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November 2009
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what i watched last year

A summary.


Aguirre, the Wrath of God
All Quiet on the Western Front
Bonnie and Clyde
Fires on the Plain
Night and Fog
The Night of the Hunter
Pink: The Funhouse Tour: Live in Australia
Red Cliff 2
The Road Warrior
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Third Man
The Wild Bunch


Bullet in the Head
Chop Shop
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Great Expectations
A History of Violence
L.A. Confidential
Man on Wire
Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night
The Searchers
Waltz With Bashir
White Heat


28 Days Later
Bad Timing
The Bridge
The Class
The Dark Knight
Drag Me to Hell
The Fallen Idol
The Hurt Locker
Il Divo
Into the Wild
I’ve Loved You So Long
The Lady Eve
Let the Right One In
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Rachel Getting Married
Slumdog Millionaire
Total Recall
The Who: At Kilburn 1977
The Wrestler


Black Sabbath
The Exorcist
Frozen River
The Godfather: Part III
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I Love You, Man
Julie & Julia
k.d. lang Live in London
The Last Emperor
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Proposition
Tell No One
Two Lovers
Where the Wild Things Are
Wonder Boys


Attack of the Mushroom People
Bottle Rocket (1994)
The Brothers Bloom
Burn After Reading
The Duchess
Gran Torino
George Washington
Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock
Knocked Up
Land of the Dead
Last Year at Marienbad
Pineapple Express
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Star Trek
The Trial
Vicky Christina Barcelona
The World According to Garp


Battlestar Galactica: The Plan
First Man Into Space
The Return of the War Room


Bottle Rocket (1996)


Attack of the Giant Leeches

last toy of the decade

One last present arrived in the mail today. It wasn’t something I planned on getting, but on Xmas Eve, my beloved Roku Soundbridge Radio bit the dust, only two years after I got it. Radios should last forever … my guess is, many of the people reading this have an old radio or two lying around their house, years, even decades old, still working when you need something to listen to in the garage. Not so with the Soundbridge Radio, which was great at what it did, but didn’t do it long enough (I am not the first person to have one die). Since Roku is mostly involved with their Netflix player, they’ve pretty much forgotten about the Soundbridge owners, so getting the radio fixed was going to cost about as much as something new. So I went with something new, a Logitech Squeezebox Radio:

squeezebox radio

It’s an Internet radio that does most of what my old Soundbridge did, along with a few new things. To get the negative out of the way, the Soundbridge had built-in stereo speakers and a subwoofer; the Squeezebox has a built-in mono speaker, although the headphones outlet allows for stereo listening. Basically, the sound on this is not as good as what I had, but since I will use earphones with it much of the time, that’s not as important as it might be for others. As for the positive? Well, it works, and that’s pretty much all that matters for the moment.

It does the usual stuff today’s Internet radios do. You can listen to the Internet, obviously, those thousands of online radio stations (and terrestrial stations simulcasting online). You can listen to your Pandora account, or Sirius if you have it, or Rhapsody if you have it. You can access your Facebook account, although I’m not sure why you’d want to. You can connect it to and have everything you play on the radio get listed on your What I’ve Listened To page on You can plug an MP3 player into it and use it as an external speaker.

Meanwhile, you can also set it up to access the hard drives on your home network, allowing you to play all of your music files anywhere in the house.

It probably does more, but I can’t remember anything at the moment. (Oh, yeah, it works as an alarm clock.) Not much of this is innovative compared to other Internet radios, although I suppose it sounds pretty futuristic if you don’t have such a player. There are better alternatives that hook up to your home stereo, but my specific desire is for a radio with built-in sound. Logitech makes a fancier model, the Squeezebox Boom … actually, the Boom came first, the Radio is a cut-rate version of the Boom. But it’s also half the cost.

Now that I have it set up (and that only took about 10 minutes, although I’d been led to believe it would take forever), I’ll hopefully forget all about it. Well, you know what I mean … we’ll get used to it right away, in fact we already are in a way, since it just duplicates the functions of our old Soundbridge. Robin, who likes to listen to old radio episodes of Gunsmoke before bedtime, will be glad that option has returned. Steven, who listens to any damn thing all night long, is glad that I can go back to a radio, instead of using my Pre, which is what I’ve done since the Soundbridge died. At this time last year, we were in the midst of getting 2/3 of a new house. Compared to that, this isn’t much. But it’s a nice way to end the year.

most overrated movie of the decade

There’s a discussion on the web right now that has grown to the point it’s probably a meme: that Crash was the worst movie of the decade. I admit to liking the film, but that’s not what prompted this post. What people mean by “worst of the decade” is really “most overrated” … they don’t mean something like Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. So I decided to figure out what I thought was the most overrated movie of the decade, and my answer will come as no surprise to longtime readers.

