Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pigging out

Penelope - Mark Palansky - 2006 - 5/10

This was a pretty entertaining flick that had a great concept with only an "okay" follow through. Most of the film left me pondering what it could have done, what it could have been, and also, how similar the concept was to Shrek.


Christina Ricci plays Penelope, a kind girl who's great great grandfather's actions brought a curse on the family that in turn left Penelope with a pig's snout and a pig's ears. However, there is a way Penelope can break the curse - if she can get "one of her own kind" (presumed to be a blue blooded richman) to fall in love with her. Her overbearing mother (Cahterine O'Hara) has tried everything, finally bringing in a high profile matchmaker and installing one-way glass for Penelope to stay behind as her mother carefully guards the family's embarrassing secret. Then one man doesn't run away (James McAvoy), and in fact keeps coming back. Will he be the one?


The acting is one of the best parts of this movie which would have been little more than passing amusement without great performances by Christina Ricci, Catherine O'Hara, James McAvoy, Richard E. Grant (her father). I'm a big McAvoy fan and he carefully steers his character away from the cliched reactions most actors would have succumbed to - especially his facial reactions which are especially scrutinized because of Ricci's face.

Peter Dinklage's amusing yet mysterious investigative reporter is also played well but the movie misses every opportunity to flesh out his character. Most of his actions have no depth behind them - why he does things has almost no answer. This is especially puzzling because his actions are the turning points of each act and his story provides most of the conflict for the film. At the end, you aren't sure whether you should pity him, empathize with him, or just shake your head at him.

Speaking of the film's "acts" the movie hurt itself with a surprisingly short act that failed to develop Penelope's first true romance which was really necessary to set up the whole drama of the rest of the movie. This in turn makes me question the revelations and growth of each of the important characters because they are supposedly because of their connection and inspiration by Penelope. The other implication is a way too long second act that makes the film sort to drag and is further plagued by unnecessary characters like Reese Witherspoon playing the rom-com friend without any of the good parts of the rom-com friend (like emotional explanation and establishing character goals).

I did like the few twists the movie through in - which surprised me because of the movie's generally weak script. I thought through most of the movie that the ending would leave me unsatisfied, but instead I loved the ending and it brought a smile to my face. It also made me think that the rest of the movie could have been better...

Sexually Charged

Sex and the City: The Movie - Michael Patrick King - 2008 - 8/10

There's nudity, graphic sex scenes, flatulence jokes and pubic jokes, and this isn't Beerfest or the next movie from the directors of Beerfest, but Sex and the City: The Movie. The movie struggles from a bout of identity confusion as it waffles between Vogue fashion show and humor even Adam Sandler wouldn't touch. But for the most part, it works, despite the movie's loss of the show's perfect balance between witty humor and dramatic sexcapades.


The movie picks up four years later after the dramatic conclusion of season six with Carrie and Big about to live happily ever after in a new apartment, Samantha in LA managing the career of her boy-toy, and Charlotte living with her beautiful adopted little girl Lily. And then there's Miranda. I always hated her character and her character's plotline but Miranda's career is destroying her marriage and blah blah blah it just gets annoying from there. But happiness starts to unravel when Carrie's wedding plans begin to wear down the happiness she and Big share and Samantha grows tired of monogamy and that evil "R" word, relationship. Charlotte meanwhile enjoys total happiness while Miranda quickly descends into yes-I-can-be-more-annoying-than-you-even-thought-possible mode.


The first half IS little more than a Vogue fashion show and it does it in a way that gratuitously genders the movie. Sure the show is for girls, I get it (cue comparisons to why Entourage is for guys) but the show was still funny and a bunch of guys watched it for the sex (for a kid who never had cable before to discover Sex and the City...). But the movie's fashion is thrust down your throats in pointless inefficient scenes that have the nerve to inform you of the exact designer names, sizes, and prices. Do you want your receipt?

The second act of the movie moves in a much better direction - a much more entertaining one - albeit at the cost of some respect for the show. While the humor on the show was usually based on the hilarity of awkward situations or the fact that one character could be so blunt, "Bye. Good Sex." But the movie struggles to reach that witty humor nexus and instead relies on cheap gags that would seem politically incorrect in most frat comedies. Apparently women find crapping your pants and disgusting pubic hair hilarious. And guys are the "pigs" who go crazy when they see boobs in National Lampoon direct-to-DVDs but Sex and the City can't wait to up the ante and throw in a little male frontal nudity.

By the end of the movie its become painfully obvious that all of the other characters and plotlines have received painfully short shrift due to Carrie's storyline hogging all the attention, aided by an unnecessary new character to the show's dynamic (played very well by Jennifer Hudson). Charlotte's absolute happiness is pretty much assumed from the get go and her character pretty much has ZERO conflict. Samantha's "conflict" seems a little petty and the resolution seems like a foregone conclusion. Miranda's conflict is probably the most realistic and I would have liked it if I would have sympathized (or empathized) with Miranda at all, but I just learned to hate her more.

But then in the car ride home with a die-hard Sex and the City fan awaiting my opinion of a movie she'd already seen several times I realized that the movie was actually pretty good. Sure there were things I would change to be more true to the show. But what they did change appealed to their core viewers - who rewarded them by buying tickets several times. Just accepting the movie for what it was did a hell of a lot for me to realize that for what it was, the movie was pretty good. In terms of the story that fans wanted to see, the story delivered. In terms of following the characters and trying hard to reach the same tempo of the show, the movie succeeded.

The acting was good, which was hard for me to admit because besides these two characters, I pretty much hate Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth, but they did wonders. The rest of the characters had little screentime to really do more than they did in a 25-minute episode but the addition of Jennifer Hudson added a solid performance from a character who seemed genuine, and someone that most fans could relate to.

