Saturday, May 31, 2008

on richard kelly.

So, as I was saying, last week, I finally got a chance to watch Southland Tales, which was the (relatively) new movie from Richard Kelly. I really, really, really wanted to like it. I think Kelly's a talented director, I don't think there's any question about that, really. I'll readily admit that I haven't seen any of his other movies, but everyone knows that Donnie Darko was (and is) a classic. (And I'll get more into that in a bit...) But, as for his new effort...not good.

Southland Tales was not only ambitious, it was grand in scope. These are all good things. However, sometimes these kinds of things can get in the way of a good thing. And that's really what I think was the ultimate failing of this movie: it was a great idea that got lost in translation. I don't know whose fault that is/was, the big-budget studio that (inevitably) meddles with a director's vision or the director for getting a little over-ambitious. Regardless, though, the thing's a mess.

The best thing about Southland Tales was an amazing musical number with Justin Timberlake singing to the Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" and while it was a great scene, I'm not sure what it says about a movie when that's the best thing about it. There was certainly a theme: the movie was clearly about the apocalypse and there was a lot of the same tropes that we saw in Donnie Darko (the search for God, the question whether God's there at all, time-travel, parallel dimensions, etc.), but the message was muddled in every way. There was no clarity. And while I've never been one to need things to be clear (hello, Lost!) I'd appreciate some commitment to the ideas that you're trying to advance; enough commitment at least to try to let some people in on the secret, instead of simply obfuscating it. The dialogue was corny from the first moment of the film, and while I appreciate Kelly trying to break down stereotypes (if that's even really what it was), I did feel that the ex-porn actress angle just led to parody instead of anything serious.

In contrast, as I said above, I was inspired by the movie to look at Donnie Darko again, and it happened quicker than I anticipated, so I'm watching it as I type. There's no corny dialogue. There's a fluid plot, with some interesting deviations from the overall message, but every time it gets too crazy, there's some super-specific incident that gets back to the main theme. The movie tells one story. Everything in the movie relates to that story. That's a good work. That, to me, is the proof of a good work. I tell my students something that my best teacher ever told me: if you're trying to answer a question, re-read that question consistently throughout your answer. It will help you re-focus, it'll make your answer better, and it'll prove that you know how to talk about what you want to talk about. That's what Donnie Darko was. Proof that Richard Kelly knew what he was talking about. He had some interesting things to say about the above-mentioned themes and he did so wonderfully. (Did he answer those questions? I don't think so. But I think they're probably questions that aren't answerable.) Southland Tales, on the other hand, is a wandering answer. It's more like something that one of my 8th graders would write, meandering around the general ideas, with some shimmers of brilliance, but ultimately falls short.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

on final crisis.

Well, this day was all set up o be one of the most epic days of my life:

The season finale of Lost is still coming on and I have faith that'll kick butt. Lost has been on a tear lately, and it's totally validating a lot of the things that I've been saying about the show all along: the writers know what they're doing. They have a plan. They've always had a plan. What that plan is? Now that, I don't know, but if I did, would watching the show and puzzling over what they're going to do next be any fun at all? Nope. I'm along for the ride.

The Lakers are playing the Spurs tonight, in a chance to close out this series at home in L.A. If they win tonight, they go back to the Finals, where they haven't been since 2004, when they should have won with the Beatles-esque team they had with Kobe, Shaq, Mailman, and the Glove (oh yeah, and someone else). For any of you who don't remember (my heart still cries about it), they did not, in fact, win that series. Pathetic and a shame, I know, but it's the only time these Pistons, who are perennially mentioned as a powerhouse of the East, have won the title. (Is it the only time they've made it to the Finals?)

But, lastly, and the only one I've encountered thus far today, Final Crisis #1 came out today. Can I just say...it would be impossible for me to be more disappointed. This was Grant Morrison! This was epic! This was JG Jones! This was the big moment in the fight! This was our introduction the the final act!

And what did we get...? A bunch of disjointed, poorly written vignettes. Did Countdown never happen? (I know some people who read it who wished that it hadn't so they could have saved some money...) Did Death of the New Gods never happen? (I know that, as a non-Kirby fan who bought it, I felt like it was kind of cheesy...) What's up with Luthor, Grodd, et. al. being off the prison planet? Did the last issue of Salvation Run come out and I just missed it or are we playing the continuity game again? (Already?!)

