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what i watched last week

Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, 2009). Anime movie with a plot that I could follow (think War Games with cool animation), which isn’t always the case in that genre. The rom-com elements are a bit cheesy, but the fantasy cyber world looks amazing and inventive. Watching this is like eating a bowl of Fruit Loops. I like Fruit Loops. 7/10.

L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960). #17 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #41 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). #16 on my Facebook list. #2 on the TSPDT list (yes, you read that right, #2). 10/10.


penalties

It’s a sign of how much the U.S. women’s team seems to have caught the attention of American sports fans that, as soon as the final match was over, I heard from two family members, sports fans but not soccer fans.

Of course, Japanese fans are a lot happier right now, and we’re hearing about how they were a team of destiny, bringing hope to a country with more than its share of problems right now. I prefer to think of them as a supremely skilled team whose “never say die” spirit manifested itself in a different way than I’m used to. The Americans, always with a bit of a swagger, welcoming the dramatic moment … that’s how we usually see “never say die.” The Japanese went about it in their own way, by refusing to be taken out of their game. As my son said, “the patience by them was amazing even down to the very end.” It takes a lot of confidence to be able to continue the approach that has been successful for you, when the clock suggests you should hurry up.

If I had a favorite player in this World Cup … well, none of us with ties to Cal can go without giving a “Go Bears!” shout out to Alex Morgan. But my favorite was Megan Rapinoe. I love to watch the great players, no matter their position, whether it’s Messi or Maradona or Marta or Paulo Maldini. But my favorite position, all else being equal, is winger. Wingers aren’t used as often in the modern game, and when they do appear, they have a different function than in the past. Wingbacks do a lot of the work of the old wingers, marauding down the side, beating defenders, placing the perfect cross. But wingbacks are still mostly defensive, and, in a time when every player is asked to perform multiple functions, offensively and defensively, the old wingers, who cared little for defense but just scurried down the wing, are out of fashion. You’ll get forwards and midfielders who will slide to the wing … Cristiano Ronaldo does this a lot … but they aren’t hauling ass up and down the wings. Ryan Giggs in his prime, now that’s a winger.

So I really enjoyed watching Rapinoe cavorting on the left wing. She didn’t play a lot of defense, but she beat defenders and put in some lovely crosses. Was Rapinoe the best player on the field? Nope. But she was my favorite.

I can’t let the final go by without pointing out the way both teams played a clean game. There were no cards at all until extra time, because the players weren’t committing cardable offenses. The one, late, red card was deserved, but I don’t know that any defender would have let the attacker pass them by, at that time with that score. No one on either team complained … they all understood.

I often say that, if I don’t have a rooting interest, I just want an entertaining match. Well, I got one. Unfortunately, I did have a rooting interest, and my team lost. I imagine 20 years down the road, though, those women will be proud of their efforts, proud to say they played in that game, even as ultimate losers.


music friday: james brown

In honor of opening their service up to the United States, Spotify offered up a playlist, 146 tracks, 10 hours of music, and called it “Hello, America. Spotify here.” Just eyeballing the list … there are no black artists until Kanye shows up, ten songs in. It takes another 16 tracks before another African-American performer appears, James Brown with “Living in America.” I could go through the whole list, but you get the idea. Perhaps I’m noticing this more than usual after seeing the Emmy nominations this morning:

  • Six actresses nominated for Best Lead Actress in a comedy series. All of them white.
  • Lead comedy actor: all white.
  • Supporting comedy actress: five white women and Sofia Vergara.
  • Supporting comedy actor: all white.
  • Best Lead actress in a drama: all white.
  • Lead actor in a drama: all white.
  • Best supporting actress, drama: five white woman and Archie Panjabi, an English woman with Indian parents.
  • Best supporting actor, drama: five white guys and Andre Braugher.

That’s 48 nominees, one African-American.

I think it’s time for some James Brown. Here is his classic appearance in the movie Ski Party. This film was important for two reasons. One, it was just like all the other beach-party movies of the 60s, except it took place in the snow. Two, James Brown and the Famous Flames just happened to stop by the ski lodge.