What really surprised me was (despite how predictable the ending became after a few scenes) was that the movie did not leave itself open to an obvious sequel. This surprised me because I thought the show would reach a midway point - resolution of the storylines so half of the girls were still out in the cold. But there wasn't and now there is a push for a sequel and even I don't have an easy answer for what direction it could/should go in.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I've liked Weezer for a long time and I've enjoyed their transitions from the Blue Album, to the Green Album, and now to the Red Album, their latest. They seem to be able to seemless integrate new sounds and influences into a distinctly unique sound that is still Weezer. This album is more different than most of their other album maturations but it is still a decided Weezer album. When I get back to my apartment and buy a bunch of CD's this has got to go to the top. Almost as much for curiosity's sake as much as it is that I want to listen to the album. If that makes much sense.

The first single, Pork and Beans is pretty good - containing an even greater than usual amount of pop culture references among Rivers' lyrics and unexpected Weezer rifts (that are now paradoxically expected). It has a great sound but more importantly it has a really cool music video that seems to touch on a lot of the major viral experiences of the last few years. The video is fun and seems to lend even more heart to a song that already has the normal endearing feel of Weezer's usual songs.

Another song I really liked is "Heart Songs" which is already receiving a bunch of fan buzz. For a Weezer ballad it seems to stand out to me for a reason that I can't quite put my finger on yet. But it is worth checking out for sure. Clicking that link will take you to a youtube link with just the audio really which is also a place where you can listen to the whole album essentially. Before you buy the album of course.

Too Many Dresses

27 Dresses - Anne Fletcher - 2006 - 4/10

It’s never good to start anything on the defensive, but I have to say I saw this movie on an airplane, so give me some slack.


The summary goes like this: that old HILLARIOUS phrase “always a bridesmaid never a bride” applies to our main character Jane (Katherine Heigl)! No way. But she does have this guy she’s crazy about, her boss, George (Ed Burns). But he’s just fallen for her super hot, super slutty sister Tess (Talin Akerman). No way. But since Jane is such an expert wedding planner she agrees to plan her sister’s wedding to her dream guy. Oh my God. Along the way she meets this guy who is falling all over himself to ask her out (James Marsden) but she keeps refusing, only relenting when she needs to vent about her sad marriage woes. But then as he starts to make her laugh and integrate himself into her life it turns out that he’s really this super sexy wedding-beat reporter whose writing Jane loves! No way! (Stiffles yawn). Make your own conclusions, most of which probably do not require seeing the movie, or after this summary, any of the preview.


I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like I’m being pulled in all directions. On one hand my mom really liked it so I know it’s a chic flick that I’m obviously biased against. On another hand I think, as a chic flick, the movie was good at what it was. BUT the chic flicks Achilles heal – unoriginality and cliché cluttering comes out in strong force here. We’ve got the “best friend,” “the perfect guy,” “the perfect sister” (I love how a woman like Heigl is supposed to be jealous of Akerman, I mean really, they’re both freaking knock outs) and everything else. Nromally I wouldn’t dwell on the clichés so much but it really sucks a lot out of the movie, especially when Marsden looks like he’s actually acting without his Cyclops goggles for a change and Heigl is ALMOST likeable. One other glaring thing that popped into my head is that bosses like George don’t have assistants like Katherine Heigl for years on end and not sleep with them. I mean, that’s why they hire them! And he hasn’t noticed her? Or realized she worships him? Come on. I hate movies that can’t respect the viewer because we’re “stupid” or “fickle” and need to be force fed this crap.

Oh well. This review has left me feeling widely unfulfilled and like I poored out a nonsensical rant but hey, its just another rom-com chic flick.

Indiana Jones and the Disappointing Cracked Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Steven Spielberg - 2008 - 4/10

I cant quite figure out if writing this review is really even close to worth it. I had enough Indiana Jones type hurdles of my own that stood in the way of me finally posting this: writing SaltyStix articles, studying for a test, general laziness…lots of things. But I decided that per Spielberg and Lucas’ dues ex machina of Indy, I had to find some unnatural power to finish the review.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the film was soo disappointing it was almost sad. I felt like crying. Sure I knew what Lucas does to sacred trilogies (defiles them) but I thought Spielberg’s directing and another writer would balance old George out. FALSE. Instead the movie is full of Lucas’ overindulgence – unnecessary special effects. While this movie just has monkeys to compare to Jar Jar, it still makes me wince – especially because the first movies did not seem to be cluttered with Lucas’ ILM crap. Jar Jar was annoying but by the end of the trilogy you saw the point of him – what was the need to swing from the vines? Or survive a nuclear blast?

Perhaps the movie was doomed from the start with the absence of Denholm Elliot (who unfortunately passed away in 1992) and Sean Connery (who stubbornly maintained he was ‘retired’). To fill the gaping hole of Elliot’s Dr. Marcus Brody the film inserts another character designed for comic relief: Ray Winstone. Winstone’s character is supposed to have this deep relationship with Indy which is supposed to yield deep humor as well as clever plot twists but fails in both because he is just too brand spanking new to the franchise. To make up for the comedy of Connery-Ford they try for Ford-LeBeuf and almost succeed but LeBeuf’s character is just so ridiculous.

The largest problem for me is more conceptual in that the movie moved away from the religious occult (the arch, pagan religions, and the grail) and into well, something else. Maybe they needed a new frontier and I understand that what they chose was based on 50’s era pulp-themed movies that they loved. I get that. It still sucked. The religious occult had a different feel to it as well as more history and more lore that gives an ephemeral feel. What we’re left with here seems forced and feels like you’re watching bad Sci-Fi reruns again. Chalk up that the “puzzles” and “clues” as well as the “answers” are dangerously close to modern pretenders like National Treasure and the like, and Indy quickly loses his mystique.