Color me Marvel thus far on this one. At least Secret Invasion's given us what they said it would. I'll certainly be buying Final Crisis #2 (and, more than likely, the whole thing, even if it's the world's worst comic) but I'm far from impressed. Morrison's got a lot of ground to cover if he's going to turn this ship around. I'm hopeful that he will, he's one of the best (maybe the best?) in the biz, but he's got a lot of work to do.

Overall: Final Crisis #1? Only buy it if you're a fanatic completionist like myself or if you have 1000% faith that Morrison can turn it into gold in the remaining six issues.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

on (semi-) small town status.

One of my favorite things about Albuquerque is the fact that I can take a working lunch at a local restaurant that's made good, expanding into even more cities and just happen to see one of the most prominent names in the race for Congress this term sitting there, eating lunch by himself. Guy just came in, ordered a sandwich, ate half the thing, got the rest boxed up and left. No muss, no fuss. No aides surrounding him, no focus group, nada. It was just totally refreshing to see. So much so that, even though I'm sure I creeped him out a little bit by staring at him a few different times, I never really wanted to bother him. So he just ate his lunch and went along his way. Good signs from a (semi-) small town.

Monday, May 26, 2008

link of the day.

In the last few days I've watched some great movies that I want to write about (both Southland Tales [OMG! So weird!] and Gone Baby Gone), I've ended my school year, resulting in both enormous joy and tremendous sadness, and I've finally seen some of my friends again, whom I hadn't gotten the chance to see while so busy with work.

However, in spite of all this happening, what I really want to share today is a semi-response to one of my more recent blog entries from Brother Two. He's writing here about the concept of identity, which is tremendously important, not only to me, but to my teaching and the way I try to live my life. In fact, my last unit with my 7th graders was called "Who Am I?" and was supposed to be a reflection on not only the titular question, but a meditation on how they'd changed this year, if they were happy with the direction their lives were heading, etc. I think the issue of identity is an incredibly important on a meta-level.

If you're not sure of who you are, how can you be sure of anything that you do?

So go read my brother's blog, and think about these things. They're important.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

on war.

This weekend more than a lot of other times, I think it's important for us all to remember: we are at war. Yep, we're at war. You might have forgotten, or you might not care, but the fact is that we are. In fact, while we're talking about it, you might do well to remember that we're actually engaged in many wars right now.

We are engaged in: The War on Poverty. The War on Terror. The War on Drugs.

Hm. That's a lot of wars. It seems odd to me that they're all ideas that we're fighting... I mean, I thought this was America, home of the free and land of the brave? Don't we celebrate ideas? Aren't we the people who believe in liberty? Justice? The promotion of equality?

If this seems disrespectful, I'm sorry, but I think it's ridiculous that The War on Drugs can have such a devastating effect on our population. Are there still more people in jail for non-violent drug offenses than anything else? Have we learned nothing? Caveat: I actually support laws against drugs, and I don't support abrupt de-criminalization. I do, however, support thinking sensibly about a policy that would stop us from wasting so much money. I've written about this before and I'll continue to do so in the future, but I just want to make sure that my position is as clearly explained as possible. Which isn't a lot, I acknowledge, but that's only because I'm not exactly clear on what exactly I think should be done yet. But I'm still willing to talk and think about it... Unlike other people!

On the other hand, our War on Terror seems to be going really well, right? Yeah...more of the same. This BBC News piece was making the rounds a while ago and I've really wanted to write about it for a while, but every time I've sat down to do so, I've only been able to get out incoherent, impossible rants, as opposed to a clear, concise explication. Nothing has changed about my inability, so I guess I'll just present it, leave it out there for y'all to read, and come to your own conclusions:

Since we opened up our special detainment center in Guantanamo Bay, there have been many people who tried to commit suicide. This is especially unsurprising when we read about the conditions that occur there and the total lack of belief that things will get better, at least from the perspective of the prisoners. However, recently, three prisoners succeeded in their suicide attempts, only to have the camp commander label their deaths, "an act of war". That's right folks, not only are they trying to get us in their lives, but when they finally kill themselves (not in a public arena, not trying to take anyone else with them, but rather because their lives have become so miserable they can't bear it any longer) it's not just suicide, it's a continuation of their war.

