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Friday, May 20, 2011

Next season's most promising new shows

According to Dustin Rowles (Pajiba), these are the ten most promising new shows of next season. Can you guess which one I'm totally sold on? It's not #6, though I am intrigued by that one. Click through to the long version for the answer:

In case you were wondering...

Saw a fantastic billboard the other day. It's tough to get a good picture, since I'm on the bus at the time.

 But it reads: "The Rapture: You KNOW It's Nonsense. 2000 years of  'Any Day Now.'"

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Very, very funny. There were some scenes I could have done without -- well, one sequence in particular, to be honest -- but I spent the majority of the 2 hours laughing. And I love it that the main relationship is actually the friendship between Kristen Wiig's Annie and Maya Rudolph's Lillian. And (spoiler) that Wilson Phillips sings "Hold On," because that song still makes me happy. Wiig and Rudolph are hilarious, but Melissa McCarthy steals the show. For the guys, Jon Hamm nails the asshole hot guy, while Chris O'Dowd is genuinely charming as the romantic part of this romantic comedy.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Jane Eyre****

Went on a bit of a movie bender this month - 4 movies in two weekends! I've already reviewed Fast Five (***) and Thor (***1/2). The second two, just last weekend, were "Bridesmaids" and "Jane Eyre." The former I went to see because a friend suggested it; the latter I went to see because of the X-Men: FIrst Class trailer, and because my friend K. is a bad influence. No, for real -- I mentioned that I was excited about X-Men, and she was all "MICHAEL FASSBENDER!" So I had to look him up and see what the fuss was about. And I found this:

At the beginning of the video, I was like, "Meh, he's OK." But then he started singing the Magnum PI theme song, and he got upgraded to "kind of cute" And then he corrected the pitch of the sound effect he was making at the end of the video, and it was all over. I might have fallen into a rabbit hole of YouTube related videos. Like this one:

Better hair - bad facial hair + The Greatest American Hero = ADORKABLE!

*sigh* I blame K. 

Anyway, once he'd been upgraded to adorkable, which I obviously have a weakness for, I went on Netflix to see what I could see, and that's how I found out about this Jane Eyre. I mentioned it to my roommate, and she told me that it was brand new, just recently in theaters. It was still playing at one of the neighborhood theaters in town, and the matinee was cheap (for a movie ticket in San Francisco), so I decided to check it out. It's not bad, but not great in my opinion. Entertaining. And I think my problems with it may have more to do with the story itself than with the movie. I haven't read the book, so maybe this is more compellingly present there, but I don't really understand why Jane loves Rochester. He's a pretty serious asshole -- I mean, even if you leave out the coldness towards poor Adele, the cruel comments about Fairfax, and the general crustiness, there's the part where HE ALMOST TRICKS HER INTO A SHAM MARRIAGE. And this is the love of her life?

In terms of the film, I wasn't overly impressed with Mia Wasikowska in the proposal scene, but the rest was well done, I thought. And I did like Jane, especially the part where she's like, "Wait, I'm sorry -- you're married?! Peace out."

To be honest, my biggest quibble is that I'm pretty sure Rochester is supposed to be blind, burnt and missing a hand at the end, as opposed to just blind and sporting really bad facial hair. I mean, I'd love it if Jane didn't get stuck with a one-handed, blind, burnt asshole, but that *is* the way it's written...

I'm giving it a gentleman's 4 stars - It's better than decent, but I'll really only remember it because Fassbender's hot when he broods.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


We're teaching it in the class that isn't mine -- that's why I watched it. It's good, though I think it's too long. You know what's gross? Tom Cruise's hair in this movie. You know what's really gross? Frogs falling from the sky. 