You prefer high culture? This is just as ridiculous in its way as Ski Party:

Fuck it … here’s what y’all have been waiting for. Welcome to America, Spotify:


spotify, first impressions

Spotify finally made it to the United States, and I gave it a test run this morning. A quick test run … created a playlist of 13 tracks running about an hour. My comparison will be to Rhapsody; I signed up for the most expensive service, “Premium” ($9.99), because it was the most comparable to what I get from Rhapsody for the same price. I use other music services, most notably MOG, but until now, Rhapsody was the only one that allowed me to blend my own music library with the one offered by the service. Usually, the services are compared by looking at the size of their catalog, but no matter how big the catalog, none of them include hold-out artists like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, so being able to integrate my own collection is a must.

The Spotify interface (Windows version) is drab, but otherwise far more elegant than Rhapsody’s (Rhapsody’s desktop software being crap ever since I can remember). It’s too early to know how stable Spotify is, but if it manages to go a full day without crashing, it’s better than Rhapsody. Streaming sound quality is good (up to 320 kbps). It was easy to create a playlist, and Spotify knows how to sort within playlists. Yes, I know, sorting is among the most basic of functions, but after all these years, it is still impossible to sort within playlists in Rhapsody without using a double-secret workaround.

What’s bad? Well, there were a couple of songs that weren’t in the Spotify catalog but that Rhapsody had in theirs. This is crucial, and if it turns out Rhapsody kicks serious butt in this area, that will settle the matter for me. If Spotify can stay close, though, the ease of the UI might convince me to dump Rhapsody. I’ve unsubscribed from the latter more than once, each time because their desktop software was so irritating, but I’ve always come back because of the Rhapsody catalog and the ability to include my own library. After a couple of hours, Spotify looks like a serious contender.

Now to see if I can play Spotify through my Squeezebox Radio.


google+, two weeks in

Last week, I said “Most importantly, Google+ needs more users.” Google isn’t talking, but educated guesses put the number of users over 10 million, about twice as many as were on a week ago. I know my own close circle of participants (pun intended, I guess) has grown some … all but one of my siblings is in, along with 25 or so friends. I’m about the only person amongst those people who is actually posting stuff, although now that I think of it, they might be posting all the time, just in circles from which I am excluded. (This is a good thing; circles work in part because we can sort everyone out so that casual acquaintances don’t have to read about how you went to the grocery store, and the general public won’t see your more personal posts.) More than 100 people have added me to a circle … admittedly, I don’t know most of them.

If I had to make one suggestion/request to G+ users, it would be that they make more use of +1’s. First, you can +1 something on Google+, rather than just adding a now-pointless “I agree” to the comment stream. Second, when you add a +1, it gives the original poster positive feedback (“ost more stuff like this”). Third, you can +1 sites outside of G+ … some have +1 buttons (all of my blog entries now have this option), or you can use third-party scripts like Beautify G+ and add a +1 to any web site.

It would also be nice if people went to their G+ Profiles and made their +1’s public. I understand that for many/most, privacy concerns prevail here … you don’t want everyone to know in such detail the things you like. But when I can see your +1’s, I can click on links and check out stuff you think is good. For instance, my last four +1’s link to an article on Mexican soccer fans, a blog post on Netflix, Doug Henwood on jobs, and Ann Powers on the Black Eyed Peas.

Meanwhile, one interesting side discussion at the moment revolves around the impact Google+ might have on blogging. Blogger and Digg founder Kevin Rose announced that he was setting up his blog to immediately forward people to his Google+ profile, because he gets more and faster feedback on G+. I’m already cross-posting to Google+, although it’s still not easy enough to format and include links there, so things have to go to the blog first. I don’t have any intention of moving this to Google+, but my reasons might be different than more entrepreneurial minded folks. While I love each and every comment I get here (except the spam), and love knowing that someone is out there reading this, this blog isn’t like, say, LiveJournal, something set up to foster communities. This blog is me blathering away about whatever. If I want instant feedback, and I often do, then I’ll be over at Google+. But when I want to write a few hundred words on something, I’ll be here.


a quick note about the franchise

Showtime’s new mini-series about the Giants started tonight. I thought it was great fun, but there’s nothing more to say. Once again, I’ll call on someone else who has already explained how I feel. Tim Goodman:

And hey, if the rest of the country wants to follow the team via this Showtime series, please do. I see the early kinks in the structure of the show but I'm otherwise blinded by bias here. I have faith that The Franchise will tell a bunch of interesting stories and give insight into the clubhouse atmosphere, players at home, etc. And the end result will be that it's absolutely must-see TV. But I say that while writing this with a Giants cap on my head.


u.s. women advance to final, or, go bears!