As I've already mentioned, I think it's rather difficult to fight a war against an idea, but maybe this is part that I don't understand. Maybe when those people we're holding as enemies of said idea kill themselves, they somehow make the idea win. I took a lot of philosophy classes in college and I don't seem to recall killing yourself as a way to win a war for your side, but maybe I missed something.

So, happy Memorial Day. Remember to honor our soldiers who are out there on the front lines risking their lives so that we can continue to try to stamp out ideas. And say a little word of thanks to the wonderful leader who put them there, continues to leave them there, and ceases to care about them once they make it home.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

on pork and beans.

Making its way around the Internets is Weezer's new video for their single from the upcoming Red Album. If the single is any indication, I think we're in for another color-coded treat from Weezer. Yeah, we all loved Pinkerton the best, but no one can deny the fun-times memories of the Blue Album. Anyway, the video is a totally meta look at YouTube. This is the kind of stuff that kids should be studying! It's so rad to see all this self-reference, and I applaud Weezer for getting this style of thing out there: it's clear they're big fans of YouTube and I'm psyched to see that they actually asked more than a few of the semi-famous to star in the video; completing the circle!



This reminds me of Brother Two's video that he used to talk to me about all the time: "The YouTubers" which he saw as a bad thing, but I always thought was a fascinating look at something that is happening in our culture. I wish more academic study was going on regarding this sort of stuff, but maybe it is already and I'm just not aware.

ETA: I can't find this "YouTubers" video right now, but I'll add it when I have a second to scour the site. Sorry. OK, it's there now, check it out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

to write love on her arms.

Insofar as teaching goes, there are a lot of perks. I've already mentioned a lot of them on here, but one of my favorite things is that I get to keep up with kid trends that otherwise would completely pass me by. One of the complaints of those who love me but don't think like me is that when we're in the car, we'll sometimes listen to the radio and hear a new song, and she'll be jamming out to it, and I'll ask, "Oh, is this that new so and so song? I've read about it, but I haven't gotten a chance to hear it yet." This is usually followed by something like, "What? You haven't heard this? It's been overexposed to death!" I love following the trends, but I seldom get a chance to actually do so - I just read about them and know that they're going on, I don't get to actually experience them.

So I was psyched today when my favorite student made me a killer compilation of forty-plus tracks that she thought I needed. She's looked through my iPod a lot this year, so she knows the type of music that I typically like, and she's seen what I have, so she had a pretty good grasp on stuff I'd be down with. Not only do I get good jams to listen to, but I get to look a little cooler next year, as though I found this music on my own. ;)

Regardless, that's not what this entry is about. This entry is about another trend that I've gotten the lovely opportunity to keep track of and watch as it absolutely exploded: To Write Love On Her Arms. Several different kids talked to me about this shirt/organization before I did any research on my own regarding the whole thing, but it was cool to read up on it.

I see these shirts all over school all the time. I mean...all the time! In fact, I saw one of the "Stop the Bleeding" shirts today at an assembly and if I hadn't been researching for this blog entry prior to that, I might not have even recognized it. It was cool to see. Some of this, however, is a little bit of a double-edged sword. I realize that this is a pretty religious-in-nature organization and while there's nothing wrong with that (I'm no hater of religion, unlike some of my best friends) I do think it's a funny realization to look around at the school that I teach at and see that most of the kids there are upper- to middle-class whites who have a stable life. Of course they're going to be very into the idea of Christianity.

But if it leads to great things like this, isn't that a good thing? So what's the problem? I guess I'm just worried about a (seemingly-) great organization like this one that (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps un-purposefully, perhaps seemingly) caters to this gentrified crowd. Maybe that's the wrong word. But something that's this self-selecting seems like a dangerous thing, at least to me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

on news and the nature thereof.

So, at this point, I'm once again a little late to this party, as the video this guy made where there's no news has already made the rounds. However, I do want to add my two cents, as usual.

I think this is an interesting experiment for more than the reasons I've read. It's an interesting commentary on how and from where we get our news, but it's obviously so much more than that.

This piece reminds me a lot of the scene in Children of Men where they're at the school and the shot is of the playground and it suddenly becomes so crystal clear why so many people loved this movie: it was for the sound editing! (How often do you get to say that?!) Seriously, though, when I went back and watched this movie a second time, it was remarkable how purposeful the director had made the lack of casual noise. It's because that's where the children take up space, in that white noise that's somehow simultaneously behind and in front of all the things that we normally expect in our days. At night time it's not so prevalent, but in the middle of the day, at the school, it's as clear as it ever could be: this film is haunted by a lack of noise.

