Thursday, March 29, 2007

Well, you got guts, kid.

People post these everywhere all the time, but I saw this one and loved it. My favorite part is that the teacher circled the elephant with a question mark:

Peter, you drew an elephant instead of an arrow here. I can't understand why you'd do that, I went over it at least three times in class.

And then underlined "elephant," as if she'd just found the error in his formula.

Well, there's your problem, Peter. You wrote "elephant" instead of "6.97x." Also, you didn't show your work. No points for you, I'm afraid.

Review: Reign Over Me (2007)

Starring: Don Cheadle, Adam Sandler, Jada Plinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, and brief appearances by Donald Sutherland and B.J. Novak
Written and Directed By: Mike Binder

I was thumbing through Entertainment Weekly a few days ago and I came across a review of Reign Over Me from Lisa Schwarzbaum, one of EW's two abrasively mediocre movie reviewers (Owen Gleiberman being the other. Avoid both when possible). I try not to read any of her reviews all that closely - you can always tell when a reviewer has jumped the fence between merely being caustically blunt and into that strange world where each review is a platform for elaborating their intellectualism-in-film theories. There's a slimy arrogance to it - "let me deign to explain how film works to you so you can understand this movie before you see it." Now, I may be on my way there, but I think it's safe to say I'm not there yet. For example, I used "caustically" a few sentences back without really being one hundred percent sure what it means, and I'm just trying to keep moving on this paragraph so no one will notice. It's things like this that keep your ego in check.

The reason I bring up Schwarzbaum's review is that a phrase in this one jumped out - she referred to the film as "a strange, black-and-blue therapeutic drama equally mottled with likable good intentions and agitating clumsiness." She was probably up all night on that sentence. But she stumbled on something in the midst of it.

Reign Over Me is, in fact, a black-and-blue drama. Binder paints this film in a very specific color tone - the buzzing yellow-black of a city night, the cold blue of an unwelcome concrete morning. Even when light floods in during the day, it's never seems warm or welcoming - giant office windows open to a flat, cloudy sky, the characters wander city streets in that strange place halfway between sunshine and downpour. And none of it is accidental - the whole film plays like a slowly fading bruise.

Sandler plays a man who lost his family in 9/11, an event which paints a vaguely unsettling backdrop over the film - he didn't just lose his family in a plane crash, he lost them in a plane crash that we already feel deeply connected to. It seems strange and jarring to put imaginary people on a very real plane in a way that it never has before - I never felt that Jack and Rose were a slight to the real casualties of the Titanic, for instance - but Binder isn't as much about milking a tragedy as he is trying desperately to connect you to a bewilderingly complicated individual.

But it's Sandler's performance that the movie must (and does) center itself on; he's the wild card here and everyone knows it. Cheadle is remarkable as always - it's a real mark of an actor's skill set when after a long career of sidekicks and bit parts, an actor does one memorable lead role (Hotel Rwanda) and people are so immersed in his performance in that they become completely unsurprised by any Academy Award-type performances that he gives afterwards. He was that good in that movie, and he's been that good since. He's that good here. But incredibly, Sandler's the real standout this time.

Sandler knows that he's been dealt a tough hand to play, and he delivers in a way he's never delivered before. Sandler's done serious roles and done them well (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish), and he's shown perfect capability at mixing serious acting with his comedy at times (Big Daddy, Anger Management), but he's never been this serious before, and it's neat to see him pull out some serious-actor type baggage for this character. What's especially neat about it is that Sandler doesn't push the character into some strange unSandlerlike realm of method characters, he plays it as if he himself had lost his whole world five years ago. The pacing, the joking, the tone of voice is all vintage Sandler, but it's all belied by the haunted, uncertain look in his eye. Sandler'll get some props for his work in this role, but I don't think he'll get enough. You buy pathos from a guy who made you laugh at burning poop jokes for fifteen years. That's not easy work.