In a chat yesterday, I asked my sister, who is a big sports fan but who doesn’t care for soccer, if Abby Wambach’s goal in the last seconds against Brazil, which in soccer circles became instantly iconic, had come up in any of her conversations, chats, or water cooler discussions. Yes, she said, and added that she was glad the U.S. won, and would probably pay some attention to their next match on the news, but that she wouldn’t be watching that match. It didn’t make her into a soccer fan, and her interest lies mostly in the part where she is an American and a woman. As she noted, the only female soccer player she could name off the top of her head was Brandi Chastain, for the “sports bra goal” that won the 1999 World Cup 12 years ago.

Any time soccer pushes into the American mainstream for a moment or two, people think/hope that the time has finally arrived for soccer in America. This misses the point, since soccer arrived in America a long time ago, just not always in ways we understand the question. Immigrants are often big fans … ESPN Magazine recently ran a long essay subtitled “The best fans in America don’t root for an American team” (it was about fans of the Mexican national soccer team). And while TV ratings aren’t always the best, MLS is more successful than non-fans realize. The league is in its 16th season, it has expanded to 18 clubs, and while league-wide attendance hasn’t shown much growth, it remains at around 16,000 per match. Seattle drew an average of more than 36,000 last year, and more than 37,000 so far this season.

But soccer in America is a lot like indie rock in the 80s: bigger than a cult, but mostly ignored by the mainstream. And there is nothing wrong with that. American soccer doesn’t need for Abby Wambach to score a goal in the 122nd minute to prove it has “arrived.”

ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Cup has been OK. Thanks to the wonderful accident of being the play-by-play man for both Landon Donovan’s thrilling goal in the 2010 World Cup and for Wambach’s equally thrilling goal in the current tournament, Ian Darke has come out of nowhere to be the voice of American soccer. Darke hasn’t come from nowhere, of course … he was a longtime fixture in English sports announcing. But I dare say most Americans had never heard of Darke before his call on Donovan’s goal ensured he would forever be heard on YouTube. Now he has another YouTube classic. Darke isn’t just lucky, though, he is good. His partner, Julie Foudy, has been solid as well. She uses words like “we” and “us” and “our” too frequently … she could learn something from her English partner, who acknowledges that his audience is American without personally identifying with the team … but her analysis is often insightful, and while like most ex-jocks she relies on personal anecdotes, she isn’t nearly as bad at that as some of her male counterparts. Also, Tony DiCicco has done an excellent job of breaking down tactics.

Today’s match against France was a tough one, well-played, mostly lacking in the kind of negative drama that at times infects even the best soccer matches. France outplayed the Americans for most of the match, yet the score was still tied, 1-1, when Wambach’s header put the U.S. on top in the 79th minute. All that was left was for former Cal Bear Alex Morgan to score her first-ever World Cup goal, and the U.S. was in the final.

South America’s continental championship, Copa America, is also running, and while it features some of the greatest players in the game today, including Leo Messi, the matches thus far have been a mixed bag. For at least a few more days, the women’s game takes precedence, in my house, at least.


another look at the killing

A few days ago, FlowTV ran an interesting piece by Kristen Warner and Lisa Schmidt that took a different look at the series, and its much-commented-on season finale. In “Reconsidering The Killing as a Feminine Narrative Form,” Warner and Schmidt argue that “The Killing allowed its melodramatic emotion – not to mention the camerawork – to linger beyond the boundaries of its official generic conventions and connect itself to another genre that is closely associated with television: the daytime soap opera.” They note:

Sud’s series functions with a similar serialization strategy that withholds narrative closure: the focus on the pathos of the characters more than on the logic of policework; the emphasis on Seattle’s never-ending rainy season (tears anyone?) rather than on naturalistic settings; the insistence on sudden histrionic verbal exchanges between characters where no new information is provided rather than on perfunctory dialogue used to advance the narrative.

