    • Betty referenced Singin' In The Rain as her favorite movie. I think you can take that as pretty good symbolism, considering she's doing everything she can to be happy in the midst of everything in her life and the world falling down around her.
    • How skeevy was Duck? Turning off Cronkite reporting Kennedy's assassination to sleep with Peggy and then turning it back on afterwards so that she found out. Ick.
    • Which of course brings us to the big event of the first fifty-five or so minutes of the episode, the assassination and how it affected everyone in various ways. The way it hit in the episode was great, with Harry watching As The World Turns in the background as he and Pete talk, and then you see the special report break in and you can faintly hear the word Dallas. A real nice job of playing foreground/background with both the video and audio. Then, the rest of the staff, knowing the TV was in Crane's office, rushed in to watch and the phones started ringing off the hook. This rang so true to me, since it echoes pretty closely how I found out about 9/11. I was at work on that Tuesday morning and, upon arriving, had heard from someone that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. Thinking it was an unfortunate accident, I went outside to talk with a co-worker as he took a smoke break. As we mulled it over, someone from the next office over ran out and told us that a second plane had hit. We rushed back inside to see people scrambling to find portable TVs, radios, and new websites. Not knowing what was going on, I still tried to get some work done because it was impossible to really grasp everything. Eventually, someone turned on a TV in the conference room and we all sat there in shock, watching. By the end of the day, I was engrossed in the BBC news and CNN and did nothing at home but watch news coverage the rest of the week, much like Pete and Trudy Campbell. Very true-to-life writing, in my experience.
  • Random TV Scene:
    • Off of the album Outlandos d'Amour, released thirty-one years ago today. Andy Summers on guitar, Stuart Copeland on drums, Gordon Sumner on bass and lead vocals.

Singing In The Rain

Well, it's very late because I had to watch Mad Men after the baseball game ended. I'm saving my Mad Men thoughts for tomorrow because I'll probably watch the episode again. It was troubling. I don't know if that's because of the subject matter, because of how incredibly dark it was towards the end (if you couldn't tell, the lack of lighting in every house and office was making it obvious), or because the story was advanced so minimally outside of the last five minutes or so. I'll get to it tomorrow, including how I learned about 9/11. I think, if nothing else, tonight's episode should make us think about that.

  • The Yankees have done such a great job of answering any Philly momentum in the last three games. Every time the Phillies go ahead or tie it, the Yankees answer almost immediately. Once Damon got on in the ninth tonight, I had no doubt that the Yankees would go ahead. It was just a matter of whether or not the Phillies could tie it up against Rivera. Once Posada put the Yanks up three, the comeback was out of the question.
  • Lee should win tomorrow night. Burnett on three days' rest is probably a pretty bad idea. That may also be the case for Pettitte, so the Series isn't totally over yet. Except it probably is. The Phillies will have a chance to send it to Game 7, but they could just as easily go very quietly, considering how the last few games have gone.
  • The Ravens usually play very well against the Broncos, but today's game was still a surprisingly easy win. The only time I felt nervous in any way was one a Broncos drive at the end of the first half that ended with a punt just outside of field goal range. Otherwise, the only time Denver moved the ball was on a questionable pass interference penalty. Complete domination in all three aspects -- especially special teams -- by the Ravens. Big game in Cincinnati next week. Biggest game of the season so far.
  • I don't know if it's a conditioning thing, but the Vikings continue to fall apart on defense in the second half of games. Luckily, their offense is great, so they stay ahead, but this keeps happening.
  • I guess we learned that the Giants and Jets both aren't that good. So at least Yankees fans will feel bittersweet tomorrow.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NFL Picks

A rare second post for the day for my picks. Would love to also comment on the baseball game, but ugh. Last week, 5-7-1; overall, 59-43-1:
  • Houston (-3.5) at Buffalo: I'm totally prepared for Buffalo to win this game.
  • Miami (+3.5) at New York Jets: There haven't been many stupid controversies than the one over Mark Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sidelines last week.
  • Indianapolis (-13.5) vs. San Francisco: No reason to bet against Manning.
  • Detroit (-4) vs. St. Louis: This game is blacked out in Detroit. They're actually lucky.
  • Dallas (-9.5) vs. Seattle: Seattle's toast.
  • Chicago (-13) vs. Cleveland: Chicago has to show some kind of fire at some point, right?
  • Baltimore (-3) vs. Denver: I'd expect a push, though this is also somewhat wishful thinking.
  • New York Giants (-1.5) at Philadelphia: The Eagles just aren't that good.
  • San Diego (-16.5) vs. Oakland: Thump.
  • Tennessee (-3) vs. Jacksonville: Yes, I'm betting on Vince Young. But they just can't keep losing, can they?
  • Arizona (-10) vs. Carolina: I don't believe it ended well for the Panthers the last time these two teams faced off.
  • Green Bay (-3) vs. Minnesota: Who the hell knows? This could go either way.
  • New Orleans (-11) vs. Atlanta: The first time I saw the over/under was Wednesday when it was at 54 (my guess was 60). It's now at 55. What total would surprise you? 70 points? 80?