There's been a lot of criticism that the movie isn't cohesive enough, and I'll admit it's sometimes a little bit of an uneven ride, punctuated by extraneous music cues of "Love, Reign O'er Me." Not everything ties up the way you'd like it to, but it's truly cathartic watching Sandler try to break free of his shell. It's worth the bumpy road.

Rating: Lessee here, minus one star for missteps in the Cheadle-Smith storyline, minus one for never really giving us that good a reason to have Saffron Burrows in this movie at all, and minus one for an awkwardly filmed police-brutality segment. Minus three stars to start off with, not too bad. Then, let's give two stars for Sandler's performance plus one for Cheadle's, and then a star for the performances of Smith/Burrows/Tyler/etc., one star for the fantastic "Love, Reign O'er Me" cover than Pearl Jam does, one for color tone and one for those lovely night sequences of Sandler on his scooter, whizzing through empty New York streets, and that brings us up to... four stars. Sounds about perfect. Four stars it is.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Currently Ranked 803,118th

Hey, I did it! Back under a million!

Now, if Kansas wins tonight, and Ohio State loses, I might actually move out of last place in some of my pools.

Victory is close, folks.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Just For Fun!

That IMDB! It always finds the fun amidst all the facts! Since The Final Season'll be released pretty soon, the staff wanted to find some amusing trivia to promote the movie. Click the thumbnail to see what they found. I took a picture because I didn't think anyone would believe it if I just wrote it out by hand.

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What's super fun about this is that the cameraman actually died. Good work, IMDB! Can't wait to see the film! It all sounds great.

I guess Superman really is a dick.

My dad sent me this link here, which gives us 15 of the worst offenders in the "Unintentionally Funny Comic Book Panel" - and by "unintentionally funny," I mean "wildly sexual or chauvenistic when you consider them in modern contexts." The best of the lot is the one at the bottom of link. I always had my suspicions about Batman.

All of the comics are stolen from Superdickery, an extremely funny but terribly slowly-loading site based entirely around the concept that Superman, defender of our freedoms and champion of the people, is a complete dick. They collected hundreds of panels and covers from - what, seventy, eighty years of comic book reading? It's not surprising that they found more than a few double entendres* in there.

The best ones, or at least my favorites, are the ones from the comic covers, where the editors are just trying to sell issues. Superman has been known to have a little bit of a dark side from time to time, but on the covers, he takes it to a whole new level. He's an absolute lout.

Here's a few of my favorites from the site (and yes, internet wonks, I stole 'em all outright and I'm not claiming credit, so no flame mail allowed). Click on the thumbnails to see the ones that catch your fancy, they may take a second or two to load but it's nowhere near as bad as the main site.

Let's start out with the longtime storyline "Superman - World's Worst Lover"

1. The beginning of an ongoing pattern of Superman keeping everyone else as far away as possible from the sweet, sweet taste of success.

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2. A deeply, deeply, deeply disturbed man. Like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, only with superpowers. Ugh.

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3. That's right, Superman. The chick had it comin'.

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4. Let me give you some sage dating advice, Lois, similar to the sort of thing that Dr. Phil's recommends on - "If your partner is the jealous kind, and it sometimes leads to squabbles or fighting, don't go on any sort of interplanetary trip with him, especially if your partner is impervious to cold and the absence of atmosphere." If only you'd listened to me earlier, Lois.

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Moving on to "Superman - World's Worst Adoptive Father."

1. First, let's cover the joys of paternal appreciation on Father's Day.

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2. Excellent. Now, the inevitable sadness of a child moving out of the house.

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3. And finally, learning self-reliance. My favorite of all the ones we've done so far.

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And the closer.

Let's finish with my absolute favorite. Go ahead and read the comic cover first.

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Now, let's create this imaginary exchange one might have with the precocious boy.