All of these choices are found in the daytime soap — which ultimately speaks to the strategy of viewing The Killing through a feminine lens.

They add, in a commentary on a piece by one of the many critics of the show’s finale, “Sure, this critic was absolutely spot-on in pointing out how illogical and perhaps occasionally absurd many of the narrative turns and dialogue were in the episode. But this immediately calls to mind the soap opera, a genre whose storylines and dialogue indeed tend to the illogical and the absurd.”

I can buy the central idea that The Killing needs to be seen through a different lens, that the frustration over the lack of resolution re: who killed Rosie is misguided. I admit that I’m not won over by an argument that seems to be in favor of the illogical, absurd storylines and dialogue; that doesn’t sound like good television no matter what genre. But I can also see how the show makes more sense as a soap opera than it does as a procedural, although there is something paradoxical in the idea that the show makes more sense when you accept the illogical and absurd (i.e., the non-sensical).

But I don't agree that it was successful as a soap opera, nor that it succeeded in exploring emotional truths. (“This is a show that dwells on the personal, social and communal aftermath of a murder, not necessarily in realist terms but in ways that are meant to explore emotional truths.”) Many critics, like myself, found ourselves a bit confused by “Missing,” an episode near the end of the season (and I think Warner and Schmidt help explain our confusion, in a way I hadn't considered before). It's the episode where everything pretty much stops and we get an hour of the two detectives getting to know more about each other ... the main "crime" of the episode is that Linden’s son is missing. There was some agreement, at least among the critics I read, that we found this to be perhaps the best episode of the series since the pilot. (Alan Sepinwall wrote, “I enjoyed ‘Missing’ more than most of the last two months' worth of episodes. … ‘Missing’ felt like an episode of an entirely different show, but it was probably a better show - and one I'd be much more likely to watch next season than the version of ‘The Killing’ we've been getting all spring,” while Maureen Ryan, who later gave us perhaps the most entertainingly vehement screed against the finale, said of “Missing” that “My main reaction after watching the episode was mystification: ‘Now 'The Killing' decides to be a character drama?Now?’ This hour would have been much, much better as the fifth or sixth episode of the season, not the eleventh.”) We didn't know what to make of it, because it was so unlike the rest of the season. It wasn't about plot resolution, or even about moving the plot forward, even glacially. It was only barely about the procedural genre. No, it was a slow, muted character study of the detectives ... precisely the kind of thing Warner and Schmidt think we couldn't see because we were trapped in a desire for resolution.

I, at least, would have been much happier with the series if it had done a better job with the soap opera aspects. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman were terrific, making the most of every scene they were in. But Sud et al showed just as much disdain for us as they did for those who wanted only to know who killed Rosie. It took almost the entire season before we got a chance to examine those detectives on an emotional level. And since the series was clearly not going to satisfy any need in the audience to find out who did what, the only thing we had left was our emotional attachment. And Sud ignored that for long stretches of time. In this way, the real slap in the face wasn't that we didn't find out who was the murderer, but that Sarah's partner Holder was semi-revealed to have some secret thing going on. Does that work as a soap opera twist/cliffhanger? Sure. But it made me feel that my investment in the character (not the procedural, but the character) was wasted.

Where I think their argument works better is in examining the secondary characters. The Killing took its time with the grief of the Larsens, which is rare for series television. Even there, though, I think they do the critics a bit of an injustice, since the critics tended to applaud the show for that very aspect, glad to finally see grief presented in an honest way. Admittedly, though, there was some frustration that it took a long time for anything to come from that grief, which (perhaps realistically) became somewhat monotonous over time. Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton were praised to the skies here, as well ... one thing the critics never lost was a love for the acting in the show.