This clip of the news is much the same. Not only would we be displaced if we had no news, but the lack of news in and of itself is disconcerting in more than just that way. The news casually fills the space around us, it gives us something to have on in the background just as much as it gives us something to talk about. If there really was a day like this, I predict a rash of suicides.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

on general zod's big adventure.

I have a cat. It's a rather long story how I got this cat, when taking into consideration the fact that I'm actually not much of an animal person, my general love of not spending money, and the (relatively) small size of my home, but it's a story for another time. The story now is about my cat (General Zod, for those who don't know) and his grand adventure.

One week ago from tomorrow, Zod apparently somehow escaped from my house. (He's an indoor cat, and I have a roommate who leaves his keys in the door. You put the pieces together.) It was a miserable night for me, full of crying (over a cat, who would have ever thought it) and, finally, resignation. For a brief moment, we thought Brother Two had found him, but it turned out not to be the case. Or he had, but we didn't get him wrapped up. Either way, we didn't find him. I went to bed that night convinced that I'd never see him again.

The reason I was so down on myself was that he hadn't been wearing his tags. He was microchipped, but his collar had recently broken, and since he was an indoor cat, I didn't feel the need to replace it all that much. I was wrong. He got out, and now it was all my fault that I hadn't replace his collar, which had my number on it. I felt terrible.

The next day at work was atrocious. I was out of it, the kids didn't know why and meanwhile, two of my wonderful friends made up fliers with pictures of Zod, my number and a description that he was, in fact, microchipped, but didn't have his collar and tags. When The Teacher came to my room that afternoon after school, she convinced me to go home and put them up. I thought it was pointless (I was very destitute at this point) but finally agreed.

While I was driving home, I got a call from a vet in Tijeras where Zod was being treated after being run over by a car (but breaking no bones) and suffering extreme road rash. I was in shock! How could my cat make it so far? I don't think that I even believed it was him until we got there and I got a look at him. The vet explained that he would be in a lot of pain and that I should watch his litter box for signs of irregular urination, etc. but that he should be, essentially, good to go, as long as I kept up with his medicine they'd be sending home with him.

That first night, I slept with him in the office, trying to get him re-acclimated to the house. He didn't move around much, and I didn't cry a lot, if at all, mostly because I was still in shock. I'd made peace with the fact that he was gone, I hadn't expected to have him back at all, much less this quickly. It was amazing.

So, now Zod's pretty much back to normal, he takes swipes at me with his paws as I walk by, showing that playful aggression that led us to label him a terrorist, and bouncing around the house as though nothing's wrong. In fact, today, as I went outside, he waited by the door and when I opened it to come back in, he tried to bolt. (Hasn't he learned anything?!?) His tail's still a mess, having been shaved so they could treat the road rash and he doesn't really like his medicine, but he's looking pretty spry for having traveled 18 miles and having been hit by a car.

All's well that ends well, and I'm psyched to have my cat back. I can't believe that I've become this guy, but I really do have to say that I don't mind at all.

Friday, May 16, 2008

on rip offs.

So, I'm watching the NBA playoffs (Cavs vs. Celtics, for what it's worth, go Cavs, not only just to force a game 7, but also because, as a Lakers fan, I'd love to see Lakers vs. Celtics finals, but you know what I'd love more? Seeing the Celtics get knocked out in their predetermined year! Hah!) and I see this B.S. commercial from Taco Bell!

As soon as I see it, I know that something's wrong. Not just something, but I know that this is a blatant rip off. The Sloot and I used to watch this hilarious YouTube video at least ten times a day after one of his best friends recommended it to us. We laughed our asses off, and it's stuck with me for a long time.

Here's that video, where two guys are apparently ordering from McDonald's. I don't know if it's real or not, but it's cool and it made me laugh a lot back in the day. But now, in just another example of big timers ripping off poor, individual artists we have Taco Bell jacking some guys on YouTube. Don't they pay people millions of dollars for marketing? And this is the best they can come up with? Swagger jacking? Pathetic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

link of the day.

For anyone who's interested, it appears as though I improved in my time from last year in the Run for the Zoo but I'm very disappointed to report that this year, Charley did not beat me. Instead, my co-worker did. That's no diss against him, he's a great guy. I just can't believe he beat me. Now I'm not better than him at anything.

