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squeaky wheel

We saw Syriana at an AMC theatre. The print was horrible, with more than a dozen scratches across the width of the screen that persisted for the entire movie. After the movie was over, I complained and they gave me a free pass for another movie. Let this be a lesson to you.


oscar run viii: syriana

I've mentioned before that I often lose track of the plots when I watch spy thrillers. This happens to me with a vengeance in Syriana, which is willfully confusing, so much so that even people who have no problem with complicated thrillers will be scratching their heads.

A case can be made that our confusion is appropriate. Syriana takes on the field of international relations, working oil companies, Middle Eastern potentates, the Chinese government, the CIA, fundamentalist revolutionaries, and more into the narrative. The filmmakers make no effort to sort this stuff out, not because they are incompetent, but rather because confusion is a central part of the lives of everyone involved in the story. As we in the audience try to make sense of what we're seeing, we realize how it is that our government and our business leaders get away with so much: the threads are so labyrinthine that we can't unravel them, so we eat some more burgers and watch some more teevee.

Having said all that, the resulting movie is far from enjoyable. Again, you could argue that it's not supposed to be enjoyable, but when a movie is as hard to understand as a Rubik's cube and the filmmakers give you nothing to grab onto, all the best intentions are overwhelmed by the confusion. There are several plot threads and many, many characters, but not only is little effort made to connect the threads and the characters, the point seems to be that the connections can't be made. I love television series that deal with complex plots and characters, but the shows I like, such as The Wire, take care to make sure we clearly understand implications, even as our intelligence in understanding is assumed. Syriana seems to say that no matter how intelligent we are, we'll never understand.

As for the Oscars, we'll know more in a couple of days, but I'd guess George Clooney has a shot at a supporting actor nom ... he's terrific ... and the script might impress some, as well.


and you thought the san jose clash was a bad name

The MLS team formerly known as the San Jose Earthquakes, who left for Houston in part because of the many Mexican-American fans down there who have shown in the past they will attend quality soccer matches, have announced their new team name:

Houston 1836

According to the New York Times, the name was chosen to honor the year of the founding of Houston. Unfortunately for the new club,

Eighteen thirty-six also happens to be the year that a group of English-speaking interlopers waged a war of secession that resulted in Mexico's loss of Texas, ushering in more than a century of violence and discrimination against Mexicans in the state....

"Clearly, not enough homework was put into this,' said Paco Bendaña, a prominent Houston-based authority on marketing to Latinos. 'Historically speaking, 1836 is not something we celebrate." ...

Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, said he saw irony in the choice of a name that could be gung-ho for Anglos while insulting to Latinos.

"It's unfortunate because sport is an integrating mechanism in society, and unintentionally or not this is a blunder," Mr. Mindiola said. "Do they think we're going to wear a T-shirt with the year 1836 on it?"

Enjoy year team, assholes.


futon's 50

Each year the Futon Critic posts their list of the top 50 episodes of the year. Here is the list, edited down to include only the ones I saw, with links to any blog posts I made during the year.

50. "n.y.p.d. blue: moving day" ... The final episode.

46. "the office: the alliance" ... I don't recall the specific episode, but the continuing quality of the show has been a nice surprise.

44. "deadwood: a lie agreed upon, part 1" ... Season two begins.

43. "battlestar galactica: kobol's last gleaming, part 2" ... I wasn't watching BSG yet, so I didn't write about this episode at the time, but holy moly was it a good one.

42. "desperate housewives: next" ... My theory was that this show has gone downhill, but apparently my first impressions weren't too good, either.

37. "over there: it's alright ma, i'm only bleeding" ... A decent show, not a great show, but this was an excellent episode.

36. "rescue me: justice" ... A very good show, if not quite a great show, this season finale really poured on the misery.

35. "24: day 4: 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m." ... This was a good episode, but ...

34. "24: day 4: 1:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m." ... This was better. Action Chloe!

33. "rome: the spoils" ... A great and gory fight scene.

24. "prison break: pilot" ... The only episode I managed to watch. Meh.

22. "the shield: ain't that a shame" ... The end of an excellent season (goodbye, Glenn Close).

19. "desperate housewives: one wonderful day"  ... Season finale, not my fave show.

18. "the shield: back in the hole" ... The payoff.

16. "deadwood: childish things" ... "Will we of Deadwood be more than targets for assfucking? To not grab ankle is to declare yourself interested. What's your posture Bullock?"

15. "entourage: exodus" ... You know, this is an OK show, but not nearly as all that as some make it out to be.

14. "everybody hates chris: everyone hates the pilot" ... Good show ... as predicted, though, I've gotten out of the habit of watching, as I do with most sitcoms.

12. "battlestar galactica: pegasus" ... Probably the most disturbing episode yet of this great series.

11. "rome: kalends of february" ... This show got better as things accumulated.

9. "my name is earl: pilot" ... A sitcom I still watch.

8. "the office: diversity day" ... Another.

5. "six feet under: everyone's waiting" ... I didn't like this series as much as some, but it went out with honor.

4. "battlestar galactica: 33" ... Again I wasn't watching yet, but this was a v.good episode.

3. "lost: man of science, man of faith" ... There had to be at least one Lost episode.

1. "house: three stories" ... Interesting in that it singles out an episode from a series that is very formulaic. This episode, of course, broke out of the formula, to great effect.

I might have made room somewhere on this list of the end of Queer As Folk, but the biggest thing that's missing is something from Weeds, although I don't know which episode I'd pick.


pink

Pink has a new video:

"Stupid Girl"

What happened to the dreams of a girl president
She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent
They travel in packs of two or three
With their itsy bitsy doggies and their teeny-weeny tees
Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?
Oh where, oh where could they be?


oscar run vii: batman begins

Batman Begins is certainly an improvement over the two Joel Schumacher films that seemed to destroy the franchise. Once again, the idea is to tap into the darkness that is assumed to lie beneath the story of this particular superhero-who-is-just-a-man, drawing on many of the relatively recent graphic novels that have done so much to color the modern sense of Batman. Batman Begins is fairly successful at this ... Batman is borderline psychotic (although he never really threatens to cross over to the dark side), and if he wasn't already a loner to begin with, the necessities of his life as a superhero take him away from the company of most people. In fact, this movie is about Batman ... it's not about the villain, it's not about special effects, it's about the titular character.

And that's all fine, and since the movie succeeds in its efforts, I'd have to say it's a good movie. To complain that it is not the Tim Burton movies is to miss the point, because it's not trying to be those movies. In Batman, Burton offered a vision of incipient fascism that was too cozy with the notion of the Superhero (capital S). It was a disturbing, even repulsive vision, but it hinted at what's wrong with the notion of the Superhero in the first place. Of course, that film was overwhelmed by the presence of Jack Nicholson, who was delightful but who tipped the movie out of balance. Batman Returns was better ... Michelle Pfeiffer was a terrific Catwoman, and Danny DeVito's Penguin (or was it Tim Burton's Penguin?) was revoltingly dark and disgusting. This was the Batman movie that was truly dark. But the title character faded into the background ... in the first movie it was Nicholson who took our attention from Batman, but in the sequel, the entire movie was suffused with the Penguin's awful, miserable worldview.

Batman Begins takes a different approach ... the one in misery is the hero. As I say, there is no need to compare it to Batman Returns, except to note that they are different movies. For me, Batman Returns has a depth that is lacking in the new film, but Batman Begins suggests better sequels ... there was nothing to do after Batman Returns other than succumb to camp.


irony

Last night I did an interview about blogging that will appear soon on the web. At one point, the interviewer noted that I wrote about a lot of personal things, and asked if my family and friends were bothered by this. I said that I didn't know that they were bothered, but in any event, I filtered what I wrote, that even though this blog gives the appearance of being unfiltered (because I talk about things others don't), I have lines I don't cross.

Ironically, as I was saying this, a recent post of mine was in fact causing distress amongst my family. The response was immediate, and obivious from the start in the comments section, where first my own two kids posted comments that were part good-natured teasing, part geez-dad-too-much-information. Then my niece chimed in, suggesting I'd have been better off not posting at all. Meanwhile, another of my relatives was disturbed enough to remove this blog from the blogroll on their own site.

That post is gone now ... I've deleted it, so if you didn't see it before, you're out of luck, or in luck, depending on the point of view. This is not the first time I've deleted posts retroactively. In each case, I have been made aware that others have been hurt by the post in question, and they are people that matter to me (that is, if George Bush didn't like one of my posts, I wouldn't delete it, I'd post more like it).

The only purpose of this post is to explain the absence of the earlier post.


friday random ten

1. Helen Stellar, "Io (This Time Around)." From the soundtrack to Elizabethtown, and with that I've told you everything I know about the song.

2. Reverend D.C. Rice and His Sanctified Congregation, "I'm in the Battlefield for My Lord." From Harry Smith's anthology.

3. The The, "Uncertain Smile." A lot of my music cataloging software doesn't understand the function of the word "the" when it comes to alphabetizing, so if I want music sorted by artist, I have to leave off the word "the," like "Rolling Stones" instead of "The Rolling Stones." Which explains why this song is by "The."

4. Björk, "Venus As a Boy." This track is 4:42; after listening to it, I still haven't come up with anything insightful to say about it.

5. Kanye West, "Drive Slow." "My car's like the movies, my car's like the crib, I got more teevees in here then where I live."

6. Joni Mitchell, "Rainy Night House." In the days before shuffle play, you didn't often go from Kanye to Joni.

7. American Music Club, "Fearless." The title of a very good movie that no one talks about.

8. Bronski Beat, "Smalltown Boy." Still sounds great.

9. The Reckless Penguins, "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals." R. Stevie Moore on lead guitar.

10. The Charlatans, "Alabama Bound." The party line is that the Charlatans never managed to get their live greatness on record. While the sound on this is tinny, I've always loved their take on the song.


time flies

I'm not the biggest fan of college basketball ... you'd have to check out Charlie's blog for that ... but I pay attention to what's happening with Cal. I spent almost 20 years there, as a student and teacher, and had many men and women basketball players as students during that time, but even that doesn't quite suggest the longevity of my connection. I'm old enough to remember when Cal won the men's NCAA title back in 1959 over a Jerry West-led West Virginia.