Finally, there is the character of Sarah Linden. The FlowTV piece gives me a different perspective on her attempts to balance her dogged pursuit of the murderer and the problems in her private life. This might be an example where the combination of the procedural and the soap opera blended well. Except I liked Linden as a character in part because she didn't seem at first to be yet another woman worrying about the family while she went about her job. What mattered was that she was the best detective, not that her personal life was a shambles. I didn't need her to be perfect, and I didn't need for her personal life to be ignored as they do in something like Law & Order. But I wanted her to be a good detective. So, for me, the emotional/soap opera side of the character of Sarah got in the way. And unfortunately, to keep the series running, Linden had to end up being a really poor detective ... the need to make things last for 13 episodes, or 20, or whatever, meant that red herrings were introduced, and even if I accept the argument of Warner and Schmidt that those red herrings were an essential and positive aspect of the show's soap opera tendencies, they were maintained in large part by making Linden a dumb detective ... when the need for the red herring had exhausted itself, then Linden (or she and Holder) would figure out what was really going on, but by that point, they had made lots of stupid mistakes when they should have figured things out much sooner.

Ultimately, I found Warner and Schmidt’s approach interesting and even necessary in showing how The Killing could be seen from a different perspective. What they never managed to do, though, was convince me that The Killing was a good series.


what i watched last week

I watched a lot of movies this week, but little of that will show up here, since they were all for our Facebook Fave Fifty project. There is still plenty of time to join the group, if you are on Facebook. Just message or email me, and I’ll add you. Meanwhile …

Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973). #19 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #115 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941). #18 on me FB list. #162 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.


brazil-usa

When the U.S. took a 1-0 lead over Brazil after 74 seconds in their Women’s World Cup quarter-final match, thanks to an own-goal, it was too early to write the ending, but the story itself had already changed from whatever your preconceptions might have been.

What followed was a scrappy match. Brazil didn’t show a lot of samba, and the U.S. did a reasonable job of shutting down Marta and her fine teammates. But the Americans didn’t take advantage of that early goal, and at halftime, it was still 1-0.

And then came the referee controversies. No great match is without one … we complain, rightly so, when a referee affects the outcome, but the final story is better for the controversy. Diego Maradona might have scored the world’s greatest goal in the ‘86 World Cup against England, but what really makes the story is that he did it shortly after committing the infamous Hand of God goal. In the 65th minute of today’s match, some individual brilliance from Marta led Rachel Buehler to bring her down in the box. A penalty was awarded, and Buehler was shown a red card. I thought both were justified, but plenty of people didn’t agree. What followed was a tense penalty kick saved by Hope Solo. Joy to the fans of the U.S.! Except … the referee saw an infraction, one that existed but was irrelevant and is rarely called, and ordered a re-kick. Marta scored the replay, and the match was tied, 1-1, with the U.S. playing with ten against eleven for Brazil.

It was hard to believe Brazil wouldn’t score one or more goals against the short-handed Americans in the next 20 minutes. But somehow, the U.S. held off the Samba Queens, setting up extra time.

Two minutes in, Marta scored one of her eye-poppers. There was some question of offside, but to be honest, I just had to tip my cap at Marta’s amazing skills. 2-1 Brazil, still with the man advantage. Brazil would surely score a few more in the ensuing half hour, wouldn’t they?

But the Brazilians played more cynically than skillfully, running out the clock instead of trying to increase their lead. Thus, when 120 minutes had been played, the score was still 2-1, and the referee added three more minutes to account for the wasted time.

With seconds to go (I don’t like the use of the word “literally”, but “literally seconds” is accurate in this case), Megan Rapinoe drove a cross into the box, Abby Wambach beat the keeper and headed the ball into the corner of the net, and miraculously, the match was tied, 2-2.

Nine penalty kicks were taken. Eight were successful. But Hope Solo saved Daiane’s attempt, and the U.S. had squeaked into the semi-finals.

The soccer wasn’t the best you’ll see, although the goals from Marta and Wambach were beauties. But the drama was unmatched. And I think it’s the drama that brings us back to sports. You never know when you’re going to see a classic.

As always, Jennifer Doyle is worth reading: “[T]onight’s match absolutely was beauty and the beast. The game was both, at once – a tornado of the awful and the amazing.”

Here’s Wambach’s goal, at least until someone takes it down: