Previous month:
September 2009
Next month:
November 2009

do i have a dog in this hunt?

To be honest, I never remember those sayings … dog in the hunt, is that it? Anyway, the World Series begins this week. I’ll be rooting for the Phillies … I’d prefer to have no dog in the hunt so I could just enjoy the games, but … well, I won’t be rooting for the Phils, I’ll be rooting against the Yankees.

The Phillies don’t interest me all that much. My primary attachment to them is that my friend Charlie is a fan, and I hope it works out for him again this year. I actually know more Yankee fans than Philly fans, and so I apologize in advance for not wishing their team well.

It’s not about the money the Yanks spend … I don’t care. But the best team in any sport (speaking historically) is never likable. The only people who should root for the Yankees are people who root for the Yankees. Their fans love their team just like the rest of us do, and more power to them … the Yankee fans I know are all great people. But the rest of us should root against established power. The Yankees have a billion championships; that is reason enough to hate them, if you aren’t already a fan of the team. I don’t hate them the way I hate the Dodgers … if the Yankees had the track record of the Kansas City Royals, I wouldn’t hate them, but no matter what the Dodgers’ history, I hate them. With the Yanks, though, it’s all about rooting against the behemoth.

Having said that, I will add that I hope A-Rod has a stellar Series. This whole “can’t do it in the clutch” bullshit is, well, bullshit. Fans of Barry used to listen to the same thing, until he kicked serious ass in the post-season, after which everyone forgot how sure they were of their accusations of choking. Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson was an average-at-best post-season performer until he hit those famous homeruns in the ‘77 World Series … in fact, in the ALCS prior to that Series, he hit .125 with no extra-base hits. It’s all about the small sample size, folks. Prior to this year’s post-season, A-Rod had proven over the course of over 2000 major-league games that he one of the great hitters of all time. Yet people looked at 39 post-season games and decided they were more indicative of his abilities than the other 2000 games. So it’s nice seeing him poke a stick in the eye of those idiots.

pointless stathead analysis of me and the wild things

All info from MovieLens, where I have rated 1306 movies (it may not be the best or most accurate, but it does more stuff like sorting my ratings).

Average rating for children’s movies: 6.4/10

Average rating for fantasy movies: 6.82

Rating for Where the Wild Things Are: 7

Rating for two other movies Spike Jonze directed: 8 each

Rating for Three Kings, with Jonze in a supporting role: 9

Conclusion from data: I liked Wild Things more than I normally do with children’s or fantasy movies, but less than I liked Jonze’s other movies.

Context, or, once I get started, I can’t stop: the only movies categorized as both children’s and fantasy which got a 10/10 rating from me: The Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio. Only such movies to get a 1/10 rating from me: The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. Number of “children’s and fantasy” movies I have rated: 28. Number of those I rated higher than Wild Things: 7.

what i watched last week

Pineapple Express. Freaks and Geeks remains the greatest work to ever come out of the Judd Apatow universe. James Franco was one of the best things about that show, and he is easily the best thing about Pineapple Express. Apparently Seth Rogen was originally supposed to play the stoner/dealer, but Franco did a read for the part and won it immediately. It’s a bit startling to discover this bit of trivia, since Franco’s dealer here is largely an extension of his character from the TV series … who would have thought to cast him otherwise? There’s a funny bit involving Franco’s foot and a car chase, some amiable stoner humor, and a ridiculous final shootout that removes whatever good feelings you might have had about the film. 6/10, although as usual with this kind of movie, you should add a point or two to the rating if you think modern comedies are hilarious.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. What is it about Buster Keaton’s silent classics that I love, esp. compared to modern comedies that often don’t connect for me? I don’t have an answer. There are the moments in Keaton films that fill you with awe … you can imagine Jackie Chan watching them over and over. James Franco’s foot in the Pineapple Express chase scene was funny, in part because it was unpredictable. But most “jokes” today are far too predictable, placing actors into funny situations but then rarely going beyond the most obvious jokes. Adam Sandler and Bob Barker fighting in Happy Gilmore … it’s a funny idea, you can see why they thought it up and why people enjoy talking about it, but it runs for more than a minute, and the entire joke is taken care of in the first ten seconds, when Bob hits back. The rest of the scene isn’t even necessary … it’s a setup for a line that isn’t all that funny (“the price is wrong, bitch”). Keaton’s best movies have no wasted moments. But you have to see Keaton to believe it … reading that he did a stunt that could easily have killed him doesn’t have any impact at all compared to seeing it on the screen. With something like Barker vs. Sandler, you can reproduce the pleasure of the scene while sitting at the dinner table, where it will be funny, to be sure, just about as funny as when you saw it the first time, but a movie with seven funny moments isn’t a funny movie unless it’s only 6 minutes long. Meanwhile, Keaton is my favorite movie comedian because he rarely muddies his movies with sappy crap the way Chaplin does. The father-son relationship in Steamboat Bill, Jr. has resonance, but it’s not milked for the emotion, it never gets in the way, it just augments the story. This one shows up amongst the leaders whenever I try to concoct a Best Movies Ever list. Shot around the Sacramento River. 10/10. #327 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. You can watch the entire movie on YouTube, but the print sux, as do all of the ones with particular scenes. But I’ll toss this in because I probably should. Yes, the wall was real.

The World According to Garp. Although I have a PhD in English, I’m not a big reader of literature, preferring non-fiction when I read, and preferring movies and television for fiction. I was a film major in my first attempts at college, I got my B.A. in American Studies, and I spent one year at Cal teaching Mass Communications. Still, there was a time when I read far more fiction than I do now. If I had to guess why that time has passed, I’d say that I get my genre fix from TV, and my taste in “serious” literature is old-fashioned, that is, I’m almost completely uninterested in postmodern literature. I want a novel to tell a story and to tell it clearly … that quit being fashionable somewhere along the line, and I quit reading fiction. The World According to Garp was an old-fashioned novel, long and full of life and death. It was also almost surreal in places, but the weirdness was held in place by the normalness of the writing. The movie version is rather like reading a synopsis of the book, minus the part where they talk about themes. We see various scenes from the book, and they mostly work on an individual basis, but they don’t fall together the way the book does. The novel has its critics, to be sure, but John Irving has a vision, one full of death and random destruction. In showing only the highlights, the movie demonstrates its own lack of a vision. 6/10. Amazingly, it ranks #844 on the They Shoot Pictures list.

Where the Wild Things Are. 7/10.

where the wild things are

Sometimes you come across a work of art that you recognize for its greatness, even though you don’t necessarily care for it. The film version of Where the Wild Things Are is quite successful at what it sets out to accomplish; that I wasn’t totally thrilled falls under the cliché of saying more about me than about the movie. Max Records is a real find as Max, the voice actors are strong, the creatures marvels of technology, so much so that you forget they aren’t “real” wild things. I’m just not convinced its a movie for me.

Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers have been accused of making a kids’ movie that isn’t for kids, and they’ve basically agreed with that assessment. But it’s a misreading of the film … it isn’t a kids’ movie at all, it’s a movie by adults about adult perceptions of childhood. There’s no reason to keep your kids from watching this movie, but I don’t imagine they’d like it much. Maurice Sendak magically transformed his own visions of childhood into something kids related to on a very fundamental level. Jonze/Eggers also offer their visions of childhood, but don’t bother connecting it to actual kids. It isn’t a movie about Max, it’s a movie about Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers.

And they do a fine job. If you want to see what these pushing-middle-age men think about childhood, this film is right up your alley. If you want to see what childhood is like, I don’t know that you’d want to start here, which is why the arguments about whether the film is “for kids” is misplaced … the filmmakers don’t really care about kids as much as they care about their nostalgia for being kids.

Kim Nicolini, in a provocative review of the film, claims that the central theme is the shattered dreams of 60s counterculture utopians. I’d move that forward a bit in time … it’s about people who refuse to grow up, which certainly includes those utopians, but more importantly, includes all of the people born since that time whose self-absorption isolates them from everyone else. The movie Max is a little shit who gets violent when people forget to pay attention to him … he goes to his fantasy land, where wild things do whatever the hell they please, worried mainly about whether anyone is paying attention to them.

Spike Jonze is an artist who has created a personal vision in his films. He is uncompromising, yet works the system well enough to get top stars to work in his movies. Getting major studios to spend $80 million on a movie like this takes real skill. I admire his dedication. But that doesn’t mean I think Where the Wild Things Are is a great movie. It makes for interesting post-viewing conversation, and has much to recommend it. If the above sounds good to you, add a point or two to my rating of 7/10.

i read the news today, oh boy

Daniel Fienberg on Dollhouse:

Every carefully crafted, richly layered episode makes me more ticked off about the first half of last season …

Every time I've been convinced that "Dollhouse" was on the right track and every time I've written stories talking about building momentum, there's been a step backwards. "Dollhouse" is too fragile a show to withstand that kind of frequent backsliding and the blame there can't necessarily be put on FOX or on the challenges of Friday night.