"Superboy, you've built a nifty-looking time telescope there, and, yes, it allows the viewer the ability to see through to the future. Very cool. And it looks like Bruce Wayne is suitably impressed that you've shown him how the two of you are going to be friends forever. But let's discuss some more useful things you could be doing with the machine:

For example, you could use it to foresee natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes, and warn the world so that nobody gets hurt. Or, if you're a little more mercenary, you could use it to correctly predict sports outcomes and make a killing in Vegas. Or, maybe, you could use the machine to let Bruce Wayne know that his parents are going to be gunned down in front of his very eyes in a filthy alley, you tool!"

It's especially great that the common complaint about why people can't get into Superman is that "he's too perfect, it's hard to relate." Funny, I wouldn't think that would be so difficult.

*side note: most spellcheckers, especially internet spellcheckers, don't recognize the word "entendre." Considering that this is the internet, you'd think the word would come up fairly often and the problem would be addressed. But no.

You know what word is also not recognized? Spellchecker. They won't accept the now universally recognized one-word spelling. Strange.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Campbellite, eh?

Laura dug this up from a few years ago and posted it again, so I thought I'd have a go at finally taking one of these "What Denomination Are You?" tests. I liked this one because it let you weight the questions you felt were most important, and let you give a "No Opinion" answer. Therefore, things I'm not really sure about - Heaven and Hell, the Rapture, etc - I can just say that I don't know and it's not that important to me, and focus more on Church and State, communion, and church government. It made it more fun than the classic rate-this-between-one-and-five tests.

Here are my results. I know it's ridiculous to be a little bit giddy about being 100% Lutheran, and yet I can't help myself. That'll show 'em. Those Methodists haven't gotten to me yet.

Still, you can see the whole theological pattern to my upbringing right here. Alright, fine, you can't, but I can. The list shows somebody who grew up with a strong Lutheran tradition combined with immersion (if you'll excuse the phrase) in the worlds of Baptists and Methodists for most of their life. And it at least clarifies a glimmer of why I've never been all that comfortable in Presbyterian churches, though I never knew that it was a Presbyterian thing, and not just a I-don't-like-this-place thing. Apparently, I feel strongly enough that I'd rather be a Campbellite. And I don't know what a Campbellite is.

100% Lutheran
84% Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinist)
83% Easter Orthodox
83% Wesleyan/Methodist/Nazarene
81% Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker, etc.)
81% Anglican/Episcopal/Church Of England
81% Baptist (Non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist
76% Congregational/United Church of God
71% Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God
67% Roman Catholic
62% Seventh Day Adventist
61% Church of Christ/Campbellite
55% Presbyterian/Reformed

Black Lab Song

Whether you're interested in "bum rushing" anything at all or not, the song is really good. And Black Lab's been dropped by two major labels in their lifetime, which is why it takes them... seven years to release an album sometimes.

If you peruse the blog today, you should swing over to iTunes and download "Mine Again." Don't be alarmed by the cover art - I was, a little bit - the song is gorgeous.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bum Rush The Charts

Click on the link to figure out what's going on. I don't feel like explaining it here, and I'm usually not one of those people who takes part in those "let's show the media monarchy we mean business" events. But... Black Lab is one of my all-time favorite bands, and that's why I'm doing this. You're welcome to do it it too, if you feel so inclined. I guarantee that the song will be well worth downloading.

Currently Ranked 1,142,571st

But - 7 of my 8 Elite Eight teams are still in it. I feel okay about this.

I really shouldn't of picked Virginia, though.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Currently Ranked 945,328th

Hey, I'm back in this thing!

No, wait, I'm not. And I'm still getting creamed in the pool I created. One of the guys picked Vandy and Butler for two rounds, whereas I didn't pick them to win their first round games. The way things are going, it'll probably be those two teams in the finals, and I'll have a total bracket score of 38.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Currently Ranked 1,188,291st

Well, on Day Two I ended up going 11/16, which is better but not particularly thrilling. That gives me a total of 21 for 32 for the first round, which is disappointing for me, since I usually do about 24 for 32 the first round. At least, that's how I remember it. I may be exaggerating my predictive abilities from years past.