What helped saved the movie was Karen Allen’s character. I hope that isn’t really a spoiler because she IS in the movie. Once she hit the screen the Indy charm and humor seemed to replace the old-tired-act Harrison was sleepwalking through. Combined with the action in the last hour, the last half really shapes up to be pretty good. I will say that the story timeline liberties Spielberg and Lucas pulled a long time ago damaged the franchise here. Not many know that Temple of Doom was made as a prequel to Raiders which was then followed by Last Crusade. So events that happened in Raiders, say, socially, are not that far removed from Crystal Skull.

The best thing Spielberg and Lucas did was pay homage to the first part of the series with references to Raiders in the opening scene and good throwbacks to the value of Indy’s hat from nuclear explosions to chapels including some scenes that might have people thinking if “Mutt Williams” is going to take over the franchise.

I’ll close with the three things this movie needed to be really good – to give Last Crusade a run for it’s money. First, a younger Harrison Ford – which was quite possible if it hadn’t been for Lucas’ constant screen revisions and stubborn refusal to accept earlier story send ups – we’re talking a good seven to ten years here – Air Force One Harrison Ford instead of, well, Crystal Skull Harrison Ford. Second, the appearance of Sean Connery – which again, was possible if the film had been made earlier. It is curious that Connery’s part – supposedly a small cameo is SO small that Connery must have really thought the script was crap. Third, no CGI bullshit – this would probably have changed the whole opening scene and made the film a hell of a lot better. Maybe given us a classic intro where Indy is in the field looking for some treasure and bam! Cate Blanchett swoops in. But alas, no such luck.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another month

I just got back from Europe and my head is chalk full of things I'll never get to blog about - basically detailing all of my adventurous exploits, commentary on the obama/clinton/2008 mess, and lots of other things that suddenly are not coming to me.

About books - all the ones I read toward the end of second semester that I thought would help me start posting book reviews here (mostly classics I never read in high school) or the ones I read on my trip (mostly Cormac McCarthy's The Road).

About all the gelatto I ate in Europe - my rankings of the cities (1. Rome, 2. Florence, 3. Trier, 4. Meersburg, 5. Lindau, 6. Venice, 7. Bregenz, 8. Munich, 9. Gindelwald, 10. Lux City, 11. Paris, 12. Kaysberg (Alsace), 13. Sion, 14. Zurmat

But I will start blogging again since its summer for whatever its worth.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Kingdom...a crowning achievement

The Kingdom - Peter Berg - 2007 - 9/10


A terrorist attack on U.S. citizens on Saudi Soil draws the personal attention of FBI Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) who cuts every corner to make sure his team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) gets on the ground despite the massive physical and political obstacles. Their liaison who has been tasked as more of a baby sitter, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) tries to everything he can to help Fleury's team because he wants the men who killed his guards. The movie shows the different cultures that are strikingly similar as the team seeks to uncover the group responsible for the largest murder in modern Saudi history.


I'll be honest - I had low expectations for the movie. It started off with an efficient, audio and visual history of western involvement with Saudi Arabia using real footage and real audio from the different times as well as powerful quotes to convey a complex story in a few words. I thought the movie would be downhill from there, but I was wrong. The name "Peter Berg" flashed, reminding me that the creator of Friday Night Lights was at the helm. Actually that was just a shameless plug for my favorite TV show, and while Berg IS the director of the movie, the movie itself showed how great it was. I will take the time to praise Berg now though. His style from FNL shines through loud and clear - his attention to small story detail as well as close camerawork is evident - he even shows similar musical choices. The small story detail is a pleasant bonus because it brings life and personality to every part of the movie - the family scenes on both sides of search show the similarities - and differences between our two cultures. The political scenes are unbiased, yet show the political tiptoeing that is necessary in these issues.

The acting - all around - was very good. Which says a lot coming from me because I went into the movie thinking most of these actors (minus Chris Cooper) weren't very good. Jamie Foxx always annoyed me as his general personality does. Here he chose to act for once and played a good part. There were definitely scenes were the Jamie I hate was trying to rise to the surface, but this acting Jamie kept him down and played a good role. Jennifer Garner was good in her limited scenes causing me to consider that I might have given her a harder rap than she deserved considering I've started to notice how good she is in a couple movies. Chris Cooper was great as always in his few scenes - not much more to say on him that I haven't already said elsewhere. Jason Bateman was pretty good - clearly the weakest link of those four because he overacted in some parts. But it is what it is. The real scene stealer was Ashraf Barhom who was GREAT as Colonel Ghazi. I have a feeling that in longer cuts his family scenes were longer and more numerous but beggars can't be choosers. I'd like to say I look forward to seeing him in more movies, but that seems unlikely.

Generally I really enjoyed the movie. It was tense, fast paced, and different in the sense that it wasnt the guns-blazing movie I thought it would be. Berg's "blockbuster" was much more of just a solid movie that really took pains to show the culture clash as well as the American influence in Saudi politics and Saudi oil as well as the repercussions of those actions. When I thought about the intro while the movie was just starting I smiled at the fact that they had used their title sequence and a handful of minutes to do what Syriana did - except better and in a more entertaining way. That held true for the whole movie because the style was very similar to Gaghan fast-camera, multi point storytelling with the pleasing difference that there was a clear central story (and set of characters). That Gaghan chose a macro-issue (oil) in our relationship with the Middle East was brave but fatal. It accomplished less that what a microcosm could do. The Kingdom's smaller story that accessed the big issue in everyone's mind - terrorism killing westerners (yes, cliche, but unfortunately true) seemed to be a better route. And to think that The Kingdom did it in about twenty minutes less and in a much easier way only made me enjoy the movie more.