To be overrated, it must have received some acclaim in the first place. My choice for Most Overrated Movie of the Decade was nominated for an Oscar (Best Actor). It won awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Cairo International Film Festival, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, the Producers Guild, the Phoenix Film Critics Society, the Satellite Awards, and the Young Artist Awards. It grossed just under $100 million worldwide. IMDB votes give it an overall rating of 7.3/10 … 19% of the voters rated it 10/10. MovieLens voters rated it 3.57/5 … the MovieLens prediction system thought I would give it 3.5/5. The film’s star has won two Oscars … the female lead has been nominated for an Oscar three times. The soundtrack was even nominated for a Grammy.

And when I saw it, my blog post consisted of just six words: “What a revolting piece of shit.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Most Overrated Movie of the Decade:

I Am Sam

i read the news today, oh boy

Phil Plait:

Those of us skeptical of these alternatives to modern medicine don’t want these things to fail. We already know that some mainstream medicines are based on what could once have been called herbal medicines — aspirin is the obvious example, originally made from willow bark — so we know better than to dismiss these potential additions to medicine out of hand.

What we do dismiss are anecdotes provided as evidence, or used to make claims that aren’t warranted from the evidence. All those anecdotes are is a place to start investigating the evidence for a potential medicine, not evidence in and of themselves.

bruce at the kennedy center

Anything could have happened back in 1975. I could have obsessed over Aerosmith, or Kiss, or Steely Dan, Janis Ian or Earth Wind and Fire. I liked them all, to greater or lesser degrees, but I didn’t obsess over them. Instead, I got tickets to see a guy named Bruce Springsteen, brought his new Born to Run album home, and he became Our Guy. And it’s nothing against those other musicians, and it’s certainly not something I was thinking about in 1975, but Robin and I and all of our Bruce fan friends have been extremely lucky … no one is perfect, Bruce least of all, but in his art, his career, and in most of what we know of his life, he has made us proud to be a part of his world. And that pride didn’t end in 1975, or 1985, or 2005, or 2009.

There is more to art than being decent, being someone your audience can be proud of. Much great art is made by people who are insistently indecent. A lot of it was made by musicians in the mid/late-70s. I return to that music on a regular basis.

But there is also something to be said for the long haul. Bruce Springsteen has had more than his share of immediate greatness, but he is also the one who has carried us through the good and bad of our lives for close to 40 years. Seeing him sitting next to the President and his wife, justly receiving honors for his work, it was … not like it was us up there with the President, but that our representative was up there. Doing us proud.

It was moving enough that I’ve lost the desire to be snarky, so I’ll just note that among the performers who raised the bar, special kudos to Jennifer Nettles, Eddie Vedder, and even Sting. And, of course, Jon Stewart, who really was “us” on the stage, The Bruce Fan.

I’m aware that awards ceremonies generally suck, and that the Kennedy Center Honors have neglected some great artists. But for one night, I was ready to forgive everyone for everything.

Eddie Vedder, “My City of Ruins”:

best films of the decade

Well, this is hardly totally inclusive, and I’m doing it the easiest way I know. My movie ratings, at least the ones I’ve remembered to process, are at MovieLens, so I just did a search for movies from 2000-2009 that got my highest 10/10 rating. There aren't many American movies, there are a couple of documentaries and a couple of "made for TV" movies including one that's really a mini-series, and, unsurprisingly given my biases, no comedies. In order, by year and then alphabetically, without further comment:

Murder on a Sunday Morning
Time Out
Y tu mamá también
City of God
The Hours
American Splendor
Angels in America
Deliver Us from Evil
The Lives of Others
Pan’s Labyrinth
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Red Cliff II

a fellow will remember a lot of things

I’m watching a movie, and in that movie, Love in the Afternoon is playing on a TV in the background. It stars Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn, and I saw it once, long ago, when I was a teenager. My memory is that it wasn’t much of a movie … Cooper was twice Hepburn’s age and their affair wasn’t believable. But the truth is, I don’t recall much about the movie, because of the circumstances under which I watched it.