The real reason why it stings so much, though, is that the best way to see how you're doing in the bracket is to calculate how many you would've gotten right if you'd just picked the higher seed, and how much you're doing better than that number is how good you're doing in the tournament. I'm usually two, three, maybe four points better after the first round. But this year, not so much.

The higher seed won 27 of 32 matches, and three of the other matches are games in which the 9-seeds beat the 8-seeds, and that doesn't count as an upset because there's literally no difference between an eight and a nine seed (by the way, I was 0 for 4 on my picks for 8 and 9 seeds. There's the ballgame, right there). So there were only two real upsets: Winthrop over Notre Dame and VCU over Duke, of which I called only one correctly.

Each year the tournament has been progressively more and more upset-prone, until a couple of years ago my dad and I calculated that, according to the results, there was almost no difference between a 5-seed and a 12-seed. It was like they were completely equal rivals. And George Mason last year (have you tired of hearing about George Mason this March yet? I have.) proved that a small team from nowhere can be a legitimate contender in the NCAA bracket.

So this year I picked a whole pile of dark horses (Ew. That's a disturbing mix of metaphors), figuring that with all the upsets about to happen, there was no reason why my picks couldn't be the right ones. It's a dangerous strategy, because the upsets that happen can end up being the ones you aren't expecting, and then you have a bracket twice as bad as everyone else - the upsets you picked that didn't happen, and the ones you didn't pick that did. But this - I wasn't expecting this. I wasn't expecting the favorites to dominate this dramatically.

Good news on the horizon, though: while I have a tendency to pick a lot of upsets in the first round, I play things pretty straightforward the rest of the way. So if the favorites-always-winning pattern continues, I'll be looking pretty good. And, all my Sweet 16 teams are still alive. I may be a little shell-shocked, but it is still mathematically possible that I could have a perfect bracket the rest of the way.

It's just not particularly likely at this point.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bowling for Lunches.

By the way, three days into my work week, and at the request of the Missions Department and Women's Ministry, we've gone bowling for lunch twice.

I don't have a comment. I just wanted to give you a piece of my world this week.

Currently Ranked 1,030,987th

Well, Memphis and Virginia's wins briefly moved me above the magical 1 million mark, but then, for no reason whatsoever, I moved back down. I'm starting to not trust the math that Facebook is putting into this pool. Right now I've moved from 10/16 to 13/20, which is a slight improvement. And one of the upsets I called finally happened. Attaway Winthrop!

Long Beach State is 20 seconds away from getting bounced out of the tournament, so I'm about to drop a little further. And... yes, they're gone. Ah, well.

Nevada is battling Creighton to a standstill, and if Nevada goes, I might be losing the first of my Sweet 16 teams. And Wisconsin might be disappearing too, which would be a black mark on my bracket, but who cares? It's worth it to lose points on your bracket in order to see a team like Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beat a 2-seed. I love this time of year.

As a side note, when I put this bracket together, I was outrageously confident about it. It's sure to be a big winner, I thought, I've called all the upsets that no one sees coming.

Let it be known that it's more than worthwhile to slap yourself once or twice across the face if you ever say the phrase "I've called all the upsets that no one sees coming."

Still, it looks like Nevada will prevail over Creighton in OT, and Wisconsin will prevail at least into the second round, so my Nevada over Memphis second-round pick might just stand a fighting chance, and I've gathered hope that Oregon will nudge out Wisconsin. And maybe, just maybe, I might move back under the one million mark.

And if not, I'll always remember this as the year a million people finished ahead of me in my college bracket.

Currently Ranked 1,178,169th

How many people are in this pool?

I'm 10/16 for the first day, and the only upset that happened was the one that I refused to pick because everyone else was picking it. My upset-heavy bracket is not looking so good right now.

