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November 2010
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January 2011

what i watched last year

A summary, sorted by my ratings. I gave my highest rating to five films, the most recent of which is almost 40 years old. But I tend to raise the ratings of the best movies over the course of time, so Winter’s Bone has something to look forward to. (This is where I explain my ratings, but there isn’t much to say … they are, obviously, completely subjective. As noted above, I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Thus, the average for the 86 movies I rated in 2010 is 7.2/10.)

10:

Cabaret
The Earrings of Madame de ...
Gigi
Tokyo Story
Vivre sa vie

9:

The Beaches of Agnes
Children of Men
Minority Report
My Family
Mystic River
Repulsion
Revanche
Roman Holiday
Winter's Bone

8:

The African Queen
Bad Timing
Cleo from 5 to 7
Crazy Heart
District 9
Dogma
Drag Me to Hell
An Education
(500) Days of Summer
Food, Inc.
The Ghost Writer
Ginger Snaps
Ip Man
Killer of Sheep
Magnolia
The Messenger
Mother
Paris, Texas
Pierrot le fou
A Prophet
The Secret in Their Eyes
This Is It
Toy Story 3
The Untouchables
The Warriors

7:

Avatar
The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Chungking Express
Eastern Condors
Flores de otro mundo
Green Zone
Heathers
In the Loop
Innocence
Jailhouse Rock
The Kids Are All Right
Kung Fu Hustle
A Little Princess
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Shakespeare Behind Bars
Shaun of the Dead
Sherlock Holmes
Slacker
Summer Hours
Wedding Crashers

6:

Cutter's Way
Fanboys
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Funny People
Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed
How to Train Your Dragon
Inside Deep Throat
Ivan the Terrible, Part One
The Last House on the Left
Lola Montes
Meet the Feebles
The New World
9
Red Desert
Robin Harris: Live from the Comedy Act Theater
Serial Mom
A Single Man
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

5:

City Hunter
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
Salt
Shake, Rattle & Rock
Step Brothers

3:

Sharktopus

2:

The Terror of Tiny Town
The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution


these are a few of my favorite things

These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite web sites … those would probably include Gmail, Salon, and ESPN. But they are sites that I track via Google Reader, email, or podcasts … they are relatively narrow, that is, one focuses more on entertainment, another on politics, another on baseball, one of technology, and … well, I don’t know how to describe what the Angry Greek does. What I hope is that at least one of these sites A) sounds interesting to you, and B) is new to you, so I can say I’ve given you something to check out for the new year.

The Angry Greek. This is not a site for everyone. Madame Greek has a vile tongue, and she knows how to use it. A self-proclaimed “big dyke living somewhere on the west coast,” the inventive angry one has regular features such as “Clitty Litter of the Day” (pictures of hot women … in the name of equality, she also has “Man Candy of the Day” with pictures of hot men), refers to her readers as “hos,” and features a cast of characters that includes The Vagina, Mrs. Angry Ex (Christina Hendricks), and actress-writer Amber Benson, to whom the Angry Greek is “engaged.” Suffice to say, it’s not like the other sites on this list.

News from Me. I feel like whenever I do these kinds of posts, Mark Evanier always ends up in the list. I’ve always thought it was a sign of how entertaining his blog is that I read it for some time before I realized he was famous (first in comics, and later as a writer for television). He mostly writes about entertainment, although he’ll venture into politics on occasion, and there’s something engagingly casual about his writing style that makes his readers feel like we know him.

A Plain Blog About Politics. I’ve known Jonathan Bernstein for a long time, and his thinking on baseball ranks with the best out there. But in real life, Jonathan is a political scientist, and in the summer of 2009, he started this blog. It was a crowded field, without much room for a late starter, plus the most popular political sites seem to be identifiably left or right, while Jonathan is a committed centrist Democrat. But his thoughtful prose and astute analysis has won out, so that now, he’s cited in other blogs, shows up as a guest on various sites (Salon being my favorite, of course), and has indeed found a place for himself in that crowded field. I disagree with him a lot … many is the time I’ve composed a comment, only to delete it because I feel that I shouldn’t add anything unless I am at my best … but I have learned more about the centrist position in current American politics than I ever have before. And once in awhile, he even posts something about baseball.

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter. This isn’t a web site, but instead an email newsletter. Joe promises at least 180 editions for a subscription that will run until January 31, 2012. I don’t run ads on my blog, but I’m not averse to passing along stuff I like enough to pay for. Yes, there is plenty of free baseball info online, so you’ll have to decide for yourself if $29.95 is too much for a year-plus of solid analysis. But, for what it’s worth, I think Joe is one of the best.