When my brain was churning about what I would rate The Kingdom I had almost decided on an "8" because I thought the movie was pretty much as good as it could be yet it didnt have the 9 and 10 level power that the classics do. Then two amazing scenes at the end made me realize that giving the movie less than a 9 would be ridiculous. Two scenes at the end - between Jamie Foxx and a Saudi boy and a parallel scene that involved Foxx and his team really brought the movie together. The positive similarities of our culture and the importance of US-Saudi cooperation as well as the negative similarities of how our cultures are so similar. That the movie made such a pointed argument about how violent both of our cultures are - and how true it was - really pushed the movie over the top.


Buy it now!

If you liked this movie, see...
...Three Kings

I'm back - kind of

Wow - no posts since January 27th! Any readers I had probably abandoned this sorry rag ages ago. Three months passed without a single thing written. Then again, I did find that my last attempt at blogging about politics was not published but saved as a draft (I just published it if anyone cared about reading a non-topical political rant). In my defense - I did THINK about writing one of these "i'm back" segments. School piled up, laziness seized hold of me, and I was killing myself trying to keep SaltyStix afloat. Which was painful because I wanted to write about other things - so much sports stuff to talk about - especially on the home front with the Cubs surging and then slumping and Alfonso's woes as well as the Bears pathetic season followed only by a pathetic offseason marked by the signing of two quarterbacks - that we already had! And then the Bulls' season coming to a close in a sorry disappointment, the departure of Skiles and a crazy job hunt. Not to mention all the DVD's I saw that I wanted to write about! I would say there was music, but that's mostly a lie. The only new music I started listening to was Eric Shiveley. Although I could have written about how purchasing old records of new faves (Kimya, Stars, and more) was sadly anti-climatic.

And now I'm off again - a school trip to Europe will keep me from my computer for a whole month! But I wanted to touch base - say my say about the above and write ONE article about a DVD I saw that made me really happy. But its been so long since I reviewed one here on the site that I have to look to check my formatting!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Prepare for the worst

Yeah. I haven't blogged since the end of January. I've been REALLY busy. BUT this kind of got me out of hibernation and served as an impetus for a few comments I have wanted to write about for quite some time. Before getting to THE issue, I want to go into two of my main thoughts on Obama. My apologies for rambling nonsense - as usual I'm pretty much just writing as a stream of consciousness.

First and foremost, I'm really afraid that Obama is set to become our generation's Jimmy Carter. The parallels between the two are almost frightening. The obvious ones being that both are campaigning as Washington outsiders, both are considered young guns in the Democratic party and both are trying to ride general opposition to the previous Republican administration to victory in November. The less obvious ones involve their promises of shaking up the Department of Education (moving away from No Child Left Behind) and the Department of Health (health care reform/insurance, etc).

However the risks seem to be greater than any possible benefits. My general view of the office of the President is that the person who is most competent, and can get the most done should be elected. But also related to that is what is the damage that President will cause? And in that regard I fear that the foreign policy arena is one ripe for Presidential failures. Most presidents have so little foreign policy or executive experience that they make serious mistakes. Let us consider Carter, who sought to reduce troops in Korea, much like Obama wishes to reduce/withdraw troops from Iraq and they seem to generally stand for similar outlooks of how the US should act.

Then let me remind you of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Carter's blatant support for the Shah of Iran (admittedly not his burden) sparked backlash in Iran (again, not really his fault). What WAS Carter's fault is how he responded to the crisis. He pretty much choked. His ultimate course of action, Operation Eagle Claw, was not only a pathetic failure, but made the United States look terrible. It also did not occur until almost 6 months after the hostages were seized. Even if this WAS his "best" response, he took his time. The application of this example and perhaps how Carter handled the situation can be debated, but either way, Carter did not know how to handle Iran. This is a pressing issue of our times too as we fear Iran's nuclearization, their support of Hezbollah and Hamas, and their aid to insurgents in Iraq. How will Obama deal with them? The greater question is, how will he determine how to deal with them? What in his experience, his campaign, or much of anything does he have to offer that will help him choose the right course of action?

The implication of this is more nuanced than simply ruining the US' image. Taken in a big picture sense the Carter Presidency set up a decade of neoconservativism. Carter's failures abroad as well as his domestic ones (serious inflation) gave ammunition to neoconservatives who could say - we were right - liberal democrats spend spend spend and aren't hard on enemies. Do we want that today? Jeb Bush is waiting in the wings and he could be the most moderate of conservatives who could gain from a miserable Obama presidency.

The second issue I have is that Obama is going to change Washington. You have to have hope. Look. This is ridiculous. How do you change a system that has been embedded into our culture for two hundred years? How do you shake up a political system that is determined NOT to change. You want to challenge special interests? How do you distance politicians from special interests? Obama could probably handpick a majority of congresspeople in the midterm elections who he thought would support his political morality type spin/platform and get nowhere.

If his calls for change are more about the policies of the system (ie health care is flawed, education policy is flawed) then how do you work outside the system? It's like, how do you get the ACTUAL LEGISLATION passed if you refuse to use the system, and more likely considering Obama's inexperience, know how to USE the system? We sure as hell know Hillary knows how to use the system and we have seen, and listened to her, explain how she would change the system. This level of explanation, of what she is going to do, is far and away beyond any of the detail Obama has provided. Hillary's early claim that she is the candidate for change because she's been doing it longer is simply fact.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Uh...really? Quantum of Solace?