But this was awesome:

"I'm silently judging you."
There are, of course, many other things to note about the movie. Tom Cruise is brilliantly despicable, until he's suddenly not anymore. But, aside from him, the performances mostly felt like less than they should have. Or, perhaps more appropriately, they made me feel less than I feel like they should have made me feel: I think it's because they feel like types, not like characters, and I found it difficult to generate any emotional investment, which I think is important for a  movie like this. Bust that I also feel like the movie did a fine job of creating a tension between coincidence and...what, meaning? It begins with several "strange events,"the kind that make people talk about fate, and there are several more instances like that throughout the movie. And then it culminates with a full-on miracle (a really gross one). So, I don't know what to make of it completely. Maybe more when I'm not falling asleep...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slippery slope

Ta Nehisi Coates has a post up (The Abyss Gazes Back) about being uninterested in the debate over whether or not Bin Laden's killing was legal. A couple of excerpts:
There's been a lively debate going on across the net about the legality of killing Osama Bin Laden, in terms of both American and international law. The debate is necessary, intelligent and important. And I do not care. 
I write a lot about the problem of stripping humanity, of othering, and of making monsters of men. I loved The Looming Tower because Lawrence Wright refused to other Al Qaeda. Instead he chronicled all of the group's evil acts, detailed American complicity, and did it so well that you were in the head of the terrorist. You could, all at once, condemn the evil and see how you might come to be its perpetrator. Yet now I find myself conjuring monsters and rejecting the mask--I am unable to consider Bin Laden as part of the human family. 
This is dangerous. 
One of the motivating beliefs behind this blog is that people are people, that tags like "madman," "evil" and even "terrorist" are, very often, escape hatches which allow us to avoid the hard work of understanding the evil encoded in all of us. Often I argue that slaveholders\Confederates\whoever must be seen as humans.

I mentioned to someone recently that, while I understand why I *should* care whether or not Bin Laden received proper burial rites, I really just don't. The man showed a deeply ingrained and consistent disrespect for the lives of others, and he certainly didn't seem to care whether or not *their* bodies were treated with respect, or in accordance with their religious beliefs. I admitted without hesitation that this is not a tenable moral position. Now, this is a thorny one for me, because I really don't feel very strongly about how human remains should be treated. But I believe wholeheartedly that our various and intricate strictures for dealing with our dead are about the living, and that we should not show disrespect to those living who maintain the importance of death and burial rites in our treatment of the dead. And I am refusing to extend that consideration to Bin Laden's remains. I am unwilling to see this as an issue about the living - those who have objected to the body's disposal. Instead, I see it as asking me to care whether Bin Laden would have approved of the manner in which his corpse was disposed, and I simply cannot. If I'm rigorous and honest in my thinking, what I am basically saying that I do not consider Bin Laden human enough for me to care whether his remains were treated with the dignity and respect with which I believe human remains should be treated, even if we only treat them that way because the living will be offended if we don't. Is my lack of human concern and religious respect,  a moral failure on my part? Yes, it probably is. I honestly believe, for example, that it is just not ok to torture people, even if they're "really bad people." To do so is to become less human. Is it dangerous? Certainly. It is a slippery slope, to start qualifying whose humanity you're willing and able to see.

It is such a scary thing when it happens to you, when your principles become alleged and incidental, when you lose interest in the debate. It is so very dangerous to make exceptions. It is so very dangerous to go cold.
I've been trying to rekindle the fire of my humanity, my empathy. But it's cold in this case, and I don't think there's any way to think myself out of that. So I have to wonder what it means about me, that I can think it was wrong to celebrate in the streets over Bin Laden's death, but have no problem with the fact that he was killed, and no issue with the disposal of his remains. Certainly it means that my ethical boundaries are as inconsistent as others'. And then what? Is that something I should look to fix, or simply an unavoidable part of my humanness?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Never Let Me Go

So, I was supposed to be getting a desk copy of Kuzuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Actually, let me be clear: I said I didn't need a desk copy, and someone insisted on getting me one anyway. So, Monday, the book was sent over via a student.

Deborah Smith's Never Let Go. Which is not at all the same as Kuzuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Different author, different title, different ISBN number. How do you even manage that?

Good thing I didn't need that desk copy in the first place.

And, to top it all off, it looks like a truly terrible book. Here's the back cover material:
Confusion, fury, and disbelief filled Rucker McClure's soul when he saw his wife across the airport waiting room. A year ago Dinah had vanished without a trace, but he'd never stopped looking for her, never given up hope -- until now, when it seemed all his worst fears were true: she's betrayed her country and abandoned the husband she'd sworn to love until death. Tormented by conflicting needs to comfort and punish the woman who'd shattered his trust, Rucker lashed out at Dinah when she begged for his help -- but despair warred with a hunger that time and lass had only deepened. With so many secrets between them, only a shaky truce was possible, but Dinah needed to prove she was still his. Rucker was the dream that had kept her alive in a world of terror and pain -- must she sacrifice forever in his arms to save the hero of her heart?