I was at a friend’s house, a girl for whom I had a long-standing and terrible crush. We watched the movie, we made out, we watched the movie some more, I slipped my hand down her t-shirt, we watched the movie some more. Her mom kept coming in to check on us, see if we wanted a snack or a drink … I suppose she guessed there was some minor hanky-panky going on. The point is, I couldn’t tell you much about Love in the Afternoon, but seeing it in the background of that movie today, I instantly recalled my hand inside that shirt. I’m reminded, as I often am (more so the older I get) of Everett Sloane as Bernstein in Citizen Kane, reminiscing in his old age about a girl he saw once when he was young:

A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

As for our advancing ages, I should note that I am the same age now that Gary Cooper was when he made Love in the Afternoon. I’m not on the prowl for women half my age, but my wife can tell you that I’m still interested in the hand inside the shirt.

what i watched last week

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It’s a sign that a particular technology has become established when you notice its absence more than its presence. When Blu-ray first came along, I marveled at the look of every movie I watched … it was new and beautiful. The same was true for Hi-Def TV, which doesn’t quite match the exquisiteness of Blu-ray, but is enough of an improvement over standard definition that every show was a joy. As some point, though, that look became ordinary in a good way. Good, because I take it for granted. The only time I notice the picture now is when it’s not in HD. The Blu-ray of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly looks great. The movie itself is also quite something. Roger Ebert wrote a few years ago about how he first reviewed the film when he was just getting started, and his review “described a four-star movie but only gave it three stars.” He’d give it four, now. As for me, I’ve always loved it, but I guess I never trusted my love … my previous rating was 7/10. I’m bumping that 9/10 now. #187 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the 1000 greatest films of all time.

The Who: At Kilburn 1977. I saw The Who only once, a little more than a year before this performance. Keith Moon wasn’t what he used to be, I suppose, but he had enough of his manic energy to make me happy. I wasn’t expecting the same for this film, which documents his next-to-last live performance with the band. It’s a famous concert amongst Who fans … Moonie was out of shape in more ways than one, Entwhistle was drunk, Pete was pissed, and Roger Daltrey was … well, god love him, he’s never been the most important person in the band. The concert is indeed ragged … they hadn’t played together for some time, and it really shows in the early numbers, leading to Townshend’s famous mid-show comment to the film’s director, “This wasn’t fucking worth filming!” But … Townshend does everything he can to will a good show into happening, and with the final “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the band is finally playing as a unit (which isn’t true for much of the set). Moon recovers a bit, but it’s really Townshend’s show … he plays with a fierce anger, baiting the audience (this was 1977, after all, when punks were trying to make people like Pete Townshend irrelevant), jumping and sliding all over the stage, yelling at stage hands, all the time playing like a man possessed. Daltrey and Entwhistle just stay out of his way, but Moonie refuses … between songs, he badgers Townshend, tries to cheer him up, and as he does, you can see the old Keith Moon surfacing … he may have lost a lot of his ability to play, but he hasn’t lost the ability to lose himself in his playing, and there are moments near the end when he seems extremely happy to being playing drums with his mates. Overall, I’d call this a 6 but give Townshend a 10, so I’ll split the difference and say 8/10. But if you’re new to The Who, don’t start here (and remember, without Keith Moon, it ain’t The Who).

The Lady Eve. A screwball classic that I don’t quite get. Oh, it has many memorable scenes (none more so than when Barbara Stanwyck plays with Henry Fonda’s hair), but it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny to me, compared to others I like more (hello, His Girl Friday). Still good .. 8/10. #114 on the TSPDT list.

The Godfather: Part III. Guess I had an Eli Wallach film festival. While some claim greatness for this movie, the more general opinion seems to have become good-not-great, not an embarrassment but also not a classic. I’ll go with that. This viewing, I realized that despite the film’s flaws, it has become a part of our collective Godfather experience, so that scenes you remember with pleasure turn out to be in this movie rather than either of the first two parts. Every time I watch this, I try to give Sofia Coppola another chance, but it never works … her line readings are blank at best. Still, anytime I can watch a three-hour movie without being bored once is worth noting. If the first two movies combine to make the greatest American film of all time, Part III at least extends the moment for awhile. 7/10. #616 on the TSPDT list.

i read the news today, oh boy

It would be easier to just cut-and-paste the entire article, but you should go to the source.

Nate Silver:

[T]he odds of being on [any] given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.