Quantum of Solace comes from the title of a short story in Flemming’s For Your Eyes Only. But it still seems to come from NOWHERE. What does it mean? Are they serious? I waited so long to write this in the hopes that it was a joke – a prank – anything but the truth. But finally reality has sunk in.

Daniel Craig says: "I was unsure at first. Bond is looking for his quantum of solace and that's what he wants, he wants his closure. Ian Fleming says that if you don't have a quantum of solace in your relationship then the relationship is over. It's that spark of niceness in a relationship that if you don't have you might as well give up. Bond doesn't have that because his girlfriend has been killed," [and therefore, Bond is] looking for revenge [...] to make himself happy with the world again. But the title also alludes to something else in the film."

Here is the summary every other website is copying and pasting:

Betrayed by Vesper, the woman he loved, 007 fights the urge to make his latest mission personal. Pursuing his determination to uncover the truth, Bond and M (JUDI DENCH) interrogate Mr White (JESPER CHRISTENSEN) who reveals the organisation which blackmailed Vesper is far more complex and dangerous than anyone had imagined.
Forensic intelligence links an Mi6 traitor to a bank account in Haiti where a case of mistaken identity introduces Bond to the beautiful but feisty Camille (OLGA KURYLENKO), a woman who has her own vendetta. Camille leads Bond straight to Dominic Greene (MATHIEU AMALRIC), a ruthless business man and major force within the mysterious organisation.
On a mission that leads him to Austria, Italy and South America, Bond discovers that Greene, conspiring to take total control of one of the world’s most important natural resources, is forging a deal with the exiled General Medrano (JOAQUIN COSIO). Using his associates in the organisation, and manipulating his powerful contacts within the CIA and the British government, Greene promises to overthrow the existing regime in a Latin American country, giving the General control of the country in exchange for a seemingly barren piece of land.
In a minefield of treachery, murder and deceit, Bond allies with old friends in a battle to uncover the truth. As he gets closer to finding the man responsible for the betrayal of Vesper, 007 must keep one step ahead of the CIA, the terrorists and even M, to unravel Greene’s sinister plan and stop his organisation.

Related reading:

"Quantum What?" @ SaltyStix
"Everything changes but bond" @ The Guardian
"The Title is Meant to Confuse" @ This is North Scotland

Colin Powell Live from Millett Hall

Colin Powell Live from Millett Hall

Last week (January 22nd), I got to see Colin Powell speak at Miami. The one speaker I had seen previously in this speaker series was Mikhail Gorbachev who’s speech was in Russian and the translation took a lot out of it. Powell though, was interesting and a very good speaker. He mixed in a lot of humor, about retirement, old age and stuff along those lines. He spoke for about an hour and the first half hour was mostly his standard speech-circuit routine about him and what he is doing/did.

Finally, for the last twenty minutes or so he talked about the topic – Democracy. He talked about Russia, China, Japan, and a few other countries and regions more vaguely. He had a great story about Russia, about how he talked with an angry Gorbachev who berated Powell – and the U.S. – for not giving him more support. And then he calmly called Powell out and said, “you liked having us as an enemy, but now you will need a new one!” And Powell admitted that the stability of the U.S.S.R. as an enemy had been the bedrock of his career in the military.

He talked briefly about how Deng Xiaoping was a great leader who modernized his country.

More entertaining was his story about Koizumi – whom he called his favorite world leader – where Powell talked with him and after they were done Powell asked Koizumi if it was true that he loved Elvis. And Koizumi grew very animated and gushed about how much he loved the king. And Powell responded by saying that he had known Elvis in the service, and Koizumi grew even more excited.

Powell also talked briefly about some of the things he did as Secretary of State and certain ongoing crises. He talked about the shock of 9/11, the necessity of Afghanistan, the hardline on Iran, the impetus for the Iraq attack and the steely resolve of North Korea.

He talked about how he thinks we do need to finish what we started and that he has a lot of faith in General Petraeus to make the surge successful. He thinks Guantanamo Bay should close down because he worries about the strength of the Geneva Convention.

I was really liking his speech overall until he ended with this bull shit hot dog story about how this one hot dog vendor recognized him and told him that Powell didn’t have to pay for his hotdog because, “America has already paid me.”

He took six questions –
1) A German student asks about Iraqi intelligence from foreign services and Powell said that everyone believed the intelligence and he thinks they got some stuff right, and a lot wrong, but the consensus was firmly behind the intell they had.
2) this scatchy guy began his question with a “don’t taze me bro” joke which was not funny – and then he asked a cliché question about what Powell thought the greatest issue facing our generation was and Powell answered with some b.s. about getting involved and voting – yawn.
3) Some guy asked this boring five minute question and the crowd started yelling “taze him” and the question basically called Powell out for getting fat off of the lecture circuit and Powell was kind of like, I already said I did that – big deal.
4) Then this other guy asked Powell, the military guy, an economic question about the devaluation of the dollar and china – Colin said that it wasn’t his area of expertise, but he didn’t think the government could do anything. Apparently the guy was a Ron Paul supporter because he asked about the gold standard, which Powell rightfully laughed at.
5) Someone asked what to do about global warming and Colin just said – adopt Gore’s café standards. Another yawn.
6) Then someone accused Powell of sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons because Powell okayed depleted uranium bullets – the crowd booed and Colin asked the crowd to let the kid finish his long question and then cut the kid down and said – “those weapons are effective, and science is on my side – they aren’t a radiological risk – I guess we’ll agree to disagree.” It was a strong end to an entertaining speech.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Down with Brown

The Cavs did one more thing to ruin the career of LeBron James. Extending the contract of Mike Brown is another nail in the coffin for LeBron. Did they think Mike Brown was LARRY Brown? WHAT is going on? He is clearly one of the worst coaches in the NFL. Any other coach could have (a) taught some talent, (b) retained some talent, (c) brought in some talent, or at least (d) gotten the best out of their players.