WTF?! I don't even want to read this to see how bad it is.

I just noticed, though, that one of the blurbs is from The Advocate, a Baton Rouge newspaper with which one of my handful of readers is very familiar.

Anyway, I'm annoyed that it's the wrong book, but I'm more annoyed that it was sent to me in full knowledge that it's the wrong book. What the hell am I supposed to do with it? Having somehow managed to get completely the wrong thing, why would you send it to me, like maybe this will do? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!

Monday, May 9, 2011


I'm giving it 3 1/2 *s. Not quite a "good" movie, but highly enjoyable, and better than I expected. Not surprisingly, the love story is thin and the special effects, though pretty, are also a bit hollow, a bit too glossy. And there's a whole lot of yelling as a stand in for acting. But it was also genuinely funny at times, especially thanks to Cat Dennings, and Hemsworth makes a charming hothead. It's probably a problem, but also not a huge surprise that I came out of the film more interested in Loki than in Thor: he's a better character, with more complexity built in, and Tom Hiddleston pulled off some nice moments at various places on the Loki-spectrum -- a classic Iago-like poisonous whisper and a couple of glimpses of the son in need of a hug stand out in particular.

All in all, a good time.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Really cool

This dinosaur was hanging out in front of the art department. 

Or should I say these? The little guy was initially in the big one's mouth (I didn't get a picture of it then).

I hope this student got a A.

X-Men: First Class trailer****

Saw this trailer in the theater (ahead of Fast Five). Am Guessing I'll see it in front of Thor tomorrow (well, today) as well. It looks cool, but the memories of X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine are strong...

Oh, who am I kidding - I got totally excited, and I can't wait to see it! I don't know anything about Fassbender, but he looks appropriately intense. McAvoy doesn't look anything like Xavier to me, even a young one, but I like him, and I think he'll do well if they give him anything decent to do. And I guess I should start forming an opinion of Jennifer Lawrence, since I'll read and eventually see The Hunger Games...

I give the trailer 4 stars. Good, but not great. (Totally excited, though.)

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"
2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Fast Five***

Definitely better, in my opinion, than the last one...but let's be honest -- that's not really so hard to do. The plot is thin, but holds together fairly well, perhaps because they kept it simple: let's get the gang together for one big, last job, and try not to get caught/killed. But let's be honest - if you're going, you're not going for the plot. So here's what you really want to know: there are some awesome/ridiculous/impossible scenes with cars, there's a good chase scene (on foot), there are some gunfights thrown in, there's some actual humor, and there's a whole lot of hotness. Totally mindless and totally fun. Oh, and don't be an amateur like the folks at the theater where I saw it: stay until the end of the credits.

I'm giving it 3 stars because it was fun, and wasn't bad enough to be awful.

5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"
3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Welcome to Gilead

Reading The Handmaid's Tale in class. In it, Atwood describes a society in which a totalitarian theocracy has stripped women in what used to be the United States of their rights -- this is done "for the greater good" when the regime decides that women can no longer be allowed to control their own reproductive lives. Good thing that nightmare is totally imaginary.

I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping.
The Handmaid's Tale, ch. 13

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A random post about ethics

Guest bloggers over at Adam Serwer's place, making a lot of sense on how not OK both torture and the clamor for a dead man's picture are.

In not entirely unrelated news, a couple of interesting finds, courtesy of my brother. The first is from the Harvard Business School, and discusses a new books that explores the blind spots in our ethical reasoning -- why we often fail to act  in accordance with our ethical ideals, and why we tend to think we are more ethical than we actually are. The article also references a book on biased judgment in sports  and how it means that that one umpire really does have it in for the Saints. OK, that's not what it says, but it does suggest that referees are likely to unconsciously favor the home team. Combine these two, and you get, among other things, a fancy explanation of why I only care that the ref is totally biased when he's biased against my team, as opposed to all the time.

The second rec. is about a different type of bias: homophily (love of the same), or the tendency to make a bunch of friends who are pretty much just like you. That is, of course, a very loose and flippant definition of the term used to discuss things ranging from why black people tend to have mostly black friends to why you're shocked when you find out that one of your close friends does not share your opinion on something you really value. The author threw a party and, shocked by how white it was, set out to make new black friends. Some interesting things in there, from the specific project of making new friends, to the larger societal trend he sees his tendency towards "monoculture" as a reflection of.

Not surprisingly, I find this set of articles interesting. Not at all shocking, but interesting to look at, and especially interesting to look at together. Yes, I do believe that our willingness to condone torture "under the right circumstances" is directly tied to our ability to overlook our own principles when it suits us, sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. I also think that our tendency to prefer those we consider "like us" works in larger (world politics) and smaller (dinner party) ways to make us more likely to overlook, mistreat, or avoid those who are "not like us." Some will say that the answer to that problem is improving our capacity for empathy by developing the ability to see how "like us" all those others are, but I'm not always sure about that. I think that's obviously part of the problem. But at what point do we talk about how to include those who we really do see as different (sometimes for legitimate reasons) in our empathic considerations?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Too much for the wall (part 2)

A friend posted about wanting to celebrate the sense of hope that Bin Laden's death brings, rather than his death itself. I replied that I don't see his death as bringing hope, though I can see relief and temporary vindication. She replied that this is less about the pragmatic effect on day to day terrorism and more about the way 9/11 made us feel less safe in the world, and the way that finding and killing Bin Laden is a story about us regaining power. "Human belief shapes the world, and this, I think, helps us believe that we can overcome this type of threat," wrote my friend.

This one had a lot of potential for walljacking, and for the misunderstanding of tone, so I say again: the response that I will not post there would have read something like this.

Again, I hear you. And I think my discomfort comes less from the practical (I'm presuming no one is deluded about that) and more from exactly the type of narrative power you're talking about -- it is, after all, what I think about for a living. I think you're right that this story is about reclaiming a sense of power, but I really don't think the thing to do with that sense of reclaimed power is to gloat, which is what this feels like. Maybe I'm being unfair, but I doubt that the average celebrant has reflected on what this means as much as you have. This may be related to comments like "Obama's probably mad that we killed his cousin," but I have a hard time ascribing that level of thought more generally. I also have a hard
time believing that it's a good idea to give all the terrorists left -- and all those who maybe weren't sure whether or not to hate us -- images of what looks an awful lot like American disregard for Muslim lives, of glee in the face of the loss of life, of jingoistic gloating and celebration that expresses far less reflection than they'd see on your wall. Because what we learned the hard way on 9/11 is that *those* beliefs and stories also shape the world. What we do will be recounted. 
That said, I hope those who needed catharsis got it. I hope those who felt threatened feel safer. And I hope those who lost someone in *any* of Al Qaeda's attacks, or in the decade of violence that the 9/11 attacks were used to justify feel some small measure of closure.

Thou shalt not start a comment war on someone else's wall

Not surprisingly, the announcement of Bin Laden's death has brought out some ignorance.

So, to get this straight, Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist sent to infiltrate and destoy. And All Muslims are related -- OMG, SO FUNNY! And Christianity is only love and peace, while Islam is only death to non-believers. And the God of Abraham that Muslims worship is a different God of Abraham than the one in the Judeo-Christian tradition. (And only the uneducated are religious, but let me just pick one fight at a time.)


So, the comment that I will not leave there would have said something like the following:

The Bible says a lot of things, ranging from "an eye for an eye" to "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Christians preach a lot of things, from love, peace, and intellectual inquisitiveness to hate, violence, and bigoted small mindedness. What the text says, what people interpret from that, what they preach, and what they practice are often a far cry from consistent. 
Totally consistent? The claim that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can all be understood to worship the same deity. The differences in their interpretations are just as important as the similarities, but that doesn't make it different gods, just different believers. 
And Muslims don't preach death to all non-believers any more consistently than Christians do. Some do, many don't. Some mean that literally, many don't. 

 Also? STFU.