Oh "Dollhouse." You sometimes make it tough to love you. Or even like you all that much.

Charlie Jane Anders on Dollhouse:

I've championed Dollhouse not just because of its many moments of greatness, but also because of its potential — which is much greater than almost any other television show possesses. Dollhouse's concept, and its dark, complex characters, open up so many possibilities for storytelling about the stuff that we're all dealing with in our lives — the people who want to turn us into what they want us to be, the compromises we all make to get along — that if this show lives up to even a fraction of its potential, it will be legendary.

friday random ten, 2000 edition

1. OutKast, “So Fresh, So Clean.” The album went quadruple-platinum. I think that means it sold 4 million copies.

2. Kronos Quartet, “Winter: Lux Aeterna.” Even if you don’t think you know this one, you know it, as it has become ubiquitous over the years. You’ll think it was written hundreds of years ago, but you’ll be wrong.

3. Sleater-Kinney, “Youth Decay.” So many to choose from, but in the running for my fave S-K song ever. Janet is a goddess.

4. Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope and Dreams.” The one new song from the Reunion Tour, which seems so long ago now.

5. Coldplay, “Yellow.” Speaking of ubiquitous. When Coldplay got noticed, which is good or bad depending on whether you like them.

6. Afroman, “Because I Got High.” Heard a dozen times a day, it got old fast. Heard once a year, not so bad.

7. N’ Sync, “Bye Bye Bye.” I’ve told this story many times, but back when boy bands were a dime a dozen, my son told me Justin Timberlake was gonna be around for the long haul. BTW, whoever cast that one season of Mickey Mouse Club that had Justin, Xtina and Britney deserves a raise.

8. Robert Downey, Jr., “River.” Ally McBeal was a quirky show that, over time, became tired, as quirky shows often do. Then they brought in Robert Downey, Jr. My brother said he was going to start watching the show, solely because of Downey. I thought that was silly … I mean, I liked Downey, but still. So, of course, he completely revitalized the show. And then he fell off the wagon. Hopefully there’s finally a happy ending for him. Oh, and he can sing.

9. Aaliyah, “Try Again.” She was a huge star, but I feel like I don’t know anything about her, which I assume would not be true if she were still alive.

10. Baha Men, “Who Let the Dogs Out? No, Afroman didn’t concoct the silliest song of 2000. Another song that was good at first, then bad after being overplayed, now worthy of an occasional listen. Sports fans have fonder memories of this than most people, I’d wager … I know when I hear of it, I think of that first season at the Giants’ new ballpark.

i read the news today, oh boy

Matt Taibbi:

I’m personally of the opinion that our main problem lay with the fact that the Democratic Party as currently constituted is more afraid of losing the financial support of Wall Street and the health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry than it is of losing progressive voters. In fact, I think I’ve put that wrong, because it implies that the Democratic Party pushes the agenda of industry insiders out of fear. That is a misread of the situation, I think.

I think they prefer those people to their voters. I think they feel more comfortable with them. …

[W]e have problems whose solutions involve taking on powerful interests, political challenges that will necessarily involve prolonged and hard-fought conflicts, but what we have in the Democratic Party is an organization dedicated to avoiding such conflicts and resolving issues in the manner of a corporate board, in closed meetings with the chief cardholders where things get hashed out to the satisfaction of everyone present. [emphasis added]

windows 7 update

I can’t do these every few hours … I should at least wait until I have something new to tell. But here’s what the first 14 hours have been like.

I decided to take the plunge, and being lazy, I opted for the Download+Disc option. Not sure why I bothered with the disc, but I was feeling paranoid. I had the idea of checking at 9:00 PM, since that would be midnight on the East Coast, and sure enough, Win 7 was available for download. (Slight tangent: as I was typing that last sentence, my wallpaper changed … looks like there’s a slideshow option.)