Today, I'm rooting for upsets with 12-seeds Long Beach State and Arkansas, along with Winthrop and Georgia Tech. Here we go, guys.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Currently Ranked 680,738th

8 games in, I'm a less-than-enthralling 6 for 8 in my bracket, with underdogs Old Dominion and George Washington University crapping out on me almost immediately. I've got an underdog-heavy bracket, and there has yet to be a single underdog victory in this tournament. Things are not looking good.

My current Facebook March Madness Ranking is #680,738. I think I can come back, though.

March Madness Mistake #1

I went back and forth on picking #12 Old Dominion over #5 Butler, and ended up going with Old Dominion because I like 12-seeds so much. I almost switched back 5 minutes before the deadline and didn't.

Final Score:
Butler - 57
Old Dominion - 46


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Onwards and Upwards

My digital scale informs me that I now weigh 188 pounds. I'm basically back where I started. Shoot.

I've decided to post the incidental videos that I create for the church, even if they're completely uninteresting. This blog's supposed to be a little bit of a window into my life, in addition to just a place for me to spout off my pop culture views, so it'd be nice for everyone to see what I'm doing. It's a good thing I'm a filmmaker and can display things like this, since I assume that accountants and computer programmers don't get a chance to post things that they've done at work. Or maybe they do. There may be a whole realm of accountant-themed blogs out there somewhere. They probably have their own term for them at this point, most likely "acclogs."

By the way, can I just complain that it's a real shame that "photo-blogging" has never been shortened to just "phlogging?" So much wasted potential.

Here's the video I put together for a sermon illustration. Dr. Robb wanted a movie clip that demonstrated a Hollywood-confession. I gave him eleven:

While we're at it, here's a quick look at my March Madness bracket this year. I'm running a "First Two Rounds Only" pool on facebook, which lets people show off their skills picking first round upsets without worrying about their bracket tanking if they haven't picked the right Final Four. Half the fun's in the first two rounds, anyway. If you're on facebook, you're welcome to come over and join.

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That's all. Best of luck on your brackets, everyone!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bad News

My mom, who was down here last week, bought me a more expensive and far more accurate digital scale, which informed me that I am not, in fact 176 pounds. I am 184 pounds. Lord knows what I was when I started.

I know I don't actually weigh any more than I did when I started, but it feels like I just gained 8 pounds.

Office Outcast - Week Three

The Birthday Party

This one's my favorite. I did the re-write in the morning, shot it in a couple hours, and edited it in an afternoon. As Matt pointed out afterwards, on that schedule, we could do an entire weekly half-hour sitcom if we wanted to.

By the way, this was Matt's actual birthday party this year. I'm not lying. We made him come in and put on a tie and served him this birthday cake and sang him "Happy Birthday" just like this. This is actual documentary work.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Defense Of The Departed

This is entirely for Beth, who was complaining that she didn't see why The Departed was the year's Best Picture. So I'll give you Five Reasons Why The Departed Was A Completely Deserving Win This Year. I will use Excessive Capitization as I see fit.

1. It Was A Very Weak Year For Nominees. This is a troublesome reason to justify a Best Picture win, Beth, but I think that's the real reason why it won. Let's look over the best films of the year.

There were maybe 10 or 11 films that could justify getting nominated in this category. Of the five or six that didn't - let's say Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dreamgirls, Thank You For Smoking, United 93 and Casino Royale - I would only call United 93 and Children of Men legitimate contenders. I think if either of them had been nominated, voters would have had trouble voting against them because of the seriousness of the subject matter and the skill with which the filmmakers brought them to the screen.

Of the final five, there wasn't a real strong choice other than The Departed. Even the strongest proponents of the other films had to admit that there were real flaws in their films that made it hard to vote for them as a Best Picture winner. Babel was a very good film with outstanding acting that didn't quite succeed in making the point it was trying to make, which makes it hard to defend it as a Best Picture when the other films clearly did. The Queen wasn't great - it was good, it was very good, but there was no breathtaking factor to it, outside of the stalwart performance and unbelievable resemblance of Helen Mirren to the Queen herself. Letters From Iwo Jima was just too small a scale - it's a war movie without a big budget, with only a few shots of large scale battle, and its bigger moments were sometimes a little over the top. It was a movie about quietness and honor and true bravery from the point of view of another culture - except that the movie itself was from the point of view of our culture, which made the whole thing feel a little put-on. And Little Miss Sunshine, the Charming Favorite of indie film fans everywhere, just lacked Best Picture caliber. It was funny and sweet and well-acted and completely disarming and the sort of film that I'll want to own in my DVD collection, but it didn't feel like a Best Picture. It just felt like a good movie.

Now that we've eliminated everything else:

2. The Performances In The Departed Were, Across The Board, Top-Notch. I think in my original Oscar posting, Beth, I mentioned that Scorsese got subtle performances from people who don't usually give subtle performances, and I'd like to withdraw that comment. Everybody in that film is the sort of quality of actor that's capable of adding layer upon layer to all of their characters, and Scorsese took real advantage of that. Damon and DiCaprio played their parts a razors-edge different from each other - they looked the same, the acted the same, they felt like they were the same person, one of whom had just taken a small step in one direction, one of whom in another - and that made all the difference. Throughout the movie their similarities and differences would become starker and then fade away again, and then return starker than ever, until at the end you can't believe you ever thought they were the same. Nicholson had this disturbing glee to him the whole film that deeply worried me, this sense that as crazy as he was, he could go ahead and get a lot crazier if he wanted to. And then everyone else just stayed carefully in character the whole way through so that those three characters could develop around them.

It's not just great performances by the cast, its a Carefully Scripted And Painstakingly Maintained Pattern Of Almost Invisible Storytelling that separates The Departed from the average thriller, and even from above-average thrillers, and closer towards the realm of the Quietly Brilliant Action Films - The Fugitive, Chinatown, etc.

3. The Film Has A Real Depth To It That You Wouldn't Expect Given Its Subject Matter. I've watched a lot of action movies in my day, and usually the plot bogs down unnecessarily halfway through, and the end of the movie ends up finishing with all the loose ends being tied together quickly after everything else blows up. The most common complaint about the film - that the movie just ends - is only said by people who didn't get what it was about at all.

Beth, you were absolutely right when you said the message of the movie is "you see, nothing really changed. Everything goes on like it did before this whole mess started." That is, in fact, the point of the movie. But the way that it gets there is what matters - there's an immediacy to it, an energy that belies the popcorn nature of the movie.

The story is messy, but the messy aspects of it are deliberate and structured. This is an Art Film For People Who Hate Art Films.

Did I say five reasons, Beth? I meant three reasons. I'm tired of typing. I'll finish up with a couple quick notes:
  • This is a very un-Scorsese movie. As he says it, it's "the first Scorsese movie with a plot." But it's also the first Scorsese movie where the dialogue is more than just a set fixture or an extra layer of character. It's feels almost like it's the first time the words being said move the plot along. Watch part - any part - of Mean Streets and you'll see what I mean.
  • Part of its appeal is that while it's an adaptation of a foreign film, it feels very American - it still has the vague trappings of a foreign film, but it's a Foreign Film That A Lot Of People Can Enjoy.
  • And finally, to answer your questions, Beth - the envelope at the end of the movie probably contained the information about who DiCaprio's character really was, who Damon's character was, and to call Wahlberg and tell him if DiCaprio ended up murdered. That's why Wahlberg showed up at the end - the shrink called him. Wahlberg didn't show up at the deserted building because Anthony Anderson's character didn't call him, even though he was supposed to - a Classic Fatal Mistake for Small Characters in Bloody Action Movies.

Hope that helped.