TWiT. I’ve been listening to Leo Laporte forever, but lately, he’s become omnipresent, because I find myself listening to podcasts at night, and Leo has a billion of them (he prefers to call them “netcasts,” which is a good one … many of us listen on non-iPod devices). Leo is the perfect host … he sounds like someone you would welcome into your living room, he treats the callers on his phone-in shows with respect, and he knows everyone in the field of technology, so they all either guest on his various shows or work for TWiT. (You can find some of the best of the rest at CNET … hello, Molly Wood!) I’m too lazy to count the number of regular netcasts in the TWiT world … suffice to say, there are lots of them, and they cover everything from Windows to Macs, home theater and iPads, security and hardware, law and science and … you get the idea.


what i watched last week

Innocence. AKA, Ghost in the Shell 2 (not to be confused with Ghost in the Shell 2.0). I’m not exactly the audience for these movies, but I found the look of Innocence impressive. Obviously, it is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and for some reason it didn’t piss me off the way Blade Runner often does. I’m not convinced, though, that this is as good as Battlestar Galactica in the “how human are the robots?” genre. I guess I liked this more than I liked Ghost in the Shell, since I’m giving it a slightly higher rating, but to be honest, I barely remember the first one. 7/10.

An Education. The Wizard of Oz, with Harry Lime as the Wicked Witch. Young girl escapes her drab home life for adventure, gets educated, realizes there’s no place like home, and returns to the fold. Except … she doesn’t quite return home, but rather returns to her family’s idea of escape. Going to Oxford is a conservative choice, but while at the beginning of the film, Jenny’s choice is seemingly made for her, at the end, she’s in charge. The key character in Jenny’s ultimate return to the goal of Oxford is Olivia Williams’ Miss Stubbs … for much of the movie, Jenny sees her teachers as negative, boring role models, but at the end, she goes to Miss Stubbs, whose vinegary demeanor covers a love of scholarship and the place it holds for women in the early 60s. An, as everyone knows by now, Carey Mulligan is a revelation. As for the claims the the movie is anti-Semitic, I admit to being uncertain. I think the scalawag David’s Jewishness establishes him as outside the social norms of the time, and thus is just another thing about him that Jenny finds appealing. The overt exclamations of anti-Semitism come out of the mouths of those who have a great stake in keeping things in their place, and they are shown as worse for having those notions. But I’m not Jewish, and there are some very convincing criticisms from Jewish writers who find the film emotionally and intellectually disturbing, with a reliance on the worst stereotypes. I can’t dismiss their reactions, but I admit I don’t feel them myself. 8/10.

The Beaches of Agnès. Agnès Varda’s autobiographical documentary is a wonderful puzzle. The film feels almost tossed off, as if Varda gathered together some source material, filmed a few transition pieces, and had a movie. But after it’s over, when you start thinking about what you’ve seen, you realize how detailed is the film’s construction. Varda mixes scenes of herself with friends and family in the present, she creates a few set pieces, she tells some of the stories of her life, she includes scenes from her various movies, she returns to the scenes of those movies, she re-connects with those who helped on the films … I wouldn’t exactly call it seamless, since that’s not what she’s aiming for, but she definitely makes the complex seem simple at first glance. Of course, it helps that she’s had such an eventful life. Her time as a photographer offers special delights, with her pictures of a young Godard and of Castro in the beginning of his reign. Perhaps the best scene, one which shows her playful seriousness, comes when she returns to a place where she once filmed two men pushing a cart down the street. She gets the met to push the cart down the same street, only this time, she puts a screen at the end of the cart, and a movie projector at the front of the cart showing the old movie, so as the men push the cart, they are watching themselves pushing the cart in the past (and we are watching all of this in the present). #222 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 9/10.


xmas

Facebook is doing what it can to make personal blogs irrelevant, if they weren’t already. People post pictures to FB within seconds of taking the photos … those of us who write more than a paragraph, via a blog, find that our readership gets much larger once we finally start cross-posting to Facebook (although my unscientific study tells me that many/most/all people who see this on Facebook don’t actually read more than a paragraph). I frequently post YouTube videos there, which in the past might have shown up on the blog.

So, where in the past I’d say a few things about Xmas and post a lot of pictures, this year I feel like I’d just be replicating things that are already online. So I’ll just post one representative photo and explain why I think it’s important:

linda sara robin knitting talk

Robin has been a loving and loyal wife for 37 years, and it isn’t always easy. For instance, I can always go to a ball game with our kids, and certainly during the recent remarkable season, the three of us (four, really, Sonia’s in on this) did a lot of bonding. Robin … well, she’s not a baseball fan, and that’s fine, you don’t stay married for 37 years because you like exactly the same things. But a parent likes to pass some things along to the next generation. I can pass a love of baseball to my kids, but Robin, who has always had a passion for … I realize I don’t know the exact word, the making of clothing … she was and is an excellent seamstress, but in her later years she has taken up knitting, and she is rarely seen without her knitting bag, working on several projects at once.

Our daughter Sara has many interests, but it must be said, knitting was not one of them. However, in the last couple of years, she’s gotten interested, and now Robin gets to pass along her passion, and Sara’s getting pretty good at it.

It was a running joke this holiday, that I kept getting stuck in rooms with a bunch of people who were all talking about knitting. Robin reminded me more than once that this was just payback for all the times in those 37 years when she was stuck in rooms with people talking about sports. She’s right, of course, and it’s something I’ll remember about this Xmas, that it was the year where Robin’s passion was front and center.

The above picture shows our friend Linda, who has been a regular Xmas visitor over the years, Sara, working on a project, and Robin, holding court. It’s the most representative photo I have of Xmas 2010.


random friday, 2010 edition: cee lo green, “fuck you”

For some reason, I miscalculated and the Random Fridays have made it to 2010 a week early. Oops.

Usually, I stick the video after I blather, but the video’s messages are so much a part of what I want to write about that I have to include it first:

The video adds extra dimensions to the song, which on its own is a declaration of class war. Watching Cee Lo go from grade school to high school to college, we see that he was hated not only because he had no money, but also because his lack of money meant he had shitty jobs serving the gold diggers, because he was an uncool geek, because he was a big guy in a skinny world. The visuals fit perfectly with the audio, tying the nostalgic feel of the arrangement to memories of back in the day. The video is as catchy as the track itself.

And that’s remarkable, because “Fuck You” is one of the catchiest songs you’ll hear. The hook is perfect, the melody engaging, and the only problem with the track is that you’ll hear it so often you’ll get sick of it (you may have already reached this point). Take my word for … five years from now, it’ll pop up on shuffle play, or someone will crank it up at a party, and it will sound fresh all over again, and you’ll wonder why you ever put it on the shelf.

The title/catch phrase matters, as well. Attaching what is still the “worst” cuss word to such a fine classic is pop transgression at its finest. People with young kids know what I’m saying … more than one of them spoke out on Facebook and Twitter about how they wanted to keep their kids from hearing the song, because one listen was all it took to turn it into the tyke’s new sing-along. But keeping it away from the kids was impossible, because mom and dad wanted to hear it, too. (The “radio” version, “Forget You,” doesn’t work nearly as well because it’s the wrong kind of compromise … that Cee Lo gave us the perfect pop song and called it “Fuck You” is so much more inviting than a similar-but-sanitized just-another-pop-song called “Forget You.”)

Still, it’s such a great song, it survives even the radio version. Hell, it almost survives the Gwyneth on Glee version:


blog highlights, 2010, or, adebisi, kristin proctor, and uncle miltie

Time to check out the Google Analytics report for this blog, covering January 1 through today. My favorite thing to check is the search terms people used to find the blog … this doesn’t count people who check in everyday via a bookmark, but is instead for people who come here from a search engine.

The top search term for the year was “klee irwin.” This is more impressive than you might think, for #6 was “klee irwin fraud” and #11 was “klee irwin scam” and #66 was “klee irwin dual action cleanse” … #120 was “klee irwin” in quote marks, #179 was “klee irwin health program,” #231 was “who is klee irwin,” and #352 was “irwin klee.” The primary blog post that attracted folks was “klee irwin piece of shit motherfucking rip-off scam artists,” which was not my most subtle post title.

I love my brother, but I have no idea why the #2 search term of the year was “geoff rubio.” If you include all of the variants, my own name passes his, but still, a tip of the cap to ya, bro.

The inevitable “tony peluso” came in at #4, just behind the first version of my name. Other variants of his name, many related to his unfortunate passing, came in at: 51, 55, 84, 92, 140, 159, 225, 235, 389, 496, and more. All well-deserved … rest in peace, Tony.

#7 (again, some of the gaps are due to multiple variants on the above) was “big love season finale,” which also came in at #29 and #35 in other variants.