It's always a great time. Looking forward to the same routine next year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

on iron man.

So I finally got a chance to see Iron Man and I have to say that it more than lived up to the hype. It was great. I seriously do think it might have been one of my favorite comic book movies. Ever. Yep, really.

It was near (if not past) the level of Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2, both of which I consider to be pretty much the tops of the recent genre. If we're looking outside the strict "Big Two" dichotomy, Sin City's up there, as well as other (older) stuff, like The Rocketeer.

I know at this point that I'm a little late to the party, but my exclamation over the bonus scene was almost too loud. I'm psyched that they got who they got, I'm psyched that they're laying the ground work for what could be a great series of movies, and I'm psyched that a lot of people are finally seeing that comic books aren't just for geeks; there's a lot of great story in them.

Robert Downey Jr. was a natural for Tony Stark, as anyone who'd ever looked at an Iron Man comic could have (and did, in some cases) told you from day one. I never understood the haters. I know he's had a lot of trouble in the past, but Downey's pretty consistently been a great actor. Is there anything in the (admittedly) not-Shakesperean-tough role of a comic book character that would trouble him? I think not.

The beginning was probably my favorite part of the movie, though, just based on how true to life it was (obviously IMO). I kept finding myself laughing and leaning over to say, "If Tony Stark existed in our world, this is exactly how he'd act!" I found it not only hilarious, but the sign of a good director. (Full disclaimer: now there's something I was worried about! The guy from "Swingers" directing Iron Man? I didn't believe it. But label me a convert! Favreau is my man!)

The origin was told in a great way, and the inclusion of all the proper elements (even a nod to the Mandarin?) were amazing! Then, when he gets back, I can see how they wanted to introduce this Stane guy in the Ultimate version so badly. Anyone a huge fan of 616 Iron Man? I know enough about him, but don't remember this guy at all from the canon.

The development of the suit was appropriate, and I loved (LOVED LOVED LOVED) all the "genius" touches like talking to his machines, his obsession with cars, etc. The machines taking on a life of their own and (in a way) developing personalities was tres cool.

The supporting cast was sweet, I can't wait for Rhodey to get his War Machine on in the sequels (and yes, that's plural for a reason babies!) and Pepper and Hogan were both acceptable versions of themselves for a semi-novice like myself.

All in all, a fun ride. Go and see it if you haven't.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

on poor decisions.

So, continuing my funeral march for the Phoenix Suns, news from ESPN.com says that Mike D'Antoni will be taking over head coaching of the New York Knicks. I understand that lots of people feel a lot of connections still exist between New York (and the Knicks and Madison Square Garden in particular) and basketball. But this is just a poor decision. Why would Mike choose to go there when Chicago is pursuing him so hard as well? The Knicks are a mess! He's not going to be able to change any of that! There's no personnel for him to work with in New York that would fit nearly as well with what we've seen of D'Antoni's coaching style!

All of this leads me to believe one of two things: One) What if we really haven't seen D'Antoni's coaching style? What if that was just something that he tried out over there, but it wasn't really his gig? He played over in Italy, he liked to run himself, but maybe that's not his style, per se. Maybe we'll see something different from him over in NY. And by maybe, really, I mean, we'll have to see something different from him. There's no way these guys are going to run and gun. They need someone who's going to preach to them a little bit about defense. (Which is another thing...as much as I like Mike, I don't think he's a very good fit for them either. It's not all about them being a poor fit for him...)

Two) Maybe this is all a ruse? This is the conspiracy theorist in me, but I'd love to be able to believe that Mike's just putting this out there, to get a little more money from Chicago. (And, to be honest, that thought does make me a little sad for D'Antoni. Is money really that important?) I'd love to see D'Antoni coach the Chicago Bulls, as they've always been one of the better storylines in the NBA, and I think the people they've got on that team are a good fit with what I've always assumed was his style.

Mike D'Antoni, the bottom line is that this is a poor decision. Why would you go to New York? It's not good for you.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

link of the day.

Hey look, once again, I'm kinda sorta, semi-famous in my small hometown's (admittedly kind of weak) paper. Geez, that's a lot of disclaimers. But hey, they took liberties with my letter, making it sound as though I was talking about a male student when I was really talking about a female. I understand editing for space, but come on! Nobody at a newspaper noticed that I was playing the pronoun game?! It was for a specific reason, people, and your job is to gather news; you didn't get that?