Instead possible talents like Varejao and Gibson haven't developed. Varejao has turned into a contract baby who can't do much more on the court than flop. Gibson, last year's playoff hero has been about average, instead of the dominant guard pressence LeBron needs.

Meanwhile the Cavaliers have had trouble holding onto their marginally good bench players and have basically had the same team for the last three seasons. Does no one else realize this? Why is this? Coaches like Jackson can bring in players, Brown can at least keep his stars on the roster.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Just a feeling

So I was thinking about playoff structure in the NFL. And I just read some article that ranted about how the 1 seeds always get upset. Combined with a few other things, the idea that began to form in my mind was that the 1-4 matchup was almost always harder than the 2-3 matchup. Not because of that stupid expectation of upsets, but more about the structural factors.

Like it used to be in the NBA, divisional champs get the top seeds. BUT, because of the NFL playoff structure where the top two seeds have round one byes while the two wild card teams square off against the two lowest divisional seeds. Since no division is ever truly equal - say...the AFC south, there are usually a good chance that the wildcard team gets to slay a weaker divisional champ in the first round.

Now when you get to the second round, the top seed usually has to square off against one of these wild card challengers. Now, I understand that the chances of the three seed getting upset (like the Steelers did this year, and when they did the upsetting when they one their last championship). But this year is a strong example that proves that the opposite is more likely the case.

This year, as a reward for being the best team in their conference New England got to square off against the surging Jaguars and Dallas has to face what many people have chosen as a Super Bowl darkhorse, the Giants. Dallas may have edged the giants for the division, but having to face such a tough team seems a little harsh. When you consider that Green Bay got to embarass a lackluster Seahawks team and the Colts get to play a fatally wounded Chargers team (the loss of Antonio Gates), being number two is pretty good.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Favorites? Best ofs?

I love lists. I mean, "Top 10" is one of the major phrases of my vocabulary. And now that I read a lot more blogs, end of year time pushes that into overdrive as there are retrospective lists as we all fall all over ourselves to outdo the next person. Sometimes these best of lists boggle me. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead? Really? That goes on there? Ratatouille? BEST of? I think that it just begs the question of opinion.

As all my favorite movie blogs posted their “best of 2007” lists I tried to write mine. Then something dawned on me. I didn’t remember 2007! No, my realization was more along the lines of, what makes a movie the best? I mean, when it comes to entertainment, nothing is objective, you like what you like. If I said Knocked Up was the best, my friend Katherine (Heigl – we go way back) would probably call me a chauvinist while if I said No Country for Old Men over There Will Be Blood some might say I chose blood…over oil? Maybe there isn’t a good joke to be made there. But what I’m trying to say is that favorites are the way to go because it (barely) escapes the pretension of “best of” lists.

2007 Favorites: Movies

So I have two lists: the favorites I saw on DVD (Nitflix+HBO=Godsend) and the favorites I saw in theatres. All in all, since we started the blog in May, corresponding to when I started keeping track of all the movies I saw, I have seen 175 movies. I know, I know, I should go out more. Blah blah blah.

So, if you want, you can peruse the list of movies below. Forgive me for not hyperlinking all of these badboys. There are a HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE of them, so cut me some slack. Another preempt, living alone (mostly) all summer (like, literally, middle of nowhere with your friends six hours away) makes you watch lots of things you wouldn’t watch, like ANYTHING that’s on TV. Hence, the cornerstone of my defense as to why I watched so many romantic comedies – hey, they were on HBO (or the airplane…). They are rated mostly contextually (confusing, I know) – The Protector was leaps and bounds better than Ong Bak, just as I thought Shooter was way better than The Bourne Ultimatum, Hidden Fortress was the most entertaining (first viewing) Kurosawa movie I saw, and so on. Also, keep in mind I’m trying to keep it short and sweet how I feel about the movies – a lot of them have full reviews here at PulpEverything or at SaltyStix and I would have hyperlinked them but my internet is too sluggish. If you’re really curious why I liked Superbad better than Knocked Up, sack up and read my whole review.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) 10, Love Actually 10, Knocked Up 10, Ghost World 10, Amelie 10, Bad Education 10, Juno 10, 12 Angry Men 10, He Got Game 9.5, Sideways 9.5, Imagine Me & You 9.5, Sweet Mud 9, Cold Mountain 9, Million Dollar Baby 9, Serenity 9, North Country 9, Pan's Labyrinth 9, Me, You, And Everyone We Know 9, The Dreamers 9, The Fountain 9, Freedom Writers 9, Human Nature 9, Superbad 9, The Incredibles 9, Dark City 9, 3:10 to Yuma 9, Gone Baby Gone 9, No Country for Old Men 9, Attonement 9 Hollywoodland 8.5, Brick 8.5, Bend it Like Beckham 8.5, Chasing Amy 8.5, Tristan + Isolde 8.5, Elephant 8.5, Shooter 8.5, Hard Boiled 8.5, Badlands 8.5, All About My Mother 8.5, Newspapers and Flowers 8, Little Heroes 8, Jarhead 8, Y tu Mama Tambien 8, Poseidon 8, In Her Shoes 8, Live Free or Die Hard 8, Great Expectations 8, Sicko 8, A Very Long Engagement 8, A Better Tomorrow 8, A Better Tomorrow 3 8, Constantine 8, Red Dragon 8, About Schmidt 8, Hot Fuzz 8, Papillon 8, Thumbsucker 8, Shoot em' Up 8, Mississippi Burning 8, Amarcord 8, La Dolce Vita 8, The Protector 8, Hable Con Ella 8, American Gangster 8, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 8, Hidden Fortress 8, Ransom 7.5, Point of No Return 7.5, Catch a Fire 7.5, The Tao of Steve 7.5, The Age of Innocence 7.5, The Mark of Zorro (1974) 7.5, The Flower of My Secret 7.5, I Am Legend 7.5, Charlie Wilson's War 7.5, Paper Dolls 7, Spiderman 3 7, La femme nikita 7, Dream Girls 7, Napoleon Dynamite 7, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 7, The Painted Veil 7, The Constant Gardener 7, Clerks 7, The Bourne Ultimatum 7, Run Lola Run 7, The Mark of Zorro (1940) 7, Swept Away 7, O 7, Breach 7, Akahige/Red Beard 7, La Strada 7, Black Robe 7, Bad Habits 7, I'm Reed Fish 7, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets 7, Young and Innocent 7, The Killing 7, The Great Debaters 7, Casanova 7, Days of Thunder 6.5, Highlander 6.5, The Last King of Scotland 6.5, Hitch 6.5, Kinsey 6.5, sex, lies, and videotape 6.5, Once a Thief 6.5, The Golden Compass 6.5, Janem Janem 6, John Tucker Must Die 6, Ocean's 13 6, Music and Lyrics 6, Stranger than Fiction 6, Monsters, Inc 6, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry 6, The Simpsons Movie 6, Practical Magic 6, Before the Devil Know's You're Dead 6, Rashomon 6, Cellular 5.5, Natural Born Killers 5.5, The Conversation 5.5, Because I Said So 5.5, Eragon 5.5, Clueless 5, The Holiday 5, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End 5, Bloodrayne 5, Suspect Zero 5, The Pacifier 5, Cecil B. Demented 5, Last Kiss 5, Ghost Rider 5, The Ron Clark Story 5, Teaching Robert Lee 5, Detroit Rock City 5, Raising Arizona 5, Just Friends 5, The Rocky Horror Picture 5, Good Luck Chuck 5, Letters from Iwo Jima 5, Hitman 5, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles 5, The Family Stone 4.5, She's the Man 4.5, For the Love of the Game 4.5, For Love or Money 4, 16 Blocks 4, A Scanner Darkly 4, Bad Girls 4, Sunshine 4, Rumor Has It 4, A Better Tomorrow 2 4, Rising Sun 4, Message in a Bottle 4, Mean Streets 4, The Brother's Grimm 4, The Boys Next Door 4, Heart of Darkness 4, The Perfect Score 4, Luther 4, The Producers 3.5, Robots 3, The Goonies 3, The Chinese Connection 3, Ratatouille 3, My Super Ex-Girlfriend 3, Princess of Thieves 3, Lady Jane 3, The Ultimate Gift 3, American Dreamz 2.5, Bandidas 2, Sexy Beast 2, Evan Almighty 0, Be My Baby 0

Top 10 Favorite Movies (I saw at home) in 2007

10. The Protector
This was a movie that was a pleasant surprise because after Ong Bak, I expected the worst, and instead, got ridiculous original fight scenes and a much better plot.

9. Amelie
This movie was simply too beautiful to not make the list. No, not in that flowery romantic way, but the colors and cinematography…and Audrey Tatou…

8. He Got Game
Probably the grittiest movie on this list, so intense it almost hurts, another movie that is great cinematically as well as for it’s story.

7. Imagine Me & You
Piper Perabo and a pre-300 Lena Heady are great in this movie; it’s a different kind of romantic comedy that keeps you guessing until the end. Beat out Tristan + Isolde on ingenuity alone.

6. The Dreamers
What year goes by without a sexual awakening? This movies do a damn fine job of exploring sexual taboos and edges out Y tu Mama Tambien by having a great ending (or maybe just better than Tambien).

5. Pride and Prejudice
Keira vs Keira! P+P narrowly beats out Love Actually here because I thought P+P was literally a flawless movie, not just a perfect romantic comedy.

4. Ghost World
Thora Birch is simply amazing in a story that should have seemed slow but never was. I liked Thumbsucker here too, a similar movie that took the road more traveled.

3. Serenity
Serenity got a big push because it was another huge surprise: I had seen the previews, and posters, and the movie looked like a cheap imitation. But it brought some serious game, causing me to scramble for the only season of Firefly (I failed). Dark City was close here too.

2. Me, You, And Everyone We Know
Just as Amelie scored points for beauty, this scored points for total originality – not sure I experienced a movie that was so un-Hollywood yet so good.

1. Brick
This movie’s unique take on film noir (a la high school) was extremely powerful, as was Josephy Gordon-Levitt’s performance, which made it an easy choice for my #1 favorite.

Top 6 Films (I saw in theaters) in 2007

6. Knocked Up
This movie heralded the return of the R-rated comedy, launched the careers of Apatow, Heigl, Rogen, and showed comedies can have (serious) plots too.

5. Superbad
The follow up to Knocked Up just did a lot more for me because it was just seemed truer – more real – maybe I can relate to a high school story because I’ve been down that road but not a pregnancy because, I haven’t been down that road.

4. Gone Baby Gone
This movie was a pleasant surprise (I thought both Afflecks would disappoint) but instead turned out to be a more entertaining and suspenseful version of Mystic River (I use “version” very loosely here).