But this post isn't really about college basketball ... it's about me, like everything on this blog. And it's about one of my most frequent topics, Steven Getting Old.

It's weird, because it doesn't necessarily make me feel old to know that I was around for Cal's last NCAA title, or that Jerry West was in college at the time. It was so long ago, and I was so young, that it barely registers on the Getting Old meter.

No, what made me feel old was reading today's Chronicle and realizing that today is the 20th anniversary of the game where Cal's men beat UCLA after losing to them for 25 years and 52 games. Because I can remember that game as if it were yesterday, which means it registers very highly on the How Time Flies meter (aka Steven's Getting Old).

The spring semester in 1986 was my first as a Cal student. I had spent my childhood sleeping under a blue blanket with a gold "C" and a picture of Oski the Bear on the outside, and especially considering how long it had taken me to get there (I was 32 years old on January 25, 1986), finally entering Cal was a big deal in my life. Less than two years before, I was still working in a factory ... now I was a Cal student. I could perhaps be forgiven for thinking my life had taken a turn for the better ... I could also perhaps be forgiven for thinking there was no way in hell I belonged at Cal after ten years in a factory and a spell in junior college.

Which takes us to January 25, 1986. I can't remember any longer if I'd already been to a few classes ... the date suggests the semester had already begun, but even then, it was barely a week or two old, so I was still feeling like a newbie. I sat down in front of my teevee to watch Cal and UCLA ... we still lived on Prince Street then, the television was in the bedroom-sized room next to the downstairs bathroom ... and for the buildup to the game, you can read the article in the Chron. Suffice to say that Cal hadn't beaten UCLA in men's basketball since before I was ten, UCLA had Reggie Miller, and even though many felt this was the year the streak would end, I can't say I was one of those people.

And then, again as nicely told in the Chronicle piece, Cal actually did beat UCLA in a thrilling game. And I had nothing to do with the win, of course, but considering that blanket from my youth, and considering I'd just begun my academic career at Cal, perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking this was an omen, that Cal and I were connected on some hidden level, that Cal had beaten UCLA and I was going to succeed in the classroom.

Which I did, first as an undergrad, then as a grad student, finally as a teacher, all of which might help folks understand why I still miss the place.

But this is about getting old. And reading that article this morning made me feel very old. Because I really can remember that game against UCLA as if it were the proverbial yesterday. If you had asked me last week when the game took place, I would have said "oh, not that long ago, a few years." When you are 52 years old, "a few years" means something different than it does when you are 32 years old.

If I had looked back 20 years on January 25, 1986, I would have seen a self that was 12 years old, a self that was still 2 1/2 years from meeting Robin, a self that was still in junior high school, a self, in other words, that had lived a long long time before 1986. And yet here I am in 2006, and I have now lived as many years after the end of the streak as I had between 1966 and 1986. A long long time.

When the stuff you remember as if it were yesterday happened twenty years ago, you're getting old.


oscar run vi: mad hot ballroom

Mad Hot Ballroom comes highly recommended, and it's easy to see why. It's an audience-pleasing documentary about fifth-grade ballroom dancers that is adorable without often being smarmy. Many of the kids are delightful, not just as dancers, but as people, which we learn during several brief chat sessions where the youngsters offer their views on life. It's pretty contagious ... I can see now why my daughter, for instance, insisted we watch it ... you see it and you want to tell others about it.

Which isn't going to stop me from complaining, of course. First and foremost, Mad Hot Ballroom isn't only about fifth-grade ballroom dancers, it's about a dance competition amongst those fifth-graders. The film effectively sets up the finals of the competition so that we're truly happy for the winners, but outside of a one token discussion scene and one telling shot of one of the losing teams in the finals, there is little here to suggest that perhaps fifth graders could enjoy dancing without turning it into a competition. The adults in the film are often scary in their desire for victory. Many of them give their lives over to these kids, and I wouldn't go so far as to say they are bad for the youngsters ... they're not abusive, they are in fact quite loving. But winning the trophy, or rather, pushing the kids to win the trophy, is a little too important for these adults.

The film also skirts too precociously around the issue of sex. I'm not sure sex is a necessary topic for a movie about fifth-graders, but the fact remains, most of the dances performed by the kids in the movie are, when done by adults, very sexy ... the merengue, the tango, the rumba. Part of the fun of watching the movie is seeing the pre-teens wiggling their hips ... the kids are v.innocent, as is the movie, but it doesn't take a middle-aged lecher to also see that something is off here, not exactly exploitation, but something.

So it's a good movie, most people will enjoy it, and I imagine most people will think I'm crazy for even raising some negative issues. But those issues exist.