One of the most delightful returnees is the wonderful “adebisi hat” at #8. Variants at 17, 59, 96 (“how does adebisi’s hat stay on”), 130, 201, 237, 238, and 312. Oz has been off the air for almost eight years, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has not only been in several movies since that show, but he was also the key figure of Mr. Eko in Lost. Yet to this day, people still want to know about Adebisi’s hat.

At #9 we have “rubicon finale.” Rubicon makes 8 more appearances on the list, which suggests more people read about it on my blog than actually watched the show.

Finally, #10 is “glee autotune,” which needs no explanation.

There are two searches that show up every year. First is what I’d call the “naked lady” search … people looking to see nude photos of their favorite actresses (or, rarely, actors). There are no such pictures on this blog, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. The highest-ranking such search term is Naked Lady Search Hall of Famer Kristin Proctor … here’s a list of everyone who got at least three visits from people looking for nudity:

Kristin Proctor, Christina Hendricks, Robin Weigert, Jenny Agutter, Henry Simmons, Polly Walker, Huey Lewis, Marianne Faithfull, Milton Berle, and Silas Botwin.

A few notes … the list is shorter than usual, there are more men on the list than usual, and despite her, to my knowledge, only nude scene occurring almost 8 years ago (a few seconds in one episode of The Wire), Kristin Proctor totally rules this list, not only as the highest-ranked celebrity, but also because she appears a total of 18 times in various search attempts.

The other annual search term is, of course, Milton Berle and his legendary penis. Uncle Miltie turns up 13 times, as “how big was milton berle,” “milton berle penis,” “milton berle penis photo,” “milton berle legend,” “milton berle big,” “milton berle’s penis,” “milton berle how big,” “milton berle penis pictures,” “pictures of milton berle penis,” “milton berle nude,” “milton berle penis pics,” “milton berle’s cock,” and “pictures of milton berle’s penis.” The man’s been dead since 2002 … clearly, his organ is longer lasting than even Adebisi’s hat or Kristin Proctor’s bosom.


why the world cup isn’t the place to find the best soccer

Jonathan Wilson explains, and while I am a mere toddler compared to Wilson when it comes to soccer analysis, I will note that I’ve kept World Cup blogs for the last two events, and many have felt my general tone in those blogs was too negative, so it’s nice to hear someone intelligent saying the same thing with more authority:

[T]he World Cup is no longer a bellwether. …

That, perhaps, has been the most shocking aspect of the year; the realisation of just how far international football lags behind club football. It used to be that the World Cup served almost as a conference at which delegates arrived from all round the world and exchanged ideas … The main lesson of this summer's tournament, though, was that 4-4-2 has been superseded by 4-2-3-1 as the universal default, something that has been apparent in club football for several years. …

The question then is why the mind‑set was so negative, and the worrying thing is that it is probably inherent in international football. With limited time available to develop mutual understanding, most coaches focus on developing defensive cohesion. Equally, the limited number of games played in international football – around a dozen a season, of which half are friendlies – means the stakes are higher for each, and that makes managers more cautious. The result is coaches packing men behind the ball and hoping for an individual to change the game. …

The general negativity, resulting in a lack of quality and drama, is a serious issue for the World Cup. There hasn't been a great game since 1998 – Italy's win over Germany in the 2006 semi-finals might just about qualify as very good – and if that trend continues you wonder how long public interest will hold up. …

The greatest football is still that played by teams that have been nurtured and developed from an early age, so that players have an almost organic understanding of where they should move and where their team-mates are moving …

At national level, meanwhile, the sort of time it takes to create a team like Barça's simply doesn't exist. If there has been one lesson from 2010, it is that the gulf between club and international football is vast, and getting wider.


what i watched last week

The Kids Are All Right. I wanted to like this film … that’s too harsh, I did like this film. But, as my final rating indicates, I didn’t love it. There is plenty to love, to be sure, in particular the acting by all of the leads (and while it’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t require a mention, both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore look their age, they’re Annette Bening and Julianne Moore so of course they look wonderful, but they have wrinkles, and their faces aren’t frozen … does wonders for your acting chops). Director Lisa Cholodenko has a canny eye for how a scene should be played, and while the movie has a bit too much of the “everyone will like our movie, not just lesbians” feel, they do throw in gay porn and dildos. My biggest problem is that the movie is reputedly a comedy, but the critics who say it’s hilarious are seriously over-reaching. It has its moments, but its charms are mostly low-key, and the humor is far from the best thing about the movie. It’s easy to recommend this movie, but outside of the acting, it doesn’t deserve all of the hosannas it is getting. 7/10.