3. No Country for Old Men
This movie is usually in the top two of most of these lists but the weak ending and the convoluted “message” that comes out pushes this movie back behind some stiff competition.

2. Atonement
I expected something drastically different, and like I said in my review, the first hour of this movie was close to the best I have ever seen. Why is it #2? I said the first hour was perfect, but the second half was about average.

1. Juno
This movie was my favorite by far and the only movie of 2007 that I saw twice in theatres. The story, the music, the characters, the…everything…just sort of clicked for me, like I assume it did for a lot of other people.

The movie had a lot of hype – the threequels toward the middle of year and a few other movies that were big disappointments, but the year ended strong, hopefully 2008 will be even better!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2007 Favorites: Events

Here’s a brief look at 12 events that intrigued me. Some you will remember, others you won’t, but at the very least, hopefully it will be education.

January 4: Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House of Representatives.
Talks a pretty big game but doesn’t really end up doing anything, and a few days later Bush announces a troop surge in Iraq. Other Democratic goals like the Minimum Wage Bill and SCHIP (Children’s Health Care) can’t survive vetoes and the Dems continue to fail to change course on Iraq. I thought Pelosi would be good, but she didn’t really do anything and proved herself to be just another politician.

February 4: The Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI
A great season by the Bears who were exciting to watch, and managed to overcome some serious injuries to put up a pretty good game against the heavily favored Colts, steered by a great season by Rex Grossman. The loss was disappointing, but not nearly as disappointing as the Bears’ follow up season in the later half of 2007.

March 8: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admits Israel had planned an attack on Lebanon in the event of kidnapped soldiers on the border, months before Hezbollah carried out its kidnapping.
Probably no one really knows what this story is about, but it references the Israeli-Lebanon war during the closing months of 2006, an embarrassing debacle for Israel. Olmert’s admission confirmed that many thought that the US and Israel had been looking for a way to strike Hezbollah. I guess it interests me because it’s closely tied to this year’s debate topic…

April 12: Don Imus is fired by CBS for making controversial comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.
Seems like we average about one of these a year now since the Limbaugh-McNabb fiasco a few years ago. It boggles my mind that people say this stuff, ON THE RADIO! What were they thinking? Even if you do harbor those thoughts, why would you broadcast that? Anyways, the story damn near KILLED my interest in EVER watching ESPN, as they just would not let it go.

May 6/May 10: Nicholas Sarkozy is elected as President of the French Republic and Tony Blair announces he will resign as British Prime Minister.
The political dynamics of Europe take a strange turn when the pro-Bush PM Blair leaves office in disgrace while the pro-Bush President Sarkozy takes office with great flair. While Blair’s successor looks to push Britain farther away from the U.S., Sarkozy looks to strengthen US-French ties. Blair seemed kinda cool, Sarkozy seems kinda weird, although his girlfriend is totally hot.

June 29: Apple’s iPhone is released in the United States.
Steve Jobs’ company is great at churning out hip new toys, and the iPhone is no different. It started with a great ad campaign during the Super Bowl (or maybe it was the Oscars) with typical Apple-Cool fashion and a catchy song by Eberg. The touch screen interface and vertical and horizontal sensor feature, people couldn’t get enough of it, snatching up this $500 toy like there was no tomorrow. My interest in this skyrocketed when one of my roommates got one, sparking jealous desire.

July 7: Live Earth concerts are held in nine cities throughout the world.
Featuring a great, diverse collection of musicians, nine near simultaneous/consecutive concerts happen to raise awareness about climate change. The 22 hour live (web)broadcast set a record with 15 million internet streams. I planned on watching it, but never got around to it.

August 7: Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record with his 756th home run.
To many this was inevitable, while I was one of the few people who hoped and prayed Bonds would suffer a career ending injury. Instead, he pulled it off, albeit he did have to wade through all the steroid talk and the humbling hilarity of his record-setting ball being branded with an asterisk before being given to Cooperstown. I never liked Barry Bonds because he seems to have serious attitude problems while also coming off as the type of guy who wouldn’t hesitate about cheating.

September 26: Emperor Akihito swears in Yasuo Fukuda as Prime Minister of Japan.
Another even that probably went unnoticed by everyone. But it ended the reign of Koizumi, another extremely pro-Bush PM who was one of my first favorites. Well, in the sense that I did a lot of debate-related research regarding him over the last few years. But most Americans will probably never remember him, considering they’d heard of him before.

October 28: The Boston Red Sox win the 2007 World Series, completing a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies.
The Red Sox getting a second World Series so soon made me jealous that the Cubs continued to go without one of their own in the last century or so, losing this year to the Arizona Diamond backs in three straight games. I guess there’s always next year.

November 27: The Annapolis Conference is held in Annapolis, Maryland, to try to restart the Middle East Peace Process.
I thought it was hard to tell whether Bush was actually trying to do this, or just trying to mend his image and attempt to get something done on which he could hang his legacy. The conference including many nations with tenuous relations with the United States, which is an accomplishment in itself, but it achieved almost nothing. Again, this interested me because of this year’s debate resolution.

December 27: Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto is assassinated, with at least 20 others in a bomb blast at an election rally in Rawalpindi.
This tragic event capped a momentous December. What makes this all the more shocking is how an event on October 18 is overlooked when Bhutto returns after 8 years in exile to barely escape a suicide attack that killed 136. This time, she did not escape. The incident pushed Pakistan even closer to the breaking point than it was with all of Musharaaf’s States of Emergencies. Hopefully 2008 will bring peace to Pakistan.

For more 2007 events, click here.
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