It was 2.5 gig or something like that, but by 10:00 I had it. My only real prep was to delete all unused software from the hard drive a couple of days ago … didn’t really worry about data and media files, since I store those on a separate drive anyway. The install quit fairly quickly, telling me to uninstall a couple of incompatible programs (one was iTunes …. hahahahahaha!). I stayed up until just past 2:00, but even then it was only 2/3 of the way through the final steps, so I went to bed. Woke up early in the morning, checked to see the progress, saw that it was done, posted a quickie to the blog, and went back to bed.

Got back up around 8:30 and have been playing ever since. (I haven’t been quite as diligent as I might have otherwise, since in the when-it-rains-it-pours category, Comcast finally got around to giving us those extra 60 or so HD channels, so I’m playing with that as well … yes, Katie, that means I’ll finally contact Comcast about the new outlet). It’s way too soon to say anything, but …

Was upgrading from Vista … didn’t do a clean install. Gave my favorite software a run to make sure it worked (Football Manager, Windows Live Writer, Google Chrome, Zune). Only real problem so far was with sound, but this wasn’t new to Win7 … I’ve had problems with driver updates on my sound card for some time, and finally just gave up and went back to an older driver, but the new one got reinstalled in the Win7 upgrade, so I had no sound. I was worried, since I had used the restore function in Vista to get me back to drivers that worked, and I have no idea how Win7 does that. I found something that listed all driver versions on my hard drive, though, and had Win7 reinstall an older one, and now my sound is back.

I haven’t tried my printer yet, but then, I hardly ever use it so it can wait. The initial changes seem cosmetic … I can’t say much about whether or not it runs “better.” For now, suffice to say that it seems to be working fine, and that’s good enough until I have time to fiddle with it a bit. This may indeed be the first version of Windows to surpass Mac OS, but I have no idea so far.

what am us, anyway (spanish-american division)

I was reading an essay by Ilan Stavans about Cabeza de Vaca and came across this:

[A]nthologies and literary histories often name Cabeza de Vaca as the “first Latino writer” – a problematic label, given that most accounts of Latino identity stress mestizo origins, whereas he was a Spaniard with nothing to say on the topic of intermarriage.

This got me thinking once again about my identity. I am Spanish-American, 50/50, and there aren’t a lot of us. Wikipedia has this to say about Spanish Americans (no hyphen … I don’t know why):

The decrease in the flow of Spaniards to the United States in recent decades, combined with their ability and willingness to form part of both the Hispanic sector and the society at large, has largely obscured any specifically Spanish presence in the States. As Europeans, Spaniards are the Hispanics who are the least different from the country's predominantly European cultural and racial origins; they are often perceived as less alien than other ethnic groups, and are more readily accepted into American society.

There is also a Wiki-page, “List of Spanish Americans,” that defines us as “European Americans who have predominantly Spanish (European) ancestry. Also, people who claim ‘Spanish’ or ‘Spaniard’ as one of their two ethnic ancestries are also included in this list, e.g.: Martin Sheen.” (Among the listees: Lynda Carter, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Garcia, and Keith Hernandez.)

I thought to ask Google “are spaniards …” but I wasn’t sure how to finish that. Hispanic? Latino? But when I typed “are spaniards” into Google, the first suggested auto-fill was “white.” And that’s funny, because while I often wonder “what am I,” I never think I’m not white. I get all of the advantages our society offers to white people … no one would look at me and think I wasn’t “white” (in part, I suppose, because there aren’t very many of “us” … people probably think I’m Italian-American). But apparently Google assumes the question I want answered is “are Spaniards white?”

I got stuff like this, in answer to someone’s query, “Are Spaniards white or Hispanic?” “Hispanic, most spaniards are brownish. Many of them are in denial though and like to tell people they are ‘white’, but its not true. They are dark.”

As far as I can tell, “Hispanic” is used by the U.S. census as an identifier. Their definition of “Hispanic” changes every ten years, apparently, so they don’t really know what one is, either. These days, “Hispanic or Latino” is used, I think. (If you’ve read this far, you can probably tell I’m confused.)

So … am I Latino? I don’t think so, that seems like a co-option of cultures I don’t deserve. Am I Hispanic? I usually say yes on forms I fill out, but as the above demonstrates, I don’t really know what Hispanic is. As for the most accurate description of my background, “Spanish-American” (with or without hyphen), I’m not sure I feel a kinship with Lynda Carter and Keith Hernandez. Although maybe I should reconsider Hernandez … his grandfather was from Malaga.